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Sermon for Pentecost 14

Augustana, 2011

Click here for mp3 audio 53 Sermon for Pent 14.mp3
 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The sermon today is from the Gospel reading, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard.

In order to get the full sense of this parable we just have to go back one verse from our Gospel reading for this morning.  Jesus is speaking and says, “30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”  (19:30).  As Jesus ends the parable, this is a parable about who is first and last in the reign of heaven.  In fact, we need to see this parable as the explanation to the statement we heard Jesus say two Sundays ago when we overheard the interchange between the disciples and Jesus back at the beginning of chapter 18.  “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” (18:1-4)  Do you want to know who’s greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  It’s not who we’d typically think it is.  “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

In fact, Jesus says, “the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the typically wage for a day laborer, he sent them into his vineyard.”  He went out again at 9 am and saw others standing idle in the town square, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about noon and 3 o’clock in the afternoon, he did the same. And about 5 o’clock, an hour before quitting time, he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And at the end of the day, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about an hour before quitting time came, each of them received a full day’s pay.  10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received just a regular day’s pay.  11 And on receiving it they complained at the master of the house, 12 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.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a day’s pay? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Do you want to know about the generosity of God?  This is how generous God is.  This is how desperate God is to bring people into His kingdom.  That’s how God wants to be king in His kingdom.  It’s not how we’d do it, is it?  In fact it makes no sense to us that God would do it this way but this is the way He is doing it.  The last shall be first and the first last.  God is generous, crazy generous with His grace.

I do want to briefly mention what this parable is definitely not about.  Jesus is not trying to day that those who work just an hour do as much as those who work all day.  I don’t think Jesus is alluding to Gentiles latecomers verses the Jews.  And I don’t buy the argument that this text means that all men are equal before God or that all kingdom work is equal. Nor is this text about labor relations or minimum wage laws or any other social criticism.  This parable is not about those things.

Jesus very cleverly uses a story to make a powerful point about the generosity of God.  He tells the story in such a way that it’s a set up.  The last hired get paid first and get a full day’s wage.  It’s only because the others see them get a full day’s wage (20:9) that those first hired expect to get more than they negotiated for.  When the landowner fails to meet their new expectations, they start grumbling because he has been generous to others and only fair to them. What was fair, a fair days pay for a full day’s work is no longer seen as fair.  They have borne “the heat of the day.”  And so here comes the rebuke, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you”— it is as if he said, “I am not cheating you, defrauding you.  I paid you what we agreed on this morning.”  He’s been a fair employer.  Doesn’t he have the right to do what he wants with his money?  It’s more than a little crazy.  It’s not how we would do it.  In this world the only fair way to treat workers is that the one who works the longest gets the most pay but that’s because the worker has earned the wage.  In the kingdom of God, God’s gifts are given freely, never earned, but God is gracious to give of His gifts.  In the kingdom of God merit and ability are not considered so that we are focused on the pure grace of God.  But God is far more generous than we can ever expect.

We work in God’s vineyard because we have been called to serve.  It is a privilege and labor of love; we don’t do it because we expect to earn a reward.  God’s kingdom is not is not an earthly kingdom.  When we begin to think that God’s kingdom needs or depends on us, we get it completely backward.  We need and depend on it!  God’s kingdom is not a kingdom of earned wages, but gracious gift.  It is only because we have been forgiven and renewed by the Spirit of God that we can be used by God for vital service in His kingdom.  In this way, “the last will be first, and the first last.”

Who’s the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  It’s not the important people; it’s the little guy.  The greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the weakest, the neediest, the one who turns to God for Him to supply all their needs.  Not bishops.  Not princes.  Not kings or presidents.  Toddlers.  The elderly.  The unborn.  Those who aren’t any good for anything anymore.  It always grieves me when I hear folks say that.  God has made you weak to show His strength in you.  Jesus is very clearly saying God’s grace far surpasses anything that a man or woman could earn.  None of our ideas about the rich and powerful, the great and the VIPs have anything to do with the kingdom Jesus has come to bring.  In chapter 20 now, Jesus is getting closer to Jerusalem where He will prove that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the one “who came not to be served but to serve and to give His live as a ransom for many.”

So the last will be first, and the first last.  Amen.

Let us pray.  Keep us ever mindful, Lord, that it is only by your great grace that we have been included in Your kingdom and we are indeed privileged to serve in it. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

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