Sunday, February 05, 2012

Sermon: Septuagesima – 2012

4 February 2012 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.

Our Lord Jesus tells us a lot about God’s Kingdom, and about our fallen nature, in this remarkable parable of the workers in the vineyard.

For God is generous in His kingdom, and we poor miserable sinners are most certainly not only ungrateful, but spiteful. We need to repent of this self-centeredness and live humbly, rejoicing in the Lord’s goodness which we most certainly do not deserve nor have earned. For to receive the Lord’s gifts and yet remain self-centered and to begrudge the Lord’s generosity is to miss the whole point of the Lord’s coming, and may even lead to missing the Lord’s kingdom and salvation itself.

So we do well to ponder very carefully our Lord’s parable.

The storyline involves a boss hiring workers. The bottom line is that some worked a full twelve hour shift, others worked only one hour. But the boss paid everyone the same pay – which is the pay he promised to the workers who worked a full day of twelve hours.

Instead of seeing the boss as kind and generous, providing opportunity and wealth to all, the ones who worked twelve hours see the boss as unfair, and they grumble against his generosity. And this, dear friends, is a matter of focus. Instead of focusing on the blessings we receive from God, we sinners like to focus on other sinners to see if they are bigger sinners than we are. And for us poor miserable sinners, the answer is always a poor miserable “yes.”

This happens in churches all the time. We look to see what people are wearing. If they are dressed better than we are, they are pious show-offs. If they are not dressed as well as we are, they are disrespectful slobs. We want to see who is crossing themselves and who is not, and we make judgments as to whether our neighbor says “AH-men” or “AY-men.”

Instead of such silliness, we should be so engrossed in prayer, so worshipful of our Creator, so sensitive to the egregiousness of our own sins that we have no clue whether the lady next to us is wearing a skirt or if the fellow two pews over doesn’t cross himself.

And this focus on comparing ourselves to others leads us to such sins as “boredom.” Yes, it is a sin to be in the miraculous presence of God, hearing the universe-creating Word, partaking of the miraculous sacraments, enjoying the death-defying fruits of Christ’s eternal victory over sin, death, and the devil, receiving the gift of eternal life won for us by Christ’s suffering and death upon the cross – and responding by being “bored.” This is nothing other than selfishness and self-centeredness. It is the same attitude displayed by the grumblers in our Gospel reading as well as the grumblers in the reading from Exodus.

We grumble and complain and gossip because we are selfish. We think God owes us what we want, when we want it – because, of course, we think we are so good and deserving – so much better than our neighbors. When the Israelites were thirsty, they forgot God’s goodness and started to grumble about their freedom from slavery. The grumblers were ready to stone Moses to death. Moses correctly asked them: “Why do you test the Lord?” Their selfish grumbling was sinful, for it was really disrespect to God. Many times Moses was to the point of despair because the children of Israel were ungrateful and selfish in the face of all of the Lord’s blessings.

Dear friends, we can always find something to grumble about. We can always look at the Lord’s generosity and begrudge His grace to others. We can always look for ways to get out of worshiping God, seeking ways to entertain ourselves instead. And that is exactly why we must repent, why we need a Savior!

In the Lord’s parable, the business owner made a contract and kept it. He provided an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work. But when the workers ceased to thank God for their blessings and instead focused on their neighbors, making judgments about their neighbor’s worthiness – which was really a judgment against the owner’s sense of fairness – they allowed themselves to begrudge the master’s grace. And they began to hold that grace in contempt, thinking they were entitled to more – certainly more than their neighbors.

The Lord is warning us anew of the dangers of such hardened hearts and selfish attitudes, for as St. Paul reveals to the Corinthians, and to us, concerning the children of Israel: “with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.”

Dear friends, the Lord is interested in saving all sinners. We are no better than our neighbors. And we must never question God’s judgment or sense of fairness. For if God were truly “fair” according to our fallen sense of justice, He would give every sinner what he deserves. And what we all deserve is death and hell. And we know it.

Instead, He pays us a wage not based on our sin (which is death), but rather gives us a gift (a gift purchased and won by Christ’s blood shed for us), and that gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!

How can any of us grumble? How can we be bored in the presence of God? How can we begrudge the salvation of anyone? Why do we think ill of our brother because of his clothing or piety? By what right do we accuse God of being unfair by showing mercy to sinners?

Dear friends, we can rejoice precisely because God is merciful to sinners! We are the ones who have arrived late to the banquet table. Most of us are Gentiles whose ancestors knew nothing about the covenant made with the children of Israel long before the Lord called our ancestors out of idleness to labor in the fields of the Lord. We deserve nothing but wrath, but receive nothing but pardon. We deserve to die of starvation and thirst, and yet find ourselves feasting on the Lord’s body and blood.

And what, dear brothers and sisters, what could be considered boring about reflecting on what the Lord has done for us: rescuing us from the death we deserve, vanquishing all of the foes that seek nothing but our destruction, and being with us in word and deed as a loving Father who cares for us, as a divine Son who loves us as our Big Brother, and as a doting Spirit who constantly calls us and entices us to receive the gifts of God – whether we have worked one hour or twelve, whether we are dressed in rags or in regal finery? What is there to be bored about in loving God and being loved?

As St. Paul teaches us, there is a prize awaiting us. And so we train for victory like an athlete. We run the race with joy knowing that there is a crown waiting for us at the finish line, not merely a perishable wreath, but an imperishable.

And if we are honest with ourselves, we are the least worthy of all of God’s creatures to cross the finish line. And this, dear friends, is all the more reason to rejoice and to boast in Christ alone: for “the last will be first, and the first last.” The Lord is generous! The Lord is gracious! The Lord keeps His promises! Thanks be to God!


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

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