Sunday, September 21, 2008
Sermon - Pentecost 19 - Matthew 20:1-16
“A Very Different Kingdom”
“My kingdom is not of this world” Jesus once said. And if you had any doubt, take a look at the parables he tells about his kingdom.
Here we have another. The parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. As a story it's simple enough. Even the meaning is easy to determine. But fully appreciating the mysterious sense of Divine justice that lies underneath - this is something that takes great faith. For our Lord and Master is generous with us, and in Christ has given us more than what is fair.
The kingdom of this world is a kingdom of rules and laws. We live under them and know them well. You stand in line at the grocery store and get a ticket at the deli counter. First come, first served. When you get to a stop sign, the person there first has the right of way. And when you do your job, you expect every two weeks or so, for that little piece of paper you can take to the bank. It's the way the world works – you earn something, it's yours. Those are the kinds of rules we live by every day.
From the earliest child who utters those words, “hey, no fair!” to the citizen pursuing legal recourse in the courts of law – we have a keen sense of what is fair and what is not – especially when we feel we are bearing the brunt of injustice.
“It's not fair” we say, when a neighbor sins against us, and we are right. But Father always told us, “life isn't fair”. Is Jesus saying the same thing about life in his kingdom? Sometimes life treats us unfairly, people treat us unfairly, we should just toughen up and take it? Stop whining? Is that the point?
Our Heavenly Father is the Master who gives generously. The vineyard is his kingdom, the church, and we are the workers. What's important isn't so much how much or how long we work, but that we are his employees. We belong to him. He pays a wage we could never earn standing around outside his kingdom. It's really not a wage, you see, it's a gift. And while we all think we're the ones that have worked the longest and hardest, we should all see ourselves as the ones coming late and working least.
Scripture tells us what our good works are worth before God – filthy rags. No one is righteous, not one. We can't earn it, deserve it, or have it coming to us. We have incurred a debt of sin, but instead we often act as if God owes us! How foolish and arrogant. How like the sinner.
The only one whose work in the vineyard amounts to anything is the owner's own Son. In another vineyard parable, Jesus tells how the tenants mistreated the messengers and bloodied the servants, but when the owner of the vineyard sent his very son – they murdered him.
Yes the wages for the workers were won at the cross. Jesus' own precious blood, shed there for the world, worth far more than gold or silver or denarius or dollar.... he paid the price for the wages we really deserve- the wages of sin – the penalty of death.
And here's the secret of the vineyard, that really is no secret – Jesus does it all! He plants the vineyard, calls the workers, makes the fruit grow, and provides the harvest. He gives us strength for our tasks through his Spirit, wisdom to accomplish them, and a reward at the end we don't even deserve.
To which someone might say, “hey, not fair”. Not fair that he does it all, all the work of fulfilling the law, all the work of dying for sins, all the work of bringing us to faith, even, by his Spirit. In fact, our old sinful nature is always trying to take part of the credit for all this, trying to do the work, at least in part. But that's not the work we are called to do.
We are called to work, though. In this vineyard, there is the work of sowing seeds and tending vines. Teaching, preaching, showing mercy, encouraging, singing, cooking, cleaning, caring for children. What are your talents and abilities? In Christ's church there is always lots for us to do.
And outside of this church building, the church is still at work – we do what we are called to do in everyday life as service to God and neighbor. Fathers and mothers, employees, coaches, students, volunteers, whatever. Whatever God has given us to do, the Christian does in faith, and the work is done for God.
But none of it earns the reward. Not the heavenly reward, anyway. Here's another strange way of God's kingdom – the workers work for free. We do it because we've already been paid well more than we could hope to earn. Such is life in the vineyard, so is the way of his kingdom.
A very different kingdom. Where you don't earn your pay. Where you don't get what you deserve. Where God serves man. Where death brings life. Where the last are first and the first are last. And where sinners are made righteous because the righteous one took all sin. A kingdom not of this world – a kingdom not of fairness, but of grace.
All praise and thanks to the king, the Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, for calling us to faith and service. For his is the kingdom and the power and glory forever and ever. Amen.