Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sermon: Septuagesima - 2011

20 February 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 20:1-16 (Ex 17:1-7, 1 Cor 9:24-10:5)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The Lord has created us, has given us our very lives, and we grumble. He gives us our daily bread and all that we need for this body and life, and we grumble. He placed us in one of the richest and freest countries on the planet, and we grumble. He gives us the opportunity to freely gather as Christians, to sing, to pray, to hear God’s Word, to be forgiven of all of our sins, and we grumble.

It goes to show how much like the Israelites we are.

For God delivered them from slavery in Egypt, and they grumbled. He led them safely across the Red Sea and drowned hard hearted Pharoah and his pursuing army, and they grumbled. He provided quail and manna for their sustenance, and they grumbled. He gave them His very presence in the tabernacle, and they grumbled.

It is our sinful flesh’s inability to be content that causes us to grumble, to covet, to bear false witness, to steal, to commit adultery, to kill, to dishonor our parents, to forget the Sabbath, to misuse God’s name, and to have other gods before Him who gave us life in the first place.

Our sinful flesh grumbles at unfairness – most especially when it is against us: real or perceived. For we always think of ourselves more highly than we ought, as greater than we truly are, even as we perceive our neighbors to be less than we are. And so, when we observe others receiving a greater reward for less work, rather than share in our neighbor’s good fortune, rather than “rejoice with those who rejoice,” instead, we grumble – even when it means someone has received salvation and eternal life.

For how much in need of repentance must we be to begrudge the Lord’s generosity? How much more could we dishonor God than by questioning what He does with what belongs to Him?

Our Lord’s parable is all about the grumbling. And it is a call to repent of it. It is also a reminder not to judge others, but to be content with what the Lord has given us. Most importantly of all, it is a call to see salvation for what it truly is: a free gift and blessing that none of us are worthy of in the first place! For which one of us – in spite of our delusion that we have earned God’s favor, and in spite of our self-righteous grumbling – deserves anything other than death and hell based on our own works? We are all sinners and we don’t deserve even a denarius for a lifetime of our works.

And yet, here is our merciful Lord handing out rewards for work not done, with the lavish liberality of a float rider tossing out bags full of doubloons and beads as fast as his hands can move, to people who hold their hands heavenward in petition and beg to be given something. God gives all of those who labor in His kingdom – be they preachers or hearers, teachers or students – not what we deserve, but rather what Jesus deserves. He does not give us what we think we need, but rather that He knows we need. He calls us to repent of our sins. And by His grace, our sins are forgiven, our failures are forgotten, and by means of the cross, we are made alive forever, to be paid in full when the foreman calls our labors in the vineyard to cease.

This freedom, this generosity, this kindness and graciousness of our Heavenly Father through His Son Jesus and in the workings of the Holy Spirit is what makes it possible for us to train like an athlete. The prize is already ours. And we’re not talking about perishable wreaths: trinkets, material goods that are eaten by rust and moth, things that are stolen and which end up in the landfill. No indeed! The Lord gives us the best of what He has to offer, the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, a resurrected body without sin and without death, even everlasting life without sickness or sorrow. In the race that St. Paul speaks of, “all the runners run, but only one receives the prize.” Jesus has won that crown, and it is a prize He shares with us with the generosity of the master of the house who pays the laborers more than they deserve. And so we are free to run with confidence, with faith, and with joy, for we know that a glorious crown awaits us at the finish line. And that, dear friends, gives us the energy and the encouragement to discipline our bodies, keeping them under control, in anticipation of receiving the imperishable crown, the denarius, the living water from the Rock.

For “our fathers were all under the cloud,” all covered by the darkness of sin and death, and yet by God’s kind providence, “all passed through the sea” being rescued by God in His mercy. And “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” – all rescued through the water together, regardless of age or sex or intelligence or perceived righteousness. “All ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

And so, dear friends, we have received our undeserved denarius, the crown won for us by our Lord Jesus Christ, the gift of watery life received in the dry wilderness of sin, the salvation that “unto us has come by God’s free grace and favor.” We are not paid according to our transgressions but according to Christ’s righteousness. And for that we can sing now and forevermore:

All blessing, honor, thanks, and praise
To Father, Son, and Spirit,
The God who saved us by His grace;
All glory to His merit.
O triune God in heav’n above,
You have revealed Your saving love;
Your blessed name we hallow.


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

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