Sunday, January 31, 2010

Septuagesima Sunday

Septuagesima Sunday – Janaury 31st, 2010 – Matthew 20:1-16

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Let us consider our parable for this morning, the parable of the workers in the Vineyard. Imagine yourself, standing in the town square. You have no job, no wealth. You have the clothes on your back, a place to sleep, and that is it. The food you ate for breakfast was the last bit of bread you had. And you have no prospects, no future, no hope. And then, while you stand around, into the square comes a man of wealth, a man of property. And he looks at you, and he says to you, “Come, work in my field.” After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. Do you hear what that mean? A denarius a day. A denarius is a good wage, a solid wage, more than livable. And he said a denarius a day – a day, that means tomorrow, and the day after that. You have been pulled up from squalor, from insecurity and now you have a solid job, a good job – and you head on out early this morning to work. There is nothing better that could have happened to you on that day.

In the midmorning the master goes out – and there are other people standing about. Their prospects are looking grim. 3 hours of daylight wasted, and no work for them. But their stomachs still need to be filled – they need to work. And then the master comes to them – “You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.” So they go, not knowing what they will receive, but they go in hope that maybe, just maybe it will be enough to skirt by on. Likewise, the master finds more and more people at noon, in the afternoon as well, and he gives them hope, a chance to be more than just a bum. Come, work in my fields. Even an hour before sunset, the master still calls. And about the 11th hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, “Why do you stand here idle all day?” Why have you not be doing anything? And their answer – “Because no one has hired us.” Why? Because we have nothing, and no one will give us a job, and so we stand here, and we wait to starve to death, for if a man does not work, he will not eat. He said to them, “You go into the vineyard too.”

Do you see the hope that the master of this house is giving? Do you see how he has improved everyone’s life? All these people are without hope, without prospects, are destitute. And the master comes, and they have work, and by the end of the day, there is hope for their lives. And we know what the master does – he pays everyone, whether there the full day or just a bare hour, he pays them a full day’s wage, a full denarius – go, eat your fill, bring back bread for your family that they might live too, be strong and ready for the morrow. It’s wondrous love, wondrous generosity. But – When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also received a Denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” While these workers are well aware of what they have been doing the past 12 hours, they forgot where they were a mere 13 hours ago. They complain about the wage that they were ecstatic about in the morning. And the master responds to them gently – 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 me my generosity? Do you hear what the master is saying? I have been generous to you – I have given you a job, I’ve given you hope and support – and all out of my generosity. Do you see how many other people I pulled in, how many other people want to work here gladly – I don’t NEED you – but I am generous, and I will gladly give you work – do you really want to begrudge my generosity when you yourself benefit from it?

With this parable, Christ not only describes what salvation and the Christian life is, but He also warns us of the ways in which Satan can come and lead us into senseless and pointless grumbling. Salvation is something that comes completely and solely from God – it isn’t something we can take up ourselves. Consider these workers. They all have nothing, and the only reason they have any hope, any support is that the master comes and gives it to them. Likewise, dear friends, consider yourself. What is there in you that would MAKE God love you? You yourself just confessed that you are a poor miserable sinner. And don’t go running to how you are better than the next guy – is there anything in you that God NEEDS, is there anything you can give to God that He doesn’t already have? Will you give Him stuff? He made it, He can make more. Does God need your praise? God’s in heaven, surrounded by angels who are better servants than you and sing and praise Him much better than you – there isn’t anything in you that God needs. And yet – what does God do? Because He loves you, He sends His Son to you, His Son Christ Jesus who takes up human flesh and suffers and dies so that you might have salvation – and this Christ says to you, Come, receive forgiveness and live your life in My kingdom – and this is all totally, completely free, from the grace of God.

