Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 20)

September 21, 2014
Text: Matt. 20:1-16

            If the Master of the House were paying wages earned by his workers, his method would be madness.  Everybody knows you don’t pay someone who has worked only one hour the same amount as the guy who has worked twelve!  And the guys who were hired first, well, they bore the burden of the day and the scorching heat (Matt. 20:12).  It’s not fair!  The guys hired last worked only one hour, in the cool of the day, and the Master pays them as if they had worked the whole time!  You can’t run a business this way.  It’s lunacy.  And yet, this is how God does things.  This is how it works in God’s economy.  His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways (Is. 55:8).  In God’s economy, you are not paid what you deserve.  And thank God for that!  For what you deserve is condemnation, and death, and hell.  In God’s economy, you are paid by grace.  You are given what you do not deserve.  You are given what Christ deserves.  You are given what He has earned by His work on your behalf.  You are given eternal life and salvation, heaven, and the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of your body on the Last Day.  This apart from your works.  It is all by grace.
            I suspect we will be surprised at who we find in heaven.  Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the Jews that tax collectors and prostitutes go into the Kingdom of God before they do; for when John preached repentance, the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him.  But the religious authorities would not change their minds (Matt. 21:31-32).  They would not repent.  On this Feast Day of St. Matthew, we remember the tax collector sitting at the tax booth to whom Jesus called, “Follow me” (9:9; ESV).  And he did.  He became Jesus’ disciple, one of the Twelve, and eventually the writer of our Gospel.  And he gave a great feast for Jesus, at which the Savior sat down to eat with notorious tax collectors and sinners, to the utter offense and dismay of the Pharisees (vv. 10-11).  Why are they so upset?  The same reason the workers hired first were upset in our parable.  Those people don’t deserve Jesus’ goodness and mercy!  How could He eat with them?  How could He fellowship with them?  How could Jesus give the same reward to those people that He gives to us?  We deserve more.  We have behaved better.  We are the good Christians.  They are the dregs of society.  We live morally upstanding lives.  They represent everything that is wrong with society.  Jesus should reward us.  Jesus should punish them
            Repent.  As our Lord here reminds us, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (vv. 12-13).  If you compare yourself with others, judge yourself righteous by exposing the sin of others, believe you’ve earned your denarius, but the most the other guy is entitled to is a few measly pennies, then you’re a Pharisee.  Jesus can’t give you the healing medicine of the Gospel if you don’t know you’re sick.  He cannot raise you if you refuse to admit you’re dead.  If you want what you’ve earned, Jesus will give it to you, but woe to you.  Because all you’ve earned is eternity in Gehenna.  The Master tells the worker who complains to take what belongs to him and go (20:14).  No more chilling words could be spoken.  He is telling him to go ahead and depart.  Go ahead and remove himself from the Master’s generosity.  Go ahead and remove himself from the Master’s fellowship.  When the Master is God, such self-removal means condemnation.  It means hell.
            But the glorious good news here is that the Master wants you to be in His fellowship.  He wants to pour out His generosity upon you.  He wants you to belong to Him.  The reality is, you are just as unlikely a citizen of God’s Kingdom as the tax collectors and prostitutes.  If you don’t believe me, just examine yourself.  Your very self-righteousness exposes you for the sinner that you are.  But you also are covered by God’s grace in Christ.  You may have been hired with the first group at dawn.  You may have been baptized as an infant.  You may have grown up in the Church, faithfully attended Sunday School, been catechized, confirmed, and married in the Church, but the very same grace of God in Christ covers you that covers those hired in the third, the sixth, the ninth, and even in the eleventh hour.  The same grace covers you that covers those who come to faith on their death bed, the thief on the cross, the prostitute, the drug dealer, the murderer, and the petty thief who hear the preaching of repentance and Christ crucified for sinners, and believe it, and are saved. 
            Grace is not earned.  Grace cannot be merited, neither in your case nor in theirs.  Not by the first or the last.  Not by the greatest or the least.  The Master in the parable is gracious, and His grace is demonstrated by His own taking the initiative, going to those who had no job, no place, no purpose, no means of helping themselves or providing for themselves, and graciously inviting them to come and work for Him.  He gives them a place in His Home, at His Table, and a purpose in life, work to do in His Vineyard.  And on top of all that, He pays them for it!  He generously and freely gives, and then He pays those who simply receive His generosity and gifts.  That’s God’s economy!  And the payment is Christ Himself.  Luther says that the promised coin is God’s “Son, Jesus Christ, forgiveness of sins, redemption from death and every affliction.  In addition, He gives us His Holy Spirit and finally eternal life.”[1]
            So this is what God does for you.  There you are, standing alone, without any god to love you, to care for you, to save you.  And He comes to you.  He takes the initiative.  You do not go to Him.  He comes to you.  He seeks you.  He chooses you.  And He takes you to Himself.  He grabs you up by His Word, by His gracious invitation, by His Promise that He will provide for you, body and soul.  And He brings you into His Vineyard, His House, His Church.  He gives you a place here in His family, with His sons and daughters.  He cleans you up, washes away your filth, your sin.  And He sets a place for you at the Table.  All of this He does for you before you’ve done anything.  But He also gives you purpose.  He gives you work to do.  There are brothers and sisters to care for in the household.  There are fellow workers in the Vineyard to be loved and tended.  You don’t do this for pay.  You do this because that is what the members of this House do for each other.  And yet, the Lord does pay you.  Not for service rendered, but because that’s who He is.  He is generous.  He is good.  He provides.  He loves to pour out His gifts upon you.  And He loves to pour out His gifts upon your neighbor, whoever he is, whenever he’s come to the Vineyard, whatever the circumstance. 
            Your response is not to begrudge your Master’s generosity.  Your response is simply to rejoice.  To rejoice in the Lord Jesus’ embrace of the cross for you and for your salvation.  To rejoice in His triumphant resurrection from the dead.  To rejoice in your Baptism into Christ and the new life that flows in you, the very life of the risen Christ.  To rejoice in the Holy Spirit who daily and richly forgives your sins and gives eternal life to you and all believers in Christ.  To rejoice in God’s grace toward your neighbor, in your neighbor’s welfare, in your neighbor’s reception of God’s gifts.  To take your place here in the Lord’s House, at His Table, with your brothers and sisters.  And then to go out and work in the Vineyard, not to earn your denarius, but simply to give thanks and to love and to serve.  And always, to trust in Christ’s Promise, His reward, His generosity to you. 
            The Master of the House, God, is not paying wages to those who have earned them.  He is bestowing gifts upon the undeserving.  He is bestowing gifts upon you.  And He does this in and through Christ, your Savior.  Thanks be to God.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.              

[1] “Matthew 20:1-16” in Luther’s Works Vol. 68: Sermons on Matthew Chapters 19-24 (St. Louis: Concordia 2014) pp. 71-72.


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