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September 24, 2023

17th Sunday after Pentecost

Jonah 3:10-4:11

Psalm 145:1-8

Philippians 1:21-30

Matthew 20:1-16

Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

grace and peace to you

from the one who offers us what we need

rather than what we deserve Amen.

We talk about grace a lot as Lutherans,

how we’re saved by grace through faith

and this is not our own doing

but a gift from God.

We have grace as part of our mission statement:

“Making Christ known to all through grace”

We urge one another to offer grace to our neighbors and to ourselves,

and this all sounds really good

until we run into an example of grace in life

that just hits us the wrong way

whether it’s because we don’t think the recipient deserves it

or someone ends up with more than ourselves

and then we are quick to cry ‘that’s not fair!’

and it isn’t,

grace at its heart is not fair,

because it is about offering someone what they need

rather than what they deserve.

Jesus illustrates this with his parable for the week,

starting out “the kingdom of heaven is like…”

and proceeds to tell a story of a landowner

who goes out early in the morning

and hires laborers to work in his vineyard,

he offers them a job at the usual daily wage,

which they agree to

and go and get to work.

Throughout the rest of the day

at various intervals

the landowner goes back into the market

and hires those gathered looking for work,

promising to pay them what is fair,

even making a last hire one hour before the end of the day.

At the end of the day

everyone is paid the same wage

and those who started first grumble

because having worked longer

they think they should be paid more,

“But [the landowner] replied to one of them, ‘friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

Yes, yes they are envious

because the landowner is generous,

and sure when they heard the landowner

promise to pay those hired later what was fair,

it was a quick leap to think

that it would be less pay for less work,

and when they saw those hired later

being paid more than what they thought they should be paid

it was a quick leap to think that they would,

should even,

get paid more than they initially agreed upon

because they worked more than the others,

and so of course when their expectations

based on their own self-interested calculations

are dashed by reality they grumble,

even though the landowner stuck to their original agreement.

It’s still not fair they grumble,

and I can imagine the landowner responding to them,

‘yes, well, you know what is also not fair?

That those workers I hired at 9 o’clock

were just a little bit late to the market place

and no one hired them for three hours,

and those who I hired at noon,

is it fair that they had to take care of a sick child in the morning

and couldn’t get away before then?

Or those I hired at 3,

is it fair that they looked suspicious to a Roman patrol

and spent most of the day in interrogation

before they were released,

or what about those I hired at 5

who had traveled from town to town

looking for work

and even at the end of the day

were still trying and yet unhired?

Don’t they have the same need of a daily wage as you

who were able to be in the market at 6 in the morning?

So why would you grumble when,

I who am able to afford it,

choose to meet their needs?

The landowner has chosen to live generously,

acting as a steward of what he has

in such a way that he is able to use it to benefit the whole community

rather than just himself.

And when you’re used to living in a world

where interactions are based on self-interest,

this is disturbing

because it turns the world upside down.

This is what the kingdom of heaven is like…

Jesus tells his disciples.

Matthew calling it the Kingdom of heaven,

while other gospel writers refer to it as the kingdom of God

makes it a bit confusing,

we tend to associate heaven or even the kingdom of God with the afterlife,

but if that were the case

then why would it be good news

to proclaim the kingdom of heaven has come near?

It is good news because it marks the inbreaking of God’s ways

into the ways of the world,

right here and now

this is what we pray for when we pray

“your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

we are praying for the world to be turned upside down.

Jesus is calling us to start living the way of God right now,

to look at the world through the eyes of God,

who sees a beloved creation that is out of balance,

where some have more than they need

and some have not enough.

This is not the manna way,

remember that first object lesson

that God taught the Israelites in the wilderness,

everyone was provided with what they needed each day,

those who didn’t collect enough still had what they needed,

those who collected more than they needed

found the excess rotted away so as not to be stockpiled.

This was a lesson they were to continue living

even after they entered the promised land.

This way of life

has been the way of God from the very beginning

and continued all the way through Christ.

Who came and lived and died and lived again

because it was what we needed,

not because we deserved it.

as the psalmist proclaims in Psalm 130 “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.”

God has already given us what we needed

rather than what we deserved,

we too are to live that out with others

to live the reality of God’s kingdom in all areas of our lives,

and this means that if we have more than we need,

it is up to us to make sure it is used to meet the needs of others.

In other words we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

And no,

it’s not going to be fair,

because grace isn’t fair. Thanks be to God. Amen

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