Our Amazingly Good and Generous God!

Septuagesima-13 February 2022

Matthew 20:1–16

1 [Jesus said:] “The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’  5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.” (ESV)

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The Church speaks of Lent as a journey that starts on Ash Wednesday and takes us to Good Friday. We call Lent a penitential season—not that we don’t repent the rest of the year, but that in this Lenten journey we renew our efforts to discipline our bodies in godly living, keeping them under control, in submission to Christ our Saviour. Lent reminds us that we are called to exercise self-control over our thoughts, words, deeds, and desires—like runners running to obtain a prize. The Olympic athletes receive a perishable medal, but we receive the imperishable prize of salvation—a prize not won by us but given us by Jesus dying in our place, bearing our sins on the cross. This gift is ours even now, but we must also run our lives knowing that this gift will be ours in all its fullness only when we die in the Lord.

Now, if Lent is a journey, then these three pre-Lent Gesima Sundays are the packing of our suitcases—the preparation for our penitential journey to the Good Friday cross. The Geisma Sundays show us that the way of salvation is 

by grace alone, by God’s Word alone, and by faith alone. Thus, these three Sundays strip from us the illusion that “Jesus does His part and we do ours”. The Gesima collects show our dependance upon our Lord: [O Lord,] may we mercifully be delivered by YOUR goodness (Septuagesima)…by YOUR power may we be defended against all adversity (Sexagesima)…and having set us free from the bonds of our sins, deliver us from every evil (Quinquagesima)! As much as you aspire to lead holy lives according to God’s Word, remember that you are utterly dependent upon the Lord, who alone delivers you from every evil and defends you against all adversity by His goodness.

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Lent has traditionally been a time for fasting. But fasting is no good at all if we are intent only on fasting from food, missing some meals. Rather, we must above all fast from sin. And today’s Scripture readings highlight one sin in particular from which we all need to turn: the sin of grumbling.

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With a mighty hand and outstretched arm, God had delivered His people from their slavery in Egypt. But now, in the wilderness, the people find no joy in their newfound freedom. They want water and there is no water. And so the grumbling starts—the quarreling with Moses and the testing of the LORD. The sad thing is that God had the situation under control, as He always does. He was not leading His people into a death-trap. He had taken thought for the miraculous provision for water from a rock, which pointed to the greater Rock, Jesus Christ. Their grumbling ended up looking utterly foolish when the water began bursting from the rock.

But, of course, this was not an isolated incident. Over and over again, on their journey to the promised land, the people of Israel blew it; they fell into grumbling because they kept doubting the goodness of the Lord and His provision.

And, of course, they are not alone. You and I also grumble. Perhaps we do not verbally express our inner grumblings. But we do at times doubt the Lord’s goodness and provision—and that is grumbling. We worry and we fear whether God has everything under control and whether He will take care of us and of those we love. We wonder whether God is playing some sort of game with us, as if He were out to destroy our hopes and our joys. And so, we gripe and moan and we fear and question what He is up to in our lives. But still, God provides for us, again and again and again. 

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The Lenten fast is coming. It is a salutary practice to eat less food and to watch less tv in order to spend more time praying, meditating on God’s Word, and helping others. But with the denying ourselves some food and entertainment, let us also deny our mouths words of complaining and let us deny our hearts the agony of distrusting the Lord’s goodness and provision. All this grumbling comes from Satan. And so, let us seek to fast from this grumbling not just for Lent but for the rest of our pilgrimage here on earth. 

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Today’s Gospel warns us against a particular kind of grumbling. It is not a grumbling against the Lord’s provision of earthly necessities. Rather, it is the grumbling of labourers who think that the master of the vineyard is unfair in how he pays his workers.

Everyone ends up with the same pay, even though some worked only the smallest part of the day. “Not fair”, they cry. You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat. The master is not impressed with their grumbling. “Hold on, there!  Didn’t you agree with me for a denarius? I did not cheat you. I gave what I promised you. And I have chosen to give the same to all my labourers. Why are you grumbling? Why are you doubting my goodness? Can I not do what I want with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generousity?”

