SEPTUAGESIMA – FEB. 16, 2014
TEXT: MATT. 20:1-16; 1 COR. 9:24-10:5; EX. 17:1-7
GOD WORKS THIS GRACIOUS WAY IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN!
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2-3). (Jesus said) “The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house 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.”


You know what the kingdom of university study is like!  Set the alarm - be on time – the readings - the papers – the tests – the projects - keep coming – you better bear the heat of the semester or the payout will be D’s and F’s – not A’s and B’s.  You better not wait until three weeks have passed to open a book and go to class.  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 out.


You know what the business kingdom is like!  Set the alarm – put in those long hours – sweat the margins of profit and loss – you better bear the heat of competition or the payout will be failure not success. You can’t be idle until you’re 35 or 45 or 55 years old and then say – I need to have some income and support myself – so I’ll get in gear.  Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour…and the eleventh hour…He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too. ’ If you are a businessman or businesswoman – do not use this parable as a guide for earthly success.  Nor should you apply these principles in your home and family life.  This is not how things operate in the world.  (Jesus said) “The kingdom of heaven is like…this Master!  Dear Christians – He is a strange one!  His thoughts are not our thoughts!  His ways are not our ways! 

SEPTUAGESIMA – FEB. 16, 2014
TEXT: MATT. 20:1-16; 1 COR. 9:24-10:5; EX. 17:1-7
GOD WORKS THIS GRACIOUS WAY IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN!
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2-3). (Jesus said) “The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house 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.”


You know what the kingdom of university study is like!  Set the alarm - be on time – the readings - the papers – the tests – the projects - keep coming – you better bear the heat of the semester or the payout will be D’s and F’s – not A’s and B’s.  You better not wait until three weeks have passed to open a book and go to class.  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 out.


You know what the business kingdom is like!  Set the alarm – put in those long hours – sweat the margins of profit and loss – you better bear the heat of competition or the payout will be failure not success. You can’t be idle until you’re 35 or 45 or 55 years old and then say – I need to have some income and support myself – so I’ll get in gear.  Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour…and the eleventh hour…He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too. ’ If you are a businessman or businesswoman – do not use this parable as a guide for earthly success.  Nor should you apply these principles in your home and family life.  This is not how things operate in the world.  (Jesus said) “The kingdom of heaven is like…this Master!  Dear Christians – He is a strange one!  His thoughts are not our thoughts!  His ways are not our ways! 


His uniqueness is seen even more when He calls His steward, His manager into action.  When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages…’  But He doesn’t choose the natural order that a paymaster would select.  Initially paying the first group their agreed upon wage - would have left everyone pleased.  Those hired first would have left receiving a full day’s pay for a full day’s work – just as they expected.  Each group coming later would have been delighted at unexpectedly receiving the same wage – unknown to the first group.  Obviously this Master wants those who had worked all day to observe the grace that He extends to the others.


‘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.  What generosity!  Twelve times what might be expected!  One can almost sense the rising tension in the first group as they observe what happens with these other four categories of workers.  The one hour workers received a full day’s wage – then the three hour workers – then the six hour workers – then the nine hour workers.  How can this be fair?  “Equal pay for equal work” is a centuries old understanding of justice.  Then, against all conventional wisdom and hopeful expectation the first group hired receives the very same wage as all the others.  They were paid exactly as promised.  Comparative anxiety on their part nonetheless quickly turns to anger.


Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius.  And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 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.’  “Not fair!” shouts the leader.  “We should receive more.”  This is not the cry of the underpaid.  No one is underpaid in this parable.  The complaint is from those justly paid who cannot tolerate the gracious generosity of the Master.  “You have made them equal to us!” 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 worker 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. 


“Do you begrudge my generosity?” In part, Jesus was taking aim at the apostles who had just questioned what reward they would receive in the kingdom (Matt 19:27-30).  The term Jesus used for laborers is the same term He used when He said, “Pray the Lord of the harvest to throw out laborers into his harvest (Matt 9:38).  These apostolic workers were sinfully prone to jockey for position as called workers in the kingdom (Matt 20:20-28).  While Jesus kept on predicting His crucifixion and resurrection, they kept on posturing for first place.  By way of this parable Jesus powerfully conveys that their call into His ministry is solely a gift of God’s grace.  The men who worked 12 hours and bore the heat of the day had nothing over the men who worked only one hour.  The one attribute these laborers had in common was being idle or unoccupied in the kingdom - until God chose them.  James and John had no right to expect positions of honor over Matthew, the hated tax collector and one who came a little later into the vineyard.  None of the apostles should expect grander reward than St. Paul who came even later into the vineyard because he actually persecuted their work for a time.  Called by Christ, he came to know the undeserved grace of his standing to such extent that he wrote…I discipline my body…lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.


In God’s kingdom, the pay scale is based upon grace, not merit.  In no way had the first workers been wronged.  God gave them exactly what He promised.  Their complaint was that He had been too generous with others!  Jesus preceded this parable with these words – But many who are first will be last and the last first.  It is the same truth in reverse order with which He ends the parable.  So the last will be first and the first last.” 


