September 19, 2011 @ 9:36 am
When I was in school my summers were spent the same as any other poor college student – I worked. I found whatever minimum wage job I could find, hoping I could find something that would pay a little better and offer a little extra cushion come fall. I worked a few summers for Landmark Lawncare – a landscaping out fit in East Lansing Michigan. I spent my days with a mower and a weed wacker tethered to my hands. Landmark had an employee incentive program. I suppose it was an effort to motivate the less than motivated students with lackluster work ethic that he tended to hire. He did a 30 day review. If your performance was up to snuff he gave you a $.25 raise. When it was time for my first review, I got only $.20 per hour – was told that my overlap between passes had to be narrower, but rest assured, there was another review coming and I could make up that nickel. I was unimpressed. I thought he was being a cheapskate; especially in light of the other guys who I found myself working with. Would have been nice if he paid me the whole amount. I am sure the other guys felt the same. But what kind of a boss does that? Who pays extra when he can get away with paying less? No earthly boss. But God does. That’s the point of the parable for today. God is generous. He pays, not just what we deserve – he goes above and beyond. He pays what we don’t deserve, what we haven’t earned, for work that we haven’t done. God is generous and lavish in his rewarding of us – so much so that you can’t even call it a reward. God is so generous and giving that when he pays us for our work we can only say it is a gift. In the parable, Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a landowner who is hiring workers, day laborers to come work in his field. The landowner, the rich farmer is God. Jesus tells us that he is hiring workers for his fields, calling them from the market place to come work in his service and agreeing to reward them. This is a picture of the life of a Christian. We were on our own and unemployed. But God came to us and found us. Extended to us an invitation, “come work for me and I will reward you.” Those who answer the call to come and work are Christians. Each one of you as believers in Christ, has been hired, in a sense by God. You work for him, in his service, out in his harvest fields. And he has promised that he will reward you for your service. Back in those days a day laborer was paid a denarius. Jesus pays you, he rewards you with the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. We might think of our reward in terms of all those things we confess in the third article. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. In our Catechism, Dr Luther reminds us what this entails for us specifically. I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, This is the gospel call. Back when you were an unbeliever, back when you were like a day laborer waiting around in the market place for someone to come and hire you, God came to you and invited you to come work for him with the promise that He will reward you. So you answered his call, accepted his invitation, and entered his service when he called you by the Gospel and enlightened you with his gifts. Luther goes on… [God has] sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. And here Luther describes the reward, the payment that we are given from our heavenly Father, the rich landowner, who oversees the kingdom of heaven. We have the final hope that when all our work is done we will receive eternal life. But more than that, we are not merely working for an eternal reward – somewhere off in the unknowable future. God rewards us daily, just like in the parable, with his gifts of love and mercy and protection and forgiveness. Remember the catechism. He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. Our wage is a daily wage. Paid out in full. With no questions asked as to how well we have performed on that day to deserve it. God gives, God pays generously. So God is generous. God is giving. But sometimes, we find his payment to be unsatisfactory. Jesus sets it up like this: He tells us that the farmer went out to hire a crew. He hired his crew for the day in 4 different shifts. The first crew clocked in about 6 am. The second crew hired on about 9. The third crew started to work at noon and the last crew began at 5 pm. They all quit at 6:00. So some worked 12 hours, some worked 9, others worked 6, and still others worked only an hour. Each group was paid exactly the same. This sounds like a story problem, doesn’t it? A math assignment. Maybe we should have our school kids get back together to figure this problem out. But before we ever got started with our pencil and paper, we pause and think to ourselves that this just doesn’t make sense. The math doesn’t add up. This would never happen. We are doing the math backwards. They should all get the same hourly rate. This should be an addition problem. Or perhaps a multiplication problem. How many hours worked times the hourly wage equals the final payment. Instead, Jesus starts us out with the final payment. Assumes we all get the