Sunday, February 20, 2011

Homily for Septuagesima


Matthew 20:1-16; 1 Corinthians 9:24 – 10:5; Exodus 17:1-7

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

The parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard is yet another parable which our Lord says is explicitly about the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus, it is, first and foremost, a parable about God’s grace, and, consequently, it is a parable about God’s judgment only upon rejection of His grace – for, there are none who will find themselves outside of the Kingdom of Heaven who were not first within it.

In this parable, the Master of the vineyard is God, our heavenly Father, and, like in so many other parables of the Kingdom of Heaven, He is out searching for His straying children: In one parable they are like sheep gone astray; in another they are like ungrateful, prodigal sons; in another they are like unto a lost coin; and, in this parable, they are like idle laborers with no work to do and with no way to provide for themselves and their families. The Master went out early in the morning to seek and to hire laborers for His vineyard. He will find them. His vineyard will be tended to. There will be a bountiful harvest. And, there will be a festive celebration for all the hired laborers whom the Master finds and hires, who do not reject the gracious terms of His employ. For, these terms are guaranteed, for the last, as well as for the first, for, this is a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven, and this is a parable about God’s immeasurable and reckless grace.

The parable itself is really quite simple, and you know it well. The Master of the vineyard hired laborers to work in His vineyard at the beginning of the day. He agreed with them upon the wage of a denarius for their day’s labor, a fair and respectable wage, and they went to work in His vineyard. Then the Master went out again at the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to those idlers He said “You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.” Now, from a worldly perspective, these idlers are not worthy of hire, for they made little to no effort to be hired for work, sleeping in while the first arrived early in the morning. But, here, already, the Master’s grace begins to shine forth as He graciously gives them employ and promises to pay them what is right. So, the idlers hitched it into the vineyard and began to work alongside those first hired. Then, the story repeats itself at the sixth hour, and again at the ninth hour, and, then, lastly, even at the unthinkable eleventh hour. The Master of the Vineyard graciously extended hire to all, even to the last idlers of the day. Now, we might rightly imagine that these last had given up all hope of hire and had resorted to drunken carousing in the bars, and yet, still, the Master sent them to work in His Vineyard. Outrageous! You think? No, this is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like!

The Kingdom of Heaven is about grace – Good things given to people who don’t deserve them. If you have in mind any sense of merit or worth, forget about it, that’s not grace. Grace is a gift, absolutely free, no strings attached, given by God your heavenly Father for no other reason than that He is good and generous, gracious, and He wants to give you what He wants to give you, whether you deserve it or not. And, He wants to give, not only to you, but to the person sitting next to you, and to that person over there, and to all the people that are not here today, even to that person who says she doesn’t believe in God, and to that one who steals from others, and to that one who kills, and to that one…. There is no one that He does not shower His grace upon. There is no one that He has not graciously forgiven in His Son Jesus Christ. There is no one that He has not invited to His banquet, killed the fatted calf for, or called to labor in His vineyard. There is no one who deserves or merits this grace and favor from God the Father, not even one, and that is precisely the point! That is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like! It’s all about the giving, and the forgiving, to all people in all the world, because this is who God the Father is and this is what He and His Kingdom are like!

Thus, at the end of the day, the Master told His servant to call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first. And, as they are paid, the laborers began to realize that all have been paid the same amount, one denarius, a full day’s wage. There is no difference in pay between those who worked all day and those who worked less, and those who worked but only an hour, for God the Father is gracious and He graciously gives to all regardless of worth or merit. Again, how good you are, how hard you work, how much you think that you should merit, these have absolutely nothing to do with grace.

Oh, scandal! Oh, confounding offense! Those paid last, those who worked the longest, grumble that those hired last, who worked only one hour, are paid the same, one denarius. Outrage and anger! Oh, the injustice! They thought that they would be paid more. Now, why would they think that? There was no injustice done to them. They were paid exactly what was promised to them and what they themselves agreed to. Their only offense, then, is that the Master showed grace to those who worked less hours and paid them the same. Is that not the Master’s choice? Does anyone have the right to dictate how the Master uses His own wealth? “Or do you begrudge my generosity?” asks the Master. Or, more literally, “Is your eye evil because I am good?”

Yes. Yes, that’s it! Your eye is evil because of the goodness of the LORD. That is, how often do you begrudge the LORD’s generosity, His goodness and grace shown to others whom you deem to merit less than yourself? How often do you curse the LORD and destroy your brother with anger, like Cain destroyed his brother Abel, because God the Father, in His goodness and grace, favored the labor of His hands equal to or above that of your own?

Why are you offended by this? So what if God is crazy?! Has He not promised you a full day’s wage, a denarius, that is, all that you need to sustain your body and life now, and your life eternally in His Kingdom? You are not being shorted; it is impossible that you will be shorted in any way. So what if God is crazy in His generosity and grace and gives the same to everyone else? Such is the “weird goodness” of your heavenly Father, that when He’s happy, everybody’s happy, no matter what they did or didn’t do. At the end of the day He will pay out His generous and gracious wage, a wage that you didn’t deserve, merit, or earn – that nobody deserves, merits, or earns – eternal life and blessedness with Him in His kingdom of glory. And, then the party will begin!

In His generosity and grace, your heavenly Father has invited you and the whole world to the harvest feast in His Vineyard-Kingdom. It matters not whether you are first or last, but what matters is His gracious invitation – you are invited, all has been prepared for you, you are in! This is the LORD’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes! Only you can keep yourself out of the kingdom; only you can make yourself miss out on the party. If you insist that you have earned or merited God’s favor, then, to the back of the line with you, for the last will be first, and the first last. But such grumbling and dissatisfaction at God’s generosity and grace and at the having of the have-nots only breeds jealousy, anger, and misery. And, these are great footholds for the devil in your heart, soul, and mind that he will use to separate you from the flock and to see that you put yourself out of the kingdom – for, there are none who will find themselves outside of the Kingdom of Heaven who were not first within it.

It is so tempting to be a bookkeeper and to fill our books full of black ink representing our positive balance of merits and works before the LORD. Of course, it is also tempting for us to keep books for others around us, books filled with lots of red ink to be sure. But, God is not a bookkeeper. In fact, He has erased the marks in all of our books, He has made them white and clean in the red, holy and innocent blood of His Son and Sacrificial Lamb Jesus. Jesus is the Book of Life, and in that book, nothing stands against you. There are no debit entries that can keep you out of the clutches of the Love that will not let you go.

There is a Vineyard feast going on in eternity and you are all on the guest list. But, while it is still daytime, there is work to do in the Master’s Vineyard – work, not for merit, but for the love of God who loves you and all the world. The work of the Vineyard is to share His love in word and deed so that none of the Master’s invited guests find themselves missing out on the party. So, even now, He graciously gives you this foretaste of the feast to come, faith strengthening food and sin-purifying drink, from the Stricken Rock Jesus Christ that you might be bold in confession and boundless in grace like unto your Master, your Lord, and your God and Father, to whom be glory with + Jesus Christ and His most Holy Spirit now and forever.


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