Sermon from Rev. Zickler for September 24, 2017

20170924 Sermon Proper 20 2017
September 24, 2017
Matthew 20:1-16

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. The sermon text for this morning is the Gospel Lesson previously read.

In our day how often do you hear people speak of entitlement? We hear much of how entitled our youth have become, and by all accounts this would seem true in general. There seems to be an assumption of undeserved deserving from many young people in our day, to the point where in searching the internet I could find numerous articles describing this phenomenon, even from such sources as Forbes Magazine. However, this is isn’t something unique to the youth. In searching on the topic of entitlement I found countless links on the subject. Some described what this looks like. Others explained how to examine ourselves and determine if we have our own sense of entitlement, one concluding with the note that if you’re concerned about it and want to improve that in and of itself is a good thing and perhaps enough. Another described how our standard of living has changed so much over the last decades that this entitlement has actually improved things. How so?

Well according to that article: the “number of consumer items Americans say we ‘can’t live without’ has proliferated in the last 50 years alone. In 1973, roughly 15% of Americans viewed car air conditioning as a necessity. Now almost 60% do. In 1983, 5% of America needed a home computer. Now more than half couldn’t live without one—and that doesn’t count laptops.” Likewise, “Basic needs’ used to mean safety and shelter. Now they include refrigerators (99% of all Americans have one), TVs (98.7%), microwaves (87.9%) and air conditioning (84%).” The article then notes that with 35.4% of Americans on some form of government welfare, these things have obviously become entitlements.

Now as I say this, don’t get me wrong, I certainly enjoy my creature comforts. I love the A/C here and at home – ask my wife and she loves AC in our home too if for no other reason than my pleasantness to live with decreases tenfold when I am hot and suffering in humidity. But as we look at our day we see that we are without question entitled. And this raises the question, to what should we be entitled? That’s somewhat the question here in this lesson isn’t it?

Here we have this parable where the landowner comes and hires workers. And as he starts with this hiring in the morning, we have it spoken very clearly by our Lord, that this master of his own domain, hires men first of all in the morning, what would be about six o’clock, and they agree on a price. He agrees “with the laborers for a denarius a day.” Now as I mentioned last week, this denarius was a payment for a day’s work. So this is fair, this is just and it’s right. The master of the house isn’t trying to pull anything over on anyone. But then he goes out throughout the day and he hires more workers. He hires them at the third hour, that is about nine o’clock, then again at the sixth and ninth hours, so about noon and three. Then, finally, at the eleventh hour, at five, an hour before quitting time he hires more.

Of course, you know the story, what happens then? When this master pays all of the workers, he starts with the last, and he gives them a denarius. You can imagine their joy. They’ve only worked an hour and they get a full day’s wage! What fortune! You can also imagine how the first workers are salivating now. “They got a denarius! Oh, well certainly I’ll get more! I worked all day, I have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat. This master will definitely see how I’m entitled to more than those clowns.” But what happens? They get the same wage. It’s still fair. It’s still just. It’s exactly what they agreed upon, but because of the generosity of the landowner, it just seems unfair, doesn’t it?

Of course, that’s exactly what grace does. Grace makes things seem unfair. It makes it seem like the scales are not balanced, like someone is pulling a fast one over on us. Now, obviously this parable is about eternal rewards from God and not a day’s wages. But lest we think that this is about some kind of works righteousness, about some people deserving the fullness of God’s Kingdom by their works, we see that it’s not about this at all. It’s about the last becoming first and the first becoming last. It’s about this generosity. In Lutheran terms it’s all about God’s justification by His grace; about the fact that we are saved not because we have deserved it but because God has loved us and forgiven us in Christ.

Of course, as I say that it’s also about how we don’t really believe this. That’s why the landowner makes that point to say, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” Or if you would look at this in the ESV Bible you might see a note there that says this literally says, “is your eye bad because I am good?” Do you see things in an evil way because I am good, because I am generous? And if we take a sincere look and reflect upon ourselves we have to see that we do, don’t we? When we wrestle with this honestly we don’t really believe in justification that is completely and utterly by God’s grace.

