Sunday, February 5, 2012

Homily for Septuagesima

laborers in vineyard


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.

Outside those doors is a world ruled by man’s wisdom and reason, knowledge and intellect. In that world men are in competition with one-another, much less for survival than for the amassing of power and wealth, material possessions, and for the admiration, envy, and fear of other men. Outside those doors men use political philosophies, business and marketing strategies, coercion, threats, and even force to gain one-upmanship over one-another, to advance the self, and to squash all competition or opposition. That’s what lies outside those doors from whence you came this day. But, when you come through those doors into this place, you must leave all those things behind, check them at the door. For, such philosophies, strategies, and means have no place within the walls of God’s house, and they must find no voice amongst God’s children. And we must not attempt to use them to grow, to maintain, or to defend the Church of Christ, for they are of, and they belong to, the world outside those doors, and, though the Church of Christ is within that world, She must never be, or become, or desire to be, part of that world.

Indeed, in His parable today, Jesus is not describing what lies outside those doors, but He is describing what is inside those doors, the kingdom of heaven, a reality of which our humble assembly in this place is but a dim reflection. It is a parable about a Master who hires laborers to work in His vineyard and who, at the end of the day, pays them exactly what He had promised each of them regardless of how long they had worked or what they believed that they earned, deserved, or merited. To be sure, if Jesus’ parable were enacted as a socio-political philosophy today, neither the capitalist nor the socialist, nor even the libertarian outside those doors would agree or be pleased, for the first principal in Jesus’ parable is grace, which, by definition, cannot be earned, deserved, or merited. For, you must remember, this is a parable about the kingdom of heaven, and not a parable about the crumbling, rotting, selfish, and wicked kingdoms of men.

And, notice this, there is no “go and do likewise” teaching from Jesus here. For, the kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of grace – period. In the end, you are either in the kingdom of God’s grace, or you are outside of it; you are either on this side of those doors, or you are on the outside. Those on the outside of the kingdom of God’s grace will be there by their own choice alone, for the Spirit of the Lord will continue calling laborers to work in the Lord’s vineyard even unto the eleventh hour of this world, and those who enter last will receive the fullness of God’s grace in Jesus Christ even as the first. The only question that is asked of those who enter the kingdom at the eleventh hour is “Why have you been standing here idle all day?” Do not begrudge the Lord His generosity.

Indeed, there is more for you to check at the door when you enter this place than merely your socio-political philosophies and your worldly wisdom and fleshly desires, for you must check every sense of merit, worthiness, and deserving as well. For, you come into the kingdom of heaven much in the way that you came into this worldly kingdom – naked, helpless, and with nothing to offer. Worse than that, you come as damaged goods, broken, selfish and self-centered, envious, greedy, and filled with every corruption. That’s the way you come into the kingdom; but that’s not the way you leave. For, there is not one in the kingdom of heaven that does not receive a 100% share of the Lord’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness for the sake of Jesus Christ. And, there is not one in the kingdom of heaven who is not made to be holy, innocent, and righteous in the atoning incarnation, life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Outside those doors, many men are concerned only about preserving, keeping, and defending what they believe they have rightly earned, deserved, or merited, while, many other men are concerned only about providing for those who are either unable or unwilling to earn, deserve, or merit much of anything at all. As the former may be tempted to self-concern and selfishness, so the latter may be tempted to take, by coercion or by force, from those who have to distribute it to those who have not. But, that is outside those doors. For, inside those doors, in the kingdom of heaven, no one earns, deserves, or merits anything at all, and yet all receive equally and fully of God’s rich grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness for Jesus’ sake. Again, there is no “Go and do likewise” teaching here, but, nevertheless, you are sent back out through those doors into the world, but not of the world. And, you go out into the world differently, as a child of God, as a recipient of God’s boundless grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness, to show and to share to those in the world that they might come through those doors and enter the vineyard kingdom of heaven as well. No, you will not be perfect in your efforts outside those doors; you will pick up some of the old habits, and thoughts, and sinful ways of the flesh. But, when you return, you will leave those things at the door once again and return to the kingdom of heaven in repentance and humility, where you will find that, though you strayed, the kingdom was never far from you, and that you will be restored and renewed in God’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness once again for the sake of Jesus Christ your Lord.

For, while the way into this place may be through those doors, the way into the kingdom of heaven is not through those doors, or the doors of any building, but the way into the kingdom of heaven is through the font. For, the font is the womb of the Church, the place where the children of God are conceived and born through water and the Word. And, from the pulpit and the lectern the children of God are nourished and strengthened in faith by the faith creating and sustaining Word of God. And from the altar the children of God are served the finest of meats and the choicest of wines to eat and to drink, that Christ may dwell in you and you in Him. For, as St. Peter has written, “our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

And so it is, dear Christian, that you live your life in two kingdoms – the kingdom of this world outside those doors, and the kingdom of heaven inside those doors. And, as much as the world out there must not influence, change, or affect life in the Church of Christ, so likewise, it is not the mission or the purpose of the Church to conquer and to rule in the world. Rather, you are to be like leaven in the world, you are to be like salt in the world, and you are to be like light in that world of sin, darkness, and death. That is to say that you are to take the grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness that you have received from God in Jesus in His kingdom of grace and you are to live it, to speak it, and to do it in the world, in your vocations, to your neighbors, as God has freely lived, spoken, and done to you in Jesus Christ.

And, as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, you must not seek to use the government or politics or force to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth, for grace does not force itself on anyone, but it is freely given and it must be freely received. Likewise, Jesus nowhere teaches that the children of God should utilize government, politics, or force to take what belongs to one and give to another. Instead your Lord teaches, “Give, as it has been given to you” and “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.” You search the Scriptures in vain for a socio-political philosophy, for Church growth strategies and marketing techniques, for such things are of the kingdom of the world outside those doors, while Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. But, you are the Lord’s laborers in His vineyard, and, notice, there is no description of the kind of work that you do or even of the limits of your work shift, for, the conditions of your hire are a relationship of faith and trust in the good will of your Lord and Master, and the work that you do is to live your life outside those doors in faith and trust in Him and in loving service to your neighbor. Put not your trust in princes, they are but mortal, but put your trust in Jesus Christ, the Lord of heaven and earth. He offers His grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness to all, to the last as to the first. Let us not begrudge His generosity but share it in life, word, and deed to the glory of God the Father, in His most Holy Son, in the love of His Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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