Septuagesima + Matthew 20:1-16 + February 12, 2017
Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15Hymn # 276 Come Unto Me Ye Weary
The Sorrows of Sheol surrounded me; The snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called upon the Lord, He heard my voice from His temple. (Psalm 18:5–6a, c)
I will love You, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress.
For You will save the humble people, But will bring down haughty looks.
It is God who arms me with strength, And makes my way perfect.
Therefore I will give thanks to You, O Lord, And sing praises to Your mame. (Psalm 18:1b–2a, 27, 32, 49)
Collect for Septuagesima
O Lord, we beseech Thee favorably to hear the prayers of Thy people that we, who are justly punished for our offenses, may be mercifully delivered by Thy goodness, for the glory of Thy Name; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Savior, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
1 Corinthians 9:24-10:5
Sermon on Matthew 20:1-16
Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1) The parable that Christ tells us this morning is filled to the brim with wonderful gospel.. “A landowner went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he send them into his vineyard.” Jesus is speaking about the Jews, for they are the ones whom the Lord called early in the morning of history. While the world was young the Lord made Israel His own people and called them to work in His vineyard. He gave them the Law of Moses. He gave them the Ten Commandments with which to busy themselves. He gave them ceremonial law, all the sacrifices, the festivals, the food and clothing requirements and more. The Lord called Israel to work in His vineyard, His church, and He gave them plenty to do. The calling of Israel to work in the Lord’s vineyard was one of sheer grace. When the Lord called Abraham he was an idol worshipper. When Lord called Israel from Egypt they were slaves. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the sons of Israel had nothing to offer God to make Him choose them. He chose them out of sheer grace and mercy, with no merit or worthiness on their part whatsoever. He tells Israel this in Deuteronomy 7:7-8. He says, “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers.” So it is in the parable. The first workers are chosen by grace and the Lord agrees to give them a denarius. The Lord chose Israel, brought them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, promised them forgiveness of their sins and everlasting salvation, and they rejoiced at His good promise.
2) But the parable goes on. The Lord goes out at other times of the day, later in history, to call more workers for His vineyard. Throughout the Old Testament we see the Lord calling Gentiles to labor in the vineyard. Rahab is called to join the workers in the vineyard. The Gibeonites are assimilated into the people of Israel. Ruth the Moabitess, the widow at Zaraphath, and countless others who are not of the line of Abraham are graciously called to labor in the vineyard. Finally, in the eleventh hour of human history, God the Father sends forth His Only-Begotten Son into the world to bear the sins of the worlds and make the atonement long promised. He goes out then through His apostles and heralds into the world, calling more and more to come work in the vineyard. Those called at the eleventh hour do not have to bear the heat of the day. They have do not have to bear the burden of the Mosaic Law, for Christ fulfilled the entire Law, so that for those who believe, He is the end of the Law. These Gentiles He calls, including you and I, do not bear the burden and heat of the day as Israel did. It was this that led the first workers called, the Jews, to look differently at the whole arrangement. At the beginning they had been content to labor in the vineyard for a denarius. They rejoiced at God’s mercy. But now that they saw the Lord bringing in Gentiles by the droves and not requiring nearly as much work from them, they become presumptuous. They forget that they too were graciously called to work in the vineyard. They forget that it was sheer mercy that caused the landowner to give them the vineyard. As they come to the end of the day they no longer want what the landowner promised. They want to be rewarded according to their works.
3) Then their presumption is cast to the ground. “When those who were hired about the eleventh hour came, they each received a denarius.” The workers called first assume that if these “Johnny-come-latelies” get paid the original amount, then they, who have worked much longer and endured so much more under the Law must reap an even greater reward. Since they want to be judged on their works at this point, in their minds this would be the only fair thing. “But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius.” This is, after all, what they had agreed upon. But something changed during the day, and it wasn’t the rules. They had hardened their hearts towards the landowner’s generosity. They began to think they should get more, that they deserved more. They began to presume that this whole arrangement had nothing to do with grace and everything to with the amount of time put in and the amount of labor accomplished. This presumption turned their eyes evil, so that when the Landowner put a denarius into each of their hands as well, they couldn’t help but despise what was originally promised. “These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the head of the day!” They no longer cared for what was promised. They wanted their works to be recognized and rewarded. But that is the point of the parable. God is not a respecter of persons or their works. God’s gracious call is the same to all, no matter when they are called. God, in His mercy, gives the same gifts and blessings to all whom He calls. Those who labored under the Law in the Old Testament were given the same blessings as the tax collectors and sinners which Jesus called during His ministry. You and I are given the same blessings as they, and we are not even expected to work the works required of the Jews through Moses. In this, Jesus shows the generosity of the Triune God toward all sinners, that He calls them into His vineyard and promises them each the same forgiveness, the same salvation, the same everlasting life.
