LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
“That’s not fair!” was likely one of the very first sentences you ever strung together as a little child, just learning to talk. And if you have children around your table, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “that’s not fair” oh, just a few times. When it comes to equality and fair play, it seems that all kids are born lawyers and supreme court justices. And guess what? You’ve never outgrown it.
That’s why when you’re at Kopp’s custard and someone who came after you, gets their burgers and fries first, you nearly lose it! Your annoyed and you hide it. But truth is, you’re dangerously close to yelling out and making a scene in front of everybody. “That’s not fair!” you would say, “I was first!”
You’re driving around the parking lot at the mall, out shopping, or at the grocery store looking for a parking spot. Someone leaves. You were there first. You’ve got your blinker on and everything. You’re doing it by the book. And some bozo zips in and takes your spot. That’s especially not fair! Oh, the rage, the miscarriage of justice that is! That mug shot on the evening news about assault and battery over a road rage incident. You snicker and laugh about the foolishness of it all, but catch you on the right day, at the right time, if they caught you in one of your moods that you’re known to get in, well, you know that could just as easily be you.
Oh, and then what about your work? Your credentials, your accomplishments, your years of service. And now the new guy shows up. He’s nothing special but he gets the promotion and you get passed over. You were entitled to that raise. You were there first, but they hardly gave you a passing thought. Not fair!
The laborers in the vineyard this morning, in our Gospel lesson, they too knew the feeling. They had been toiling and working since the break of day. By the middle of the day their backs were crying out for rest. By the day’s end those workers were sticky with sweat. Their backs, and arms, and legs were on fire from the work. So at the end of the day, when they lined up for wages, imagine their eyes, their confused faces, when they saw that those who were hired last, at the end of the day, received the same payout as they. They grumbled at the master, 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!” It wasn’t fair, they reasoned.
But listen to the master’s response: ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong…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.”
In other words, “Hey, I gave you the reward that I promised you. So why are you bothered? Why are you grumbling and complaining about my generosity?”
Ok. So what’s this parable about? Well, like every other parable it’s all about Jesus. And it’s all about His Kingdom of grace. Parables, contrary to popular opinion, are not stories in which God relates to us or shows us that He is like us or we like Him. Parables, show us, that Praise be to God, He is completely different than us! His thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are not our ways. And so His Kingdom, we learn, works in a very different way than the kingdom of this world. In God’s Kingdom, “the last will be first, and the first last” is Jesus way of saying: “You are not entitled to entrance into the Kingdom of God, it is given to you as a gift by an exceedingly gracious and generous God.”
Jesus said to the disciples: “It’s the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” To give what you don’t deserve! So the boast of the Christian heart is that God is not fair, but rather that He is generous, kind and merciful. And that’s good news – very good news.
Because if God was fair. If He was truly equitable. If he doled out to each and every one of us what we deserved. We grumblers and complainers would be overthrown in the wilderness, just like those Israelites. We deserve to be cast out of the Kingdom, because we’ve mumbled and complained too much about the ways of our generous God. Like those grumbling vineyard workers, you’re never content with your allotment. You’ve found fault with how God dishes out his blessings. You’ve actually gotten sad over someone else’s happiness.
And even though God has piled blessing after blessing upon you, you have the nerve to think of Him as stingy toward you, and you’ve grown to not expect too much from him at all. And so your prayer life is proof of that. Like those vineyard works, we too have a problem with God’s generosity. He should speak those frightening words to us “take what belongs to you and go.” Those are words of judgment.
But instead, he says “take what belong to me” – take my life, take my innocence, my holiness and all that I am. Because for your sake, he labored for your salvation. His back and arms and legs burned on the cross. But he didn’t complain. He didn’t grumble. Instead he prayed for you, and upon him was the chastisement that brought you peace. For your sake, He was crushed as grapes in a winepress.
God commanded Moses to strike the rock with his staff, so that water would issue forth and the people’s thirst would be quenched. But for your sake, a soldier’s spear stuck the true rock, named Christ, and our flowed water than cleanses and refreshes you in Baptism and out flowed forgiving blood that fills the chalice – to ignite you with love and renew your faith.
