Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church
Septuagesima (January 20, 2008)
On the Baptism of Beata Susan Peperkorn
For an audio MP3 of this sermon, CLICK HERE
TITLE: “The Naked God and the Covered God”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the parable of the men working in the vineyards from St. Matthew chapter twenty.
What are we to do with a text like this? We have the complaining, grumbling Israelites, the complaining, grumbling workers, and in our Epistle we find St. Paul encouraging the Corinthians not to grow weary in the race of the faith. It seems as though complaining and grumbling is what we do best.
A part of it of course comes from our natural sense of entitlement. God had rescued the Israelites from slavery and death under Pharaoh, and they questioned whether he would take care of them in the wilderness. In our Gospel, the workers at the beginning of the day looked at those at the end of the day who received the same wages, and knew that somehow they had been cheated. Both groups believed that the master, God, owed them something, that they were being mistreated and not getting what was their due.
That sense of entitlement is our inheritance. We believe, in our heart of hearts, that if God was really fair, that we would come out right in the end. After all, God knows who we are, doesn’t he? He knows how much we do for others, for the church, for our family, at work, at home. He knows our good intentions. Surely God would reward us for our good deeds and good intentions, and would overlook any accidental mishaps along the way.
That, of course, is the problem. If God were fair, we would be cast into hell. This is what the theologians call the naked God. The God of Law, the God which the world cannot get past, is oh so fair. He is perfectly fair, painstakingly fair, and before Him we stand condemned. If that’s the God you want, that’s the God you get. The naked Law is not something we can stand up to and live.
That’s what the workers in the vineyard couldn’t handle. They thought they were working their way up the food chain, doing the right things, and that the master would promote them and everything would be just as they had planned it. But it was not to be so. After they complain about their unfair treatment, the master says,
‘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?’ (St. Matthew 20:13-15).
So the miracle and the point of the parable isn’t that some worked all day and others worked for just an hour. The point of the parable is that they were in the vineyard. The master gave them a place, and their reward was not based upon their work, but upon the generosity of the master.
This parable, dear friends, is about faith. It’s about the hidden God who gives you what you don’t deserve. It’s about the God who doesn’t follow the rules, at least not in the way that we expect. Our own distorted view of our self-worth makes it so that what we believe we deserve has nothing to do with reality. But our Lord, who clothes Himself in the unlikely and hides Himself in the most common, gives us not what we deserve, but what His Son deserves.
For it is Jesus who has toiled for you in the heat of the day. It is Jesus whose work for you on Calvary that has brought you into the vineyard. It is Jesus who feeds you from that same vineyard with His own body and blood for life everlasting. It is Jesus who takes what is fair for you, death, and exchanges it for life.
God is not fair. Thank God. He is not fair; He is merciful. He gives you credit for work you never did, and He forgets the sin that you always do. So it is that you have an inheritance of eternal life and blessedness, just as Beata was given through Holy Baptism this morning. Our hymn-writer has said it best:
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. (Paul Speratus, LSB 555:7)
The naked God of the Law cannot save you. But the hidden God, the God of love and mercy, He has saved you by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. Come to His Table, eat, drink and live. You are in His Vineyard, you are His children, and you are holy and precious in His sight. Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith, unto life everlasting. Amen.