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"It's Not Fair!"

Matthew 20:1-16

Pastor Jason Zirbel

Pentecost 14
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

View Associated File

Sun, Sep 18, 2011 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

If there's one thing that never has to be taught in life, it's the concept of fairness.  You never have to teach a kid to complain about something not being fair.  Of course, we never really outgrow this great disdain for unfairness, do we?  Our 21st century culture orbits around our differing notions of fairness.  There's not one of us here who hasn't complained—recently—about something being unfair.  We chalk it up to so-and-so being related to the boss.  We chalk it up to our appearance—how we look or dress or sound.  We chalk it up to so-and-so having an axe to grind.  We chalk it up to "politics."  And make no mistake: All the political parties of this nation get right on board this bandwagon, preaching the notion of "fairness for all," at least, their particular idea of "fairness for all."  For some, that means everyone gets an equal share, no matter what.  No one gets more or less than anyone else.  That keeps things fair for everyone.  For others, "fairness for all" means that not everyone gets the same share, but everyone has the same opportunity to get their share.  Everyone has the same opportunity to work for and earn their share of the American dream.  Fairness, according to this understanding, says that those who aren't willing to work shouldn't get the same share as those who are. 

Now, I don't know, and I don't care, what side of the political aisle you claim as home, but I do know that everyone of us can always find ourselves on both sides of these political notions of fairness.  It just depends on how things are shaking out for us at the time.  Sometimes we want everyone to get the same equal piece of the pie as everyone else, be it health care or paying taxes or grandma's cookies.  No one should get more or less than anyone else.  That wouldn't be fair.  Other times, however, we have no problem with fairness on a sliding scale; those who do more should get more.  We especially feel this way when we're the ones "doing" while others are "not doing" and yet they're wanting to reap the same rewards as us. 

Sadly, these same notions of fair/unfair even find their way into the life of the Church.  "Sadly?  Isn't this the one place where fairness should rightly abound?" Well, that does depend on what exactly you mean by fair and unfair, and it also depends even more on whose definition of fair and unfair you're working with.  Are you talking about "fair across the board; fairness for everyone" or are you leaning more towards a sliding notion of fairness that favors you?  Before you answer, think long and hard about things such as pain, sickness, misfortune, and death.  Think long and hard about issues surrounding the giving of our time, our talents, and our treasures.

I can't tell you how many people I've heard lamenting how unfair it is that they, or someone they love, is sick or suffering in some way while people "far more deserving" of such pain and suffering go on living long, pain-free, care-free lives.  In their minds, they made sacrifices, they "lived right" and did all the right things, while the other guy didn't.  They abstained when everyone else didn't.  They paid their dues.  They took their lumps.  They worked hard.  They put in the time.  The other guy hasn't ever done any of that, yet he still get's ahead.  It's just not fair. 

I can't tell you how many times I've had to hear that "it's just not fair" when "good" people die young, or get divorced, or lose their jobs and are forced to scrape by while far-less deserving people keep on getting one good deal after another flopped in their undeserving, lazy laps; one proverbial silver spoon after another.  Even something as simple as basic worship comes under fire when our notions of fair/unfair are applied.  Be honest: How many of you have gotten angry when somebody else, who you know doesn't do or give as much as you do, has suggestions for how the Church should be decorated or run?  How many of you have been offended by the audacity of someone speaking out with their ideas on what needs to be done when it comes to issues such as membership inactivity and blatant lack of support for the congregation, yet you know they're never in Bible study or showed their support for the congregation in any way other than simply "punching the clock" for service on Sunday morning?  Honestly, you still don't think that issues of fairness and unfairness have trespassed into the life of the Church?  Because of these perverted and distorted notions of fairness, many people walk away from the faith, walking away from the saving ark of God's church.  They weren't treated fairly so they took their ball and left.

Folks: Let me share something with you that my parents and grandparents taught me at a very young age and something I continue to share with my kids and with all the people God has placed into my care—Life is not fair.  However, there is one exception to the rule.  Life is fair when it comes to sin, death, and damnation.  St. Paul tells us in Romans 3 that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and the wages for that sin is death."  All means everyone; every man, woman, and child—even newborns.  Everyone is a sinner and everyone deserves temporal and eternal punishment for that sin in the eyes of God. 

Folks: That's the key here!  We have to recognize this through God's eyes.  We have to use God's definition of fair and unfair, not ours.  How many people reject infant baptism simply because they can't see how a baby could be sinful and in need of forgiveness?  How many people actually reject the Gospel because "really bad" people can repent, believe, and go to heaven?  Be honest: Do you think it's fair that someone like Osama bin Laden or Jeffrey Dahmer or Adolf Hitler could still repent of their sins, believe in Christ alone for forgiveness and be assured of heaven?  "Let me get this straight.  The newborn who doesn't do anything wrong and dies without faith is considered a damned sinner by God, yet these wretched men can repent, believe, and go to heaven?  That's not fair at all!  My god would never do such a thing."  You're right about one thing.  Your god would never do such a thing.  However, the one, true and eternal God does and He has promised us so in His own Word.

Of course, the exception to the rule that "life isn't fair" isn't restricted to only death and damnation.  It carries through and bursts into the wonderful Gospel reality that God freely gives His grace and forgiveness to everyone.  You want to talk about unfair?  Jesus Christ died for the sins of the entire world.  He laid down His life on the cross for each and every person; for you, for me, for everyone.  When it comes to our complete forgiveness before God; when it comes to our eternal life and salvation in God, we are all equally and completely forgiven because of the selflessness and the love of Jesus Christ.  I'm not more forgiven or more blessed than any of you.  You are not more forgiven or more blessed because you give more of an offering or more of your time than the next guy.  That's trying to rationalize and conform these gifts of God to your fallen and sinful logic.  That's not how God works though, is it?  "Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to Me; namely, My grace, My forgiveness, and My gift of eternal life, or do you wish to put yourself in the place of God and begrudge My generosity?"

My brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus: When you really think about it, even God's not fair, and that's a good thing.  All are equally damned sinners in His eyes and all are equally saved and redeemed in His eyes because of saving faith alone in Christ's death and resurrection.  He made His Son take the fall and punishment for the whole world so that all of us could have eternal life with Him.  That's not fair at all.  Thank God that He doesn't operate with our notion of fairness.  Thank God that He is lovingly and mercifully unfair to us because of Jesus Christ.  My friends: Thank God that our lives with Him are not fair at all. 

May this same sense of true Christian unfairness shine forth from this point forward in your daily thoughts, words, deeds, and dealings with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and may the true peace that comes with simply trusting in God's loving and complete unfairness guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus alone.


Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.

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