Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

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“Rich Reward He Offers Free”

Matthew 20:1-16

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“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 20:10-12, ESV).  I don’t know about you, but I’m with those guys.  What if you worked all day, 9-5, and you got paid the same as the people who worked only 4-5?  It’s not a problem that I agreed to work for one day’s wages, but those other workers should get a prorated wage.  They should get a percentage of a denarius, not the whole thing!  And God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8, ESV).  And that’s what bothers me.  Because if God’s ways were like my ways, we would all get an amount equal to the time we put in.  I’ve been a Christian since I was twenty-six days old; it doesn’t make sense that I’m in exactly the same position as those who become Christians on their death-beds.  Of course, I don’t deserve what the Apostles get.  But I am a pastor; or I am a life-long Christian; or I am at church every Sunday; or I work hard and try my best.  Surely that’s worth something!  And it is; but not when we’re talking about salvation.  There is a song “Heaven is a Honky Tonk” by Ray LaMontagne.  He sings about some of his fellow musicians who have died, like Johnny Cash: “Now all my heroes have gone to heaven/Where all them righteous joes take to shoveling coal/The killers and the cons/The pushers and the pawns/With halos, wings just hovering over paths of gold.  So mama don’t you cry/When I’m dead and gone/Cause Jesus loves his sinners/And heaven is a honky tonk.  Now all my heroes have gone to heaven/The liars and the gamblers and the fools/The drunkards and the thieves/All wearing silk upon their sleeves/And every gal is like a silver pearl in bloom.  So mama don’t you cry/When I’m dead and gone/Cause Jesus loves his sinners/And heaven is a honky tonk.”  “All my heroes have gone to heaven/Where all them saints wear flaming shoes/The junkies and the whores are behind them pearly doors/I guess I’m going to go to heaven too.”  I don’t want God to be like that, saving anyone and everyone.  And you can admit it-that is, repent-you don’t want Him to be like that either.

The Lord of the vineyard asks in verse 15, “Is your eye evil that I am good?”  The goodness of God, His generosity, is evil in our eyes.  We do not want Him to be God, because then we are simply at His mercy.  He does as He pleases, He saves whom He will, and He doesn’t consult us first.  We are, most of us, on the side of those who want God’s ways to be like our ways.  We want God’s thoughts to match our thoughts.  Sure, Jesus loves His sinners (at least, sinners like me).  We know it in our brains, if we’ve been well-trained, that God loves everybody the same; that Jesus did die for killers, cons, pushers, pawns, gamblers, fools, liars, drunkards, thieves, junkies and whores.  But then we actually see them in prison, or drugged out, or blowing their kids’ college fund in the casino, or begging change for another bottle, or turning tricks on the corner, and, somehow, our theology doesn’t quite match what we’re thinking.  So we find these little ways to make logical sense of what we know.  See, maybe God chose us for salvation because He knew what nice people we would become.  Or maybe, since He is making us perfect, He saves us in light of our eventual perfection.  Because it’s too hard to believe that God would choose men and women in Jesus Christ simply because that is how He operates, how He reigns.  We can deal with love that chooses us and rewards us when we have spent our whole lives in love and service to God and to our neighbor.  But the sort of love that chooses people at the eleventh hour-perhaps those who become Christians in the last minutes before Christ returns-is incompatible with the old sinner that still clings to us.  But this is how God reigns in Jesus Christ.  Grace to all, free and equal.  The world sees winners and losers, first and last; but God sees sinners, every last one of us, and He says: you, too, come and work.

“[M]any who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matthew 19:30, ESV).  If you think you are first, and that you deserve to be first-you do not-this parable is crushing Law, because it puts all your pretensions, your delusions of kingdom grandeur, to death.  It says that God gives the very same salvation to the prostitute who repents as He gives to you, happily and faithfully married.  He gives the very same grace to the murderer who mourns his crime as He gives to you, the lover of life.  The very same Christ, the very same cross, the very same love.  And if you think you are last, and that you deserve to be last-you do-this parable is pure Gospel.  Jesus Christ is your Savior; He died for your sin.  To you is given no less of Christ, no less of His cross, no less of God’s love.  If you are not already, be baptized, and the Lord will remove you from under the devil’s thumb and put you under the reign of His loving Father.  To you, the Lord says, “Why have you stood here the whole day doing nothing?” (Matthew 20:6)  Today His mercy calls you: “Go, also you, into My vineyard” (20:7).  And you, who have been long in the vineyard, who have lived in the grace of God, under the burden of the cross and the burning sun of the day, do not begrudge that grace.  There is nothing to regret.  You, too, are His, and His grace has meant a life of service to Him, rather than serving yourself and the devil.  Take what belongs to you, and go in peace.  Because, thank God!, His thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are our ways His ways.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).  His way is not like the way of the wicked, who walk only with themselves in mind; nor are His thoughts like the thoughts of the sinful, who think only about how much they can get.  His way is compassion; His thought is abundant pardon of sinners.  “Hearken to the Lord whose coming/Marks the time when grace shall end,/When with His angelic reapers/He in glory shall descend./Soon the night, the final harvest;/Soon the time for work shall cease.”  For now there is work to be done.  Now there are people to be served.  Now there is forgiveness to be given out and a vineyard to tend.  “Then the souls His grace has garnered/Shall enjoy His Sabbath peace” (LSB 827, st. 4).  Then all the workers, first and last together, shall be called into the household of the Lord of the vineyard.  Wages will be paid, rewards given.  Nothing can be claimed by us, nothing is owed to us; but the Lord desires to give from what is His, and so He does: “O love, how deep, how broad, how high,/ Beyond all thought and fantasy,/That God, the Son of God, should take/Our mortal form for mortals’ sake!” (LSB 544, st. 1)  Yes, you and I are at the mercy of the Lord.  And it’s a good thing, too.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 9/17/08

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