Posted on Sep 24, 2017 by Pastor Dave Whetter
Living in community is never easy. It would be so much easier if we could just live in a world where everything we did, said, or thought was the way we wanted it. But, the truth is, that’s not how things work and that’s not how God created us to be. God created us to be in community. As we heard two weeks ago, living in community means that at times we will experience conflict, and Jesus offered us a way of living that helps us deal with that conflict. Then, last week, we heard Jesus speak to the notion of being a community that forgives. Again, it is a way of living. And now, this week, Jesus wants us to realize that living in community isn’t about fairness; it’s about living in a community where God’s grace abounds, and if truth be told, sometimes we don’t like God’s grace. Oh, we love God’s grace when it applies to our own lives, but not when God’s grace is offered to those we don’t like, or we don’t think deserve it.
The problem with God’s grace is that it usually doesn’t seem fair. In both our texts today, the main characters are upset because God’s grace was offered to those who did not deserve it. Jonah knew God so well that he didn’t want to go to Nineveh, not because he feared sharing God’s word of repentance, but because he knew if the Ninevites repented that God would shower them with His grace, and Jonah didn’t think it was fair. Then, in the parable Jesus offered, we hear a similar story. How is it fair that those that worked from early morning to evening were paid the exact same wages as those who showed up just an hour before quitting time? The fact is, it isn’t fair.
The workers in Jesus’ parable are like those good, religious people, like you and me, who have tried all their lives to be faithful to God. They’ve tried to obey the laws of Moses and to do their duty. And then Jesus comes along welcoming tax collectors and prostitutes and saying that they can get into the kingdom of heaven after living lives of ignoring God’s commandments. That’s not fair!
Let’s be honest, we say this a lot, or at least we think it, don’t we? We have tried to be faithful. We try to come to church regularly. We volunteer to do things here at Salem and in other places. We donate money. We are attempting to live as God has called us to live. Personally, I’ve been a Christian all my life. I read scripture daily. I have gone through first communion classes and confirmation. Heck, I’ve gone to seminary! Surely, all that gets me some extra credit, right? But then I read these stories and I hear about the first being last and the last first, the prodigal son being welcomed and how I am to be the forgiving one. I want to be gracious about all this and I want to welcome new folks in, but doesn’t being a longtime believer and member of the church count for anything?
I mean in the “9-to-5 world,” you expect that those who put in a full day’s work will get paid more than those who do much less at the same job, right? Well, truth be told, Jesus isn’t arguing that point, he would agree. God is with all those who have been faithful and His promises of eternal life to the faithful will never be broken. But like that landowner who kept going out to find laborers who weren’t working, God is constantly seeking those of us who have not been faithful and seeks to invite us into the faith with that same promise he has offered you and me.
Like the landowner, God can offer God’s grace to anyone at anytime, and to be perfectly honest, when it comes being able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, if it were based on fairness, none of us would make it, would we? No, not the faithful hard workers, the longtime members of the church, the atheists, the lazy members who show up only on Christmas and Easter… none of us would get in.
The Kingdom of Heaven is not earned, but God does offer it to us as a gift. Now, keep in mind, even though we don’t have to earn it, it isn’t a cheap gift. God’s grace isn’t cheap grace. In fact, it is very expensive grace. The price of it, the labor that made this gift available to all of us, was the very life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. We have been gifted this kingdom, not because of a birthright, or because of some act we participated in, or because of membership we hold, but because God claimed us as His and then showed us His love for us by giving us His Son.
Okay, so, we are saved by grace and God gives us His grace freely, so why are we working so hard? Why are we being so generous with our wealth, with our time and our talents? Why are we coming to church? Why are we praying? Well, we aren’t doing these things to earn our way into the Kingdom of Heaven. No, we are called to do these things as a way of showing our love and thanks for God’s grace. We show up every morning bright and early to do the work that is needed so that others might see our joy and the light that shines in and through us. We joyfully offer a full day’s work that others might come to know this God of love and grace as we do. Our labor is to share the good news of freedom through Christ’s death and resurrection, and our reward for that will be that outsiders become insiders.
In addition, our story today challenges us to stop worrying about fairness. God’s grace is abundantly unfair, and for that we should give thanks, and then, like that landowner, part of our daily work ought to be to seek out new workers and invite them into this life of community that God has created. We ought to generously share the good news that God is a God of love, mercy, and forgiveness. We ought to share the powerful ways community rejoices in the work we are called and gifted to do, and the joy that is given to us as we do God’s work.
And lastly, as we go about joyfully being those laborers who rejoice in doing a full day’s work, may we always count our blessings, for God has promised us enough, and enough should be all we need. And may we rejoice in the knowledge that we have a God that will never give up on us. We have a God who will continuously come to us and offer us a full day’s wage if only we are willing to accept it, for God will not give up on seeking out the lost, the vulnerable, all who are in need, all of us. Amen.