September 17, 2023: 17th Sunday after Trinity

Let us pray: Dear Savior, thank You for making Your Church and the force that runs it different than the world.  Thank You for not playing favorites with us or doling out blessings merely on the basis of our external behavior.  Most of all, thank You for sharing Your love and forgiveness with each of us equally—calling all of us with equal seriousness and equal compassion.  In short, dear Lord, thank You for loving us perfectly.  Amen


TEXT:  Matthew 20: 1-16

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

         Have you ever wished you were someone else?  Many people do fantasize about such things.  Little children play make-believe pirates, princesses, cowboys, or “who-knows-what.”  By the predominance of our celebrity culture, young adult/late teens seem to fantasize about trading places with a favorite cinema heartthrob.  And who hasn’t dreamed of being President, or Ruler-of-the-world for a day, in order to fix everything just right?!    Most fantasy life is harmless.  Some forms of escapism are actually good in that it helps reset your mind.  But, if and when we let envy of another grow and flourish within, thanklessness and ingratitude are the result. 

         One of the things that really excites me about heaven is this: In heaven there will be no envy of another, only perfect love, thankfulness, and joy.  Think about that.  When you hear of someone at work getting an award and a prize for being: “This month’s best employee” just what are your real emotions?  Are you totally happy for them?  Are you 100% focused on how much they deserved it?  Or, does a small part of you, perhaps just for an instant, think: “Well, what about me?  I’ve never received any award.  Don’t I count, too?”    Folks, in heaven all of that will cease to afflict us.  Total perfect joy for each other in every circumstance will be our condition.  Won’t that be exciting?    That’s one of the reasons we could well call it:



         I’ve always really liked this parable.  It’s just so pure, isn’t it?  And in that purity of reward, or perhaps we should say: blessing, the huge heart of God and the perfection of His love is revealed to each of us.  You all know the facts by now.  In fact, let’s put them into today’s language and couple the spiritual meaning along with it at the same time. 

         The longest serving worker bee in God’s Kingdom, in His Church, who is present here today is probably around 90.  Think of that?  For 80 years you’ve helped teach the kids, raise Godly children,  been a great citizen, paid the bills for keeping the family going, the church going, and generally the country going.  You’ve born the heat of the day, the pain of getting older and working hard, the emotional upset that comes with the years.  And now you’re getting closer and closer to finally receiving the blessed reward that  Christ won on the cross for you and promised you when you were baptized.  Heaven is coming soon!  Basking in His perfect love is coming soon!  Then you can say: “Ahhhh” and truly mean it! 

         The rest of you, depending on your age and when you came to saving faith in Jesus Christ, were “hired” like the vineyard workers in our lesson.  Whether you’re a 60 year believer, a 40 year worker, a young adult, a teen, a child, God has promised each of you the exact same blessing and the exact same amount, value, and worth of that blessing: because Christ’s forgiveness = heaven.    Have you teen age Christians done as much hard work at building up God’s Church as some of the elderly here today?  Have you tried to raise Christian children?  Have you paid out money, time, and boatloads of energy to further the salvation of souls?  Of course not.  Every one of you, every one of us, has labored differently for Christ.  But again, at the end of our lives, we all stand to receive the exact same blessed reward: heaven.  Meanwhile, we all are currently receiving the exact same reward right now of a clean conscience and peace with God that comes through Christ sacrificing His very life for ours on a cross.


         Does any envy cross Pinewood’s threshold among you?  Of course it does!  Envy is part of the human condition since the fall.  Envy is a fruit of sin because envy results from pride and self-love in juxtaposition to perfect self-giving love, or grace.    Maybe you don’t say it out loud.  Maybe you don’t dwell on envy-causing situations.  But whenever someone interjects those famous words: “It’s not fair!” into the Church equation, or says: “I’ve done my fair share, let someone else pick up the slack now”—envy is crouching at the door.  And to that, Christ says rather bluntly: “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? (Read love or forgiveness or heaven here) Or are you envious because I am generous?  So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

         True thankfulness is just that: thankful.  It doesn’t play comparison games.  It doesn’t question God’s way or God’s goodness.  It never tries to foist or project our emotional parameters upon God.  In the end, our lives are between each of us individually and Christ.  His contract with each of you is: believe on Jesus and be saved.  It is: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”  And in that equation, isn’t it a wonderful, huge blessing that God never interjects favoritism?—For how could you ever be certain you were His favorite?  Is your life so without pain and suffering that you could be 100% certain of that fact?

         No, Heaven is God’s Envy Exclusion Zone.  By His Grace, hopefully we can help turn our church toward better reflecting the envy-free future that awaits.  Meanwhile, we should all (from the oldest believer here to the youngest,  take great comfort in those famous words that God spoke to Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.  ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”     How true and how glorious at the very same time!  Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox