Damariscotta Baptist Church
Friday, July 20, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

09/18/11 Sermon

Matthew 20: 1-16

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts…..

 

There’s an old “Family Circus” comic strip that shows the two boys Jeff and Billy squabbling over the size of the slices of pie their mom gave them.  “They aren’t the same,” Jeff pouts. Mom tries again, evening-up the slices. Still Jeff is upset.  “They still aren’t the same!” he whines. This time Mom uses a ruler and absolutely proves that both slices of pie are the exact same size.  “But Mom,” Jeff complains, “I want mine to be just like Billy’s . . . only bigger!”   (Leonard Sweet)

Getting a bigger piece of pie is something we all like to have in the world in which we live.  And as kids we’re taught to want more and that in order to get more we need to work harder than others to get it.  As kids we did or do chores around the house to receive a reward (an allowance). This teaches us as we get older that our working will lead us to get something in return; a payoff.    

When I was in sales, the harder I worked, the more sales calls I persistently made often led to a bigger commission check.  But it would always frustrate me when someone who didn’t work as hard would reap in money for my work.  I can recall many times when I would work with a company in Memphis who was building a new factory somewhere else in the country.  I would do the drawings and figure out what kind of equipment was needed; I did all the work and then when the order came the person who had the factory in their territory would get ½ the commission check..  It wasn’t fair!! (unless I was on the receiving end)

And that’s what we see happening in our scripture today. We see unfairness and injustice.  Jesus tells this parable of laborers working in the fields all day long, sweating and dirty, backs aching going to receive their wages only to find out that people who put in one hour, who hadn’t even had a chance to get their hands dirty get paid the same amount.

This is disturbing! It’s unfair!

Doesn’t Jesus know that this isn’t the way the world works? Doesn’t he know that this goes against how we’ve been taught our whole lives? Doesn’t he know what fairness and justice is all about?

Of course as we raise these objections we do so from the standpoint or perspective of the one who’s been working in the field all day, don’t we? That’s why we cry out that this is unjust and unfair. We relate to the all day laborers.  But what if we related to those who worked only one hour and got paid the same? What if we felt what they might have felt? Could it be that we might see the owner in a different light than the all day workers?? 

A pastor saw a former burglar kneeling at the Communion rail beside a judge, the very judge who had sent the burglar to jail for seven years. After his release this burglar was converted and became a Christian worker.  But as they knelt there, the judge and the former convict, neither seemed to be aware of the other.

After the service, the judge was walking home with the pastor. The judge asked the pastor, “Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the Communion rail this morning?”  The pastor replied, “Yes, but I didn’t know that you noticed.”  The two walked along in silence for a few more moments, and then the judge said, “What a miracle of grace.”  The pastor nodded in agreement. “Yes, what a marvelous miracle of grace.”  Then the judge asked, “But whom do you refer?”  And the pastor said, “Why, to the conversion of that convict.”  The judge said, “I was not referring to him. I was thinking of myself.”  The pastor was surprised: “You were thinking of yourself? I don’t understand.”  “Yes” the judge said. “You see it didn’t cost the burglar that much to get converted when he came out of jail.  He had nothing but a history of crime behind him, and when he saw Jesus as his Savior he knew there was salvation and hope and joy for him. And he knew how much he needed that help. But look at me.  I was taught from earliest infancy to live as a gentleman; that my word was to be my bond; that I was to say my prayers, go to church, take the Lord’s Supper and so on.  I went through Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the bar and eventually became a judge.

 

Pastor, nothing but the grace of God could have caused me to admit that I was a sinner on level with the burglar.  It took much grace to forgive me for all my pride and self deception, to get me to admit that I was no better in the eyes of God than that convict that I sent to prison seven years ago” (4)

Our problem as we look at this parable and see its unfairness is that we see ourselves as the laborers who worked all day instead of the 11th hour laborers.  We are blind to our condition that we are no better, no holier, no more qualified or deserving than the 11th hour workers-----------we don’t realize that we in fact ARE the 11th hour workers……And that’s the point that Jesus was making.

You know, it’s interesting that when we look at the background of this text we can see that this scripture comes right after Jesus spoke to the rich young ruler who had boldly said he followed all of the commandments and wondered what else he lacked in order to inherit the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus told him to go and sell all his belongings and give it to the poor. The rich young ruler of course went away sad because he was so wealthy, he couldn’t give it up.

Jesus often spoke of the problems of those who failed to understand that we all fall short of the kingdom of God. Jesus came to those who needed a physician which is all of us.

The apostle Paul continued emphasizing this message to the Jews in his letter to the Romans when he wrote: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

You and I, all of us are 11th hour workers in need of God’s unmerited, undeserving grace.  He forgives the most undeserving of all which in fact really is the all day laborer who believes to be the most deserving. God accepts even the so-called perfect ones who cry out for fairness.

