Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church
Septuagesima (February 8, 2009)
For an audio MP3 of this sermon, CLICK HERE
TITLE: “Grace Abounds…More Than Fairness”
A Sermon on Faith and Good Works
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.
This morning’s parable is about the grace of God and the fairness of God. The grace of God is that He sent His Son to die in our place, to forgive our sins, and to draw us into His loving embrace. Our life in God is not measured in comparison to others. There are no degrees of sonship in God’s family. You are either in or out. Either you are a child of God or you are a child of the devil. Fortunately for us, you are in by virtue of your baptism into Christ. As St. Paul writes in Galatians 3, “…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:26-27 ESV)
But it is so very easy for us to fall into the trap of wanting God to be fair. If God were fair, bad things wouldn’t happen to me! If God were fair, I would get a greater portion of the good life. I mean, I’m not perfect, but I am sure a lot better than many of the poor miserable sinners who are out there. Like the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Sin, at the first sign of trouble we bolt, forget God’s mercy, and want God to be fair.
But do we really want God to be fair? Really? What would fair mean? Fair would mean everyone receives equally what they are owed. Fair would mean no mercy. Fair would mean exacting payment for every misdeed, and for rewarding every good dead. Is that really what you want? Do you really want God to be fair like that?
God being fair means that we are are all cast into hell, every one of us. For what we deserve for all of our labors of sin is eternal punishment. It’s that simple. The wages of sin is death, as St. Paul writes in Romans chapter three. That’s what you deserve. That’s fair. That’s all square, even steven. That’s getting what you deserve.
This is very disappointing, frankly. We live and operate with the delusion, and we do this all the time, that the reason good things happen to us is because we have worked hard for them. Now I suppose that from a worldly point of view, that may appear to be the case. But all it takes is one financial catastrophe to wipe out your life savings, and then we can see how fragile our lives really are. Or think of the Hebrews in our old testament lesson for this morning. God has delivered them with a mighty hand from the power of cruel Pharaoh, and at the first sign of distress, they grumble and complain and want to go back into slavery.
But in order to understand the kingdom of God and our place in it, we have to understand a little bit more about families and sonship and what it means to be a part of the family. Let me explain. In most households, the children do chores. You usually start small and work your way up. Emptying the dishwasher. Helping to put away laundry, starting to work on snow removal, you know how your household works. Inevitably, one of the great, uh, discussions regarding these chores is the matter of payment. An allowance. The children believe with all their heart that they should get paid for all their labors, and if they don’t get paid, what is it? IT’S NOT FAIR. If they don’t get paid what they think they’re worth, IT’S NOT FAIR. If their brother or sister get paid as much as they do, even though in their mind they did more work, IT’S NOT FAIR.
Now parents have a different perspective on this. For the parents, they want to teach their children to be a part of the family. They want them to learn how to pull their weight, to be sons and daughters and to contribute to the good of the whole. Parents look at this as a part of living together as a family. These children shouldn’t have to get paid for doing chores. Why? Because they’re a part of the family. So to the father and mother, what do they think of having to pay their children an allowance? You guessed it: IT’S NOT FAIR.
So why do we do things this way? We do things this way because we’re a family. As a father, ultimately I do like giving my children things, even an allowance. And children do learn that working on chores at home gives them a place as a part of the family. But one thing is for sure, it isn’t fair. It’s grace. If it were fair, every time a child spoke back, disobeyed, or in some fashion didn’t do what they should, then they would have allowance taken away. Or every time a father or mother lost their temper, the allowance would go up. It doesn’t usually work that way, though. We are not finally as a family about keeping score. We’re above lover each other as Christ has loved us. That’s grace, friends.
Now let’s take this and apply it to our text for today. Some laborers go into work at the beginning of the day, others midday, and still others at the end of the day. But they are all paid the same, a day’s wages. Why is this so? It worked this way because first of all, it’s what they agreed to, but secondly and more importantly here, that is the way it works in the kingdom of God. In the kingdom of God, you are all sons and daughters. You have a place in God’s kingdom. You also have work to do. Everyone does. There are no benchwarmers in the kingdom, the family of God. Remember St. Paul’s words from our Epistle:
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25 ESV).
In other words, the work that you do here on earth has been prepared for you to do from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 2:10). This work isn’t here in order for you to gain God’s favor, merit salvation, get a higher place at the table, or anything. Your place in God’s house is settled, because you are Baptized. God gives you these works to do because you are sons and daughters. He doesn’t give them to you so that you can become sons and daughters. He gives them to you because you are sons and daughters. You’re part of the family. You’re in the kingdom.
While we’re on the topic of fair, we must also remember the cross and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Talk about unfair! He was completely innocent, obeyed the Father’s will in every way, and what did He receive? He received shame, suffering and death on the cross. He took your sin and paid the price for it? Why? Because that’s what families do, they love each other and give to each other, even to the point of death. It’s not fair. It’s grace, friends. And it’s what makes us who we are as God’s children.
This day we rejoice and remember God’s mercy. Come to the cross, trust Christ, and live, as our hymn puts it (LSB 555:8). Your place is settled here. God isn’t fair. He is merciful, and He loves to set you up, give you a place in His holy kingdom, and for you to be fed with His Word and Spirit. So come, rejoice that you have a place in the vineyard! You are part of the family. You have a place in God’s kingdom. 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.