Sexagesima Sunday February 15, 1998

INI

The Strange Labor Laws of God’s Vineyard

Matthew 20:1-16

Hymns

234, 381, 370, 492

For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen. This is the Word of God.

In Christ Jesus, who displays His love for us in spite of our sins, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

We Americans are a people who have become very familiar with labor conflicts. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t hear something about some union trouble, workers demanding better pay and better conditions, management complaining that they can’t make any money if they give in to labor demands. A year ago the Boeing machinists finally settled a bitter labor dispute after a strike lasting many months. If the machinists aren’t on strike, it’s the airline pilots. If it’s not the airline pilots it’s the steel workers. A few of these groups probably deserve a better deal; some of us would like to see teachers get more money, for instance. On the other hand, a lot of us think football players are getting too much money already.

At any rate, there’s one thing nobody questions—labor is based on merit. People ought to get a fair wage for the job that they do, no matter where they work. If they don’t get a fair wage, it’s only right that they demand more! It’s an idea we Americans take for granted. But—there’s one place of employment where the labor laws are very different, topsy-turvy from any “union shop” you’ve ever heard of. That’s the vineyard of God. If you’re a Christian, it means you’re one of the employees, so you better make sure you’re familiar with how the vineyard runs! In our text for today, Jesus teaches us a few things about -

“THE STRANGE LABOR LAW’S OF GOD’S VINEYARD”

  1. Workers here can’t demand anything!
  2. Workers here can receive everything!

Jesus often had a hard time getting His point across to people. Sometimes even His own disciples couldn’t see what He was trying to teach them. That’s why He often used parables; they were simple stories about simple everyday things, but they always held a profound truth. Jesus told the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard because of a question that the disciple Peter asked. A very natural question—Peter said, “Lord, we twelve disciples have given up everything to follow You—our money, our possessions, our jobs—what special reward will we get for that?”

Jesus saw that there was something Peter didn’t understand about the way God’s kingdom works. That’s why He told this parable. It starts out, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. In the parable God is the ‘householder’, or employer, all the people who profess to be Christians are the employees, and the visible church is the vineyard where they work. So far, so good; that’s the kind of picture we can all identify with. But from here on in, the parable sounds like no other workplace you’ve ever heard of. Jesus is telling us that, if we want to be workers in His kingdom, we should know right off the bat that the pay scale is a lot different than what we’re used to. The labor laws in God’s vineyard are unique, to say the least!

In the first place, the workers in God’s vineyard can’t DEMAND anything! If you want to try “collective bargaining” with God, I can guarantee you’ll come out the loser. Because God does not owe us a thing!

In the parable, the workers in the vineyard were hired at different times during the day. Some started working right away at 6:00 in the morning. Some more were hired later on, at 9:00 a.m., some at noon, and some more at 3:00 in the afternoon. Finally, the master went out and hired some more men “at the eleventh hour,” which was 5:00 in the evening, even though quitting time was at six. One denarius, a day’s wages, was promised to each worker, and when the quitting whistle blew, that’s what was paid out—one denarius to each man. And that’s when some of the workers decided it was time to make some demands. Naturally, it was the ones who’d been out there since the crack of dawn who complained. When they came, …they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. How did the landowner respond to that? He answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?

I suppose that most of us sitting here today are what you could call “Heat-of-the-Day Christians.” Most of us were baptized as infants. Most of us have been coming to church since we were little children. That puts us in a high-risk group—we’re exactly the kind of people Jesus is talking about. People who are most likely to become “complainers,” “demanders.” We’ve spent our whole lives trying to behave like God’s children should behave, supporting the church with our money and our time, struggling to bring up our kids “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” giving witness of our Christian faith to our neighbors. Maybe you’ve only said it in your mind, but you’ve probably said it: “I’ve tried to be faithful—haven’t I got a little extra coming? Don’t all those years of Christian service count for anything?”

But remember—this is God’s vineyard, not a union shop in some factory. There’s no “seniority system” here! The reward of faith is the same for all the workers in God’s kingdom, regardless of when they were hired. Some people come to faith as young adults, some in middle age. Some people are like the men in the parable who were hired at the eleventh hour; they only come to faith very late in their lives. Can you think of an example from the Bible? What about the thief who spoke to Jesus on the cross? He’d wasted all his years in a life of crime, and now only a couple of hours stood between him and eternity. “He said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’” What did Christ say? No, I’m sorry; it’s too late now. You had your chance long ago? No, Jesus replied, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.—Lk 23:42-43.

There is no such thing as seniority among Christians. The labor laws in God’s vineyard don’t go according to how long you’ve been working, or how much you’ve “earned.” And it’s a good thing, too! If God gave us only what we’ve earned, we’d be in deep trouble! Ask yourself, “Am I a sinner?” If you’re like me, the answer to that question is easy. And that, unfortunately, leaves us one short Bible verse away from hell. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death!

—How do you feel now about “demanding your rights?” Do you want to stand before the throne of Christ on Judgment Day and demand He give you what you’ve earned? Me either!

As workers in God’s vineyard, you and I can’t DEMAND anything. But there’s a difference between demanding something that we’ve earned, and receiving something as a gift. The good news is that—unworthy sinners though we are—we can RECEIVE everything! Paul reminds us that “…All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.—Rom 3:23-24.

The key word in that passage is “grace.” Our young people learn that the definition of grace is “undeserved love.” Over and over again, the Bible keeps reminding us that you can’t earn salvation. It’s a free gift! The beautiful message of the Gospel is that we don’t deserve to have God love us, but He does anyway. In spite of your sins, your shortcomings—in spite of all the unkind things you’ve said, the impure thoughts you’ve had—in spite of the times you may have took too much, cursed too much, drank too much—prayed too little, praised too little, gave too little—God loves you anyway! So much that He traded His only Son for you. God laid on Him the iniquity of us all, that by His stripes we should be healed.

Praise God for the strange “labor laws” of His vineyard! What other employer offers benefits like that? In any other business I’ve ever heard of, the only gift you ever get is, maybe, a small bonus at Christmas time. Everything else you have to work for. As God’s employee, everything—even the very righteousness of Christ—is given to you as a gift! In the parable, the reward is one denarius; in real life, God’s gifts to you are so great, they make a million-dollar-a-year salary look like pennies in comparison! You have an iron-clad contract with God. In it, He guarantees to provide you with everything you need in this world, and eternal life in the next. All this He offers you, for Jesus’ sake, as a free gift. The only thing He asks you to do is reach out the hand of your faith—and take it!

Jesus ends his parable with an interesting comment. He says, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” The Gospel call has been going out to people for a long time. Many have rejected that call completely. Many have joined the church, but with a completely wrong idea of what it means to be a Christian—thinking a Christian is someone who works hard to lead an upstanding life, someone who sweats in the heat of God’s vineyard until he’s earned himself a place in the heavenly mansions. They are going to be sadly disappointed when they find out, on Judgment Day, that that’s not how things work in God’s vineyard. Yes, many are called, but few are chosen. My Christian friends, you are the chosen ones! God has given you the faith to lay all your sins at the cross of your Savior, and to put all your trust in Him for forgiveness, and life. You know that in God’s vineyard, workers can’t demand anything. But you also know that, with faith in Christ—they can receive everything! As we sing in that favorite old hymn:

Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfil Thy Law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly—
Wash me, Savior, or I die! AMEN.

—Pastor Paul Naumann

Sermon Preached February 2, 1997
Ascension Lutheran Church, DuPont WA


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