Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2011

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Matthew 20:1-16
Theme: Extravagant Grace

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Only God is truly altruistic. We know this only in Christ. “Are you envious because I am generous?”1 That was the question posed by the vineyard owner to those laborers who cried foul. They complained when other workers received the same reward. They had worked longer and they expected more. The grievance surely seems logical. “These men who were hired last worked only one hour…and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”2 Yet they received the agreed upon amount. Such a scheme would not long withstand the rigors of a highly regulated fiscal society. But God’s kingdom is different. The grace of God in Christ is extravagant. He does not lack resources. We can’t measure His equity by human standards. We look to the cross and there we see the true measure of His generosity.

There are always those who want to get more out of God; more recognition for their work in the church, more praise for their charity, more assurance that God especially favours them. Christ addresses the same attitude among the hypocrites. “I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full,”3 that is, they have acquired recognition from others for their efforts. But in the end they forfeit the favour of God. Judas is the apex of such defiance. He too wanted more out of Christ. The money bag wasn’t enough so later he received his thirty pieces of silver. He forfeited an immeasurably greater treasure.

There are always those who want to criticize the generosity of others. This is an expression of the sinful nature. We do the same to God. Why is God-we wonder- so much more generous to such and such a person than He is to us? Why does He seem to play favourites, sparing one from sickness or hardship while inflicting another with tragedy? It’s how these types of questions are handled that reveals the nature of faith or lack thereof.

Dear friends, the scope of our repentance is usually to narrow. Few who take the Bible seriously could argue that we need to repent of the sins of adultery or lying, theft or murder, idolatry or blasphemy. But at the core of sinfulness is mistrust of God and the way He handles things. The focus of our repentance should be our selfish desire that God would see things our way. Our remorse should be aimed at recognizing how we seek to use God as a benefactor or guarantor of our prosperity quite apart from the sacrifice of Christ and any real intent to reverence or obey Him. And we are so bold as to call this faith!

The Scripture says, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”4 Everyplace where affluence generally prevails Christianity is in strife. But the love of mammon cannot bear all the guilt. Progressive secularization seeks to marginalize spiritual and biblical truth at every turn. Believers are tempted to retreat to a private practice of their faith. In this manner Satan makes great strides. Often even private faith is kept to oneself. Believers unwittingly think that Christianity merely provides a moral foundation and therefore they don’t teach their children the lessons of the faith. They look to their children’s physical well-being and material prosperity while neglecting their spiritual life. Perhaps parents don’t teach their children Christian truth because they doubt it themselves, or they worry about being labeled as hypocrites. The problem is quickly compounded.

Christian maturity involves both understanding and accepting the truth that God’s chastisements are actually blessings. The Bible says, “The Lord disciplines those He loves.”5 Not that anyone should ever be so bold or arrogant as to claim they can fully comprehend why God intervenes in a certain circumstance and appears to withdraw from another. But if we will not be disciplined by God and His truth, then what authority would we honour? And how would our selfish motives be kept in check? And if we do not believe than even when He reproves us God intends it for our well-being, then where is our faith? Trust in God only when things are going smoothly in life proves to be no faith at all.

Imagine how surprised those vineyard workers were who were hired at the eleventh hour but still received the full wage. They knew they hadn’t earned their reward. Such is the generosity of God. If we are not continually surprised by His generosity then we might want to evaluate our motivations and expectations. The auto maker Henry Ford was vacationing in Ireland when he was asked to contribute toward a new orphanage. Ford wrote a check for two thousand pounds, which made headlines in the local newspaper. But the paper inadvertently reported the gift as twenty thousand pounds. The director of the orphanage apologized to Ford. “I’ll phone the editor straight away and tell him to correct the mistake,” he said. “There’s no need for that,” Ford replied, and promptly wrote a check for the additional eighteen thousand pounds.

In a doxological flourish in the Book of Ephesians the Apostle Paul says this, “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen!”6 If we really believed with Paul these words- that God, in Christ is able to do more than we can even imagine- would our perspective not be dramatically changed? Would we not worry and fret much less about trivial and temporal things?

Dear friends, Christ ends His discourse today by noting that the order of His kingdom is exactly the reverse of the ordering of the world. The first shall be last. The last shall be first. In the world people work to earn their reward. In God’s kingdom Christ is the price of the sacrifice and the reward itself. His grace can never be earned. He was crucified to cancel your debt. He rose to secure your life now and in eternity. He absolves you with His word of promise and nurtures you with His sacraments. The crumbs from His table- the very body and blood of Christ- are still richer fare than what the world will ever have on offer. Meager in the world’s eyes, it is the food of immortality. The Israelites were given manna for their journey7. We receive the Bread Of Heaven8.

The church may be marginalized. Believers may be ostracized. The baptized may be labeled as insignificant. And yet through the Holy Spirit God’s people are salt and light in the world. We are the world’s contact with sacred treasures. It doesn’t matter whether we are privileged to work from the first hour in His vineyard or whether we’re only brought in at the eleventh hour. The promise made to Abraham is made to every believer. God said, “I am your shield, your very great reward.”9 Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
18 September, 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 20:15
2 Matthew 20:12
3 Matthew 6:5
4 2 Timothy 6:10
5 Hebrews 12:5
6 Ephesians 3:20-21
7 See Exodus 16:15
8 See John 6:51
9 Genesis 15:1