Sunday, February 5, 2012

Septuagesima Bowl Sunday

Are you ready for some GOSPEL?!

Dear Fellow Workers in the Vineyard of our Lord,
To hear how Jesus Christ is the true worker in the vineyard, who keeps us with Him in the vineyard that is the kingdom of heaven, click on this mp3 audio link: God Is Unfair--Thankfully. The audio includes the Hymn of the Day, LSB #555, "Salvation Unto Us Has Come." The sermon begins at the 4:17 mark.
Have a blessed week in the vineyard of our Lord that is His Church and the very kingdom of heaven.

A servant of the Word and His people,
Pastor Hering

A preaching manuscript written by Pastor Aaron A. Koch of Mt. Zion Lutheran Church Greenfield, WI--including adaptations by Pastor Hering enclosed with [brackets]--follows below if you prefer to read along, or read instead.
Every once in a while comes a day where I need to hear a sermon from one of my brothers in Christ as well. And today is one of those days. Every week preparing for a sermon a pastor hears God's Word and God preaches to him through those who have sorted through and preached these texts before. But every once in a while I need to preach and hear something from the pulpit itself, and this is one of those days.
This is written by Pastor Aaron Koch of Mount Zion Lutheran Church in Greenfield, Wisconsin. He says, "God is unfair—Thankfully!"
In our text today, the master asks the question of his workers,
TEXT: 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?' Matthew 20:15
All of us are born with a natural instinct for what is fair. Without ever being taught, we seem to know when the treatment isn't equal. Even young children are experts at fairness. "How come her dessert is bigger than mine? That's not fair!" "He got to spend more time on the computer than I did. That's not fair!" [How come you pay more attention to Baby Brother than to me? That's just not fair!"]
[But] it's the same for us adults, [we play that game just as well, and probably better] too. [In fact we all like to retreat into our childish shells and play that game when things in this world aren't going right for us. And so not only have each of us heard grown-ups say at one time or another,] "Life just isn't fair." [It's pretty much a daily thought and lament of ours as well.]
[If you think about it,] when we bring up the issue of fairness, it's almost always because we're promoting our own interests. We've become self centered—or maybe not become so much as we just recall that and go back into our sinful selves.] "Management should be paying me more; my wages are unfair." "Hey, I was next in line; it's not fair that you're serving him first." "I shouldn't have to do all this work; you should take your fair share of the responsibility." Sometimes our complaints are justified; often they are simply an expression of greed or selfishness or laziness.
Where this becomes particularly dangerous, however, is when we try to apply the idea of fairness to our relationship with God. Because for us to demand fairness from God is for us to tell God what He should and shouldn't do. [Oh, that would be being god over God, wouldn't it?] It is for us to take ourselves and our standards and put them higher than God, to make God fit our requirements of how we think He should act. And to do that is not only arrogant, it is idolatrous; it is to make ourselves into gods above God.
Beware! [Repent!] Fairness comes under the category of God's Law. God's Law is about justice. [You know, that "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth stuff.] It's about getting what you deserve. And for the sinner who has fallen short of the Law--[yes, you and me]--justice means judgment. "The wages of sin," what you've earned by our works, "is death"[—eternal death.] You'd better think twice before you ask God to be fair with you. Fairness is what the devil wants. Fairness is hell. But God does not wish to deal with you according to His justice, His fairness, but according to His mercy in Christ.
[This is His] gift [to you. And that's what the Gospel is, a gift. Gifts aren't fair,] the Gospel isn't fair, and that is very good news indeed, news for which you ought be thankful.] For in God's unfairness is His love [is] towards you. You are "declared righteous freely by God's grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus [Romans 3:24]." "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]."—even in their faith, let alone their good works.
That ultimately is the real difference between the first and the last in today's Gospel parable. The first laborers had an agreement, a contract with the landowner to work for a denarius a day. The other laborers, however, weren't operating under any legal terms. Rather, the landowner simply said, "Go into the vineyard, and whatever is right, I will give you." So the first were dealing with the landowner on the basis of what was fair; the last were dealing with him on the basis of trust in his goodness. The first were relying on their own works; the last were relying on the landowner's righteousness, and in so doing, they received more than they ever expected or deserved.
The owner of the vineyard in this parable is God the Father. By His Word and Spirit He sends out the call of the Gospel to come into His vineyard, which is the church, and for His people to be about the things pertaining to the holy Vine of Christ. Some come into the church from the first moments of their life, baptized as infants—[even baptized just barely out of the mother's womb in some cases] remaining faithful their entire lives [hearing God's Word on a regular basis]. Others are converted as adults. Some aren't brought to faith in Christ the Savior until their lives are almost over—[death beds]. Some are full of good works—[day by day by day]. Others are full of weakness and failure who yet cling to Christ [and His good, great work]. But God gives all the same thing at the end of the day: full forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death and the devil, everlasting life with Him in heaven. He does this not because He is unfair, but rather, because He is generous and loving and merciful. He pours out His gifts on His people abundantly and lavishly. For the reward at the end of the day is given not based on our work but on the work of His Son, who lived and died and was raised again for us—for you.