full amount and then figures the math from there. It doesn’t work like that! No boss, no corporation would pay you a full salary when you haven’t earned it! But God does! And that is exactly the point. But that is exactly what gets us so bent out of shape. God doesn’t prorate his forgiveness based on how much work we have done. He doesn’t adjust our salvation or our slice of heaven according to how productive we have been. He doesn’t reduce our forgiveness each day. He doesn’t subtract from the holiness and sanctification that he gives to us in the Divine Service based on how much we have earned it. He doesn’t step back and evaluate our work so that he can prorate the help and care that he offers to us in this life day by day. He just simply gives the whole thing! Mathematical nonsense! And we should be happy about that. But we’re not! We are not happy about it; not happy at all. We want God to measure. We think He should measure, he should prorate his rewards based on good behavior. And we have determined the scale he should use. The scale God should use to judge everyone else is ME. Myself. We want God to judge everyone compared to us, because that’s what we do. God look at me! Look at how good I am and how good I have been! See what a good Christian I am! See how I read my bible! See how many books I bought at the Christian book store! See the radio station I listen toin my car. See the cross I wear around my neck, not to mention the one nailed to my wall at home. I even have a fish sticker on my back bumper. God look at me. Measure everyone else according to how good I am. We think that because of our goodness, because of our work, because of our sacrifice God should reward us. We get all bent out of shape when he doesn’t. When he doesn’t give us things we deserve, or when he does give us things we think we don’t deserve. Then we want to know why. Why God? What have I done? Why did you do this to me. Haven’t you seen how hard I have worked to serve you? I don’t deserve this. Satan loves to exploit this weakness in us to fill us with pride. To puff us up and inflate our view of ourselves. To make us feel cheated and wronged when we don’t get what we think we deserve. But this comparison game can work the other way too. And this is the other weakness that Satan exploits – despair. We compare ourselves to someone else, see that we have not measured up and then feel like we are un-savable. God can’t forgive me. God won’t forgive me. I have been too bad, too sinful. It’s all up for me. And so we give up. The problem with this measuring game that we love to play is that it gives Satan the opportunity to dislodge us from the gifts of God. God is generous, he deals with us according to his love and mercy, according to what we don’t deserve. When we play these mathematical games with God we either start to think that we are so good that we don’t need God, or we think that we are so bad that God won’t want us. Either one is wrong. And either one is bad. Notice what happens in our parable. This sin here is mathematical, measuring and counting and adding and subtracting. We do that here in school every day. We don’t do it in Church. There is no need for it in the Kingdom of Heaven. When the workers came to the landowner with their tally sheets he was insulted. He was angry. He let them have it. Here’s your wage, take what I promised and get out of my sight. Christians we should not anger our God. So what should we do? Stop it. The nature of the world is that we need math. When you go out to get a job you need to know how to add and subtract and multiply and divide. You need to know how to figure your salary, your wage, how much you have earned and deserve to be paid. But when you come to church put down your pencil and paper. Put down your calculators, your spread sheets, your invoices, and your receipts. Instead just look to Jesus. See Jesus. See that in Jesus the Lord has paid in full the price for your sin. He has covered every last penny. There is nothing that is owed on your account any longer, it has been stamped paid in full, your account has been closed. And now, instead of owing God a debt he has hired you as his own worker. He has offered to you the protection of serving him in his employ. And he pays you. Things that you don’t earn, wages that you haven’t deserved. He pays you each and every day. Every day he opens his treasury and he passes out to you the thing you need the most. He gives you forgiveness so that your sins are clean and your tally sheet is clear. There is nothing that he counts against you. But then he also adds to you blessing upon blessing. Gift upon gift. Reward upon reward. Nothing in your life is punishment. It all is for your good. Even the hard things, even the sad, God promises that he will help you and strengthen you as you struggle to endure them. And then he promises that he will turn those things, even those hard things into good, into blessing, into joy. Dear Christians, God is a god of love. He is a generous God. He gives us things we don’t deserve. He adds to us joys that we have not earned. This day let us celebrate the goodness of our God. Amen.