Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sermon -- Septuagesima (February 16, 2014)

MATTHEW 20:1-16

In the name + of Jesus.

     In this world, you earn what you get.  The more experience you have at your craft, the more valuable you become and the better you will be compensated for it.  If you invent a product that everyone wants, you will cash in.  If you work an eight hour shift at an hourly wage, you are going to make more money than the man who works a three hour shift.  These things are obvious, and they are generally true.
     But Jesus tells us that in the kingdom of heaven, it all works backwards.  He concluded the parable with the phrase, So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:16)  And when you consider Jesus’ parable, you might find yourself objecting to it.  You want to correct Jesus and tell him to be fair.  But this is where the problem lies.  You and I have a warped view of what is fair, especially when it comes to the kingdom of God.  Because God’s kingdom is not based on what is fair.  God’s kingdom is ruled by grace.
     You know the parable well enough.  The master of the house goes out to find day laborers to tend the grapes in his vineyard.  He goes to the marketplace at the break of day to find men to work for him.  The master promises a fair wage – a denarius.  A day’s wage for a day’s work.  So far, so good.  But there is more work to be done.  More hands are needed.  So the master goes back to the marketplace and finds more men standing around doing nothing.  He goes at the 3rd hour, the 6th hour, and the 9th hour.  Still hoping to get more work done, the master goes back even at the 11th hour.  The work day is almost done, but the master recruits more workers anyway. 
     And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’  And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius.  Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius.  And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 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.’” (Matthew 20:8-12)   
     You can appreciate the anger of the day laborers who worked a full day.  From 6:00 AM until 6:00 PM, they toiled in the hot sun, tending the vines and harvesting the grapes.  But what about those who only worked half a day?  Isn’t half a wage fair?  And what about those who only worked for an hour?  How do they deserve a full day’s wage?  And if they are rewarded a full day’s wage for an hour’s work, then shouldn’t the other laborers get more?  Fair is fair.  But the master gives the same gift to all.
     One laborer was bold enough to speak to the master about his denarius.  “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.” (Matthew 20:12)  In other words, “Master, you are not fair.”  And the master does not deny it.  He does not pretend to be fair.  He responds to the criticism, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong.  Did you not agree with me for a denarius?  Take what belongs to you and go.  I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20:13-15)  In this master’s house, all receive the same gift.  All are treated as equal.  None had deserved to be there.  The master had gone out and found them.  He did not treat them according to what is fair.  His behavior was generous and gracious.
     Now, you may find yourself having sympathy for the disgruntled laborer.  You could probably argue that he is right.  And in fact, you do agree with him when you get angry about God’s grace.  For the most part, you are among the workers who were hired at the first hour of the day.  You have been Christians your whole life long.  And your denarius is forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation. 
     But you know that there are people who have been called into God’s kingdom much later in life.  Some have been saved in their 20’s.  Some, in middle age.  And a few in old age.  Life-long Christians get upset because others got to give themselves over to their seedy and selfish desires for all of those years.  Now, they are forgiven, and you feel ripped off.  Surely you must be better; but then you discover that you are made equal to those who sinned more and were believers for much less time.  The master gives the same gift to all.
     You shake your head at the injustice of it all.  “God, you are not fair!” is the cry.  But this demonstrates that sin has gripped your heart just as fully as it has gripped the hearts of others.  Do you really want God to be fair?  Then he must judge you by your actions.  And he does not just weigh your good deeds, which are not as many as you think.  But he also measures every sinful, selfish moment.  He sees the heart which thinks it deserves a reward, a heart that wishes it could have sinned more and gotten away with it, a heart which has deceived you into thinking you are good and does not really see a need for grace or mercy.  If you insist on being put first, you will be made the last.  If you demand that the Lord be fair with you, he will be.  He will give you what your deeds deserve.  The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)
     But the Lord came and found you.  He called you from standing idle, out of your sin and death, to bring you in his vineyard, that is, into his Church.  And here, he promises you your denarius—the gifts of forgiveness, new life, and salvation.  Your Lord has called you, and he has given you the gifts.
     The master gives the same gift to all, and that is because all are the same.  All are sinners.  All deserve to be damned.  But that is also why Jesus came for all.  Jesus has borne all your sins.  He did not ask which sins were little, as if they need no forgiveness.  He did not ask which sins were big, as if some are too great to be forgiven.  Jesus bore the guilt for all sins.  And he came to bear the guilt for all sinners.  He did not ask which sinners were nice, as if you are worthy.  He did not ask which sinners were violent or mean or filthy, as if there are some who could never be saved.  Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for every sinner.  All are equal.  All are sinners.  All need to be saved.  So the master gives the same gift to all.
     Is it fair?  Hardly!  It is not fair that Jesus should be pierced to the cross for your hands which have taken what does not belong to you.  It is not fair that Jesus should have his side pierced for your heart that schemes to do wicked things.  It is not fair that Jesus should perish in bitter darkness for the sins you commit in secret.  It is not fair that Jesus should have been mocked for the sarcastic and slanderous words you have used.  It is not fair that Jesus should have died for you.  But he did, and he did it willingly.  By his willing and innocent death, Jesus has made atonement for you.  He has made atonement for the whole world.  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) 
     The Lord has called to into his kingdom and gives you salvation.  This is your denarius, given to you by your Lord.  The master gives the same gift to all who believe in his Son, Jesus Christ.  The Lord does not give it to you because he is fair, but because he is gracious. Do not begrudge him for being generous, but be grateful.  For, he has generously given his Son to save you.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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