Sermon for Septuagesima Sunday - Matthew 20:1-16
Well, I have two sermons for you this morning. Written anyways. I didn’t know which way I would go because I really loved the one I wrote and then Thursday came. You always think you know what you are going to say on Sundays. You look at the words of the texts, you hear Jesus speak, and you get something all ready and then what has happened in our parish, in Nevis and Akeley, comes. Three people dead. Tragedy. It was a great sermon. Great for the bin. Because right now we need, I need, Christ to speak to us in some other way. We need to hear his call to us.
I hear the voice of the 12-hour workers, these day laborers who have labored. Hard. Sweated. Bled. Caring for the vineyard, and I think, is that not our reality? The truth of this life of labor? Hardship. We think that it is going to be easy. All cares are gone. Smooth sailing. God promising that we will be fat, dumb and happy. Yet, no. The picture here is one of labor. Of hard work. Of difficulty. That we discover that in this life we will have difficulties. Hardships. Dangers. Persecutions. Sin still existing. Always existing. Sin being more than a list of do’s or do-not’s. Sin being this disease that affects our very being. Sin. Evil. Demons. Darkness. Whatever we should call it. It is there. It is here. It haunts us as something to be avoided, but even more an enemy that needs to be vanquished.
The unfairness of this life is that some of us will have light labor. Not called out of the world into the work of Christ until our time is almost up. Not put through such hardship that we can’t wait for the day to be over. The 1-hour laborers. Those who may have had it easy. Yet Christ still calls. Brings them out of this life into his, and those of us who have known the face of the devil will look in the face of these who have not been down that same road and think, “How can grace mean anything to them? How unfair it can be for them to receive the same reward, in need of the same Jesus, having the same Savior?” Yet, that is Christ for you. Grace for you. Mercy for you.
Because this parable is about exactly that. The Kingdom of God being established through unmerited, unfair dispersal of God’s goodness, God’s grace, God’s mercy and rewards to whom he calls. The calling of these people into the vineyard of the Lord. Into life. Some spend all their lives living and striving and working for Christ and in the end receive in his fullness. Others, come to him so late. Having not lived that same life and yet the mercy they receive is the same Jesus. The same cross. The same gift. Jesus. All gift. Unearned. Unbought. Offensive in fact. And our human sinfulness is bent towards judgement to see the unfairness in that. Unearned salvation? Unearned reward? But that is Christ. Undeserved favor from him to you. No merit. Only Jesus. His body broken and blood shed for you.
In John chapter 16, Jesus is speaking to his disciples just before his unfair arrest, trial, torture, death, and eventual resurrection. He has been preparing them for this tragedy and he looks them in the face and says – “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” I didn’t personally know the folks involved in this devastation on Thursday night. I know my colleagues and I have done what we can to bring some comfort, but I am left to realize that there is no comfort in me. There is no comfort in this because we have more questions than answers or help. I don’t know why this stuff happens apart from sin being worse than any list you or I could come up with, and that comfort comes only in Christ. Peace in Christ. To know that one day our labors of this life will be done. No more bloody hands and blisters. No more broken backs and burdens to heavy for us to carry. None of that.
In the face of sin, shame, evil, pain, darkness; light and salvation are needed. Life brought through someone greater than us. I love that this year we have journeyed into a new lectionary with the old church year. Today is Septuagesima Sunday. The “Seventieth.” Seventieth what? Well, approximately the seventieth day until Easter. A Sunday, today, marked by the countdown to victory. That Easter has something more important to do in your life than ham and deviled eggs. Bunnies. Chocolate. Approximately seventy days from now and Jesus wins. In fact, has already won. Seventy days until we hear that death is defeated again. That your sin, my sin, the sin of the whole world, the sin of Thursday, all of it so heinous that God Himself had to do die to destroy it. So heinous that the God of the universe had to fall victim to death at the hands of his own creation in order to save us from ourselves.
God in Christ exists for this very purpose. That when sin comes. When death seems to win, when our life is turned upside down and destroyed by other sinners around us, we know for certain that our God has not abandoned us. Suffering not being a punishment from God but the existence of his salvation. A suffering God who suffered to bring us peace in Christ. Suffering being the very symptom of the necessity for Jesus dying for you. Jesus death is not about your happiness, because a beer can make me happy. His death is about your redemption. That even in our sin and death, Christ is there as the dispenser of grace to free you from that bondage. The bondage of wanting other things as our identity, then in steps Christ to say that when God looks at you he sees Jesus and his gifts. Your identity caught up in his. That today when Bentley Jones is (WAS) baptized, he receives his full reward the same as you. He becomes your equal before God and needs to be nourished in this faith. Realizing that even he, as this cute little snuggly baby, is one who needs salvation from sin, death and hell.
The Parable of the Vineyard Workers is the backbone of our faith. God’s mercy wrapped in the calling of the lax and the labor-filled. Mercy gifted into the hands of the religiously astute, and the failures of life. Peace wrought by a death in order that even in death we know that Christ wins. The prayer we make today, and which we need to make every day, is that we might be given a heart that knows whether we labor and toil and suffer, we bring nothing to the table of the Lord but our sin. A whole pile of failure and faults. Things that should disqualify us, and God says – “That’s how I like them. Broken, sin-soaked souls. Sinner upon sinner.” Because when what we bring to the table is nothing but a heart in need of forgiveness. No grace in us. No mercy in us. No comfort or peace in us. Christ hands us himself and says, “Be lifted up. Raise your head dear Child. You are my worker. The shift is over. Let’s hit happy hour. Drinks are on me.” Thanks be to God. Amen