Monday, September 25, 2023

Focus on the wage and not the labor. . .

Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20A, preached on Sunday, September 24, 2023.

What gets us in this parable is the obvious injustice of how long the laborers worked and how much they were paid.  Sure, the Lord said the parable but that does not mean we have to like it.  And that is the problem.  We focus on the labor and God focuses upon the wage.  Because the wage is the same, it is inevitable that the hours spent in labor do not matter.  That is what gets us most.  We believe the hours spent in labor should matter and they should matter in the size of the paycheck.  Anything else is just plain wrong to us.

Lets unpack this a bit.  We generally see ourselves as those who enter the work force in the morning hours – who labor in the cool of the morning and throughout the heat of the day right down to the end of that work day.  Is there anyone in this congregation today who would admit to not being a hard worker?  Everyone of us presumes that we have worked harder and longer than everyone else in God’s vineyard.  But have we?  Is our presumption correct or is it false?

In Jesus’ estimation of things, those who have labored longest in the vineyard are the Jews.  They have the history, the law, and they prophets.  The Jews agreed with Jesus.  You are right.  We have been here the longest and deserve more than anyone else.  If you want to find yourself in this parable, you are the johnny come lately workers who enter the field when the day is nearly done.  Gentiles all are the latecomers to the Kingdom of God and those who have labored the least in the vineyard.  The Jews would agree.  Gentiles are the last and the least of those in the kingdom of God.  Unless I am mistaken, and since I am related to most of you, that means you and me.  We are the last and the least in the kingdom of God.

We focus on the labor.  We live in a capitalist society.  It is a principle of our economy that those who work hardest and longest get more than those who work less.  That is the theory at least.  And how is it working?  You tell me.  Do the ones who work hardest and longest always get ahead of everyone else?  Is the economy fair to those who work hard and long?  Some of those who work hardest and longest end up with nothing at all.  You know this is true.

God however focuses not on the labor but on the wages.  This is not because God does not care how hard or how little we work.  It is because works cannot purchase salvation.  No one gets into heaven because of works – not the laborers who were there from the beginning and not the ones who came last into the workforce.  God did not save you because of what you did or what you could have done or what you would do for Him later.  The labor does not matter – well, except for the labor of Christ in His obedient life, life-giving death, and glorious resurrection.  His is the only labor that counts.  Your labor cannot purchase your salvation.  The only thing it can do is help your neighbor.  We focus on the work but God focuses on the wage.

The wages of sin is death.  That is what we earned.  Those who worked in the kingdom of God from the beginning and those who slipped in just before the whistle blew to end the day.  Our labors have earned only one thing – death.  None of us have any right to pride in the kingdom of God for we have nothing to be proud of.  The only thing we contributed to our salvation was the sin for which Christ paid with His life and the death which He died so that we might live.  There are no bragging rights in the kingdom of God.    It is always and only grace.  By grace you have been saved.  Grace does not come in different sizes.  It is one size fits all.  It is always bigger than our sins and more than we deserve.  The fruits of the cross do not some in different portions but the same for all – the Jew who was in it from the beginning and the Gentile showing up just before quitting time.  One denarius.  One grace – big enough to cover every sin and big enough to rescue every one dead in trespasses and sins from the grave.   We focus on the labor but God focuses on the wage – the gracious and generous wage of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

But there are some other things we ought to notice.  Everyone works.  Whether early or late, everyone works.  God does not countenance laziness.  Work is a joy.  The work of God’s kingdom is joyful.  The good works you do for your neighbor are a source of joy for you and for your neighbor.  You do not do them to earn your salvation but that does not mean they are not important.  Yes, you will labor in the heat of the day and work will cost you pain and suffering.  So what?  Those will not work will not eat the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  
So do not presume that because Christ’s work has worked your salvation that you can be lazy and slack off in the kingdom of God.  You work not to earn y our salvation but because Christ worked to save you and if you are grateful to Him, you will join Him in the labors of the kingdom – mercy, compassion, service, sacrifice, intercession, and witness.

Second, do not compare yourself to anyone else.  You are not righteous because you may not be quite as bad as somebody else.  Righteousness is not relative – because sin has passed to all, no one looks better or worse than another.  We are all sinful by nature, in thought word and deed, by the evil we have done and by the good we have not done.  The earthly treasures that moth, rust, and inflation destroy are but temporary treasures.  Those who end their lives with the most stuff still die.  So what does it matter?  Learn like St. Paul the contentment with much or little – you know, the contentment of faith.  If you compare your lives and lot with others, only discontent will result and it will kill your faith, rob you of your joy, and embitter your heart to the grave.

Each of you will give account before God.  God will not ask you what your neighbor did or did not do or how much more or how much less you had than your neighbor.  He will ask only one thing.  What did you do with what you were given?  Though we immediately think that this is a question about money and things, it is not.  God has given you a treasure far more valuable than money and stuff – that is the forgiveness, life, and salvation purchased and won not with silver or gold but with the holy and precious body of Christ in suffering on the cross and His blood shed for your sin.  What are you doing with THIS treasure?

Jesus has called us to work in a vineyard not a factory or a shop.  Vineyards tend grapes to produce wine – the wine that gladdens the hearts of people.  The wine that gladdens our hearts is not the stuff that comes in a brown paper bag but in the silver cup with the words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”  You cannot possibly earn this reward no matter how hard you labor but God gives you this gift that you could not possibly earn out of pure love.  By grace you are saved.  Stop looking at yourself and keep your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our salvation.   Amen.

1 comment:

Karen said...

Thank you... I am not the brightest bulb on the tree and Jesus' parables often stump me... now it is clear to me.