Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost


Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A – Proper 20)

September 18, 2011
Text: Matt. 20:1-16

Before God, you have no right to demand anything. You are saved by grace alone. And grace, by definition is unmerited, undeserved. It is God’s undeserved favor toward you on account of Christ, His Son. Grace is, by nature, a free gift. So there simply is no room for the language of rights or the making of demands in the presence of God. You have not deserved or earned anything from Him. Instead, you owe Him everything. And that is true even outside of the fact that you are a sinner to your very core. By grace, without any merit or worthiness in you, God created you, gave you a body and a life, reason and senses. What a gift! He set you within this world that He has created. You did not earn it. You did not choose to live. You did not choose to be placed here in this glorious creation. You did not earn this. It is grace, gift. Nor did God simply abandon you to this place He has created, but He cares for you, sets you in a family, daily and richly provides all that you need to support this body and life, gives you food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, occupation, and all you have. He guards you against danger and evil. All by grace. All only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in you. And all in spite of the fact that you have rejected Him. That’s what it means to be a sinner: to reject God, to make yourself your own god. When you sin, you reject God. You know this from the Bible and you know this from experience, and you confessed it just a moment ago, that you are by nature sinful and unclean (what we call “original sin,” the sin inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve), and that you have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed ("actual sins," the actual bad things we do against God’s commandments, sins of commission, and the actual good things commanded by God that we neglect to do, sins of omission). Grace, God’s unmerited favor, is the only explanation for the fact that God still loves you, still takes care of you, still provides for you, and has done something about your sin, your rejection: He sent His Son. He sent His Son to fulfill His commandments in your place. He sent His Son to bear your sin. He sent His Son to die for you. He sent His Son to defeat sin, death, and the devil for you by dying and rising again, that you may have new life and be reconciled to God. No, you have no right to demand anything of God. You have no right to this grace. This grace is a gift, freely given, by the merit and worthiness of Jesus Christ, who alone has any rights before God.

The difference between the first workers hired in the parable, and those who were subsequently hired, is that the first workers came demanding payment for their services, payment they had earned. The workers hired subsequently came expecting payment, not because they had earned it, but because the master of the house had promised it, and they trusted His promise. Now here in the parable, we get a taste of the ridiculous and overwhelming generosity of God. Some labor the whole day in the vineyard, and they are promised a denarius, a day’s wage. Some labor most of the day, and they are promised that they will receive whatever is right, though the amount is unspecified. Some labor only a few hours, and some only one hour, and they are not promised anything. At the end of the day, when it’s time to hand out the paychecks, the master has his foreman line up the workers, beginning with those who were hired last and ending with those who were hired first. The first to be hired look on as the master does an unimaginable thing: He pays those who have only worked one hour a denarius, a full day’s wage. Outrageous, generous, gracious, because those who have only worked an hour certainly haven’t earned their wages. Now those hired first are all excited. If those who only worked one hour received a denarius, surely we will receive more. We’ve earned it! But when they receive their wages, they are only given a denarius, which they had agreed to in the beginning. So these workers grumble. “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” (Matt. 20:12; ESV). The problem, however, is that these workers are looking at their own works, rather than to the generosity and graciousness of the master. Comparing themselves to others, these workers believe they have a right to demand more of the master. But if they had instead looked to the generosity and grace of the master, they would have rejoiced that even these undeserving fellow workers had received a gift, a full-day’s wage, which they had not earned, because the master is just that good.

Of course, God is the master, and you are the workers, but don’t be confused here. God’s act of grace, His undeserved gift, happens first of all way before He lines you up for your paycheck. That He chooses you in the first place, to set you in His vineyard, to make you His own, this is pure grace. Without any merit or worthiness in you, you are baptized into Christ. And you’re saved. That’s your call into the kingdom of heaven. God places work before you to do, not so that you can earn your place in this kingdom, not so that you can demand payment for your services, but because He desires to use you as His hands in the world to serve your neighbor in love and to confess Christ. And this, too, is a gift of His grace. You don’t deserve it. He could do it without you. But He doesn’t. He calls you to do it. Because He loves you and He wants to work through you. And it doesn’t matter when you were called. Perhaps you were the first called, baptized as an infant, raised in the Church, at the Divine Service every Sunday, Sunday School and Catechism classes and Bible classes, you’re at everything. Or perhaps you were called later in life, coming to faith through the Word of God confessed by someone in Christian witness, baptized as an adult, Adult Information Class, maybe even still getting used to this “church thing.” Some come to faith at the last hour. Now, no one should put off believing in Jesus, thinking that there’s always time to repent at the very end. As Isaiah writes, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near” (Is. 55:6). But it is true that someone whom the Holy Spirit brings to faith in the last moments is likewise saved. We even call this an “eleventh hour conversion” on the basis of this parable. And the point is, all receive the same gift. All receive the same eternal life. Because the wages you are given are not based on the works you have rendered, but on the promise the Lord has given. He will pay you what is right, as the master promised the second group of workers (Matt. 20:4). The word “right” in the Greek is actually the word for “righteous.” He will pay you whatever is righteous, whatever is justified. And this is the key to interpreting this parable. This parable is not about payment for your works. This parable is about justification by grace. Only Jesus can earn justification, righteousness before God. And He has, for you. He gives it to you as a gift, by grace, apart from works. Your works proceed from justification. And in the economy of justification, everyone who is called gets the same thing, no matter how long they’ve been a Christian, no matter what they’ve done or left undone, no matter how they measure up in comparison with you. Because justification is not on the basis of anything you have done, or anything within you. Justification is solely on the basis of our Lord Jesus Christ and His sin-atoning work, given by grace, to be received by faith. Do not come before God as if you had a right to His gifts, as if you had earned them. Come on the basis of the promise. Unworthy and sinful though you be, all things are yours in Christ Jesus. Even the very kingdom of heaven.

“So the last will be first, and the first last” (v. 16). Those who demand payment from God for their works will get what they want. They will get what they deserve. Fed up with the Master, they will leave Him in disgust. They will go to hell, which they have earned. Those, on the other hand, who know they deserve nothing, but who trust that the Master is gracious, get what the Master desires to give them. They receive what is righteous. They are justified. And so they remain with the Master and tend His vineyard, because they love Him, because He has given them the very kingdom, by grace. And they eat at their Master’s Table. Beloved, you know you deserve nothing from the Master. But you trust that the Master is gracious. And so you have received what is righteous. You are justified on account of the blood of Christ. You work in His vineyard because you love Him, because He has given you the very Kingdom. And now He sets a Table before you. Come and eat and commune with the Master, Christ. By grace, He gives you His body and blood and the forgiveness of your sins and strength for your Christian life and all manner of good gifts. Come, not because you have earned this (you haven’t). Come, because of the Promise: Here you will be paid what is righteous. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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