Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 18, 2005
The Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16
Sermon: "God's Free Grace"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Jesus said, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a house-holder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place; 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 the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour 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 when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the house-holder, 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.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”
God's Free Grace
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 18, 2005
The two employees were very different people. One was very energetic, outgoing, and fast on the job. The other was very quiet, reserved, and meticulous about his work. Their jobs, however, were identical. They had to review computer programs to see if there were any errors that would cause the program not to work. See, someone in the company designed a program and sent it to them. Their job was to run the program and check it out. In short, they were to do everything they could to make it stop working correctly or crash. Then they would send it back for adjustments and then start again.
As I said, the two men were very different but their jobs were the same. Both men did them well. The one man was faster so he finished earlier. When he finished he would go and chat or maybe help someone else. He would sometimes run special errands for others. Well, the time came for pay raises. The young man who was energetic asked his fellow worker how he did. They both got the same raise. The energetic man became angry. He did his work well. He finished early. He ran special errands. He took on additional little jobs and he received the same amount as his co-worker in a raise.
Well, he went to the boss. He told the boss how he felt. He had done all these little extras. He had helped others. As a result, he wanted more money. The boss looked at the young man with understanding eyes. He, too, had been like this young man many years ago. He gently turned to the man and said, "I think it is great that you want to do these things. You work hard and you do little extras. You have one problem. You believe that because you can finish your work faster that your co-workers are not working just as hard as you. Instead of being pleased that everyone and everything is going well, you get angry about what you think you deserve. Well, I agree that you work faster and you do the extras, but how should I treat you for your attitude? Should I give you what you deserve?"
We have an interesting flaw in our human nature. We believe we are due something. Somewhere in our lives we believe we are due something from someone else or something else. We believe we deserve it. It might be at work like the young man above or the first workers in the vineyard. It might be at home, where we might, just might, believe we do the majority of the work or we bring home the bacon, as it were. It might be with our friends where we believe we should have first dibs due to age or status.
One of the most interesting places we feel this way is in our relationship to God. A great deal of it usually revolves around our activities and our behavior. F or example, we might believe that because we are members of the altar guild, attend church regularly, and make a pledge that we are assuring our place in heaven. We have never killed anyone. We haven't stolen any money. We haven't beaten anyone. We have given money to helping organizations. Occasionally, we have helped with the Thanksgiving Dinner at the church or at the local shelter. All of these activities count for us in our quest to assure our place in heaven.
I call this the brownie point system of salvation. We earn our way into heaven. We have to gain so many points before we can be assured we can get in. Everything we do, we do for one of two reasons. Either we believe God is so vengeful, that we have to appease God in order to achieve salvation. Or we believe that there are only so many spaces in heaven. In order to get in the door, we have to have more points than someone else. Either way we have to earn our way into salvation. The church calls this concept works righteousness. The problem with this concept is that one can never do enough. For in this system every time we do well we get a point. And every time we don't do well we lose a point. In fact, we even believe that certain deeds or misdeeds have a higher point value than others. Well, I didn't murder anybody today so that gets me five points. However, I did think harshly about my neighbor so I guess I lost one point. That means I am ahead four points today. What an incredible waste of time living life by this system becomes. We get so caught up in the rights and the wrongs that we can't even see the wonder of God before our very own eyes. Everything around us becomes a challenge. I have to do this right or I can't do that it might be wrong. What an incredible waste of time.
The reality about salvation is that salvation occurs by the grace of God and only by the grace of God. There is no point system. There is no sign on the gate of heaven that says, "Occupancy by more than 144,000 souls is a violation of Heavenly Code # 777." Salvation is free gift from God. God will offer salvation to whom God chooses. In the parable, the vineyard owner went to all of the workers at different times of the day. When he asked them to come and help, they responded. To each he gave them the full pay. They did not all accomplish the same amount of work. Some did do more than the others, but the result was the same. The owner gave the same amount to each. In this story the only sin would be not to respond at all.
The hope in this story is overflowing. God is the owner of the vineyard. We are the people who are standing around the vineyard. The first sign of hope. God comes to us. God calls each one of us. We don't have to go looking for God. God will come to us. It is not that we are more important than God. It is that God loves us so much that God wants us to have eternal life and salvation. Secondly, not everyone is called to do the same amount of work. We should be grateful for that piece of knowledge. We don't have to be a Billy Graham, a Desmund Tutu, or a Mother Teresa. We only have to be what God asks us to be. We are only asked to use the gifts God has given us. We are unique. No one else has the gifts that you or I possess. We are all called to work in the vineyard, but we will work differently. We can work at our own pace doing the task God has called us to do, whatever that may be. Finally, the result is the same for all. God's grace is overflowing. There is no point system. There is no being better than somebody else. We only have to be what God wants us to be and the gift of salvation is ours. The only possible block is to say no to God and even then we might still be saying yes. After all look what happened to Jonah. Jonah didn't want to go to Ninevah. Do we all know why he didn't go to Ninevah? God told Jonah to go to Ninevah and preach repentance. Jonah said no, because he knew if he went the Ninevites would listen to him and repent. Jonah didn't like the Ninevites. He didn't want them to repent. He didn't want them to receive God's salvation. As a result, he went on the first underwater cruise. God's grace is free. We are asked only to respond to God's call. God will take care of the rest. Thanks be to God. AMEN.