Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (LSB-A)

Matthew 20:1-16; Philippians 1:12-14, 19-30; Isaiah 55:6-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The devil will find work for idle hands to do. You see, there’s no fence straddling when it comes to God. As Jesus teaches, you’re either with Him, or you’re against Him. You’re either a child of God, or your father is the devil. There is no neutral ground between the kingdom of heaven and what exists outside its gates; you’re either in the banquet hall, or you’re on the outside where there is weeping and the gnashing of teeth.
Idleness is akin to complacency and lukewarmness, fence straddling. If you are lukewarm and tepid about the Lord, the Lord will spit you out of His mouth. Truly, He’d rather you be either hot or cold, even against Him, than be unconcerned and nonplussed about your relationship with Him. That’s why He warns you that not all who call Him Lord will be saved, but rather those who hear the Word the Lord and do it.
And, so it is that Jesus teaches that the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a vineyard who hired laborers to go and work in his vineyard. The Master cannot tolerate idleness, for He knows that idleness, indifference, and complacency are inroads for the devil. Therefore, He goes out and He seeks and He calls men and women to work and to serve in His kingdom. Those whom He calls may well have believed that they were merely being idle, neutral – not against the Lord, per se, but not really for Him either, neither hot nor cold – but, do not be deceived! There is no neutral ground. Those who are idle perform the devil’s works, and they bear his evil fruit. Thus, it was an act of mercy, an act of grace, that the Lord has called them, that the Lord has called you, to work and to service in His kingdom that you may bear His fruits.
He called some early in the morning, others later in the morning, others still at midday, and still others near the end of the day – but, He called them each and all from idleness, or worse, to meaningful and fruitful labor and service in His vineyard kingdom. That is to say, they didn’t apply for this job, but they were recruited, they were called. Your calling is your vocation, which literally means, “calling.” When you are doing the work and service you have been called to do, it is always meaningful and fruitful, whether it bears visible and quantifiable fruits, in the eyes of men, or not. That is why Luther said that a mother changing her child’s soiled diaper is doing a holier work than the monk praying in his cell – for, the mother is fulfilling her vocation, her calling, serving the child the Lord has placed under her care. Now, don’t misunderstand, there is nothing wrong with prayer. Prayer is good, very good even, but the highest worship of God is to receive His gifts, and to glorify Him by giving and sharing those gifts with others in service of them to the glory of God’s holy Name.
At the end of the day, the Master told His Foreman to call the laborers and to pay them their wages beginning with those hired last and late in the day. They were each paid a denarius, a full day’s wage, regardless of how little or much they had worked. And, here’s were the Old Man in each of us feels his neck hairs bristle. “Unfair! Unequal! Unjust!” we are want to protest and cry. Yup! But, now, let me tell you why that’s a good thing. Remember, this is a parable about the kingdom of heaven, not some American corporation. It will do you no good to demand what you think you have earned, merited, or deserved. In fact, I would advise you sincerely to never make such a demand from your God and Lord. For, just think about it for a moment, what it would be like if your God and Lord paid you what you have earned, merited, and deserved. No, I’m quite certain that you really and truly don’t want that.
Rather, what you want from your God and Lord is not what you’ve earned, merited, and deserved – temporal and eternal punishment and death – but what you have not earned, merited, or deserved – grace, mercy, kindness, patience, and forgiveness. As we prayed in today’s Collect, “since we cannot stand before You relying on anything we have done, help us trust in Your abiding grace and live according to Your Word.” You see, that’s the problem with the laborers in Jesus’ parable who were hired early in the day – they could only think in terms of what they had earned, merited, and deserved. And, to be truthful, they didn’t become concerned about that until they saw those who were hired later in the day, who worked less, being paid the same as them. And so, Jesus’ parable is much less about a fair wage than it is about how we view others, both those of the family of faith, and those outside alike. Jesus’ parable is really about our love for, or our failure to love, our fellow man.
The kingdom of heaven is like a Master who calls anyone and everyone to work and service in His vineyard kingdom and pays each of them alike regardless of how long they’ve worked – for He pays them in the forgiveness of sins, salvation, and everlasting life. Do you see how absurd it is to become petty with the Lord’s eternal gifts? No one has earned, merited, or deserved what the Lord doles out freely, but if you insist on being paid what you’ve earned, merited, and deserved, then you’d better be prepared for an eternity of punishment in hell, for if you insist on getting what you’ve earned, the Lord will give it to you, for He will not force Himself upon anyone. But, you know better than that. Not only must you not begrudge the Lord His generosity towards others, but knowing His generosity and grace yourself, you must go and show and tell others this Good News about your generous and gracious Lord, and give freely to others of what you have freely received. Indeed, this is part and parcel the work and service you are called to do in your Master’s vineyard kingdom – to love and to serve others with His gifts to the glory of His holy Name.
For, time is running short. No, I’m talking about predictions of the rapture or the return of the Lord or any such foolishness, but simply that, the Lord is coming at a day and hour which no man can know. Therefore, each and every day you draw breath is the day of the Lord’s gracious visitation, the time in which He may be found with His abundant pardon. Thus St. Paul teaches that your salvation is nearer to you today than when you first believed, for each day is another day you live in your Lord’s grace, and there is no promise of tomorrow. Each and every day is an opportunity to be found not idle in the marketplace, but to be found working and serving in your Master’s vineyard kingdom.
This is what Paul is getting at in today’s Epistle saying, “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.” For, to live is to live in Christ, for Christ’s life to be lived in and through you, His branches. Christians are fruitful, not because they are good people, holy, or anything of the sort, but Christians are fruitful because they have the life of Christ enlivening and flowing through them. Thus, Paul could also say that for him, to live is Christ. Like many of you, particularly those of you blessed with long life, St. Paul longed to depart this life and to be with Christ. Yet, at the same time, he believed and confessed that, if it was the Lord’s will that he remain here, that his life would be lived to the Lord in loving service of his neighbor.
Yet, in this life and service, you are not alone, but we “are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,” and we are not frightened in anything by those who oppose us, for this is a clear sign to them of their destruction and of our salvation in Christ. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake, engaged in the same conflict” with St. Paul, St. Peter, St. Augustine, St. Martin Luther, and all the saints who have gone before us.
It is our Lord who has called us into His family of faith. We, who were no people, He has called and made to be His people, a great and holy nation. We, who were idle, bearing the devil’s fruits of destruction, our Lord has called by His Holy Spirit through the Gospel, enlightened, sanctified, and kept in the true faith that we might be fruitful and give life to world to the glory of His holy Name. However, we do not stand on anything that we do, but our trust in our Lord’s abiding grace, and we strive to live according to His Word. Therefore, we offer up the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and we call upon the Name of the Lord. We present our bodies and our lives as living sacrifices in loving, compassionate, and merciful service to our neighbor to the glory of His holy Name. And we find our sustenance and our life in His Words and Wounds as we lift up the cup of salvation and as He enters under our roofs in Holy Communion. This is what the kingdom of heaven is like.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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