Sunday, October 8, 2017

Sermon -- 18th Sunday after Pentecost (October 8, 2017)

MATTHEW 20:1-16


In the name + of Jesus.

     The Lord Jesus Christ is a terrible business man.  He does not understand the value of a dollar.  He does not comprehend what it means to pay people what they deserve.  Even though some work harder and bear heavier burdens, he does not compensate them accordingly.  The worker who shows up late gets the same salary as the one who is on time and works all day.  From a business standpoint, it teaches us that you may as well be negligent because everyone gets treated the same anyway.  But here is the catch: It is not that our Lord Jesus Christ is a terrible business man.  It is that our Lord Jesus Christ is not a business man at all.
     The Lord's business is grace.  “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.  After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.” (Matthew 20:1-2)  The workers did not come to the master looking for work.  He had to go out and find them.  He called them to service, and he promised to pay them what was right—a denarius, a day's wage.  But then the master continued to call in workers.  Some worked nine hours.  Some worked six.  Some three, and a few only one.  And then the master compensated all of them a full day's wage.
     If it seems unfair to you, you are not alone.  Jesus spoke about one man who lodged a complaint with the master.  “On receiving (the wage) 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 20:11-12)  From a business standpoint, his complaint is legitimate.  He who works longer and harder deserves more.  But the Lord Jesus is not a business man.  The Lord's business is grace.
     For as much as we all rejoice that we have received God's grace and for as much as Lutheran's repeat one of the pillars of the Lutheran Reformation—that we are saved by grace alone—we also are guilty of despising grace.  We are like the worker who lodged the complaint to the master against the workers called at the last hour.  Most of us here have been baptized as infants and raised in the Christian Church.  We have known nothing else.  The Lord brought us into his vineyard for service for the full length of our lives.  While this is a great blessing, it has also brougth on great struggles.  You know what it is to fight against temptation rather that to simply give into it.  You know what it is to see your friends embrace a perverse and worldly attitude and to feel very much alone in refusing to go along, refusing to celebrate it, and even refusing to suggest that it is okay.  You know how frustrating it is to fight the good fight of the faith when your own sinful flesh would just love to quit the faith for an evening or a weekend.  This is the burden we all bear as Christians, and the heat of the day seems destined to pick up as we face ridicule and revulsion from the world because we walk in the way of God's truth.
     Now, when we see or hear about someone who repents late in life, we protest.  We lament that it is unfair that someone else got to indulge in whatever sex, drugs, and rock and roll he could handle, and that a death bed confession excuses all of it.  It is as if we actually envy the unbelievers and wish we could indulge in sin and get away with it.  Repent.  You think of yourself more highly than you ought to.  First of all, if you were born into a Christian family who raised you in the church, that is God's grace too.  God could have placed you in a family of hard core pagans.  He chose to bless you instead.  Secondly, death bed conversions are rare.  Most people die as they live.  If they were rebellious, perverse people throughout their entire lives, they will almost certainly die as rebellious, perverse people.  Third, your lament makes you just like the laborer from the vineyard who complained: "Lord, you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’” (Matthew 20:12)
     Ironically, the complaint is true.  The Lord does make you equal.  You are not a Christian because you are better.  You are not saved because you have worked harder.  The Lord does not owe you salvation, or anything good for that matter.  The Lord's business is grace.  That means the Lord gives you what you have not worked for and what you do not deserve.  The Lord's business is grace.
     We complain because we think we deserve better.  But our own hearts convict us.  We do not rejoice at the repentance of all sinners.  We believe that some are beyond forgiveness.  If you had heard that Adolf Hitler, Jeffery Dahmer, Saddam Hussein, or Osama bin Laden repented before they died, you might be angry rather than rejoice.  You want them to pay for their evil deeds.  You may even find yourself praying that God would give people what is fair.  But if God were fair, then we all must perish.  If God is fair, then you have to pay for your merciless attitude toward others.  We have not mastered love, not even when we have received it.  We are sinners.  We are no better.  We are all equal under God's law.
     But God's business is grace.  God did not act to save good people.  God acted to save sinners.  God acted to pay the price for people who do not love all others, who boast about their works, and who are not merciful enough.  Jesus came to secure the same forgiveness for all sinners.  Rather than concern himself with who is a worse sinner or a better sinner, Jesus came to suffer and die for all sinners.  The holy and innocent blood he shed on the cross is on behalf of all who are guilty, no matter how long they have lived in their guilt.  Jesus' righteous life was given up for all people.  No one is so good that he does not need Jesus' forgiveness.  No one is so bad that he is beyond Jesus' forgiveness.  Jesus has won deliverance from death and hell by his resurrection.  Jesus has granted you all of his blessings to you through your baptism—whether than was when you were days old or if it were just a few days ago.  All who believe and are baptized have received the same forgiveness, the same salvation, the same “denarius.”  It is not fair.  It is grace.  But God's business is grace.
     Our own sinful nature will always complain that we have labored longer against sin and temptation than other people—not that we've master it.  But our Lord has us bear a cross so that we daily crucify our sinful desires and so that our Lord will raise up pure desires in us.  This is a daily struggle.  Often it is a hard struggle.  Life in the Church Militant demands this fight.
     But you do not need to envy those who neither struggle nor fight.  You are under God's grace.  And if you have been under that grace your whole life—as it is for many of you—that means you have always known your sins are forgiven.  That means you have always known that God works even the evil things in this world for your ultimate good.  That means when death's hour comes—whether peacefully or violently, whether it comes as expected or by surprise—you know that eternal life in God's glory awaits.  We look for the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.  You know these things because our gracious Lord has revealed them to you and delivers them to you again and again through word and sacrament.  Should not the world envy you for this?
     The master told the disgruntled servant: “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?” (Matthew 20:14-15)  The Lord has been pleased to bestow his grace upon you.  And he still desires to bestow it upon others.  It does not come at your expense, but at the Lord's.  The Lord's business is grace.  And he has made it his business to include you in his grace.  Let's make it our business to proclaim God's grace to others.  We lose nothing by doing so; and we will gain other people to labor with us in the vineyard and to thank God with us.

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