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What Luther Says

SERMON: 'That's Not Fair!' - A Sermon About 'Earning' And 'Deserving' Laborers In The Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-19)

I'm guessing that most of you work for a living.

If not, then perhaps you're already retired, or a student, and you spend some of your time volunteering somewhere.

Regardless of your circumstances, I know you're like me and have uttered these words at one time or another in your life...

"That's not fair! That's not right! I work harder than they do! Why should they get paid the same amount of money as me when I do all the work!?!"

Who hasn't felt that way before? My goodness, I just felt that way yesterday!

Matthew 20:1-19 should come to mind at this point. In this Gospel text, Jesus tells His disciples a parable -- an earthly story that we can all relate to with a heavenly meaning.

In short, it's the simple story of a landowner who hires workers, throughout the day, to go and work in his vineyard, but it has a profound significance to us believers.

And yet, this isn't a 16-minute Lutheran sermon about what the Bible has to say about the "right attitude" to have at work as we serve our neighbors living out whatever vocations that the Lord has called us to. It isn't even a Lutheran sermon about what God's Word has to say about money either. In that sense, it's a Lutheran sermon that's not so much about us as it is about Jesus Christ and His love for us despite our sins.

It's a sermon for the glory of Christ and for your edification courtesy of Hope Lutheran Church in Aurora, CO titled "Salvation And Works."

Salvation And Works 
Based on Matthew 20:1-19 -- "Laborers In The Vineyard" 
Quote: "When we try to interpret this parable through the common sense lens of the world, what happens is we...we tie the denarius -- even though the text doesn't do this -- we tie the denarius to the work that's being done by the Laborers, it's their due, they've earned it, it's something they've made for themselves. But that's not it at all. The reward is tied to the Master's call...his invitation into the vineyard...and not to work. The reward is bound to the Master's voice and not to the Laborer's time on the clock. And the reason we know this is because those people who has hardly worked an hour received the same exact amount as the people who arrived there first. Now dear saints, this denarius is the great gift of salvation that you have through the call of the Gospel. The promise that the reward has already been won through Jesus' works on your behalf, and it has nothing to do with your efforts. Instead, it depends on God's mercy alone, and for that reason, the Lord calls whomever He wishes -- little babies, grown adults, or people near the end of their life! He doesn't care about your Resume, because your Resume is exactly the same as everyone else's Resume! It says one word on it: SINNER. He knows that you've been idle, He knows that you've wasted the day with fruitless vice and sin, nevertheless, He chooses you! He calls you into His Kingdom by saying that you are forgiven, not for your sake, but for the sake of Jesus' perfect obedience, and His atoning suffering and death. Jesus' Resume says 'Perfect For The Sake of Sins.' He has already earned the denarius and the reward you earned in His call you received in your Baptism." 
*- Pastor Brian Flamme

I just loved that! It reminded me of a similar article by Chad Bird. The story of Jonah has something to add to this parable from Matthew 20 as well.

To emphasize what's important, here's what my Lutheran Study Bible says about this passage...

The Master's decision to be generous with those hired last does not mean he has shortchanged those hired first. On the contrary, those hired first receive the wage mutually agreed upon. Being part of God's Kingdom is not based on 'earning' or 'deserving' anything, but rather on grace (Matthew 19:16-30). Serving the Lord's Kingdom is a privilege and a labor of love, not something undertaken to gain a reward. When we begin to think that God's Kingdom needs or depends on us, we get it completely backward! We need and depend on it! Through forgiveness and the renewing work of God's Spirit, we can indeed be used by God for vital service in His Kingdom.

Our prayer in response to all of this truth should be: "Keep me ever mindful, Lord, that it is only by grace that I have been included in Your Kingdom and am privileged to serve in it. Amen."

On a quick side note, I've been struggling with the sin of envy, greed, and jealousy lately as it's been hard for me to be happy about other people's happiness when I've determined that they simply "don't deserve any of it!" at all.

Like the Laborers in this parable, I saw what others received and became angry because I'm jealous of the Master's generosity. However, the Master has not cheated me. In fact, He has paid me exactly what He has promised me, and I have no right to try to limit His generosity to others!

NEWSFLASH: God Operates Differently Than We Do! His ways and thoughts are higher than my own (Isaiah 55:8-9). So, this is a story about God’s grace -- His undeserved grace generously bestowed on all of us "without any merit or worthiness in us." I would be wise to listen to Him today and also prayerfully consider what I've been learning as the story of Jonah has come up quite a bit in the past couple of weeks too.

God's "pay scale" is different than ours! He does treat us unfairly in that He gives us His love, mercy and grace in spite of the fact that we do not deserve them. The "wages" God gives to His disciples are incredibly generous -- the free gift of eternal life for everyone who believes in Him -- no matter how young or old, how long they have believed in Him, or how long they have worked in His vineyard! 
We may wonder, as Peter did, "What's in it for me?" To which Jesus replies? Living as a disciple is in itself a reward. It is not a wearisome burden, but joyful service. There is simply no richer, no fuller, no more meaningful life than that of one of Jesus' disciples! 
Now, we wait and work and watch for the day when we too will hear, "Well done thou good and faithful servant? Come and share your master's happiness!" (Matthew 25:21). 

I hope you have been blessed by this sermon today like I have.

Despite our own perceptions of what's "fair" and "unfair" in this life as it applies to our wages and work let alone what we ourselves think we have earned and deserve from God, we need to remember that Jesus has rewarded us and will reward us with the greatest of all gifts -- forgiveness of sins and eternal life!

In a Lutheran layman's terms, thank God He's not fair and that He only gives us what we deserve.

NOTE: I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or a Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this note, I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little over a year ago. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries. I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a dude's diary in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

1 comment

  1. Wonderful sermon! This is truly an area that I think a lot of us struggle with sometimes. Thanks for posting it.


Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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