Anna was eighteen and just starting college when she found out that she was pregnant. The father was a fling, totally unreliable and had no interest in the child. Anna's life was turned upside down. How could she be so careless? How could she let this happen?
After praying, crying and talking to her parents and friends, she decided to give the baby up for adoption. The child deserved a good life and she was unfit to be its mother. And, to be honest, she didn't want to sacrifice her life. She wanted to go to college.
A couple from Connecticut adopted her baby, a little girl. They had two boys and really wanted a girl but didn't want to chance a pregnancy in which they might get yet another boy. They took her baby as their own and Anna gave up all parental rights. She was no longer a mother, or so she thought.
But every day of her life, even if it was just for a moment, Anna would wonder about that little girl. How was she growing up? What did she look like? Was she happy? She wondered if her daughter would ever contact her, but she never did. And Anna assumed that she had no right to know what her daughter was up to. She went on with her life but a part of her always wondered.
When Anna's daughter, Jennifer, turned 30, she prepared to be married in Connecticut. One day, she came home from work and her fiancé gave her shocking news. "Jennifer," he said. "I don't think that you are ready to marry me."
"What!? Why?" she asked, about to burst into tears.
"You need to find your biological mother. You have always wondered about her. Find her. Find out who she is. Then we can be married..."
Jennifer began to search for Anna. Anna had always left her contact information with the adoption agency in the hope that her daughter might some day want to know her. So she was not hard to find.
You could have knocked Anna over with a feather when she first heard her daughter's voice on the phone. It sounded so much like her own! They began to speak, they met for a long weekend at the beach. And Jennifer decided that she wanted Anna at her wedding. And not only that, Anna was to sit in the front row with the parents who had raised her daughter.
Jennifer's adoptive parents were remarkably generous in welcoming Anna into all of their lives. Together, they shared grandparent duties when Jennifer had her first baby. But all the time, Anna could not help feeling that it was so unfair. So unfair and yet so beautiful. She hadn't done any of the hard work. She hadn't changed diapers and put up with pimply adolescence. And she got all the benefits, as if she had been there from the start. She got to sit in the front row at her daughter's wedding.
Today Jesus tells us a parable about a landowner who is not fair. He hires workers all throughout the day, from morning to night. But when the day is done, he pays them all the same wage...those who worked for five minutes get the same amount as those who worked all day. It is clearly and unabashedly unfair.
God is not fair. God is good and infinitely generous but no where in the Bible does it say that God is fair.
I knew a man who lived the most wild life: partying and drugs and women and gambling- he did it all. At the age of 65, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was all alone. His third wife had left him after he had yet another affair.
This man found my church in the yellow pages (yes, it was years ago). He came to my office and confessed his sins. One week later, he called asking me to come to his home because he was too sick to come to me. He sat in an armchair and told me that he had had a vision of Jesus walking towards him with his arms open. He cried. And the next day, he died.
His funeral was a mess. He had made no plans. His wives and mistresses were warring with one another, but I believe that God welcomed him home, at the eleventh hour.
And how is this fair? Here we are, worshipping faithfully, giving our money and time, serving the poor the sick and the needy, and all he did was party! It's not fair!
The notion of fair comes from the mind of a two or three-year old. It is a good notion but it is a human notion, too simplistic for God. God is too wise to be fair. God knows things we do not. God is too vast to give us all the same thing. We are so unique and so individual and only God can fathom what we need.
When John Claypool's daughter died at the age of nine from cancer, he sat at the breakfast table one morning so depressed he could hardly breathe. How could God be so unfair? Why did other parents get to keep their kids? Why did he have to suffer? Why did his daughter have to suffer?
Then, in a moment, John looked up and he saw his son, sitting across the breakfast table eating Cheerios, healthy and alive. And in that moment, John realized that it was his choice. He could be angry about how unfair life was or he could be grateful for the child he had. That was the defining moment of his life. He decided that God was not fair but God was good. John realized that his daughters life was a gift. He had her for seven years.
Think about your life. Where do you feel like you've been cheated? How do you compare yourself to others? What do they have that you don't have? A better job? A nice house? Healthy kids? Life is difficult. But it is a gift and you won the lottery just to get here. Jesus never promised us that life would be fair. You have a choice as to how you see your life. Do you want to be grateful or do you want to be angry because life is unfair?
You may say to yourself, "Why should I be grateful? I have arthritis so bad I can hardly walk. My husband left me. I am alone in this world. I lost my job..." And you are right. Some of you, in fact, most of us, have had to suffer in this life. But look around you. How is it that you were born? How incredible that, out of all the infinite possibilities of genome, that you came to be? How incredible that you breathe? Dr Ryan Uitti spoke at Episcopal this past week and he said that it is hard NOT to believe in God. It would be like believing that a tornado passed through a junkyard and left behind a F16 fighter jet. There is too much beauty and genius to the creation, there is too much intentionality.
Life is not fair. You are right. God never promised us fair. God promised us love and a front seat at the wedding of life itself, at the dance of creation, the great feast of God.