Net Worth

Jonah 3:10-4:11

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

 

Philippians 1:21-30

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well–since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

 

Matthew 20:1-16

[And Jesus said:] “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

 

 

 

Many years ago, when I started out being a minister, I was appointed to a church in Armstrong, British Columbia. It was a small church where there happened to be four families of McKechnie’s, and sometimes they happened to be half the church congregation. It was also a farming community and some of the farmers would come to church on a Sunday morning after being up til two or three in the morning trying to combine granola. And sometimes they would sleep in church.

 

We had a little bible study group and it was at one of those bible study groups that I first heard the concept of net worth.

The local bank Manager was a relatively young man, but he told me about net worth. You basically do an inventory of the money and goods you have and their value and subtract all your debt to find out your net worth.

And of course, he said that one should do this every year trying to make sure that each year your net worth went up.

It wasn’t how much you had. It wasn’t how much you owed but your net worth, The difference between the two.

 

Now frankly in those days Fiona and I for all practical purposes didn’t have any significant net worth. We had clothes and some furniture, but no savings, investments. The car was worth a few dollars and luckily it was paid off around the time I started ministry. It was a used Honda Civic.

And for twenty years of ministry I could have probably said the same thing. We had negligible net worth.

What we owed came to a little less than what we had.

With four children, most of the money seemed to go pretty quickly.

We were fortunate to get into the housing market, but it took a while before we actually had any equity in our house.

 

It has really only been in the last nine years that I could actually say that you could say that our assets outweigh our liabilities from a financial point of view.

That may have something to do with children leaving home and finding their own way in the world, leaving us a little freer about what is termed disposable income.

 

And I say this not as a complaint but as a reality, because sometimes I think it is all too easy to measure ourselves by this concept of net worth.

 

In the movie “A Civil Action”  John Travolta plays a successful high-priced lawyer who takes on two giant corporations who own the tanneries that have been dumping toxic waste into the water system causing deadly cases of leukemia.

It is based on the true story of what happened in  Woburn, Massachusetts.

 

The affected families want an apology and a clean-up. The companies after a long legal battle offer financial compensation in the millions but won’t admit they were wrong and the lawyer Jan Schlichtmann turns down the offer wanting to win in court so there will be an apology and the clean-up.

The lawyer invests all his money and time and assets trying to win, and they don’t win. They barely get enough money back to cover expenses and Jan’s firm breaks up and he is left bankrupt.

At the end of the movie you see the Lawyer Jan in bankruptcy court.

The judge says: The purpose of these questions
is not to humiliate you, but to verify the assets that you’ve declared.

Jan Schichtmann says: I understand.

The judge continues: Because what you’re asking
your creditors to believe is… – Well, it’s hard to believe.
– I know.
After 17 years of practicing law, all you have to show for it is… 14 dollars in a checking account and a portable radio?

Schlichtmann: That’s correct.

The Judge: Where did it all go? The money?
The money, the property, the personal belongings.
The things one acquires
in one’s life, Mr Schlichtmann.

The things by which one measures one’s life.

What happened?

 

Of course, the viewer knows that he lost it all trying to get justice for the people of Woburn.

 

And the implication is obvious even though Jan doesn’t answer the question and the movie does not addresses the statement directly:

 

That the things by which one measure’s life is more than money and assets and net worth.

Because just before this statement Schlichtmann said that he would do it again.

What he was saying was that the measure of a person is not just financial gain, but sometimes it is in doing what it right.

 

Now in the kingdom of your own life, the kingdom of your own soul, maybe you set out one day and you had a bunch of goals.

Maybe it was to make some money, buy a house, have a family, a dog, a pension plan and work until you retire: and in that retirement have money and travel and have nice things and a good bank accountant and a healthy investment portfolio.

And some of you may have had those goals and some of you may have reached those goals.

And I am not knocking you or criticizing you for those goals. Hey I myself wouldn’t mind being comfortably off financially.

 

But sometimes our Kingdom of our self, or our Kingdom of our soul runs into a guy called Jesus Christ, and our Kingdom runs into his kingdom and then our kingdom is thrown into a bit of a tizzy, because Jesus kingdom seems to have a different kind of net worth.

 

Last week we talked about forgiveness. Think about this for a second.

What if your real net worth was in all the people you have forgiven in your life?

I know it doesn’t put bread on the table or make for a comfortable retirement, but what if the measure of your life was in forgiveness?

How would you measure up?

 

Have you done lots of forgiving?

Have you forgiven more that you have withheld forgiveness?

And are there people you don’t forgive?

Do you forgive more than the average bear or less?

 

Last week’s story was about forgiveness. Outlandish crazy forgiveness of impossible debt. Yet that is what Jesus does for us.

 

But this week’s story is a little different as we try to measure our soul’s net worth.

 

It’s about quarter to seven in the morning and farmer is in town at the farm labour pool looking for workers. He hires a few and promises to pay them a good wage for labourers – $25 an hour. For ten hours that is $250 dollars.

 

The farmer is back at nine in the morning for more workers and promises to pay them what is fair.

He is back again at noon for more workers. One wonders if he is trying to get the crop in before a snow, or could he not find enough workers earlier, but nevertheless he hires more and agrees to pay them what is fair.

 

He is back at three o’clock for more workers and then at 5 o’clock and hires more.

 

Now it is 6 o’clock. It is quitting time. And it is “time to be paid.”

 

The workers line up.

 

The most recent workers are paid first. That is, the ones who only worked one hour.

 

And what is this, they open their pay packets and there are 10 crisp twenty dollar bills and 5 tens. Two hundred fifty dollars for one hour’s work.

The workers are ecstatic. This is better than the oil rigs.

 

And the ones lined up behind, hear the good news and they start to perk up and start to make all sorts of calculations.

If the farmer is paying $250 an hour, and I worked ten hours. Let me see that is Um Um…

That is twenty five hundred dollars.

 

And the farmer hands out the rest of the pay packages, but instead of joy there is dejection. The ones who worked three hours receive $250, and the ones who worked six hours receive $250 and the ones who worked eight hours receive $250 and the ones who worked ten hours…. receive….

You guessed it…. $250.

 

“You mean he paid everybody the same?”

 

And the scriptures say that they grumbled. I am sure that it an understatement. The bible couldn’t probably print what some of them said.

 

Especially those who worked ten hours. “It’s not fair,” they said, “ We worked our buns off today. Why would you treat us this way.”

 

“Wait a minute” said the farmer. “You agreed to the deal.” You thought $25 an hour was a better than average wage. You were happy this morning.”

“Yeah but you paid some people $250 an hour.”

 

“Well, I am being generous. It’s my money. I can be generous can’t I”

 

Well, can he?

Can he do that?

 

And the question the landowner asks is “are you envious because I am generous?”

Most of us put this in the “It’s not fair category.”

 

I like the King James version of the question:

Is your eye evil because I am good?

 

It is amazing the sense of fairness and justice that humans have. In fact, there are experiments to show that fairness is a concept in the animal kingdom and that it is instinctive in primates.

Two researchers from Emory University tested fairness out with capuchin monkeys.

They put a monkey in a cage and another monkey in a sage right next to the first monkeys cage so each could see the other.

And they trained the monkeys that if they gave little rocks to their handlers they would be rewarded with a piece of cucumber, which the monkeys like. So, each other monkeys would give rocks and get rewarded with cucumbers.

But then the experiment changes. The first monkey instead of being rewarded with a piece of cucumber, got a grape instead. A grape to a monkey is a big step up from a cucumber in the monkey world.

It is like going from an okay treat to my favourite treat in the whole monkey world.

So, the second monkey sees the first monkey get a grape and expects a grape when the rock is proffered. But she didn’t get a grape, she got a piece of cucumber.

 

But then to make matters worse the first handler gave a grape for free to the first monkey without the first monkey even having to give a rock.

 

And the results surprised even the researchers. To use the vernacular: the second monkey “lost her shit.”

Not only did she refuse to eat the cucumber she hurled it at her handler, and then she picked up rocks and threw those, and gibbered away in what probably was monkey swear words at her handler and at the first monkey, and gave obscene monkey gestures.

 

You know human babies even less than a year old perceive injustice.

 

I remember the time I changed my mind on the sacrament of communion for children. WE were in British Columbia at that first church in Armstrong B.C. I was presiding in one of my first ever communions if not my first. And as the sacrament was being passed around, I could see my daughter Kirsten, who was about one year old, see the bread come round and see the juice come round. I could see her eyes, and I could see that they were expectant and excited, because she was going to get some of what the others were getting. But she didn’t get it.

