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Septuagesima – Matthew 20:1-16

by pastorjuhl ~ February 2nd, 2012

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

            “Grace! ‘Tis a charming sound,/ Harmonious to the ear;/ Heaven with the echo shall resound,/ And all the earth shall hear. Grace first inscribed my name/ In God’s eternal book;/ ‘Twas grace that gave me to the Lamb,/ Who all my sorrows shook” (TLH 374:1, 3). Lutherans are all about grace. Actually, the Christian faith is all about grace.

What is grace? If someone approached you and asked you to define grace, could you do it? Christians talk about grace in practically everything they say and do, but not all Christians agree on what grace is according to Holy Scripture. In today’s bulletin I’ve written a few basic definitions of what grace is, and what grace is not.

Grace is God’s attitude in Jesus Christ revealed through the preached Word and the sacraments to create and sustain faith in order that sinners may be forgiven and justified by faith. That’s an easy definition for you to learn by heart and make a part of your life. Contrary to popular belief by certain Christians, grace is not something poured into a Christian in order to help him help God in the work of salvation. That robs Jesus Christ of His glory in His Passion.

Also contrary to popular belief by certain Christians is the notion that grace just happens out of the clear blue sky. God does not “zap” people with grace as they go about their daily lives. Grace is not a feeling that God gives you through “happy vibes” floating down from heaven. God’s grace is tied to stuff: the preached Word, Baptismal water, Eucharistic bread and wine, and the Word of Absolution pronounced individually or corporately. These means are how God delivers His grace to you.

Another way to define grace for someone who doesn’t know grace is to take them to Jesus’ parable in Matthew chapter 20. The master of the vineyard asks two questions to one of the grumblers at the end of Christ’s parable. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Grace is the exclusive property of God. Grace is His attitude toward sinners through Jesus Christ. What gives you the right to grumble about God’s blessings? The Heavenly Father has given you everything you need to support your body and your life. What is more, He gives you forgiveness of sins and eternal life in His Son Jesus Christ. Yet you whine about not getting enough grace or getting less grace.

Recall another definition of grace in the bulletin insert: What was once condemned in Adam is now accepted by God in Christ. Grace delivers forgiveness of sins won by Jesus Christ when He became sin for you in order that you might receive eternal life. You gripe about God’s relationship toward others and toward you. It’s not fair that so-and-so was a Christian for less time that I was, but they receive the same reward as I receive. If this is how you receive God’s grace, then you must not be a big fan of deathbed conversion accounts. Whether one is a Christian for the last five minutes of agonizing gasps of breath or for many decades of happy living in this world, all those called by God to work in His Vineyard receive the same wage. That wage is grace.

The second question is the clincher: Or do you begrudge my generosity? A more literal translation would be: Is your eye evil because I am good? Remember what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount about an evil eye? If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. In a time when equality among people seems to be the most treasured virtue of all, you are caught begrudging a generous, loving God who does not consign you to eternal torment in the burning lake of fire.

You must not be a fan of the propagation of the Christian faith. One of the emphases of Gesimatide is mission work at home and abroad. The Heavenly Father desires all to work in His Vineyard for the same reward. His generosity is lavish, bordering on being perhaps too generous. Only a fool would be so generous to give something away for nothing. Nevertheless, that’s the message of mission. God’s grace cost Him dearly. His only-begotten Son died for sin and rose for our justification. In Jesus’ innocent suffering and death you have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. It’s free. It’s for you. That is grace. God changed His mind because of His Son. He looks at His children with joy. Adam’s fall into sin is cancelled in Christ’s atoning blood.

What a wonderful Savior we have! That’s the message of mission. The message of mission is the message of grace. This message of grace is propagated when and where God wills. This doesn’t mean God rolls the dice and decides to whom He will or will not be gracious. It is not given to you to worry about such matters. What matters most is that God is gracious in Jesus Christ. What matters most is that He desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of Truth. That our Father in heaven desires this to be so is grace.

Grace is the air that you breathe in Christ. Grace is the water that you drink in Christ. Consider the pictures Saint Paul paints in the Epistle. I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. The well-beloved hymn “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” confesses God’s grace is tied to stuff. “Let the water and the blood,/ From Thy riven side which flowed,/ Be of sin the double cure:/ Cleans me from its guilt and power.” Your nourishment as a Christian under grace comes from Christ through water, Word, bread, and wine. These are your lifelines. These holy things are how you receive God’s grace.

Today and the next two weekends show you how much you need God’s grace. By His grace you are saved through faith in Jesus Christ. This is not of your own doing, as Saint Paul tells the Church in Ephesus. It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. As His workmanship, your eye no longer begrudges God’s generosity. He gives His grace to all His children when and where He wills. He gives His grace to you in order that you might be His own and live under Him in His Vineyard and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. The Christian faith is all about grace. Where would you be without it?

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

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