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Today’s Gospel has often been called “The Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard” but it should really be called “The Parable of the Amazingly Good and Generous Master”. For in handing out the denarius—the full amount—to everyone regardless of how long they worked, the master is showing the labourers that the wage is not a wage at all but rather an undeserved gift.

This parable is about the Kingdom of God. Of course, this is not how people in the world are paid. But that’s the point. The Kingdom of God operates completely different from the world. God’s Kingdom does not work on the basis of wages or on how much effort you put into your work; rather, the kingdom works on the generousity of the master. And what is being handed out equally to all the labourers in God’s Kingdom is the full amount of what is needed to be saved. In short, what is being handed out is the grace and

self-giving of Jesus, which no one deserves.

None of us deserved to have our guilt, shame, and sin lifted from us and placed upon Jesus, the pure and holy Lamb of God. None of us deserved to be made God’s children in Holy Baptism. None of us deserve to have our sins forgiven and our prayers heard. We are all equally undeserving of our Lord’s love and mercy. Thus, it is completely unacceptable for us to think that we deserve more from God simply because we think we have worked longer and harder than others in God’s Kingdom. “Lord, I have given you 50, 60, 70, 80 years of service. And I’ve worked harder than others. And so I should get a better mansion. Lord, for every person I help, for everything I do for You, I should get another jewel in my crown, another room in my

heavenly mansion”.

But that is not how the Kingdom of God operates. Our work—no matter how long or hard it has been—is never the cause of our salvation. We are saved only by the astounding generousity of the grace of Jesus Christ. And so, to grumble about how God treats others the same as He treats us is to doubt the goodness of God.

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Do you remember St. Stephen? He was the Church’s first martyr—the first person to be killed for confessing Christ. And do you remember the young man who was there approving of the crowd stoning Stephen to death? That young man’s name was Saul, yes the very same man whom we know as St. Paul, the great apostle. Now, St. Stephen would have already been in heaven by the time St. Paul showed up. Upon seeing Paul, what if Stephen would have reacted like the labourers hired first: “God, You are unfair. You have made this killer Saul equal to me who bore the storm of stones raining down on my head!”. Of course, you know Stephen did not respond like that! Stephen would have most assuredly embraced Paul in love and would have said to the Lord: “Oh, Lord, I rejoice over Your amazing grace, by which

even Paul, the chief of sinners, is received into Your heaven!”

And should we not also rejoice when God calls into His kingdom fellow sinners who receive the same gift of salvation as we have, even though we may have worked far longer or even more fruitfully in the vineyard? Let us, then, stop thinking that the Lord owes us because of our hard labour for Him. For that is to grumble and thus to doubt the very goodness of the Lord.  

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The Good News for you today is that God dishes out His gift of salvation without measure. God has more forgiveness than you have sin; more life than you have death; more mercy than you have misery. And God dumps out His forgiveness, life, and mercy lavishly. And the cross is the measure of God’s generousity. Your Lord went to the cross to answer for all your grumblings and your doubting of God’s goodness. The Lord Jesus bore your grumblings and doubtings in His body upon the tree of the cross to death. He poured out His blood to blot out those and all your sins and to free you from their power forever. The God who sends His Son to die on the cross in order to win salvation for all—even for those who grumble against Him and doubt His goodness—the God who raised His Son in triumph to destroy death, how will He not with Jesus freely give us all things? 

Lent is coming, people loved by God. Let us decide right now to fast, and not only with our stomachs. Let us resolve to fast from using our tongues to grumble against each other and against our God. Let us resolve to not allow Satan to plant within us doubts about God’s goodness. Tasting the love lavished on us by the Crucified and Risen Lord, let our lips instead be filled with the praises of Him who laboured tirelessly in His Father’s vineyard to provide for us the water of everlasting life. Let our ears and hearts rejoice to hear and treasure our Lord’s Word of forgiveness. Let our mouths receive in His body and blood pardon and the strength to forsake the old way of grumbling and doubting. So we will find in communion with Christ a generous and loving Father whose GRACE is our joy and delight, and to whom—with the Son and the Holy Spirit— be all glory, now and ever. Amen.