4) We see this as well in our own lives. There are some who are called to the faith as infants in the waters of Holy Baptism. They grow up in the church and do the work of the vineyard. This is not the Mosaic Law. Rather, they work they do is in prayer and study of the Word. Through the means of grace God cultivates their hearts like soil year after year and He plants His Word in their hearts so that faith grows strong and bold and good works spontaneously grow. There are others who do not come to the faith until adulthood, and when they do, they rejoice at the gospel because they knew life without the promise of the gospel and the forgiveness of their sins. They too go to work in the vineyard, cultivating their hearts through the Word and doing good works of love for their neighbor. Others the Lord calls in the sixth or ninth hour of their lives. Still others He calls at the eleventh hour, as they languish and inch closer to death. The ones whom Christ calls later in life receive the same baptism, the same Lord’s Supper, the same absolution and the same Word of God, and they are to cultivate the same good works of love for neighbor, though there may not be as many of these fruits of faith as those who were called in the early days of life. The person who is called on their deathbed had no time for good works. But this shows the graciousness of God. Whether you were called as an infant in the waters of Holy Baptism, or as a young adult or fully grown adult, or even in your retirement years, it matters not. There is only one promise of the Gospel and it is what the Lord gives to everyone whom He calls. We are commanded to do good works, but not with thought of reward. Our good works are to be done out of thanksgiving for the Lord’s gifts and out of love for our neighbor.
5) We must not, as the workers called earliest, grow to despise the Lord’s mercy as the Jews did. Nor should we fall to the sin of presumption so that we think that if we’ve been longer in the church or if we’ve done more good works, that God owes us more than He has already promised. To put it another way: we should not look to our works at all, let alone a reward for our works. Too many people want their good works, whether real or imagined, to count for something in God’s vineyard. Too many people want their piety to set them apart so that they imagine God has a special reward for them because of their extra service. Still others are tempted to turn their sufferings into something that should merit something from God. But anytime we want our works to mean anything at all before God, we are despising the grace of God and thinking little of it. Presumption is such a difficult sin to see in us because we it hides behind good works, real good works or imagined ones. If we expect to get more from God because of our financial contributions, we are despising His grace. If we expect to gain God’s favor by acts of service we do for the church or our neighbor, we are not doing it out of love but out of a mercenary hope for reward. If we insert any work, God-ordained or man-made, into our salvation, our call into the vineyard, then our salvation in no longer by grace alone, but by works. The Jews wanted to add their work to Jesus. Jesus plus circumcision. Jesus plus dietary laws. Jesus plus the Law of Moses. Many do that still today, except with man-made works never commanded by God. “Jesus plus my decision to accept Him into my heart,” or “Jesus plus my new personal holiness.” Those sound pious, just like circumcision and dietary laws sounded pious to the Jews. But if you want anything you do to get you your reward, then you have become presumptuous and despise grace.
6) So this text is also a stern warning to all whom Christ has called to labor in His vineyard. Your calling, whenever you received it, was purely by the grace of God, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). He has called you by His Word preached and His Word combined with water in Holy Baptism, for those are His means for working faith in your heart and strengthening that faith. He has called you to a glorious vineyard, His Church, in which sins are daily forgiven and the Gospel is daily bestowed upon you. He desires you work in His vineyard, that you stay close to His Word and Sacrament and bear fruits of good works. But take care so that you eye does not become evil, so that you come to expect reward for the fruits of your God-given faith. Rather rejoice in His mercy and take heart that you have been called into the vineyard of the church for your forgiveness and salvation. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes human understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.