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Greater Grace, Please

February 13, 2012

This is based on my sermon for this morning, February 12, at Peoria Church. The Gospel is Matthew 20:1-16 (I mixed up the Gospel for Septuagesima and Sexagesima – sorry).

There are times I wish I were a preacher who could come up with clever stories to tell at the outset of the sermon, but I’m not, so we’ll dive right in to the parable of the Landowner and the Hired Men. There are several key players and elements to this parable:

  • The Landowner
  • The Agreement to Work
  • The Vineyard
  • The Hired Workers
  • Justice
  • Grace

We’ll take a look at each of these in depth. First, there is the Landowner. Obviously, the Landowner is God, and in this parable we learn something about Lordship. It is interesting to me that we are not told anything about the Landowner’s vineyard other than it was apparently productive. In  much the same way, we are not told why God became Lord of all Creation. The Bible assumes it: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof…” (Psalm 24:1)

Notice that the Landowner initiates the relationship with the workers in every case. The Landowner went out in the morning to do the hiring. In the following hours, He continues hiring. Similarly, God continues to call us. He calls throughout our lives to do His Will, to follow Him.

God’s Will is expressed in His vineyard. “I want to pay…” the last the same as the first, are the Landowner’s words. “Don’t I have a right to do what I want…” He is Lord, not us. He is generous, especially to those who don’t deserve it.

There are times when I think our perspective is backwards when we look at the world. I think we must be the people who least deserve God’s grace because we live in a place that is so richly blessed. We live in a place booming with agriculture, in land rich with nature, with more water than we know what to do with – we have so much that we play in it. Yet, on the other side of the world in Bangladesh there are 4,000 people per square mile and any one of them would be happy for a cup of fresh, clean water, let alone enough to swim in. Do we really deserve any of the blessings we enjoy? Are we truly thankful?

The second element of this parable is the Agreement. The Landowner agrees to pay the workers a denarius for the day’s work. In this Agreement we learn about God’s Covenant. We see in the Agreement that God is not an enabler of our bad behavior. He doesn’t give us a reason to waste our lives idly.  God’s promise is life, represented in a denarius a day. We are sent into His Vineyard – life – to do His work.

The next element is the Vineyard, which contains the circumstances of Life. A few things we need to know:

  • The vineyard is work. The punishment of Adam in the Garden of Eden is the condition of life in the Vineyard. We are meant to work.
  • The vineyard is meaningful. There are grapes for them to eat by the Vineyard, and a vineyard produces food for many. So it is when we find productive work for ourselves – we produce blessings for many through our labors.
  • The vineyard must be engaged. The place where there is profitable work is not in standing around idly in the marketplace. God calls us to His Vineyard to be engaged in His work. How many people waste their lives without the purpose God brings to living?

The fourth element of the parable is the Hired Workers, representing you and me. In calling the workers to the vineyard, the Landowner understood their need for provision. In the same way God understands our needs and provides for them.

Do we need salvation? Yes, of course. But salvation is only a piece of the parable. Just as important to God it that people need a life. We need purpose. We need meaning. We need what the Vineyard has to offer, Life in abundance. Those who were hired early in the morning were ready for work, listening for the call. Those standing in the marketplace were busy with their own lives, occupied with the cares of the world, yet when the call came, they went to the vineyard for work. Those “doing nothing” soon learned that there more to life than “Spend your days and then you die.”

Justice in this parable based on grace. The payment is not based on their productivity in the vineyard. We are not told how much each picked, only how long they picked. We’re not told how many bushels anyone picked, whether or not they were all pickers or if some were pruners and some were waterers. We’re not told this, but it may be safe to assume that some showed up for a full day’s work, but actually only produced for an hour or two the whole day.

The payment is not based on their seniority. Remember, the Landowner was intentional when he told the foreman that the last were to be paid the same as the first, in that order. The payment was not based on the degree of labor they’ve had to work (cool evening vs. hot day labor, etc.), or any factor other than the Agreement – one denarius a day.

Finally, we understand from the parable that the Vineyard is about grace. Grace is part of Who God is. It is His energy. It is that which is of Himself expressed to us. It’s kind of like knowing someone to be kind because you can “see it in their eyes.”

Grace isn’t somehow generated or created; Grace is simply  Who He is. Here is an important fact of grace: God didn’t show grace at Calvary. Because God is grace, He went to Calvary. This is an important turn of phrase. This parable of the Landowner is a perfect example of grace

Grace is like faith and love – you can’t actually get more grace – grace has to get more of you.

Have you been in the position of the men hired in the morning? Have you told God “I deserve better because I’ve been a Christian longer,” or “I’m a better Christian because I’ve been saved from bigger sins than you.” Have you been in the position of the men who were doing nothing? “I’m not sure how I became a Christian but I just know it happened,” or “I’ve worked through some of the hot times of life – sickness, bad circumstances, etc.” Maybe you’ve been in the position of those hired at the last minute, thinking you don’t deserve God’s grace and you’re just thankful for that God was willing to call you.

The wage of one denarius demonstrates God’s grace completely. It was indiscriminate, everyone got the same wage. It was exactly what He promised. More important, it was sufficient for each one’s need.

I imagine that when the first men were hired in the morning they were glad to know they’d receive a denarius. I imagine they were talking among themselves about how they’d spend it as they worked in the vineyard. I’ve been in places where I’ve started a new job and everyone’s talking about what the next paycheck will bring – a new car, a night out, a payment on a house.

Remember, God is not stingy – God keeps His word. Grace is like faith and love – you can’t actually get more grace – grace has to get more of you.

What part of your heart needs God’s grace today?

Grace is part of Who God is – how can it become part of who you are?

Who do you know who will benefit from such grace – and you can call to work in God’s vineyard with you?

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