Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sermon: Septuagesima – 2014

16 February 2014

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord’s parable is usually called something like “The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.”  But it could also be named something like: “The Parable of Entitlements.”

There is a lot of talk about “entitlements” these days, as arguments over the national budget and financial deficits come into conflict with the promises made by governments and their agencies to the people.  The word “entitlement” includes the word “title.”  Anyone who owns a house or a car – or anyone who has ever played Monopoly – knows that to hold the title to something means you have rights to that property.

If you hold the title to something, then something is owed to you, whether it be rent or a payment or some kind of privilege of ownership.  And if you make an agreement with someone, whether to work for them for pay, or to pay them for work – both sides are entitled to something.  Workers are entitled to wages.  Bosses are entitled to work. 

And so the workers in our Lord’s story feel entitled.  They are not working for the boss out of the kindness of their hearts.  They are being offered a wage, a contractual amount agreed upon before the job started. 

Early in the morning, about six a.m., the boss goes out in search of laborers.  He hires some of them to work the vineyard, and he offers them the standard pay of that time: 12 hours of work for a denarius.  The workers agree, and so a contract is made.  The boss is entitled to a fair day’s labor; the workers are entitled to a fair day’s pay, in this case, the specific amount of a denarius.

But as the day goes on, the owner of the vineyard still needs more workers.  About nine in the morning, he hires on additional help, and he offers not a specific amount , but promises the wage will be “right.”  The workers agree, and they take the job.  The same thing happens at noon, and at three p.m., as workers agree to a fair salary for their six or their three hour work days. 

At five p.m., the vineyard owner sees unemployed workers standing around.  He offers them a job for an hour’s work.  Whether he is offering these men a kind of charity, or if he truly has more work to be done is not made clear.  But the same conditions of a fair wage is implied.

Six p.m. is quitting time, and it is also payday.  The owner asks the foreman to pay the workers in reverse order.  Those who worked a single hour received a full day’s pay: a denarius.  Hearing this, those who worked the full 12-hour day expected to be paid much more than they deserved.  After all, wouldn’t it be fair to get paid more than those who worked but a single hour?  Especially as these men have “borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”  And so, when they were also paid the denarius for which they agreed to work, they grumbled. 

The owner replied: “Friend, I am doing you no wrong.  Did you not agree with me for a denarius?  Take what belongs to you and go.  I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or do you begrudge my generosity?”  And Jesus, our storyteller and narrator concludes the tale and gives us the moral of the story: “The last will be first, and the first last.”

“The last will be first, and the first last.”

This flies in the face of how we view fairness.  Why shouldn’t the long-timers get more?  Why should the one-hour wonders get paid the same?  But in determining fairness, dear friends, we need to consider who is the owner, and what were the agreements that were made.

For in God’s kingdom, we are in a very weak position to argue for entitlements.  Addressing the wages we are due is not very wise, as St. Paul reveals to us that the wages of sin is death.  And so, what are you entitled to, dear friend?  What are we entitled to, dear sinners?  What does God owe us for all that we have done?  We most certainly deserve God’s “temporal and eternal punishment.”  And this means death in time and hell in eternity.  That is our rightful denarius for a lifetime of our sinful works.  That is what we deserve, dear friends, our rightful wage, our just desserts, our fair treatment by the Owner of the vineyard.  That is our entitlement.

And yet we grumble against God.  We expect to be fawned over and rewarded.  We compare ourselves to others and judge ourselves worthy, not of death, but life; not of hell, but of heaven.  And we demand that God pay us according to our perceived worth.  The children of Israel, who were freed from slavery by God Himself using His servant Moses, grumbled against Moses again and again.  On the occasion of our lesson, their grumbling had to do with their thirst.  They wanted water, and they were ready to stone Moses because he was not giving them what they wanted and when they wanted it.  For we all know that the customer is always right.  And yet in spite of their grumbling, the Lord did not reward them according to what they deserved.  The Lord provided them with life-saving water from the rock.

And this is the good news, dear friends.  We may grumble with an entitlement mentality that we deserve to be treated better in God’s kingdom.  But given that our works actually merit hell, given that the wages of our sin is death, the fact that we are paid out of the divine treasury and rewarded and renumerated according to the labor of our Lord Jesus Christ in the vineyard, taking the wages He earned, wages of forgiveness, life, and salvation even as He was paid our deserved wage of His passion and death – we have no cause to grumble, dear friends.  In fact, we have cause to rejoice.  We have no grounds to be angry with God, dear brothers and sisters, but rather we have the privilege to praise Him for all that He has done for us, including the promise of everlasting life.  Instead of griping that others are shown undeserved mercy, we should thank God every moment of every day that we, like the grumbling children of Israel, are baptized and deemed worthy to eat spiritual food and drink spiritual drink.  For the rock from which the life-giving water flowed and flows, was and is: Christ!

And though we are entitled to death, our Lord does what He chooses with what is His, which includes us.  The Lord is kind, gracious, and merciful: “the last will be first, and the first last.”  And rather than begrudge the Lord’s generosity, we are grateful for His kindness in paying us not the wages of sin, which is death, but rather giving us the free gift of God, which is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!

And this life of gratitude and praise takes discipline, dear friends.  We are disciples, and so we discipline ourselves.  As Olympic athletes do not run aimlessly, but train with their eyes on the prize, and just as martial artists do not prepare by simply flailing their arms about, but demand their bodies’ obedience to training, we Christians train ourselves spiritually, “lest after preaching to others,” we ourselves “should be disqualified.”

Dear friends, the Lord is gracious and merciful.  He does not pay us according to the wages we have earned by our sins, but rather He is generous to us, paying us according to the wages our Lord has earned by His blood shed on the cross.  We have been baptized not merely into Moses, but into Jesus, and we not only eat and drink spiritual food and drink, but the physical body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ!  For we who are last have become first!  We who deserve death have been compensated with life.  We who are entitled to hell have been re-titled as heirs of the heavenly kingdom of our generous Master who does not pay us “whatever is right” nor what is fair, but rather what is gracious and merciful.

The last are the first, and the first are the last.  Thanks be to God, now and even unto eternity!  Amen.


on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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