The firsts become lasts not because they failed to do good works.  Jesus does not deny that they bore the burden and scorching heat of the day.  Rather, the firsts become lasts because they make earthly comparisons in heavenly matters.  Comparative Christianity is always deadly to the one comparing – whether in your family, in this congregation, on a Concordia or Wisconsin university campus, or in the church at large.  You save a humble people but the haughty eyes you bring down.  The firsts become lasts because they convince themselves they have been wronged by God.  They want a pay scale in their control – making judgments about the relative worth of others.  So also we are tempted to do!  Although we cannot stand before God relying on anything we have done, we easily presume to size up others!  God’s grace is not only amazing – for natural market-oriented minds it can also seem infuriating!


The kingdom truth that Jesus taught here applies to every vocation in which his saints serve Him – not just to His apostles.  Pastors today are tempted by sideway glances of envy and dissatisfaction.  Seminary and university students are not immune from finding fault with God because of His generous blessings to others.  “They have it made!”  “Look at the recognition they receive while my dedication is underappreciated.”  Christ-confessing mothers and fathers, workers and retirees, may take the heat of mockery for decades from high flying pagans in step with our culture.  But if God’s Word works their repentance late in life they receive identical wages as life-long Christians.  There are no second class citizens or second class workers in the kingdom of heaven.  When such thoughts begin to enter our mind God calls us to repentance.  Thinking that we are firsts – will result in us becoming lasts.  It is God who began a good work in you.  It is He who will carry it on to completion (Philippians 1:6).  In the most important way - all disciples are equal in the present and future reign of Christ.  There is no room for self-promotion – no reason for competition!  The first workers had stopped looking at their master and started looking at themselves in sinful comparison.  That is a daily temptation for us.


By means of this parable Jesus takes your eyes off yourself and puts them on God’s grace in His ministry to you!  To make the trek from farm to market and back five times in a single day is unheard of.  In the workaday world it doesn’t happen.  In the workaday world it is the foreman, not the Master in person who makes the trip to the corner where day laborers gather.  In the workaday world the Owner and His foreman would know how many workers are needed for the day.  They wouldn’t have to keep going and calling and going and calling and going and calling more and more laborers.  In this parable it is clear they do so only in order to give them a living wage – even to the last hour.


Beloved, Jesus is here saying, “this is My own ministry to you!  In person, in the flesh, I come to you where you live and love you where you are!  I come inviting sinners into My kingdom throughout their lives.  Some I bring in the first hour (think of John the Baptizer).  Some I bring in the last hour (think of the thief dying next to Me).  Some I bring again (think of the prodigal son).  Thank God it isn’t fair - giving you what you merit – temporal and eternal punishment!  He works on the principle of grace by which you get what you do not deserve.  Jesus says, in Me God moves you from the last place of rebels (separated from God) to the first place of His children (baptized into His Name and receiving His kingdom)!  By His call you pass through the sea of sin – baptized into My death.  In His upside down kingdom He has made you the elect of God, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, people of his own possession that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:10).


Beloved of God, none of us have a different gospel, a different faith or a different sacrament than another.  By a wonderful exchange, God makes us equal with the one Man who has borne the heat of the day!  In a race all the runners compete but only one receives the prize!  In the race of life - lived without sin in obedience to God – only Jesus won the race!  Yet He was made to be dead last – even last to the point of being damned in our stead - to give us the wage of His full day’s work under the sun.  Too good to be true you fear!  It cannot be true for you Satan’s whispers, with all your failings and weakness.


Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or do you begrudge my generosity?  Dear Child, in water and word I still give it to you!  In my absolving word of peace – I am here now to give it to you!  In New Testament spiritual food I give you to eat my very body – crucified in the heat of the day!  In New Testament spiritual drink I give you to drink of my true blood shed as the redeeming wage that gold or silver could never be. 


I also give you the place of proclaiming My excellencies for I have called you out of darkness into My marvelous light!  Always be ready to give an answer to any who ask you for the hope that you have in Me – with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16).   It is a sure and certain hope for I am allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me.   I have even arranged it that by your very eating and drinking of the fruits of My cross you all together proclaim My death until I come (1 Corinthians 11:26).  I am coming soon – and I will give you My wage then – even as I give it to you now! 


In the meantime – stay at it!  After all, you know what the kingdoms of university study and business and home life are like!   Do your best to measure up!  Don’t procrastinate and wait until the 11th hour or even the 3rd hour!  The work of your vocation will always call for more – and it will always accuse you!  But as you work in your daily vocation it is not for you to worry if you’ve done enough to tip the scale of eternity in your favor.  You have not and you will not!  But I have and I choose to give it to you!  


In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
(414) 332-5732 |lmcusc@lmcusc.org

Divine Service: Sundays - 9:00a Mondays - 7:00p Bible Study & Sunday School: Sundays - 10:45a