You see the truth is--- if God was fair as the world defines it, we’d really be in trouble. Because even our works of righteousness are tainted, we serve for the wrong reasons, we try to earn God’s favor, we seek to be better and more worthy than others which is the way of the world.

What we need is not a God of fairness, what we need….is a God of mercy. And that’s what we’ve been given:…………………………………….

A certain father said to his four children, "the last one up the stairs is going to get a licking."  The youngest child, only 6 at the time, had no chance against 9, 13 and 16 year olds. She knew she was the last one and slowly she returned down the steps to get her licking.  She took one step at a time, painfully getting closer to her father who was sitting on a sofa. She sat down beside him, for what seemed like an eternity.  Finally, her father said, "Are you ready for your licking?"   Reluctantly, she said "yes," as her siblings peered from the top of the steps between the woodwork.  Her father turned to her and with his tongue licked her cheek. He chuckled, then sent her to bed. (2)

Now that’s the kind of God we need and it’s the kind of God we have…

Now what does all this mean to us as Christians? What does it mean to accept that we are 11th hour workers in need of God’s grace?

Well in this parable, Jesus is targeting the people of Israel who represented the all day laborers. The Jewish religious establishment thought they were deserving of more because they were God’s chosen people.  And because of this mentality, they were not joyful witnesses of God’s love and mercy and grace who were supposed to draw other workers into the fields to work alongside them serving this wonderful and amazing and generous God.  They forgot what they were supposed to be doing and had turned their faith into a religion of burdensome rules. It was a competition with people instead of love and grace.

So a God who was graceful and generous and accepting of others was not the God they were testifying to. It was instead a burdensome, unfair god, a legalistic god of rules, who played favorites and was closed off to receiving any other races of people besides themselves.

But what does this have to do with us today? I mean we’re not like these folks are we???

Well the truth is, this same thing can and HAS happened to Christians today. Churches are filled with “chosen” people who fail to see themselves as 11th hour people and it affects our witness.

We see it in a variety of ways.

One way is thru an “us versus them” mentality. Church people can see themselves as superior over lost people. There’s an arrogance and condescension instead of being an inviting and grace-filled people.  It also manifests itself in the way we can be disengaged with the world.

Our faith is disconnected, not intertwined in everyday life and conversation and so it sends a message that if you want to be a Christian, you have to come to church and act like us and be an all day worker who labors in the institution of church.

And of course that’s such a great joy for us. I mean we’re so joyful about this kind of work for the institution of the church----people are just begging to serve on committees and repair stuff around the church and do yard work and teach Sunday school…………
You know, it’s interesting to see how our own non-commitment at church also testifies to how we’re like the Pharisees. The fact that we see God as a hard taskmaster who doesn’t give us a pay-off for our all-day work is the evidence.  After all, why serve at church or be involved when we get nothing out of it?  And why bother taking the daily time to be reading and praying over the scriptures, or serving others, or serving in the church with my time, talents and treasures when I could be doing something else with my gifts that gives me a better return on my laboring?  Of course we can make ourselves feel better by saying that we don’t need to work for God because that’s a works righteousness--- we’re saved by this grace and so what we do next doesn’t matter.

But friend, if you’ve actually been saved by grace, if you realize that you’re an 11th hour worker who has been given eternal life, you can’t help but want to serve God and serve others and to witness to who God is.

You are so grateful and thankful for his mercy and grace that saved you from your pathetic state that you can’t wait to talk to God and read and learn and grow and serve and give.    

It’s not a burden…it’s a privilege…………(slow)

You are walking in eternal life right now, wanting others to experience it too.

And that’s the message that Jesus is reminding us of today.

He wants to remind us that the God we worship and serve is a compassionate and generous God who loves us and wants to rescue us all of us.

Jesus wants us to embrace this because this is the message that he wants us his followers to go and tell others about. He wants us to be an 11th hour worker so grateful for his mercy that it shows in our genuine love for God and our love for others.

So today ask yourself,: What kind of God am I serving? What does my commitment to God say about who I think He is?

And ask yourself, what kind of witness am I to who Jesus is to others?

Can people see the gratitude and joy? Can they see that we love a God who is so cool that He saves dying thieves on the cross at the last second?

You and I are being called today to remember God’s grace, to embrace it so that we might be free and joyful in our serving of him.

Today, let us look to be all day workers who are not resentful and burdened. Instead let us seek to give God our time, talents and treasures with joyful gratitude because of who God is.

That’s the kind of witness that God wants his chosen people to testify to.

In our world of non-grace, where people are competing and bitterly squabbling over fairness over our merits, let us testify to God’s amazing grace.  Let us be humble and grateful; let us remember that we’re the 11th hour workers…..

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen