22. October 2017

It’s not fair

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Have you ever said, ‘It’s not fair!’  about something.

A man called Charlie Boswell could have said it. `but he didn’t.  He was blinded during the second world war whilst rescuing his friend from a tank that was under fire.  He was a great athlete before his accident and, afterwards in a testimony to his determination he decided to try a brand new sport, a sport he had never imagined playing, even with eyesight … golf!

Through his efforts he became the National Blind Golf Champion.  He won that honour thirteen times.  One of his heroes was the great golfer Ben Hogan, so it was an honour for Charlie to win the Ben Hogan Award in 1958.

When he met Ben Hogan Charlie was awestruck and said that he had one wish and it was to have one round of golf with the great man.  Ben Hogan agreed that playing a round together would be a n honour for him as well, as he has heard all about Charlie’s achievements and admired his skills.

‘Would you like to play for money?’ blurted out Charlie.

‘I can’t play for money, it wouldn’t be fair!’ said Hogan.

‘Aw, come on Mr Hogan.  How about £1000 per hole?’

‘I can’t, what would people think of me, taking advantage of you and your circumstance,’ replied the sighted golfer.

‘Chicken, Mr Hogan?’

‘Okay,’ blurted a frustrated Hogan, ‘but I’m going to play my best!’

‘I wouldn’t expect anything else,’ said the confident Charlie.

‘You’re on then, Mr Boswell.  Just name the time and place!’

A self assured Charlie answered, ‘Here.  Eleven o’clock.  Tonight!’

It hasn’t been reported what Ben Hogan then said.  Earlier he had said that it wouldn’t be fair to play Charlie Boswell for money because he believed that he had a massive advantage.  Now the tables were turned.  Boswell now had the advantage.  Now Hogan could have said, ‘It wouldn’t be fair’ – only this time it would not be fair to him!

How often have we heard the expression, ‘It isn’t fair!’  We have said it ourselves.  We often hear children saying it.  They are impatient when they perceive unfairness.  ‘It’s not fair.  She got more sweets than I did!’  ‘His piece of cake is bigger than mine!’  When they get older the words change but the sentiment remains the same.  ‘My friends are allowed to stay out until really late and you won’t let me!  It’s not fair!’  ‘Why can’t I have more pocket money?  My friends get much more.  It’s not fair!’

And when these children get much older the tune is still the same:

‘The weather’s been beautiful all week and then on Sunday, my only chance to go out and enjoy myself, it rains!  Now I’ll have to go to church!’  ‘It’s not fair!’

‘We both work for eight hours each day, but when we get home I still have to collect the children, get supper and do the washing, whilst he sits around and watches TV.’  ‘It’s not fair!’

‘My salary has stayed more or less the same for years now but inflation means I am actually worse off.’ ‘It’s not fair!’

I’ve worked for my employers for twenty years now and have a lot of experience.  Then this new boy comes along with all his new ideas and gets promoted over me.’  ‘It’s not fair!’

Children aren’t the only ones who get worked up about the absence of fairness.  Most of us are very quick to react when someone else is treated better than we are.  Fairness is a noble and helpful idea and we try to build it into the fabric of of our social, political, economic and educational life.  We expect fairness at work and school.  We want fairness in shops and from service industries.  We want our law courts to be fair.  We even desire fairness in international trade which is why we, as a church, support the Fair Trade movement.

Fairness is a good and noble concept, and that is one of the reasons why Jesus’ story in our Gospel reading this morning is a bit like fingernails racing across a chalkboard.  The landowner hires workers at regular three hour intervals, from sunrise to late in the afternoon. All the workers get paid the same wage – an honest day’s wage – whether they started work at five o’clock in the morning, or five o’clock at night. Some worked twelve hours. Some worked just one. They all got paid the same. It wasn’t fair!

But then, as most of us have been told, at different stages of our lives – life isn’t fair!

But look again at what the landowner did. He gave a fair wage to those who had worked all day. He decided to give the same amount to those who put in less time.  When he was confronted with this perceived unfairness, he replied, ‘Don’y I have the right to do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?’  It wasn’t that the landowner was unfair; it was the generosity over and above fairness that he showed that really annoyed people.

One of the most important words in the Christian vocabulary is ‘grace’.  We speak of the wonderful, generous grace of God.  In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for grace is hesed.  It means the loving kindness of God.  In the New Testament the Greek word for grace is charis which means pleasure.  God gives pleasure though the kindness he shows to us and the gratitude we have as a consequence, a gratitude that is created within us because of the giving-nature of God.

Paul, in Ephesians, states:

‘But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated  us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.’

(Ephesians 2:4-9)

What Paul said is wonderfully illustrated in an apocryphal story about a man called Frank.  He died and went to heaven.  When he got to the pearly gates St Peter explained the entrance requirements to him.  ‘This is how it works, Frank,; said Peter.  ‘You need one hundred points to get into heaven.  You tell me all the good things you have done and I will give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on his good it is. When you reach 100 points I’ll let you come in.’

‘OK,’ said Frank, ‘I was married to the same woman for 50 years and was never unfaithful to her.’.

‘That’s wonderful,’ said Peter, ‘I’ll give you 3 points.’

‘Only 3 points?’ said Frank.

He continued, ‘Well, I attended church all my life  and tithed my income and I sang regularly in the church choir.’

‘Marvellous,’ said Peter, ‘That’s certainly worth a point/’

‘One point!?  Ok, let’s see.  I started my church’s work with homeless people inour town and I helped establish a day centre for them.’

‘Fantastic,’ said Peter. ‘another 2 points.’

‘Two points,’ yelled Frank, ‘At this rate the only way I’ll get into heaven is by the grace of God.’

‘There’s your 100 points,’ said Peter, ‘Come on in.’

You know, when we start to think that God owes us something we are in trouble.  Like all good parents, God loves us, not because we have said enough prayers; not because we live decent lives; not because we are caring parents; not because we bring our children up with great care and devotion; not because we give ourselves selflessly in the service of others; not even because we come to church every Sunday – no, God loves us, just because … He loves us because he is like that, he is kind and loving.  And even though he is also holy, and the ways in which we act and behave fall far short of his holiness, God in his grace continues to love us.

Our Gospel reading this morning is all about attitude.  If we have an attitude and go through life with a sense of entitlement, then the unfair aspects of human life will annoy us, and we may even become embittered.  But if we go through life with the knowledge that everything we have is a blessing, then the unfair aspects of human life will be no match for our serenity and we will approach life with a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude.

Parents who raise their children with a strong sense of entitlement are possibly moulding problem children.  Of course parents want the best for their children.  But Christian parents need to understand that God’s kingdom will best be served if they try to inspire in their children a spirit of appreciation and gratitude.

You know all of us were once children.  Perhaps it was a long time ago – but we were all babies as well.  Now think about it.  Babies can’t do anything to earn their keep.  When we were babies, for example, we made constant demands on our parents.  All we did was sleep. Eat, cry, play and cause problems with nappies.  Our parents gave, gave, gave and we took, took, took!  We know that our parents wouldn’t have had it any other way.  When they chose to have children they chose to give,  And for those of us who have had children ourselves, the same is true of us.  Having children is a long term project in giving, with little promise, or expectation of receiving anything back, ever.

Babies and children can’t earn their parents’ love.  In the same way we can never earn God’s grace and love.  We are required to accept that God loves us. Accept it, relax and respond to that love in a spirit of gratitude and praise.  The good news is that our value to God is not based on who are, or what we can do or have done, but simply on the nature of God.  Praise God!