Grace Isn’t Fair 9-24-17

grapes

In this sermon, based on Matthew 20:1-16, I explore the parable of the generous landowner. God’s grace and mercy isn’t really fair…but that’s actually a good thing.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/grace-isnt-fair-9-24-17

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

When I was really young, like “too young to go to school yet” young…we had some neighbors that lived on a farm pretty close to my parents farm…and they had a couple of daughters…one of which was about my age…in terms of a class in school, I was one of the really young ones, and she was one of the really old ones…so even though, by my understanding, we were the same age, we really weren’t.

But regardless…we grew up together…often playing together while our parents socialized…and so, when we started kindergarten, all I knew was “she’s my friend.” A little bit of time went by, I can’t really tell you how much…but it wasn’t long before my friend, who could already read, was jumping up to work with the 1st grade class in reading…and then pretty soon, since she was technically old enough, she was jumping up to 1st grade.

Now of course they didn’t explain everything that was going on to the rest of us in the class…and even if they did we probably wouldn’t have really understood what was happening anyway…but all I knew was that if my friend was going up to 1st grade…then I should be able to do it too…and when I said something to my parents and they told me no…I reacted exactly how you would expect a 5-year old to react. “THAT’S NOT FAIR!” (pause) I think its safe to say that this was my first lesson…the first of many lessons that I am still trying to learn…that life…and many of the different aspects of life…just isn’t fair.

This brings us to the gospel for today…a parable in which Jesus is attempting to reveal yet another truth about the kingdom of heaven…and interestingly enough, Jesus is sharing this parable as a response to a question posed by Peter…a question that seems to be aimed the issue of fairness.  You see, Jesus has been talking about entering the kingdom of heaven and just how hard it is and Peter pipes up “Hey Jesus, we’ve left everything to follow you. What then will we have?” (Pause) Peter might as well be asking “hey, look at how much we’ve given…so we do we get out of it?” And with this, Jesus rockets into a story.

The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who defies all logic…over and over again. He goes to hire workers…which the landowner would never by the way…he’s got people for that…but regardless…he rolls himself out early enough to be out in the marketplace at 6am…and he grabs a batch of people…promises them the normal daily wage if they go work for him…and sends them off to work.

So far, the only odd thing is that he went on his own…but then a few hours pass…and for whatever reason…he ventures out again…and low and behold…there’s some more people standing around doing nothing…Yo! Head off into my vineyard…I’ll give you what’s right…interesting.

He wanders out again at noon…and then again at 3…seriously, doesn’t this guy have anything better to do than wander around the unemployment line? Regardless, when he finds more idle workers, he sends them off too. (pause) And then…defying any and all logic, he heads out again at 5…seriously, there’s only an hour before the closing whistle blows…and yet, here’s more people…and when he asks them why they’ve been standing around all day, they respond “because no one has hired us.”

This makes no sense at all…but with no mention of compensation…not to mention zero thought as to if he needs any more workers or not, which he wouldn’t have by the way…the landowner sends these guys off to work as well. (pause) Now, you’d think that this would be the end of it…but we’re just getting started aren’t we?

Because when quitting time roles around…we see that it’s time for paychecks…and for whatever reason the landowner has…he tells the foreman to pay the guys he hired at the end of the day first…pay them in reverse order…this makes no sense at all…none…seriously why would the landowner want to show off like this? You’d think, knowing what he was about to do…that if he ever wanted the credibility to hire workers again in the future, he’d have done things in order that they were hired…but that’s not what he does.

And as we see…the people who had only toiled for an hour get a full day’s wage…and everybody else start getting excited…especially the group that have been working since 6am. “Look how much he gave for an hour…imagine how much more he’s gonna give us.”  But then they reach the front of the line…and the foreman drops a denarius in their hands…precisely what they had been promised. (pause)

They might as well be a batch of 5 year old kindergarteners who’s friend got jumped up to 1st grade. THAT’S…NOT…FAIR! (pause) Look at how much we have done…look how long we have been here…look how hard we have worked and how much we have endured…and you have made them equal to us…you have given them the same as us…They don’t deserve it…That’s not fair. (pause)

That sound familiar? I’m guessing it does…I think its likely that we all see evidence of life not being fair with quite a bit of regularity don’t we? Younger siblings crying out “that’s not fair” when the older one is given more privileges. Someone on the job who does their work and keeps their head down, only to see co-workers constantly slack off without issue, and muttering under their breath “That’s not fair.” Watching the news and seeing some big-shot business person accused of corruption and getting off with a slap on the wrist, instead of facing the consequences like anyone that can’t afford a bunch of big-shot lawyers and we think “that’s not fair.”