For some of you, this call came before you can even remember, when God claimed you in the waters of Holy Baptism as an infant. Some of you may have been called later – some of you can probably remember the first time you heard the sweet Gospel of Christ Jesus and knew that your sins were forgiven on His account. And may God grant that even more, young or old are called! But whenever God came to you and brought you into His kingdom by the power of His Word – He promised you life and salvation, the full denarius giving and providing for you everything for life everlasting that you could ever need. We know this, we delight in this, we rejoice in it and celebrate this week in and week out here in God’s house, as we focus once again on Christ Jesus and His love and His salvation.

And yet, there is a problem. Aren’t there times where this salvation, this forgiveness stuff seems less than satisfying? And don’t put up some false pious front because you know the answer should be that you are content. . . but seriously, haven’t there been times when you hear forgiveness preached, and you think – “It’s not fair. I try and be a good Christian – and look at that person over there. They get it too, when I work so much harder than them.” Or perhaps in comparing temporal blessings – the fact that someone else gets the long end of the stick when you are getting the short end? There’s not a one of us here who doesn’t know someone who does less but has more than us. Or even someone’s past – “I remember what they used to do. . . and here they just come sauntering in here.” There are times, dear friends, when we are not content, when the promise of life and salvation in Christ doesn’t seem right enough, when we want more. I’m a good person, why should I be struggling like this! Look at them, why do they have it so easy! You know what that is, right? That is Satan messing with you – it is Satan trying to pull your eyes off of Christ and kill your faith. Satan wants you to forget just how graciously and generously God has loved you, how rich and thoroughly blessed you are – sustained through this wild and dangerous life on this fallen planet and promised the joys of heaven. And so Satan starts whispering words of grumbling in your ear, so that you might turn away, grouse and complain, look for something better and more, and forget God.

When those thoughts come near, remember what our Lord says to you. Friend, I am doing you no wrong. . . Take what belongs to you. . . I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. It’s always, always about our Lord’s generosity. He has loved you generously – just as He shows generous love to your neighbor. And when you grumble, when you grouse, when you complain about them – you forget, you ignore what He has done for you. And by this, I don’t mean simply salvation, I don’t mean simply the promise of heaven, but I mean your life right now as a Christian, the fact that you know what is God pleasing and strive to do it. Sanctification, holy living, is a gift from God. Do you really wish to complain about the work of Christian living that God sets before you? You are a Christian, you know that God has a purpose for your life, that God accomplishes good through you, that your service actually helps other people and has meaning. Would you really rather have no point to your life? Do you really think that being selfish and self-centered and doing nothing but living for yourself and wasting everything is better, where your life is nothing but a futile attempt to satiate your greed, your lust, your passions? You’ve been called out of that to a life of meaning and service! You don’t stand idle in the world, but you get to work in God’s kingdom! Rejoice in the work and tasks that the Lord gives you! And yet, when Satan comes around and tells us that the grass is greener, so often we foolishly let him keep talking. Repent dear friends, and remember again the love that God has for you, the grace with which He loves you!

And know this, dear friends. God knows the temptations that Satan brings about – God knows the ways the old serpent will weasel in pride and contempt. God doesn’t abandon you, but rather He comes to you and speaks to you gently and lovingly. When those workers grumble in the text – the master doesn’t fire them. The master doesn’t kick them out – he calls them friend and consoles them so that they might be ready and prepared for the work of the next day. Likewise – look at what God does for you this day, this morning. He comes to you, literally, He gives His own Body and Blood to you, says “Let ME be with you, let ME give you forgiveness for your sins, even for that grumbling, and let ME give you strength so that you might go forth this week and show love, that you might relish and live out the new life that I give you.” Do you see the generosity of God? And it doesn’t matter how often you’ve spurned it in the past, how often you’ve treated this House and Christ’s Supper as though they were unimportant, not worth your time. He is Here for you now, and He offers forgiveness and life and strength so that you might grow in the Christian faith and learn more and more to live in Him. This is Christ’s gift to you, freely given out of His great generosity. Rejoice in His love and His life given to you. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +