Septuagesima 2010

Todd A. Peperkorn, STM

Messiah Lutheran Church

Kenosha, Wisconsin

Septuagesima (January 31, 2010)

Matt. 20:1-16

TITLE: “God doesn’t ration blessings, He gives them!”

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.

God doesn’t ration blessings. He gives them. This is sometimes very hard for us to understand, because it is so foreign to our way of thinking. If you belong to Christ, if you are baptized in His name, you receive all of His blessings. There is no such thing as a good Christian or a bad Christian. You either are a Christian or you aren’t. You’re either an “innie” or an “outie”. There is simply nothing in between. Everyone will enjoy the same treasures of eternal life in Him. There is no distinction in God’s sight. We are all His children, equally blessed with His divine favor and mercy. What a privilege! What a gift that God gives us, where we all sit at His feet together, one and the same.

Now oddly enough, this beautiful gift from God really annoys people.[1] Maybe it’s not that strange, though. By nature we are all Pharisees. We are all spiritual snobs. We vacillate between feeling unworthy of God’s grace and the basic feeling that “at least I’m not as bad as so-and-so.”

This is why texts about God’s mercy and His basic unfairness are so strange to our ears. The kingdom of God is not at all like any kingdom of the world. Everything we are and do here on earth is about measuring, comparisons, pecking orders, and establishing your place in the grand scheme of things. Movies abound with the basic plot of a nobody getting his big break to become someone great. Think of The Natural, The Chronicles of Narnia, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Princess Diaries, Kung Fu Panda, The Replacements, The Lord of the Rings, or just about every fairy tale that involves a prince and a damsel. Most kids shows even run off of these ideas! Backyardigans is about regular kids becoming heroes of some sort. Super Why. Word Girl. These all run off of the theme that there are differences, and that sometimes the little guy gets a chance to become a big guy.

Our dream as human beings is to amount to something all on our own. It’s what we long for. It’s what we want out of life in so many ways. You want to be recognized as being worth something. It’s why we have trophies and medals and plaques and every kind of recognition.

Now this isn’t all bad, mind you. This is the way things work in the world, from Presidents on down to class grades. The problem isn’t that this is the way the world works. The problem comes when we start to think that this is how God works.

God doesn’t grade on a curve. You don’t get a higher or lower place in heaven based on your works. God isn’t fair. He is merciful, and that is a very different proposition for us.

If God were fair, we would receive the wages for our sin. If God were fair, we would be eternally condemned for all of our sin. Every one of you would be condemned. That’s the Law, and it is true.

But God isn’t fair. He’s merciful. He doesn’t give you what you deserve, He gives to you out of the riches of His love for His Son and for you. While the world works in the way of measuring, God works in the way of blessing. To our eyes it is ridiculous. We can understand a little generosity. But that kind of generosity seems over the top, and it is.

How are we to really grasp God’s love for us in Christ as being so full, so incredibly rich and all encompassing that everything else pales by comparison? God grants us the blessing of working in His vineyard. He gives us a place, and identity and holy tasks that we are to undertake them. We don’t undertake these tasks in order to gain His favor. We do these things, these acts of love and mercy toward our neighbor, precisely because we have His divine favor.

This day Jesus calls you to come and work in His Father’s vineyard. Eat of His body and drink of His blood. Jesus says, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” Like living branches attached to a tree, even so you have life in Him. So come, find your place. It doesn’t matter if it is the first hour for you or the eleventh. You have a place here. It is God’s vineyard, and there is room enough for all. Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

And now the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith unto life everlasting. Amen.

[1] Some of the ideas for this sermon are taken with thanks from Bo Giertz’ book, To Live with Christ.

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