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Septuagesima – Matthew 20:1-16

by pastorjuhl ~ January 28th, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Is your eye evil because I am good?

The landowner’s words in our Lord’s parable are damning. The landowner agreed with the laborers on their wage before the day’s work began. Whether the laborer worked one hour or twelve hours, the wage is the same: one denarius. Nevertheless, those who worked twelve hours whine about the agreed upon wage.

You are the complaining laborer. Did you think on the day you were baptized that the pastor would present you with a gift bag full of rewards? Did you expect more than the Body and Blood of Christ on the day of your confirmation? Do you expect a monument erected in your honor every time you do or say something good on behalf of the congregation? The reward you might expect and the reward Christ bestows upon you are two different things.

Men build monuments to themselves perhaps thinking God will smile on them and reward them. Consider the tower of Babel in Genesis chapter eleven. Mankind thought it convenient to build a tower to reach God rather than hearken to His Word of repopulating the earth after the Flood. The tower would be the ultimate monument to mankind’s achievements. The tower instead became a monument to sin and frustration. Languages changed instantly at God’s behest. Confusion reigned. God’s children were on the move, looking for people who could speak their new languages.

Men still build monuments to honor themselves. It’s sad to say some of those monuments look a lot like churches. Instead of delivering forgiveness of sins and eternal life, these churches-come-monuments deliver a message of feelings and emotions. The language spoken sounds nothing like churchly language. Churches become a sanctuary of feeling good about one’s self rather than a hospice for sinners. What goes on inside the building might look like church, but could be a pep rally or a motivational seminar.

You look for rewards; for instant gratification as you run the race of life that Saint Paul describes in today’s Epistle. Paul writes: they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. A Christian does not run the race of life expecting God to give him every earthly thing they want. A Christian runs the race of life to receive the crown of life that cannot be compared with all the finery in the Tower of London. The Winter Olympics begin shortly. Prizes in the form of medals are given to those who compete well. An Olympic medal is a wonderful achievement. However, the more wonderful achievement is the privilege to compete in the Olympics.

Unlike the Olympics, a Christian receives their fair reward whether or not their life was extraordinary or merely ordinary. There is one prize that all receive when their race is run. God rewards the race of life well run not because of your works but because of the work of Jesus for you. Good works are useless outside of Christ. In Christ, good works give proof before the world that faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin and death is living and active. As you sang a moment ago: “Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone/ And rests in Him unceasing; / And by its fruits true faith is known, / With love and hope increasing. / For faith alone can justify; / Works serve our neighbor and supply/ The proof that faith is living.”

Jesus Christ enters the vineyard of this world. He comes not to show off His majesty. He comes not looking for people to notice Him. He doesn’t come to despise those who are not perfect as He is perfect. He comes to labor for His vineyard. His labor costs Him His life. Instead of keeping the fruits of His labor to Himself, He gives you the fruits of His labor. Your sins are forgiven because of the merciful deliverance by God the Father’s goodness to the glory of His Name.

His gift of forgiveness and life is fair. You did nothing to deserve it. We are unprofitable servants. Hearing again what Jesus did for you this coming Lent shifts the balance of fairness away from you to Jesus. It’s not fair that Jesus went through all the misery in His Passion to save a sinner like you. It’s not fair that you should receive the spoils of victory won by the death of God’s only Son. That’s the genius of our Father’s Promise! God’s free grace and favor is just that: free. His Son did everything necessary to secure a place for you in heaven.

Today you receive God’s free grace and favor as all who came before you received it. You are under the cloud of God’s protection as you journey through the wilderness of life to the Promised Land in the life of the world to come. You passed through the sea of Holy Baptism. The Word is planted in your ear through preaching. The Word is planted in your mouth in the Lord’s Supper. There is no greater reward for a hard life’s work than to rest your soul in the cleft of the Rock of Ages. The Psalmist writes: the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever. The Lord is my Rock and my Fortress and my Deliverer, for You save a humble people, but the haughty eyes You bring down. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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