Now to be clear, we get it on some level. I’m not saying that we’re not, or that you’re not Christians. You are. I think we understand it enough to grasp that when someone repents of their sin and believes in Christ even in their dying breath that they will be received that day into paradise just like the thief on the cross next to Jesus. Not only do we grasp this, but I think we all, hopefully at least, even rejoice in this. We give great thanks to God that there will be one more in His Kingdom. We give thanks that one more is in His Sheep pen to live in His pastures eternally.

But even getting that we don’t totally get it. How so? Well, for example when we wrestle so thoroughly with understanding how God could condemn those who have never even heard the Gospel. Now I am not saying this shouldn’t pain us. It should sadden us. The condemnation of anyone is sad, and it’s even sadder to our Lord who loves all more than we can fathom. But we have to understand that our agreed upon wage at birth is the wage promised by the law: do this, do what God commands and you will live. And none of us does this. So the just wage is death. It’s eternal death. As Paul says, “the wages of sin is death.” The fact that God saves even one person is His generosity. Of course that some would be saved and not others doesn’t seem fair. But like I said grace makes things seem unfair. That’s why it should humble us, and it should create in us the utter desire to serve our neighbor. To love them. To most importantly confess that faith that we are unentitled, rotten sinners who have a generous master who has saved us in the blood of His Son Jesus. But our sinful nature still doesn’t grasp this fully.

In fact, not only does it not grasp this in abstract ways like this, but it doesn’t grasp this in concrete ways either. If we really understood how generous our God is, we would grasp just how unentitled we really are. I talked about creature comforts before, if we really grasped how far our sin removes us from entitlement we wouldn’t bemoan any lack of creature comforts. All the more, we wouldn’t bemoan anyone ever having more than we do. We would realize just how undeserving of any comfort we really are.

But that wouldn’t be all. We would see how unentitled we are and treat others with far more patience, far more affection, far more love and generosity ourselves. And as I speak of that generosity, you might think first of financial generosity, and that should definitely spring to mind, as God is so utterly generous to you in Jesus in His blood shed for you. But it shouldn’t be the only way of being generous that you should consider. There are other commandments too. You should be generous not lusting. You should be generous in not even coveting. You should be generous by explaining things in the kindest way, or as the old translation of the catechism said it: truly “putting the best construction on things.” If we really believed that we truly deserve nothing but punishment, we would be much more willing to suffer, all the more in the comfort of knowing that because of Jesus, the suffering now is far less than the eternity of glory in His Kingdom.

And even further, we wouldn’t spend as much time as we do fighting for our own rights. Rather, we would fight for the rights of our neighbors. As I say that, I’m not speaking in a political perspective necessarily. It could be applied there, but even in personal battles so often we default to what we are deserved, what we are owed, what we are entitled to in relation to others. But this makes the point that it’s not about that. If we understand our true place, even as we look at others receiving more than us, we can say, “How generous our God is. That person doesn’t deserve that but God still gives it to them.” We can say that because we know that everything is actually God’s anyway, we have no right to begrudge Him His generosity.

Now of course as I say this, we have to ask how we could do this. After all, this clearly fits into what our Lord is saying in the Old Testament lesson that “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts,” doesn’t it? How can we possibly be generous in this way? How can we possibly go against the flow of what is so firmly entrenched not only in our culture, but by the fact that Jesus spoke this parable, we see into our very nature? The answer: we can’t. Not of ourselves. We can tell ourselves to do this and do this and do this, and we should tell ourselves to do this and do this and do this, but in the end we will fail.

But Christians, hear again God’s generosity to you. Hear again how God has not given you your wages. Hear again how He has sent His Son into this world for your sin. The Sinless One, the One entitled by His very nature to inherit God’s Kingdom. Hear again how this One came into the world, giving up everything He was entitled to, determining rather to share it with you by taking your wages upon Himself, by suffering on the cross for you, rising again to prove to you that as you were baptized into His death and resurrection you were joined to Him that this Kingdom would be Your inheritance, your reward, your payment for less than one hour’s work. Hear again how He bore the burden of the day and the scorching heat for you. And how He feeds you with His mercy again and again at His table.

Christians, hear all of this and know of God’s grace. Hear all of it again and remember that in our day and world of entitlements, you are not entitled, but that God’s generosity has come to you not in a day’s wages, but in eternal, infinite quantity. Hear that and be humbled that He chose you for this in His grace. Be humbled because that’s exactly His desire. He wants you to make yourself last, because as you are last, He tells you, the last will be first. Amen.