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Mark Airey

Matt. 20:1-16

Grace equals more than Justice!

Pentecost 18

Focus:  Out of His love for us God gives to us more than is just.

Function:  That the hearers rejoice over what has been given out of God’s grace.

Sermon Structure:  Lowry Loop

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Well, the leaves are beginning to change and it’s time to put our summer toys away.  With temperatures beginning to drop off in the evening, we’ve begun to refocus our attention away from the summer vacations and back onto the routines of everyday life.  The kids are all going back to school, and our attention is not being distracted with summer and is back on work.  It only seems appropriate that this parable in our gospel message is focused on work also.

A focus on our work has been part of the “American Dream” for quite some time.  This preoccupation with work has even been called “Good old American Inginuity.”  It is this inginuity that has propelled us into becoming leaders in the international business world.  We take pride in our leadership, and our success, as we are now the super power of the world.  Not only are we a force to be reckoned with, but our high tech manufacturing capabilities are unmatched on the planet.  Ah, but with success comes a need for growth rates that are often driven by eagerly expectant shareholders.  They place these expectations on American Management.  Then what happens when our efforts fall short, or our efforts don’t even seem to matter?  Or when the company realizes it needs to lay off its employees to remain competitive?  What happens when companies can no longer give out bonuses due to “accounting errors,” or after years of loyalty and hard work, you are no longer in line to get that promotion you have been promised due to corporate restructuring?  What then?

These are dificult times to watch corporate america and expect fairness.  I watched as the company I worked for pinched its pennies and put pressure on all of its employees.  They asked us to watch all spending.  This was proposed to make ourselves more competive in the highly competitive telecommunications industry.  I remember being asked to reuse copy paper that had been printed on and turn it over to print on both sides.  Well, then we hear of our CEO being investigated for evading taxes and taking exhorbatant loans to buy lavish apartments in New York without paying them back to the company.  It was then found out that he had thrown outrageous parties, including one in Tuscany for millions of dollars, on the company.  How was this fair, as we watched as our stock price plumeted and the company suffered because of his indescretions?  I, and my coworkers, had been working hard all day to grow the company and now it turns out this guy was taking advantage of the stockholders and all of us.

So, how does Christianity fit into the “American Dream?”  Which Psalm or Proverb reassures us that all of our hard work will be rewarded with the fulfillment of all of our ambitions?  Many of us focus so intently on our dream that we can easily envision driving down easy street…I can see it now driving down that tree lined street in the latest sports car, dressed in the finest clothes money can buy…the weather is perfect.  Then driving up to the house that I’ve always dreamed of.  Ah, the joy, the peace and the contentment of the easy life.  All we need to do is to know the verse in scripture that addresses our need and God will surely reward us for our hard work by giving to us the very finest and best in life.  Or will He?  Where is God in all of this?  Surely, if we are doing our best and being the best person we can, he will reward us!  Or will He?  There’s little wonder that the Christian bookstore sells so many “Christian” self-help books designed for us to “help ourselves.”

So, what happens when we see God’s servants who are faithful throughout their entire lives?  Do we see reality?  Do we see those who help to bring others to Christ, who have served on church boards as elders, committee chairs, or church presidents.  People who have given of their time and talents as well as their money?  Do we see good, God fearing folks, still suffer despite their fervent prayer life?  Do we see unfortunate things happen in their lives?  And, if this is the case, how is our God a just and righteous God?  How can someone trust in the mercy of God when they see suffering in this world?  Let’s be honest with ourselves, we often expect something for all of our efforts.  We often come expecting eternal life, and if that expectation is threatened, then we need to switch gears and immediately take care of number one…ourselves.  We’re not surprised at the reactions of the laborers in the parable or when we see the U.A.W. in action.  Because, given a different set of circumstances, we too might be right there with them grumbling and complaining (if we aren’t already) that we haven’t been fairly compensated.  Especially if we feel undercompensated in comparison to others in our field doing the same thing.  If we have worked all day, bearing the hardest part of the work, why should someone else be able to work for just ten minutes and receive the same reward? That’s just not fair is it?  For many of us, we feel justified in feeling this way.  As Jesus illustrates in our parable for today, God’s ways are often not our ways.  By that I mean that what is fair and just in this world is not always fair and just in God’s eyes.  He looks at our situation from a different perspective…one that is often very different from our typical “American Dream” perspective.  In His eyes, the only thing that we deserve is death for our sins.  Even more so, we need to ask ourselves today, “was it fair that Jesus Christ, pure and blameless, as He was, became our sacrifice on the Cross?!”

You see God wants all to be saved, not just those who have borne burdens for the longest time.  Yes, He wants to save all!  He knows that we in our sinfulness can’t begin to fathom the depths of the love that He has for us as His people.  Despite our sinful state, He uses our brokenness, He uses our pitiful self centeredness.  Amazingly, He claims us as His own.  For He has chosen us as His people.  It was our sinfulness that brought Christ to us.  To be born in human flesh, to personally share His human experiences with us, to suffer for us, to take all of our sins upon Himself on the cross.  Jesus Christ shows each of us His divine grace through this unmerited gift which is given through His sacrifice on the cross, to redeem you and I, so that we might have eternal salvation!  This gift that is given to us is so precious, so foreign to our understanding…yet it’s with this gift that He teaches us through the Holy Scriptures and the sacraments.  In the Scriptures Paul tells us, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast.”  It is because of Christ that we have the asssurance of eternal life in His heavenly kingdom.  Not by our human works, but because of the grace that Christ first gave to us.

Because of this one undeserved act of mercy you are able to be claimed  by Him as His servant.  You are His, bought by the precious blood of our Savior, taught by faith and the power of the Holy Spirit, to serve Him as well as others.  In serving our brothers, we model what Christ first taught us.  For He taught us to love God with all our heart and with all our mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  These are all things that He has done for you.  It is for this reason that we can rejoice, not because of anything we do for our own salvation, but rather because of the salvation He has already given to us who believe.  He is our God, whom we serve in this world and we continue to serve by praising and serving, as well as by confessing our sins and living as His children.  We do all of this because of the gift so freely given to us by our Savior.

So, refocus certainly.  But not so much on the job that we toil at, but on the eternal salvation that has been given freely in grace to us through Christ’s suffering and dieing on the cross for our sins.  And now may His grace, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in His peace.  Amen.

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