Sermon for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost - Matthew 20:1-16
Jesus has made a decision about you. In fact, God has made the decision about you in Jesus. A decision that is not earned because of your own ability or niceties. It isn’t based on your time in service or membership in THE club. It is a decision made freely because what God has to distribute, the pay he is giving out, is so priceless that anything you might do to earn it actually makes it less valuable. It devalues it. A decision that is accompanied by the blood of Jesus that flows so forcefully, like the Red River in Spring, that the sound it makes screams – I forgive you.
We must beware. Because if God is the decider, we are not. Once we think that this person deserves Jesus, and this one does not; this one has done something worthy of Jesus, repented well, or something, while that hell-raiser ain’t worth my time, let alone Jesus, what happens to mercy in Christ? What happens to the Jesus of the Gospel if we begin to think that he’s up here, and those people are down here, but some of us have gotten a little bit closer? We say we don’t judge people. We say we are open, and loving, and accepting, but think of the one person that we think is just not a Christian. Not worthy of Christ. Not clean enough. Not nice enough. It is that person, that 5 o’clock person, that Christ finds in need. The last who receive grace too. Who are given Jesus too.
As human beings, as Americans raised with the American dream, the 40-hour work week, the pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps mentality, the equal pay for equal work campaigns, the country built upon a foundation in which you make your money through effort and resourcefulness; well…we hate the Kingdom of heaven. We don’t like God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom of God can be compared to… Jesus’ favorite phrase. Here it is - a landowner who goes out to get workers at various times during the day because he needs his harvest harvested. And some work from 9 in the morning until evening, while others work for an hour. Both receive the same. Both paid the same. And the landowner’s response to the anger of the workers over the perceived injustice? – Can’t I do what I want with what is mine? It is my decision, my vineyard, my harvest, my workers. We made our deal. It was a good one. So good, in fact, that I want them to have it too.
You see, we confuse justice with entitlement. We confuse justice with fairness. It’s not fair for one person to work more than the other and be paid the same. It’s not fair for two people to work the same and one get paid less. Time is money, and money is time, so if I put in the time, I deserve the money. We think of justice as something earned, something we have a right to or deserve rather than someone making the right decision, often based on mercy. Where the right decision may go against us sometimes. Go against what we think is right.
We also confuse justice with vengeance. How often have we looked upon our enemies, our adversaries, that one kid in school who cheats, or that lazy coworker, and hope they get their due? We expect no mercy. Then they get away with it. Ahhhhhhh! That’s so unfair. That is not justice.
Well put yourself in Jonah’s shoes. If I say Jonah, you more often than not would say,…and the whale. But the whale or big fish is only chapter 1. There are 3 other chapters after the whale. It’s a short book. You can read it in 5 minutes. Chapter 2 paints the picture of death and resurrection. Did you know that? A dead Jonah resurrected through Whale stomach flu. Chapter 3 has Jonah going to Nineveh and finally doing what he was told.
Then, in chapter 4, he takes a seat on the mountain to watch the fireworks. He can’t wait for the fire and brimstone. God is gracious to him. Gives him some shade. Cares for him, then takes it away. What does Jonah do? I wanna die! It’s so unfair. Especially your mercy God. That is why I couldn’t bring myself to show up as a prophet and declare your word, because your word does something, and you showed mercy, like I knew you would. Now I’m roasting in the hot sun because you took away the plant I did nothing for, and there is no show. No nuclear holocaust over the city of my enemies. This whole trip is a bust. I don’t get my way. And now what am I supposed to do? Kill me.
You see Jonah knew these were 5 o’clock people. Nineveh was a major city in the Assyrian empire. The same empire that would eventually conquer the northern kingdom of Israel, where Jonah lived and prophesied. And what does God do? Ask him to go to his enemies, proclaim repentance, and see what God will do.
God did what Jonah didn’t want. He knew God was merciful and abounding in steadfast love and he doesn’t want that for a certain group of people. He knew, and we know. Somehow we know, and yet we don’t.
We are the people of Nineveh, with the mentality of Jonah. We know God to be merciful, but have forgotten, or forget to see God’s mercy given to us before. We have so allowed our redemption to be hidden by our own self-righteous expectation of justice, as we see it, we have forgotten that we are Nineveh. A city of 120,000 and much cattle, who have received mercy rather than judgement. We have forgotten that we are the 5 o’clock people, the ones given an unearned gift for the only reason that the landowner has made that decision about us. About you.
That’s the danger of the Gospel. The deciding Jesus. The decision made when the heavens were rend and Gabriel came down and spoke to Mary – You shall conceive by the Holy Spirit, and bear a son, and call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. The decision made when God invaded creation in order to bring victory over sin and death for you. The decision made the moment Christ opened his mouth to say – Turn to me and trust the good news. The decision made the moment he set foot in Jerusalem to walk the hill of Calvary for you. The decision made when the Kingdom of heaven has come to you in the form of the words of the good news that all your sins are forgiven for Jesus sake. And he gives to you, regularly, his body and blood from his table so you won’t forget that even though you are Nineveh, even though you showed up for work at 5 o’clock – here is my grace says God. Grace bound in a Jesus who loves sinners. Who loves those 5 o’clock people, and brings them into his kingdom.
Praying “thy kingdom come” should mean something else now. Luther explains it this way in his small catechism - The kingdom of God comes on its own indeed without our prayer; but we pray in this petition that it may also come unto us. Praying that this Kingdom of God, of unjust landowners, might come to us. That we might be made the last ones not the first. Becoming the 5 o’clock people, that we need to be, in order to better understand mercy. To more fully love our Jesus.
Luther goes on to say of the kingdom coming - How is this done? When our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead a godly life here in time and hereafter in eternity. Praying “Thy Kingdom come” is a dangerous phrase, because everything we ask in it is summed up in a person – Jesus. Guided by the Spirit we pray that Jesus might invade us and be merciful. That we might trust the Gospel more. Might hear his word more. Might be transformed by grace more. Might cause us to know that it is not our kingdom, or any picture of what we think a kingdom should be. A kingdom in which we are given the very thing we don’t think others deserve. Then becoming the 5 o’clock people transforms our minds into realizing we have a savior. We have a God. We have a kingdom to look forward. So this then changes, or hopefully should change, how we live among other sinners, knowing that this Jesus is for them too. What a savior. What a gift. Christ for you. Thanks be to God. Amen