She was passed over. And you could see not only disappointment but the injustice of it. Everybody was getting God’s grace but her, and somehow, she knew that she was missing out on this special whatever it was.

 

It wasn’t fair and she knew it.

 

And this is a parable that seems to tell us that God is not fair.

 

I know it doesn’t have to be interpreted that the farmer is God.

In fact, some scholars vigorously resist this interpretation.

They prefer to say that it is a parable to say that life isn’t fair.

There are rich and poor and there are those who have and those who don’t and everyone in between, and the spiritual journey is in part about coming to terms with the fact that life isn’t fair.

So, you take the cards you are dealt and you play them the best that you can and don’t worry so much about the ones who have more, or even less.

Just be yourself and that is the way to happiness. Be content with who you are.

 

And there is truth to that, but for me it is about God’s realm. It is about what life would be like if love ruled, God ruled, Jesus’ way was actually followed.

And to me it is about outrageous crazy grace and outrageous crazy grace is not always fair. In fact, by definition outrageous crazy grace is not fair, because it is grace and love and acceptance and forgiveness and compassion precisely to those who don’t deserve it.

 

And like Paul, and maybe like you, I am one of the chiefest of sinners…and I don’t deserve the grace that Jesus has given to me.

 

So maybe one way to ask the measure of your life is to ask this: How much crazy, outrageous grace has
God given you?

Not how much do you have, or how much you made an hours, or a year, but how much have you been forgiven?

Wow?

 

I want you to really think about it, because the truth is, we love to throw cucumbers and rocks at those who get too much grace for our liking.

We swear and make obscene gestures to those who are forgiven too lightly, get too much, have to much, didn’t earn what they have, are too smart, or too good looking, or are born with a golden spoon in their mouths.

 

Good old Jonah was so angry that he wanted to die because his enemies repented and were forgiven.

 

We really can have an evil eye towards those who get more than we do.

 

Strangely enough we don’t see to have the same unfairness feeling to the 90% of the world that is poorer than us. And to be in the top 10 percent in the world in terms of income your household annual income only has to be $40,000 Canadian take home, for a household of two people; and for a single person that is take home pay of $2000 a month.

If you worked fulltime at minimum wage in Alberta as a single person you would make more income than 90 percent of the world would make.

 

But again, this is primarily not about money, but about grace and love.

 

And what do we need to learn about grace and love?

 

That when you love, suffering is a part of it…

That when you extend grace you are giving and losing…

Jesus called it a cross.

 

That is what it is like to love someone. My mother lost a ton of money on her boys. She sacrificed and she gave and she helped and she never got a financial return on her investment in her family.

In fact, when I grew up, I moved away and my mother would actually have to spend more money to see me, because until the last few years it was easier for her to come and we couldn’t afford to go with four kids.

 

But that story of human sacrifice is as old as human history. People who love giving for the ones they love.

 

I have four children They were expensive.

 

And they are not always easy.

At first when they are babies they are so sweet and innocent and cute and helpless.

Then children turn two and enter the terrible twos and as they get bigger they want to argue with you and do their own thing and they don’t want to obey.

They learn to say “No.” They learn to lie. They learn to be mean to their little sisters or brothers.

And, as they get bigger they eat more and demand more and take it all for granted and hardly ever say thank you.

And then they become teenagers and when you ask them to do something, they look at you as if you had three heads and if you try to give them good advice they say: “Whatever.” And ignore you.

 

And there are days, when you literally tear your hair out. I am living proof.

 

But as we get older and wiser and more spiritual, we learn more about crazy outrageous grace, and just how unfair it is.

That love is about giving more than getting.

That love is not about getting paid back, or getting more than the other… it is about losing and sacrificing and doing and giving….

 

And yet, when you come to the end of your days, and you start doing your net worth, your spiritual net worth. And you start adding up how much you loved and how much you were loved and how much it cost you to love, and how much it cost you to have relationships…

It cost Jesus his life.

But you know what you will say. It was all worth it. Every bit of love I put in to another. It was all worth it. It wasn’t fair but I wouldn’t do it any other way,

 

Amen.