[This is from last year, but I thought I’d post it for those who are looking for something to preach about this coming Sunday. -LL]
Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church
Septuagesima (February 4, 2007)
TITLE: “God Plants You in His Vineyard”
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.
Just so that we’re clear up front, the point of this text is that God has placed you in the vineyard, His own Garden of Eden remade in His Son. Whether you came to the vineyard at the first hour or the last, it matters not. Our Heavenly Father has given you a place, and rewards you with eternal life, not because you work so hard, but because of His love for you in HIs Son, Jesus Christ. That’s where we’re ending, now let’s back up and see how to get there.
You have to admit, it’s a union nightmare. Each man starts working at a different time of the day, all the way up to closing, and then they are all paid the same thing! They are all paid one denarius, a day’s wage at the time. When the workers at the beginning of the day start to grumble about this unfair treatment, the owner tells them,
‘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)
It isn’t how we think, that’s for sure. We think in terms of fairness, Equal Rights Amendment, negotiated pay, and an adversarial relationship with our employers. We may like them, be happy with them, and get along with them, but at the end of the day, we want them to pay us what they owe us, or even more, we want them to pay us more that they owe us, because obviously we are worth more than we are paid.
This is your sinful human nature speaking to you. It’s true when it comes to work and family and friends here on earth just as much as it is true in terms of faith and eternal life. Who of you have not secretly harbored ill will toward your boss? Or your husband or wife? Or even your friends? They don’t appreciate you. They don’t know how much you do for them. If they really knew all the stuff you did, then you would have a parade thrown in your honor. The Law speaks clearly here, and it condemns you and I quite clearly.
Now that we understand what the parable means according to the Law, let’s talk about what the parable finally means in Christ. What this text is talking about is the fundamental unfairness of faith. We all seek to measure faith by the Law, just like we do our bosses and spouses and friends. We can’t help it. It’s in our character and inherited from the Fall. But that is not, and has never been, how the Law works. Paul Speratus, our hymnodist for the sermon, perhaps put it best:
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.1
But this is so often the case with us! We act like the workers at the beginning of the day, look down our spiritual noses at those sinners whom we believe are worse off than us, or have (in our minds) sinned more and say to ourselves, They have no place here. They don’t deserve it. Why are they even in the same room as I? Have you done this? Have you thought yourself better than others because they have more problems with you, because their sin is more public than yours, or because you have a better life in your own eyes? Repent. That is not the way of faith, that is the way of the flesh.
he way of faith, which God in his gracious mercy gives you, is this: God has done it all for you. He has won the battle, died your death, worked off your debt, flooded you with His forgiveness, and filled your chalice with everlasting life in His name. None of you deserve this. Neither do I. But this is what our gracious God gives to you freely, out of His love for you through His Son, Jesus Christ. That’s the Gospel. The fact that you are in the vineyard is sign enough of God’s mercy toward you. It doesn’t matter who else is here, what sins they or you have committed. None of us deserve to be here, but that’s not the point. The point is that you are here, cleansed in the waters of baptism and made ready to work in His Garden, not because you must, but simply because you can’t help yourself. It all flows from Christ, from faith to good works and even to suffering.
erhaps a word here about the laboring in the vineyard is in order. The laboring in the vineyard, which is more for some and less for others, are the good works that God has given you to do (Eph. 2:10), particularly the suffering that you endure in this life for His Name. God gives suffering to each Christian, some greater, some less. Why? Because He loves you. I know it’s hard to understand. But God gives or allows the suffering you face, particularly for the faith, to temper your faith as iron sharpens iron. If we try to ignore it, or act as if our suffering doesn’t exist, we become afraid of it, just as Job did (Job 9:28). St. Paul reminds us to rejoice in our suffering (Romans 5:3), not because the suffering itself is good, but because of the benefit it gives your faith. It is a mystery, that is true, but it is a sweet mystery, to know that God works all things for the benefit of His Church, and that means you.
So you see, dearly baptized, God’s love is completely unfair. Thank God. He forgives you out of His mercy, puts you in His vineyard, and sets you at the Table. You may receive the chalice of suffering in this life, but it is no comparison to the glory which shall be revealed at the Last Day (Rom. 8). In the words of the poet:
To my shepherd I’ll be true.
Though he fill my cross’s chalice,
I’ll rest fully in his pleasure,
He stands in my sorrow near.
One day, surely, done my weeping,
Jesus’ sun again will brighten.
To my shepherd I’ll be true.
Live in Jesus, who will rule me;
Heart, be glad, though thou must perish,
Jesus hath enough achieved.
Amen: Father, take me now!2
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith, unto life everlasting. Amen.
1 Lutheran Service Book 555:3
2 From Bach Cantata for Septuagesima, BWV 92.