Sermons SERMON


+ Lectionary 25 A (Proper 20)

TEXT: Matthew 20:1-16

DATE: September 21, 2014

St. Paulís Lutheran Church, Dallas


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† With this parable before you,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† and feeling as you do about it,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† I suppose the question is,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† given the choice,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† which would you choose,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† love or justice?

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Generosity or fairness?


Telling the story the way he does,

Jesus tricks us a bit,

and prods us to hear this story

from the perspective of the first-hired workers.

And thatís why we think this is unfair and unjust Ė

that they were cheated.


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† We were introduced to them first, of course,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† but more importantly, at quitting time,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† they were paid last.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† And we heard that the last hired workers Ė

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† the ones hired an hour before quitting time,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† the ones who were paid first Ė

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† were paid a full dayís wage.


Naturally, given that information,

weíve done the math

and pro-rated that amount

across the hours the workers hired first put in,

and we see their point.


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† If those first-hired workers had been paid first

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† and paid the amount they agreed to

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† at the beginning of the day,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† as the landowner points out,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† it would have been more obvious that

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† the landowner paying those workers who came later

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† the same amount

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† was an increasingly extravagant gesture of generosity.


But thatís not how it happened.

And so we get stuck with the unfairness and injustice of it.


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Because we know what justice is,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† and we know that itís a great principle

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† to order our lives by,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† in government and economics

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† and industry and law.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Being fair is getting what you deserve.


There are lots of people

who are eagerly waiting for justice for Eric Frein (Freen)

for ambushing PA State police at their Pocono barracks last week.

And what that means, of course,

is that he gets what he deserves;

that he pays for the wrong he has done.


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Justice works the other way, too.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Receiving credit and being rewarded

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† for good work or behavior.


But thatís not what happens here, is it?

At least it doesnít look that way,

since those late-comers got paid what they did

and weíve done the math.


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Instead, the landowner gives those last-hired workers

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† the same pay as the workers who worked all day.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Not a very fair way to run a business,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† at least from the last-hired workersí perspective.


Thatís right, I said the last-hired workers.

The landowner was perfectly fair with the first-hired workers.

He paid them what they agreed to that morning.

Thatís perfectly fair.

The workers he wasnít fair to

were all the others hired throughout the day.

To them, he was increasingly generous.


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Generous for repeatedly coming back to the market

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† to hire them, even at the last hour.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Generous for providing them gainful employment

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† in their laborer economy

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† where food on the table that day

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† was dependent on the income for the day.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† And generous for providing a full dayís wage

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† and so, a full meal on the table,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† even to those workers called last.


So whatís this about?

Two things:

First, Jesus isnít telling a parable about economics,

or law or government or fairness.

And second, I have asked the wrong question.


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Jesus tells this parable

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† about the kingdom of heaven.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Weíve heard plenty of them before

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† and if thereís anything we should have picked up by now,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† itís that the kingdom of heaven

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† is not like the ways of the world.


Our world functions well on justice and fairness,

but thatís not the way of the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven is about love and relationships.


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† The landowner making the last-hired workers

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† equal to the first-hired workers

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† in the amount he paid them

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† is really God giving to you and me

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† and everybody who came before

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† and everybody who will come after

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† the same forgiveness, salvation and life Ė

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† in full.


Because Godís motivating factor isnít fairness,

but love for you and me and everyone else

he has called into his vineyard of life.

That causes God to be extravagantly generous to us.


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† And think about it,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† would you really want God to be fair with you Ė

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† to treat you the way you deserve?

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Me Ė no thank you very much.


The truth is life is not fair.

Surely youíve experienced that for yourself

to one degree or another.


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† No matter how good you are,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† you have suffered.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Or will.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Thatís not a measure of your goodness.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† It means life is not fair.


By the same token,

youíve gotten away with things,

we all have,

and so have others around you.

We just tend to notice theirs more

and feel more put out about it than our own.


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† But the truth is that life isnít fair.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† And when weíre not the ones

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† who think weíre the victim of injustice,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† and we think about all the ways

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Godís love and forgiveness, generosity and grace

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† have been shown to us,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† I rather think we prefer it that way.


Because what we do have Ė

by Godís generous grace Ė

what we who live and work in the vineyard of God

get to enjoy every day of our lives

is the community of the faithful to share our joys and concerns with,

the word of life in the gospel,

and the sacraments of the church

to forgive, edify and empower us,

the clear understanding of Godís good will and intentions for us

and vision and vocation for our lives,

the commandments to live by,

and the joy of each day and gratitude for it.


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† The latest-comers donít get to enjoy any of that

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† for very long

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† before itís quitting time.


But in the end,

no matter when we came to work in the vineyard,

God give us his all Ė

loves us to death in his Son Jesus,

giving generously what God has to give.


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† And thatís why my question was the wrong question.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† In the end, it is not for us to choose

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† love or justice,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† generosity or fairness.


We strive for justice,

knowing that life is not fair.

But we are called to love and generosity

by the command and example of God.


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† If all people are Godís chosen and beloved,

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† then justice looks far more like

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† lifting up those who donít have

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† than demanding anything for ourselves.


But that is fulfilled in love for one another.

Being generous with what we have

for the sake of the other,

no matter when they have come into our circle.

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