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It's Not About Deserving

Matthew 20:1-16

Pastor Robin Fish

18th Sunday after Pentecost
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

Sun, Sep 26, 1999 

Matthew 20:1-16

"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.  And when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard.  And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, 'You too go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' And so they went.  Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing.  And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing; and he said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day long?' They said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He said to them, 'You too go into the vineyard.'

"And when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.' And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius.  And when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; and they also received each one a denarius.  And when they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.' But he answered and said to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius?  Take what is yours and go your way, but 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 what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?'

"Thus the last shall be first, and the first last."

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our Gospel lesson this morning gives us a lesson in how we think and how God thinks - a lesson in grace.  In the parable, we are presented with people who think very much like we think.  But it isn't the way that God thinks about things.  We want to look at our Gospel lesson under the theme, It's not about Deserving.

Jesus contrasts the thinking of the Jews to the thinking of God.  The Jews of His day, and ours, think that they deserve something special.  They have been God's people among the heathen nations.  They have endured many troubles because of their relationship with God.  We often hear their complaint today in reference to the holocaust.  They wonder where God was and how could such things happen?  Particularly, they wonder how such horrible things could happen to God's chosen people.

It wasn't much different in Jesus' day.  They Jews lived as a captive nation, subjected to Roman rule and therefore to Romans abuses.  They chafed and they imagined a dozen different Messiah's - each of whom failed and was killed in their turn.  They cried out to God about their miseries, and they were utterly confident that they deserved the best from God, that no Gentile could measure up to them, that God would permit them to do anything to anyone, but that anyone who abused them faced the wrath of God.  Just like the Jews today believe.

But before anyone accuses me of being anti-Semitic, let me add that Christians today often think like the Jews.  We have been the faithful ones.  We deserve something extra, something special from God.  When Christians talk about their faith-life, you often sense that it is not a joy, not a free gift of love to God, not something that they really desire to do - but a chore and a good work which they do in order to shine brightly before God.

You may have heard this attitude, you may even have expressed it yourself.  It is the attitude you hear when people talk about deserving because they have gone to church regularly, because they never miss Bible Study, because they spend so much time and energy on the church, or they give so much money to the church.

Now, you should not interpret anything I am saying to mean that regular church attendance is not good, or that Bible Study is not a good idea, or that stewardship of your time, talents, or treasures is not important.  Those things are vitally important, and each carries with it its own blessings.  But some people think that because they do those things, they deserve and merit special blessings and protection from life's rough spots from God.  That attitude is what we call a theology of glory.

But when troubles come, sickness, pain, sorrow, hardships of one sort or another, such people cannot understand, and are usually vocal about it, how God could deal with them that way.  After all, they did this or that, they sacrificed, they served, they are surely among God's favorites in every way because they serve and love and give and so forth.

Jesus tells us in the parable about those who were hired and worked long and hard.  When those who came later received what those who had worked all day were expecting, then those who had worked all day assumed that they were going to receive more.  The Jews assumed that their long history as the chose people entitled them to something more than humanity in general was going to get.  Christians often feel that because we are God's favorites - that is the meaning of "grace" in short form - that we are going to have it better and suffer far less than the average.

But Jesus teaches us different.  God gives by grace - not by our merit or deserving, but by His own standards, for His own reasons.  Jesus, the Son of God, suffered horribly for you.  He died on the cross because you sinned.  He faced your death so that you might have His life everlasting.  Because of Jesus, your sins are forgiven.  Because of His pains and awful agony, and death, you will rise from your grave and live for eternity in joy and peace and perfection.  It is the gift of God by grace through faith.  It is possessed by simply trusting God to do what He has promised for Christ's sake.

But that promise doesn't say anything about how this life is going to be lived.  Jesus did promise, however that we would suffer.  He promised that the world would hate us.  He promised that we would be just like Him.  Why should we not endure hardship?  Jesus did.  Why should we not endure the hatred of the world?  Jesus did.  Why should standing on the truth be easy or comfortable, or popular with the people around us?  It didn't work that way for Jesus.  And Jesus said, If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Knowing that we will share in sorrows and pains as Christians, like our Savior shared in ours, is what we call a theology of the cross.  We who are redeemed by the cross, must also bear the cross. 

The promise of the Gospel is not comfort, health, riches, or popularity.  It is forgiveness of sins, resurrection from the grave to life, and everlasting life beyond pain and sorrow, sin and sickness and death.  That was what we signed up for when the Lord found us lounging in the marketplace and invited us to go to work in His vineyard.  Just because someone else has more, or better doesn't mean that you will get, or that you deserve more or better.  What we get is eternal salvation, and that is pretty darned good!

You see, it is not about deserving, because each of us deserves misery and death.  The good news is the gift of forgiveness and life, and the comfort of knowing that God is with us to bless us and keep us through every trial.  We deserve far worse than any of us has or endures.  What we get is the gift of life and the joy of knowing the will of God for us.  And what is the will of God for you?

The workers in the parable needed to learn that what they got was not about what they deserved in relation to what they thought others deserved, and what those others received.  What we need to learn is that it is not about deserving but about the goodness, the generosity, the grace of our God.  Thank God we don't get what we deserve!  We get eternal life instead!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)

These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.

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