This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, 8.15am, and Grace Lutheran Church, Childers, 10.30am.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.
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.
Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, send us your Holy Spirit, to me that I may preach well, and to all of us that we may hear well. Amen.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus tells the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. In the first part of our reading we read: The kingdom of heaven is like master of a house going out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ HE said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’
Now from this parable, we learn some wonderful things. We can see God our Father like a master of a house, and we Christians are the labourers in his vineyard. We learn in this parable how God goes about calling people. We also learn what kind of a master he is, and we also learn about what he calls us to.
So how does God call us? He calls us through his Word. We see the master of the house in this parable constantly and regularly going out and calling more and more workers into his vineyard. God the Father constantly does this. He is always sending out his Word, and he is constantly calling people. In fact, we read in the Scripture that God the Father sent his Son into the word to do exactly that. We read in John 3:17: God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Then Jesus sent out his apostles, and says: As the Father sent me, so also I am sending you. And then there are pastors who are called to carry on this teaching work of the apostles. And in fact, all Christians—wherever God has called them—are sent into the world as people who carry His word in their hearts and on their lips. You can see that God the Father is always sending people, Jesus is sending, the Holy Spirit sends. And what does He send people for? To speak his word. In Luke 24, after Jesus had risen from the dead, he told his disciples that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. Also St Paul says about himself and his fellow workers: We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of God, be reconciled to God. You also might know that parable of Jesus, where he tells of a king calling people to his son’s wedding banquet, and he constantly sends out a servant over there, another servant over here, and so on.
Can you see? God wants his Word to go out. And if anyone is a Christian, it is because we have heard the Word of God. God has send his Word out from heaven to be spoken on earth, people like you have believed it, and that is a wonderful gift and privilege of God.
Now, also, we learn here how wonderful God our heavenly Father is. He is constantly making an effort to save us, just like the master constantly goes out to gather more workers. He is constantly calling us, he is jealous for our souls and he doesn’t want them to belong to anyone else. And at the end of the day, he promises a wonderful reward. He says: Go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you. He is a faithful master, and he looks after us, cares about us, and wants to shower his gifts upon us.
We also learn from this parable what God calls us to. We are called into his kingdom, into his vineyard, onto his own property, and we are also called into his service. Now, if we were a labourer and we were looking for a job, it would be a wonderful privilege to work in a famous vineyard, like Penfolds, and be involved in making Grange Hermitage. (Of course, you might have to move to a place like South Australia to have such an honour!) In the same way, it is simply a wonderful privilege to be on God’s own property, to be in his vineyard, and to be one of his workers. This is the wonderful joy of our faith, to have been called by God through his Word!
But also, God has called us to work. In a vineyard, there are many jobs to do. The grapes need to be inspected for diseases and pests and ripeness. The grapes might need to be treated. When the time is right, the grapes need to be harvested, and put into presses, and crushed. The fermenting process needs to happen and to be monitored, and the finished wine needs to be bottled and sold. There can be no lazy workers in a vineyard.
And so in the same way, as Christians, God calls us into his service, and he calls us to work. Our faith is not simply a tree that is stuck in the ground and does nothing, but it produces all kinds of fruit. Faith is something that is productive. In Galatians 5, we read: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. We also read that wonderful passage in Ephesians 2, where St Paul says: By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. These are the verses that many of us know, but then he also says: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Now the fruit of our faith, and our works as Christians, are not things with which we earn God’s grace, or his favour. He has already called you into the vineyard. He is not holding auditions to see who the best and hardest workers are, before he employs you. He has already called you. Our works have nothing to do with earning our way to heaven. Our works are simply what we do as Christians—just as working in the vineyard is simply what the labourers do once they are called, and it is their joy and the privilege to work. We don’t boast of our work, but as Jesus says: So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’
So you can see how it’s a natural thing for us to be productive and fruitful as Christians. In our Gospel reading, the master doesn’t want anyone standing around in the marketplace on some everlasting smoko being idle. Even John the Baptist pushes us very sharply, and says: Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. We are not saved by being fruitful, but we can lose the faith by being unfruitful.
And so, what kind of work is there to be done in the Lord’s vineyard? Where should we start? Jesus gives us a wonderful word of encouragement when he says: The harvest is plentiful and the labourers are few. Therefore pray to the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his vineyard. Jesus does not call us to panic and fret and madly rush around, but to pray. Prayer sounds like such an easy work and almost sounds a bit uninteresting. But it is hard work, and rewarding work. How do we learn the trade of working in a vineyard, if we don’t talk to our master about the trade? He has to show us the ropes. The most important work in a vineyard is all that inspecting. The harvest is a big flurry at the end, but how do you know if it’s the right time to pick, how do you know if your grapes are all growing nicely and healthily if you don’t go and inspect and check that everything is going right? Prayer is a bit like that – we go and look at things, and then we tell Jesus about it. We give him a little report, and he—like a master winegrower—then shows us exactly what he will do about it. We inspect our own faith, and we ask him to strengthen it. We look at our fellow Christians, and we ask Jesus to strengthen them, and we try to encourage them and we build our fellow Christians up. We see our neighbours who are unbelievers, and we tell Jesus about them too, and pray for their conversion, and we pray that their hearts and ears might be opened, and that we might have an opportunity and the courage and the words to speak a good word to them. And so, we work with our heavenly Father, we work with our Lord Jesus, and we work with the Holy Spirit, and we learn the family trade, the family business, and it is a privilege to be associated with their label, and their brand.
