The Fourteenth Sunday After Trinity September 12, 2004
7, 392, 416, 401
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius 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 to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.” So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.” So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, “Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.” And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying , “These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.” But he answered one of them and said, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?” So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.
Dear Friends in Christ Jesus—co-laborers in the Kingdom of Grace:
A middle-aged woman plays a role in a community production of “Our Town.” The play is seen by a Hollywood producer who convinces her to try out for a role in a major motion picture. She receives the leading actress’s part and is swept into the limelight of stardom—something beyond her wildest dreams.
The former factory worker is driving down to pick up his unemployment check—his eighteenth trip to the same office. His worn-out car dies along the way. It is just about the last straw for the man, but he is picked up by a kindly businessman who proposes to make the luckless fellow a manager of his up-and-coming new company.
Such things have happened occasionally and just often enough to give people hopes for “hitting it big.” The parable before us today doesn’t imply any sort of vast riches or success, nor does it suggest that success comes because of hidden talent or better insight into someone’s merits. The parable about the laborers in the vineyard does point to a most astonishing future for all who enter the Kingdom of Grace. Yet, all too often, we find ourselves and others who share the promise of this Kingdom murmuring and quibbling. Jesus tells us this parable to teach us to let gratitude replace the grumbling. We’ll consider I. The place of grace in the Kingdom of God; II. Grumbling has no place there; III. The guard is to remember that God is Good.
Jesus came with grace in His voice. He saw a people who were scattered and harassed like sheep without a shepherd. He called to them to come to him and partake of His goodness. He reached out to people who all too often were hurt because of the ambitions of earthly kingdoms and values. Jesus urged those who heard to realize that the kingdom of God was at hand. He spoke to those who were discouraged and without hope and pointed them to the saving power of faith that seizes the offered hand of God. He gave Himself to mankind so that mankind might live in His kingdom.
The Gospel invitation to believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life remains a pure treasure because it comes to us who had “no hope and [were] without God in the world,” as Paul reminded the Ephesians (Ephesians 2:12). The salvation which Jesus won and which comes to us by faith is the gift Jesus wishes to bring to all. Through Jesus, God approaches people who otherwise deserve nothing but His wrath and punishment and offers them life!
In the parable, God Father appears as the vineyard owner who hires laborers for the harvest. Believers “go to work in the vineyard” when they are brought to faith and serve their God with their lives and by joining in the proclamation of His good news. This invitation comes so freely. You can not imagine a type of person which this call would exclude. After all, we’ve seen it attract a religious seeker such as Nicodemus, the Pharisee. It attracted a worldly money man such as Matthew, the tax collector. It called to ordinary folk such as the shepherds of Bethlehem and those on the fringe of respectability such as the Samaritan woman. It’s an amazing thing that whenever the Father, through Jesus, “went into town,” He would find more folks waiting around who were glad to discover that He had a place for them. There is never a hint that anyone ever did anything to deserve this calling. Nor is there ever a hint that they would ever be mistreated or denied their due. “Whatever is right, you will receive…” [v.7] All are called to God’s Kingdom by grace and grace alone!
But we often hear disturbing notes of grumbling or quibbling. We ought to realize that there is no place for it in God’s Kingdom. The Apostle Paul, after impressing upon the Romans that their place in the Kingdom of God is secured by grace and not by their works, spurs them on to service while also reminding them of God’s grace: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). By the mercies of God who called us to labor in His kingdom with the sure promise of life everlasting, we are urged to joyfully sacrifice ourselves to the service of our Lord.
So here we are—Sunday School teachers, Christian parents and grandparents, church members, Ladies Aid members, voting members, husbands and wives, and children. God has called you serve Him in these various roles. Offering your lives in service to God as you fulfill these roles is presenting your lives as living sacrifices to Him.
In our lives on this earth, we still carry with us the flesh. and its struggle against all that is good and pure. It especially rebels against our joyful commitment to the Lord and our lives of service to Him. Satan, too, tries to sabotage the kingdom by sowing discord and distrust. The trouble can often appear in perfectly reasonable ways. In the parable, the trouble appears at the day’s end, when those who have “borne the burden and the heat of the day” [v.12] discover that they receive no more than those who were called at the eleventh hour. They received what they were told they could expect, but now they thought they deserved more because they couldn’t stand the thought of being made equal with those who had done less.
This is a trap of which we want to beware. All that has value comes from a God who loved us in spite of our sins. But our sinful flesh would have us look at other things such as “…how good I have been as a person, the superior training I’ve received, how much I have given, how consistent my attendance has been.” These self-righteous thoughts may mingle with an eye that looks to see the failings of others: “They’re never around. I don’t know why they’re still on the roster! All he ever does is make trouble.” The one who lives with this sort of attitude is not only headed for a surprise on Judgement Day, but risks losing his share in the Kingdom of Grace since he is allowing himself to base his place in life eternal on self-merit instead of God’s grace. Paul writes: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by Law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4).
Furthermore, we realize how such ungracious thinking poisons the true work of our Church, which is to proclaim and share in this Kingdom which was established by our Lord Jesus. It is a kingdom that reaches out to the poor in spirit. Within Christ’s Kingdom, the Holy Spirit creates a fellowship in Christ that seeks to restore those who are overtaken in some fault and bears one another’s burdens (cf. Galatians 6:1-2).
What can we do to guard against falling into such ungracious grumbling? Ultimately, it rests on our recognizing that God is good! The key phrase to this parable comes when the landowner speaks to the disgruntled laborers: “Is your eye evil because I am good?” [v.15] God called each of us out of darkness into His marvelous light. He was good and merciful to do so. Would we begrudge that same gift to others?
The denarius promised to the first group and given to all laborers was standard pay for a day laborer’s efforts. We have all come into the Kingdom of God with the same promise that we are co-heirs of God’s Kingdom with Christ.
Know the price of your calling namely, that through the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s own Son you were reconciled to Him and forgiven of all your sins. Jesus came to give His life in ransom for all. What could I do that could equal what has already been done? How often we need to reflect on this! We also need to reflect on the broadness of such love from God. If He has so loved me—me of all people—has He not also loved my neighbor in the same way and to the same degree? Shall I not, therefore, love my neighbor in the same, patient, forbearing, unselfish way?
May God grant His Spirit to work such a mind in us. May He so strengthen our hearts in His love so that we may reach out unselfishly, and love one another sincerely. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.