Each and every day it seems like we see something, or hear something, or experience something that continues to pile on the evidence of this truth… “its not fair.”

But what makes this really eye opening, especially coming back around to the parable…is when we remember that Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven…and he’s talking about wages, or rewards, or compensation…and we start to wonder just what’s that all about…and perhaps we begin to consider the possibility that the daily wage that the workers all receive, regardless of how many hours they put in…was entrance into the kingdom of heaven…or salvation…or eternal life…whatever we want to call it…but all of it, or any of it contingent on the grace of God being shown in our direction…on God’s mercy being shown our way.

This seems to be the thing that the workers are taking issue with. “We’ve done it all…we’ve been around long enough…we deserve it…they don’t.”  Or maybe just maybe that if they’re going to receive this much…we should get a whole lot more. I don’t know what to call this…greed…pride…something else? Whatever the cause…the generosity of the landowner draws the anger of those who have also benefited from it.

Now part of me starts to think that this is something that we can understand…and if we’re talking about grace and mercy of God…well then that also makes sense in Jesus time…but you know what…it goes back way farther than that…this anger at God’s mercy.

Take into account the story of Jonah that we heard today. Now, Jonah’s best known for getting swallowed by a whale only to get barfed back up on land 3 days later after he learns his lesson. But the big story of Jonah is important. God had given him a task to go to Nineveh and proclaim their need to repent and turn towards God. But this is the last thing Jonah wants to do.

Now Jonah was around about 700 years before Jesus…shortly after the northern kingdom of Israel had been conquered by the superpower of the day known as the Assyrians…anyone want to guess where the capital of Assyria was? (pause) PSST…IT WAS NINEVAH!

Jonah has been sent to proclaim the need to repent to the very heart of the people that had conquered his people…and Jonah knows that if they repent, God will show them mercy. (pause) Now do you think Jonah considered the Ninevites…the Assyrians…the enemies of “God’s chosen people,” do you think he considered them worthy of God’s mercy? I’m guessing no…and low and behold when he finally does get there and start preaching, and his sermon is really lousy by the way…seriously, you should read it, the whole book is only a few chapters long…but wouldn’t you know it…they repent…and God’s shows mercy…and Jonah loses his mind over it…and then God corrects him. Should I not be concerned about this great city with more than 120,000 people in it…people who do not know their right from their left?”

Jonah gets ticked off when God shows mercy to those that he thinks are unworthy…The laborers who spent the full day in the vineyard get ticked off when those who have done less receive the same thing they do…and maybe, just maybe we get all up in arms when God’s mercy and grace is shown to the people that we think are undeserving. We do don’t we…its offensive that God’s grace is given to them. (pause)

But here’s the thing about God…here’s the thing that’s revealed by the actions and the worlds of the landowner in the parable…when he hears the grumbling he pulls one of them aside…doesn’t matter which one…it could be any of them…it could be any of us…and the master says “Friend…I do you no harm. Are you jealous because I am generous?”

The grace of God isn’t fair…which is probably a good thing because if it was fair and we got what we earned…then none of us would receive it would we? Grace is free or its not grace and whether we like or not, we benefit from it because God freely gives it to those that he loves…those that he takes delight in…those who God has made in his image…and if I’m not mistaken that includes all of humanity…whether we think they deserve it or not. God will show grace on whoever God choses…and we can either get offended by it, or we can recognize it as cause for celebration…that another person has been touched by the joy of belonging…the joy of knowing they have been claimed by the one who made them.

The amazing thing about the Grace of God is that there’s no limit…Its not like God’s grace is a pie…and if someone else gets a piece there’s less available for us. This is why the master says “I have done you no harm” when he generously offers others the same as he has offered you.

Grace isn’t fair…its not supposed to be. That’s what makes it grace. Amen.

 

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