We now come to the next part of our reading. Jesus says: When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the labourers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’
Here in the reading, there have been some workers who have worked all day, and they see that the ones who were hired at 5pm get the same pay as them, and they get a bit ticked off! We read: They thought they would receive more. They grumbled at the master of the house.
Now, let’s step back a moment. Let’s say someone has a regular everyday job, working at Bob Jane T-mart, or McDonalds, or Aldi, or whatever, and they do a day’s work. That pay-cheque that they receive at the end of the day is a gift from God. You might have worked hard, but your income is still a gift. And so, what a privilege it is, that while we work at Bob-Jane, or McDonalds, or Aldi, or as a nurse, or teacher, or whatever, we are working for God, and then we are paid not simply by our employer, but by God through our employer. Or if we have our own business, we should remember it is not our business, but it belongs to God and it is for him to grow and expand it and make is successful. Apart from employment, we might also be a father or a mother, a husband or a wife, a son or a daughter, a grandpa, a grandma, and in just simply doing what Christians do in those callings, in those vocations, we are working for God, and what a privilege it is.
Now, what happens in our reading, is that the workers who have worked hard take their eyes off the privilege of being a worker there, and they turn their eyes to the quality and strength of their own work, and what they think they deserve. It’s not about the wine label any more—it’s simply about their pockets. Can you imagine a well-paid worker at Penfolds complaining about his pay? People would say: Hey! You’re at the top! You work for Penfolds. Or a well-paid mechanic who works for Lambourghini complaining. All the other mechanics would say: I always dreamed of working for Lambourghini! These workers in God’s – own – vineyard—listen to that!--think they deserve more, because they worked harder, even though at the beginning of the day, they entered into a work contract that they thought was fair. They were happy to work for a denarius. But now they are angry, and they grumble against their master.
Now there are many people who grumble against God. They think God is unfair. People say to Christians: Are you saying that if Adolf Hitler after a lifetime of killing half of Europe became a believer in Jesus in his last dying moments, and if Mother Teresa after a life-time of hard works decided to pack in the Christian faith and give it all up at the last moment, that Hitler would be saved and Mother Teresa wouldn’t? And we would have to say: Yes, that’s exactly what we believe. Because you see salvation is not about works. Good works are good, because they’re good. They don’t make us good. God saves us by faith even though we are bad. People think this is not fair, but if God were only fair, if he were only just, then all of us would be condemned, and none of us would be saved. The fact that God is also good and gracious and merciful means that we can be saved after all, despite our sin and our failure.
You might remember when the prodigal son came home and his father put on a wonderful banquet for him, and celebrated, what did his older brother do? He grumbled. He thought his father was unfair. And he sulked. But his father said: Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. Let those words sink in: Your heavenly Father says to you, My son, my daughter, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. You might have worked hard in the Lord’s vineyard all your life, and endured many sufferings for Christ, and carried many burdens and ridicule and even persecution. But what happens if someone receives Jesus as the Saviour minutes or hours or days just before their death? If God wants to kill the fattened calf for them, shouldn’t we celebrate? If the whole of heaven rejoices, shouldn’t we join in? If the angels rejoice over one sinner who repents, shouldn’t we?
And so in our reading, these workers who had worked all day, complain about the fact that the master made the last worker equal to us. But didn’t they know? Those workers were always equal to them. If you are a hard worker in God’s kingdom, you are still equal insofar as you are a sinner with every other sinner in the world. And sometimes we forget that, and we think that we are so good and so worthy, and those people over there are so bad and so unworthy. We think we are without sin. And those who are without sin, always want to throw the first stones!
So, we learn here that those of us who work hard can fall. It is possible to lose the faith, and look at God’s goodness with an evil eye. Even our hard work can become a dead false god that we start to worship instead of the living God. And we also learn here those of us who are fallen cannot earn God’s grace at all. It is all God’s gift, and God’s gift alone. St Paul says: There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
And so we learn that we are chosen by God not because our goodness, but because of his goodness. God has chosen you, he has elected you, not because he saw ahead of time that you would believe and trust in him, and then chooses you because of that. Actually, he does see things ahead of time, but he does not choose you because of the goodness that he knows he is going to see in you. He chooses you because of His goodness and His grace.
And so in our reading 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 is your eye bad because I am good? So the last will be first, and the first last.
Listen to these words: I choose to give. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Our whole salvation rests on these words.
God chose to give you his Son, and to give him up in death for your sins. He chose to give. He chose to baptise you and to call you through his word. He chose to pour out on you the Holy Spirit. He has chosen to give you the body and blood of Jesus in the holy Supper. He has chosen to give you the forgiveness of sins, and the promise of the resurrection of the body and everlasting life. All these things belong to God. And isn’t God allowed to do what he chooses with what belongs to him! Let’s thank our heavenly for his choosing, for his grace, and for his goodness. Amen.
Heavenly Father, what a privilege it is to be called into your vineyard. Strengthen us in faith, and help us to be useful workers in your service. Teach us to thank you and praise you for your wonderful gifts of grace, which you have given to us through Jesus. Amen.