The problem arises when some in the vineyard—[ yeah, and you and I sometimes are of that some, aren't we?] [The problem arises when some in the vineyard] of the church begin to think that their length of time and their service deserves some special reward-- [that it ought be trumpeted, that it ought be bragged about. This is just that thinking that] want[s] God to work on the merit system, isn't it?. But] that destroys the relationship of love that God wishes to have with His people. Love has nothing to do with what is owed or deserved. Real love is a freely given gift with no strings attached—[no a priori, prior, requirements]. As soon as we start wanting to deal with God on the basis of what He owes us, [what we do first], it is no longer a relationship of love, but in the end a business relationship, [isn't it?] You do for me, I'll do for you. To treat God like that is not to love Him but to use Him. [Do you really want a business relationship with God?]
Those who want to deal with God on the basis of their own works and measurements of equality will be sent away from His presence forever, as the landowner said to the first workers, "Go your way." [I mean, anybody that wants to deal with God on the basis of their own works, well what do they need Him for anyway?] Hell has been rightly described as the place where the damned suffer the anguish of growing infinitely more angry with God at His unfairness [in a never ending cycle]. But those who give up trying to deal with God on their own terms and instead rely on His goodness and mercy-they will receive from Him much more than they ever expected or deserved [or could ever use up]. If hell is the place where there is anger and weeping and anguish [on an ever increasing basis] at God's supposed unfairness, then heaven is the place where God's people laugh and sing and rejoice in God's unfairness-where they experience the ever-growing joy of the undeserved love and goodness and life that the Lord causes to abound to [and in and for] His people.
That is the difference between unbelief and faith. Unbelievers seek a God who is fair, and when they find Him, they don't like Him [so much—well, not at all]. Believers seek a God who is merciful and gracious, and when He finds them, they love Him—[because He is loving them]. Believers know that it is only by grace that they are even in the vineyard, no matter how long they've been there. They consider it a privilege and an honor to be able to contribute to the health and the growth of the vineyard. They are not jealous of the newcomer or of the one converted in his dying days, but they rejoice that the same mercy that saved themselves has also saved another. Even a faithful lifelong Christian recognizes that of himself he deserves nothing and that it is only because of Jesus that he has forgiveness and life. As it is written, "The free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).
It is as we prayed in the Introit, "The Lord will save the humble people, but will bring down proud and haughty looks." Or as Jesus said, "The last will be first, and the first last [Matthew 20:16]." Repentant thieves and prostitutes enter the kingdom of heaven while unrepentant Pharisees are excluded. The contrite new believer is at the front of the line while the self-righteous lifetime member is at the end. The self-sufficient are cut off. The humble beggars are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. [Thus we recall Luther's last penned words from his deathbed, "We are all beggars. It is true].
[But we rejoice to be so because God is always giving to us beggars.] "The last [of the beggars] will be first, and the first last." For that is the way of Christ. He who is the first and the greatest humbled Himself to be the last and lowest on the holy cross. He was treated unfairly, [don't you think? Has anybody ever been less fairly? And that] so that you would be treated graciously. He Himself was the one who did the work in the vineyard. [He Himself is the One that continues to do the work in the vineyard—yes, through you, but it's Him doing it. And] that brings you the generous reward at the end of the day, [because that is He.].
Consider the times mentioned in this parable. Christ was handed over to Pontius Pilate at dawn. He was crucified at the third hour of the day. Darkness covered the land at the sixth hour, noon. Our Lord died at the ninth hour as the perfect and complete sacrifice for your sin. He was buried at the eleventh hour of the day just before sundown. [Do you get it? These are the times where, in our parable, the landowner invites the people in. He's inviting them in, because Christ is in and they are in Christ—you are in Christ. You see] is the true Laborer in the vineyard, that you may be living, [that you may be alive, that you may be] fruitful branches of Him who is the Vine, [that you may be overflowing with that goodness of life that He pours into you].
And now that the day's work has been done, Christ directs His stewards, His pastors, to give to you your denarius, the denarius of Christ's life and salvation—[His body and His blood], which He bestows [to you] through His [sacraments] and His preaching…. [So] do not despise this denarius as those did in the parable, and thus miss out on its benefit. Rather, receive this denarius with faith and thanksgiving. Trust that behind the poor elements of the Word and the Sacraments, the Lord imparts rich blessing-not because He has to or because it's fair, but simply because He delights in being generous and loving towards you. [That's your Lord].
[And the task that He gives to the pastor in the vineyard is that when you are looking at your own works and get focused inward, he is to take you to Christ--to give you Christ, and Christ alone. For] this is the true way of the Gospel, the way of undeserved grace. It is the way of Him who is Himself the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, Jesus Christ, the Savior—[the author, the perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2)]—yes, He is our faith]. Those who have His Gospel have everything they need. [You have everything you need, because the Gospel gives everything you need. It delivers you from the sin and death of this world and into the eternal life of the kingdom of heaven]--in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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