“The Gracious Vineyard” / Septuagesima 2017 / Mt. 20:1-16Pr. Christopher Gillespie
February 12, 2017
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like…” Jesus likens the holy Christian Church to a vineyard. You heard the call of the Holy Gospel and heeded its invitation by faith. You have been made members and coworkers in Christ’s kingdom. Within the Christian congregation, you are given the gifts of Jesus to strengthen and keep you safe with Him. And these are: the absolution in Jesus’s death for sins, your adoption as sons and daughters in Baptism, the bread from heaven of His Word, and body given and blood shed for your forgiveness.
Apart from the invitation call, apart from the gathering of fellow Christians, apart from revealing of Christ for you in these means, apart from holy gifts of forgiveness that make you holy, you’d still be idle workers of the kingdom of this world… vainly searching for meaning, laboring without purpose, looking forward without hope. Everything you have been given and are promised is gift from Jesus. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven, the Christian congregation, is all gift.
So, in one sense, there is no distinction between anyone in this congregation. All have been promised and have received the same denarius, day’s wage. No one has been given what they deserve (remember: the wages of sin is death?). But all have received the same blessings equally out of grace, regardless of effort or worth. And the wages of Christ’s kingdom come apart from works but are gift; namely, you have Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death and all grief and sorrow, the Holy Spirit, and finally eternal life.
Yet, there is distinction, too. Not everyone came at the same hour. Not everyone has the same skills. Not all can contribute equally. As the Holy Bible clearly teaches, the church is one body in Christ but many members, not all with the same function but supporting each other. There is distinction. Some are rich, others middle class, and others poor. Some are gifted in singing and music and others tone deaf. Some have been given to teach and preach. Others are given to listen and contemplate. Some are given to care for the facilities. Others are given to visit the sick, widows, and lonely.
Unlike the kingdom of this world, the kingdom of heaven has been wonderfully ordered for your blessing. Each of you has been brought into this fellowship to receive. Under the Gospel (the forgiveness of sins) there is no distinction: male or female, young or old, rich or poor, healthy or sick. Each receive equally from Jesus and are given uniquely to contribute as members of His body, as the Holy Spirit wills. It begins with Christ’s giving us His kingdom, and then His Spirit has us work with the fruits of love for one another.
The language of earthly institutions and kingdoms has no place in the church. We have no long-range plan, no marketing strategy, and no balanced budget. We don’t give pay raises or cuts. We don’t hire and fire. We don’t evaluate each other’s performance. Merits and demerits belong to the Law. The church are those believers set free in Jesus’s forgiveness to live for one another without fear. We’re free to love and serve one another, not in hopes of a big payout on the last day, but precisely because all the record keeping is finished in the cross of Jesus.
Our words betray our hearts. We say, “those people need to give more money… those people don’t volunteer like they should… those kids need to pull their own weight…” Why are you so concerned about other people? You are no different than the proverbial they. You are just as stingy with your time, effort, and talents as they are. Do you want to be judged by your works (guilty!) or by your faith in Christ (not guilty for His sake)?
Dear Christians, listen to me very carefully. You are under no obligation, duty, or law to support this congregation or the church at large. We don’t need to volunteer more or less of your time. You don’t have to pull your weight, even if this congregation benefits you immensely. My brothers and sisters, you are here to receive from your loving Father the gifts He freely gives in Jesus and by His Spirit.
I know this upsets you. It upsets me. I want this congregation to succeed. I want to have a cushy salary and benefits package. I want our congregation to be well-known and popular in our community. I want to have an assurance of achievements and stability for the long-term. I’m no different that you. And we’re no different from those laborers who came early and worked late. We begrudge our Lord His way of working, His generosity. We’ve lost our first love (the Gospel) and have put ourselves back under the enslavement of the temporary ways of this world.
Our natural hearts want to be rewarded for our work and our honorable conduct. And like every worldly institution, we give the stink eye to anyone who seems to us to be benefitting from our work and effort. They should be doing their part, doing more, more like us. If you want to be back under the Law, beware. It isn’t an easy way. It’s demands are severe. If you wish to judge others, you should know it puts you back under the same judgment.
Salvation is entirely of the pure grace from God, never of by the law of works. If you have any lingering thought that you have earned God’s favor, deserve your status in the Church or this congregation, or that anything your have done or said gets you anything, put it to rest now. Plunge it deep into the waters of your Baptism in Christ, where it drowns and dies with all other sin and evil desires. If not, you risk losing everything for the sake of gaining a worthless, temporary standing in this life.
And so, the first in this life are made to be last in the kingdom, and the least, last, and lost in this world are made first in Christ’s kingdom. All of us, equal before God, forgiven in Jesus. As Dr. Luther said, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.” We are freed in the forgiveness of Christ to love our neighbor, to serve in this congregation, and to preserve the Gospel preaching in this place, not out of obligation or duty or fear, but in charity and love.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church