Risen from the grave, he forgave grumblers and complainers and gave you something to be eternally happy about. Happy that the power of death and hell are destroyed. Happy that the grave has become a short sleep. Happy that you have been raised up in His resurrection to stand confidently and cheerfully on the day of his glorious return.
You have been called into a kingdom of grace where there is unexpected love and stunning generosity. Grace that confounds the devil, makes the angels sin, and makes sinners very, very happy.
What can we learn about our lives with one another? Well, we love because He first love us. Every thought of earning or entitlement. Every thought of deserving or undeserving must be put out of our minds when we encounter God’s burning, and self-giving love. He has forgiven you. He has not been fair toward you, but exceedingly generous. So don’t be fair with one another! Be generous. Be lavish in love toward each other, forgiving those who don’t deserve it. Rip up your time sheet and toss out your score cards.
Keep laboring in His vineyard of grace, in the station and place where God has called you. Not to earn or merit His Kingdom. Christ our Lord has done that for you. But labor cheerfully and gladly in the vineyard of His holy church, on account of Christ, the true owner of the Vineyard. Who has loved you and given Himself generously for you – that you would refresh, restore, and forgive one another, richly, gladly, and generously.
And know that when the evening of this world comes, and our work is over – that last and awesome day when time shall end and Christ will return to judge the living and the dead – that He will reward all the faithful just the same – whether they were considered first or last in this world, it matters not. To everyone who remains faithful unto death He awards the crown of everlasting life – first the cross, but the then the crown of eternal joy and never-ending gladness.
Hymn of the Day: “Salvation unto us has come” Lutheran Service Book #555
Author: Paul Speratus, 1484-1551
Tune: ES IST DAS HEIL
Source: Etlich Cristlich lider, Wittenberg, 1524
1 Salvation unto us has come
By God's free grace and favor;
Good works cannot avert our doom,
They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,
Who did for all the world atone;
He is our one Redeemer.
2 What God did in His Law demand
And none to Him could render
Caused wrath and woe on ev'ry hand
For man, the vile offender.
Our flesh has not those pure desires
The spirit of the Law requires,
And lost is our condition.
3 It was a false, misleading dream
That God His Law had given
That sinners could themselves redeem
And by their works gain heaven.
The Law is but a mirror bright
To bring the inbred sin to light
That lurks within our nature.
4 From sin our flesh could not abstain,
Sin held its sway unceasing;
The task was useless and in vain,
Our guilt was e'er increasing.
None can remove sin's poisoned dart
Or purify our guileful heart--
So deep is our corruption.
5 Yet as the law must be fulfilled
Or we must die despairing,
Christ came and has God's anger stilled,
Our human nature sharing.
He has for us the Law obeyed
And thus the Father's vengeance stayed
Which over us impended.
6 Since Christ has full atonement made
And brought to us salvation,
Each Christian therefore may be glad
And build on this foundation.
Your grace alone, dear Lord, I plead,
Your death is now my life indeed,
For You have paid my ransom.
7 Let me not doubt, but truly see
Your Word cannot be broken:
Your call rings out, "Come unto Me!"
No falsehood have You spoken.
Baptized into Your precious name,
My faith cannot be put to shame,
And I shall never perish.
8 The Law reveals the guilt of sin
And makes us conscience-stricken;
But then the Gospel enters in
The sinful soul to quicken.
Come to the cross, trust Christ, and live;
The Law no peace can ever give,
No comfort and no blessing.
9 Faith clings to Jesus' cross alone
And rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruits true faith is known,
With love and hope increasing.
For faith alone can justify;
Works serve our neighbor and supply
The proof that faith is living.
10 All blessing, honor, thanks, and praise
To Father, Son, and Spirit,
The God who saved us by His grace;
All glory to His merit.
O triune God in heav'n above,
You have revealed Your saving love;
Your blessed name we hallow.