October 4, 2020: 18th Sunday of Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Savior, thank You for the gift of grace!  Thank You for rewarding  us not on the basis of what we deserve or earn, but on the basis of Your undeserved love.  May we never take it for granted.  Amen


TEXT:  Matthew 20: 1-16

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          I’m 99.9% certain that Harvard Business School would never cite this text as a basis for a business course!  It runs totally counter to the philosophy of business.  That’s why so many people, especially those in business and their workers, have a really hard time with it.

          Many years ago a friend of ours and his wife were sitting at our kitchen table for a meal.  He was an up-and-coming executive being groomed for “higher office.”  In fact, he recently retired from that major multi-national corporation as second in command!  He deserved it, too.  He started at the bottom in sales and worked very hard to achieve his success in that corporation that you would all recognize.  He asked me to explain this passage because he had trouble with it.  To him it all seemed unfair.  I explained it, but he still went away confused.  I vowed to do better next time.  And today is that time.


          Let’s put this parable in terms everyone can understand right now.  40 years ago you started with your company.  You made money.  The benefit package was very good.  You knew every week where your next meal would come from.  They never had any layoffs.  You had the benefit of security in your job and longevity.  But, the big payday would come at the end when you retired.  You were promised a huge bonus payday which made it all worthwhile.

          Over the years other workers were hired, too.  Like you they basically had a good life, free from unemployment worries, slashes in benefits, and they were promised a big bonus as well.  Finally, you’re getting real close to retirement.  You look forward to your big payout.  Then when it comes, they announce that the company is closing and everyone will get their “big bonus.”  The workers line up and to your horror, those hired just last year receive the same amount as the 10 year workers, the 20 year workers, and even you, who has been there for 40 years!  At first, these last hired were happy and so were you.  You naturally figured that you’d get much more than they did.  After all, you labored for far more time.  But as it became apparent that everyone would receive the same amount, and it was sizeable, you became disgruntled and down-right angry!  You thought and even said: “It isn’t fair!” 


          I remember sitting in the pew as a kid and hearing this lesson and having trouble understanding it, too.  It runs counter to the human mindset of: those who work longer should naturally get paid more.  Of course, those working 40 years received a whole lot of benefits during that time that the newly hired missed out on.  They didn’t have the stress of not knowing where their next meal would come from.  They missed out on the stress of not knowing if they could plan for retirement, a new car, a vacation each year, and the whole plethora of what it takes to keep a family afloat.  They were only keyed in on that fat bonus check and congratulated themselves each year that they earned it!  In the world, that’s the way it works.

          But the company CEO never promised an amount.  He never told anyone that he would pro-rate it.  He just promised a multi-million dollar bonus.  The owner is God.  And here He answers those upset employees: “Friend, I am not being unfair to you.  Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go.  I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you.  Don’t I have a right to do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous.  So the last will be first and the first will be last.”


          The vineyard here is the Christian Church.  Many join it at birth via baptismal grace—or God’s undeserved love in Christ.  They are the backbone of every congregation, too.  And they get to bask in the glow of His forgiving love every single day of their lives.  Others join in their searching years from late teens into their 30’s.  They have faced uncertainty in a host of ways, especially about where they stand with God.  But God then picked them up and brought them into the fold and their excitement and relief is palpable in their gratitude to God.  Still others went through much tribulation over not knowing God until they reached their 50’s.  Maybe it was failed marriages, or alcoholism, or bankruptcy.  They looked for fulfillment in all the wrong places until God found them, forgave them their sins, and gave them a new lease on life in His kingdom.  And finally, there are those who have led a dissolute life of emptiness and something, maybe a severe health scare, caused them to examine their life, repent of their ways, and embrace God’s loving embrace of faith.

          In the end, on judgement day, these new believers will receive the exact same Christian bonus payout as those faithful who labored in the trenches.  Heaven is all of theirs because the bonus payout is: a gift of grace.  A gift that Christ earned for each one on the cross.  Grace, or God’s undeserved love, is grace.  It is full and complete.  Forgiveness is forgiveness.  You cannot possess more forgiveness than another.  There is no such thing as “degrees of forgiveness.”  And the glory in all this stems from God’s fairness.  It is the fairness that He loves each of His children in the exact same amount—all because He loves Jesus.

          My friends, God doesn’t play off one of us against another.  He loves us all exactly the same.  Good thing because who could ever do enough to make Him love you more?  We’re all sinners by nature who deserve literally nothing from Him on our own.  So, be thankful that God didn’t have to attend Harvard Business School to get an advanced degree in salvation!  And wherever you’re at on the road to heaven, just savor the blessing that He has put you there.  For along that road countless blessings seem to crop up continually.  Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox  

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