Grace: It Ain't Cheap, But It Is Free

Text:  Matthew 20:1-16

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

God’s way is not our way; our way is not God’s way.  We see this most clearly when we look at one of the defining characteristics of the Kingdom of God – that is grace.  That is to say, contrary to what we assume, grace is underserved, unearned, and even unexpected.  God’s grace, which is His underserved favor, is not even domesticated; it is not something that we can barter; it does not act the way that we think it should.  

We hear all about this in our Gospel reading from this morning, as Jesus shares a parable – that is a story.  Looking more closely at this parable, we hear about the workers in the vineyard.  Some worked twelve hours and some worked one, but at the end of the day they all were graciously paid the same.  In other words, everyone was generously and fairly compensated the exact same rate and no one was shortchanged by the landowner.  Everyone was treated the same, regardless of the amount of work done.  There were no comparisons made, no ranking or classification of workers, and no compensation scales.[1]  This resulted in “no room for self-promotion, no occasion for competition, no basis on which one . . . [could] say to another, . . . ‘I am more important than you are.’”[2]  The work varied, but the same gracious compensation was given.

Contrary to what we might think, Jesus was not attempting to teach socialistic economics when He told this story, but rather, He was showing what it means to be saved by grace alone through faith alone, as a gift of God.

My friends, this is the way it is with the Kingdom of God.  It runs the way of gift.  And since it runs the way of gift, the Lord’s grace cannot be confined, controlled, and dispensed on the basis of our agendas, our ethnic heritages, our church backgrounds, our spirituals resumes, the length of time that we have been in the church, our roles in the church, our accomplishments, our community status, and so forth.  Put frankly, the Lord’s grace is not dispensed in the way a can of soda is dispensed, that is, when loose change is inserted and buttons pressed on a vending machine so that a soda is bestowed of our choosing.  We cannot purchase grace with our change and cannot press the Lord’s buttons.  The Lord is not so easily manipulated by us naming and cataloging our good works in order to present them in exchange for His grace. 

This irritates us though.  Yes, the Kingdom of God and this gift of grace can annoy us.  The reason why: we become easily angered and resort to believing that this grace is unfair when we start comparing ourselves to other people.  It works like this: subconsciously we compare our accomplishments and our spiritual resumes to other people, and then we believe that we should have ‘more’ favor from God than our neighbor who we believe is ‘less’ deserving than us.  Then, when we least expect it, we find ourselves standing shoulder to shoulder with this person – whom we deem to be less than us – at the alter receiving the ‘same’ gift of grace, no more and no less.  It really is scandalous, is it not?  You and I can do all sorts of work for the Kingdom of God and then at the end of the day we get the same body and the same blood at the same altar as our neighbor.  If only this injustice could be remedied.  Maybe if we got two sips of wine and two wafers of bread, maybe this could make up for this injustice – so with think! 

Our apparent injustice actually reveals something much deeper about us though.  It reveals that when we are angered by this injustice of grace, that we are working for pay and not really for the Lord.  It reveals that we do not understand grace, but only our self-centeredness.  You see, the grumbling workers in our story from the Gospel reading, did not work for the master, but were working for the pay – for themselves.  Their interest was not in doing what needed to be done because the vineyard needed it, or because the Lord placed them in the vineyard to work, but rather, they were in the vineyard putting in their work in order to exchange that work for a payout! 

Dear friends, let it be clear that grace cannot be bought off.  The Kingdom of God does not work this way.   Before we go down this dark road, may it be clear to us that this story – this parable – is not about what mankind thinks is ‘fair’ or ‘just.’  It is not about how we can earn grace.  It is not about us attempting to control, manage, or earn grace.  It is not about how we can self-promote ourselves in the Kingdom of God in order to warrant special handouts.  It frankly is not about us at all; it really has nothing to do with our doings.  Rather, this parable is about the gracious landowner and how the landowner’s generosity consequently infuriates.  It is a parable about the Lord’s rich, abounding, mighty, and powerful disposition towards those who do not deserve it.  It is about grace that does not depend on works and what people think they deserve.  It is about grace that is lavished out upon the unworthy—for Christ’s sake.  In short, the Lord rewards those who don’t deserve it, for that is what grace is.  He loves those who hate and abuse Him.  He gives gifts to losers and sinners.  He is generous, merciful, and good, despite the thoughts, words, and deeds of mankind.  

The workers who worked all day, grumbled because they saw themselves as entitled to more and within a separate class of individuals.  And what set them apart from the other workers?  They saw themselves as ‘entitled.’  We too, my friends, are prone to this very sin in regard to the Kingdom of Heaven, when we begin to think that the Lord somehow owes us a special status and owes us grace for what we have done and what we have not done.  We too sin when we think that we can somehow manage, manipulate, control, and domesticate the Lord’s grace, as if His grace must respond to who we are and what we do. 

Repent dear friends.  Repent; both you and me – repent. 

The thing about this parable is that it will always remain scandalous and unfair as long as we see ourselves as the entitled ones, for that is the default position of the old Adam, our sinful flesh.  But with that stated, what exactly do we think that we are entitled to?  Fleshing this out a bit more, what is ours to take?  What have we earned?  If God were to give us a ten dollar bill for every word of praise or thanksgiving or encouragement we spoke in the past week, but were to take one dollar away every time we complained or griped or grumbled or at least  wanted to, would we have any money left?  I doubt it.

Dear friends, bluntly stated, no matter how polished our good works, no matter how clean our resumes, and no matter how many hours of devotion we have put in—even if it is a full-day of work—we must never forget that all we can earn by our own reason and strength is complete and total damnation.  That is our paycheck.  That is our wage.  The only thing that we can offer the Lord is our sin; sin that does not yield life but wages death, hell, and despair.

Do not despair though, for like the jobless people in the market place of today’s story, you have been called and placed into God’s vineyard as a worker, some of you early in the morning at your baptism as an infant and others of you later in the day at an older age.  There will be others added to the vineyard with you in the evening – that is to say on their death bed.  Regardless of the time though, you ‘all’ have been graciously called.  You have been placed into the Kingdom of Heaven, because you are loved and the Lord is gracious. 

Most certainly you are welcomed into the kingdom, but this does not come without a cost.  What is the cost though?  The cost is the expensive and shed blood of Jesus Christ—blood shed for you.  Yes indeed, in this vineyard, this kingdom, Christ’s church, you have learned and will continue to learn that the defining characteristic of the Lord is unearned and undeserved grace – all for you. 

As a disciple within this gracious Kingdom of Heaven, you will work in serving your neighbor and you will walk in the vocations that the Lord has placed you within, as the Holy Spirit leads and sanctifies you day by day.  Yes, these good works and vocations are given from the Lord’s hand for you to simply walk in.  Being called into the vineyard you will continually receive undeserved and unearned grace and mercy that has been gifted to you for Christ’s sake.  It is all pure gift!

Furthermore, dear Baptized Saints, in the days to come when you and I find ourselves caught up in the mindset of entitlement or find ourselves believing that we can earn grace, be assured that the Lord and His grace will not bend to your or my demands, but rather will exceed the desires of our selfish hearts.[3]  Case and point: as you stand shoulder to shoulder with your brothers and sisters at this altar, you all will all stand with different lengths and different lists of sins, yet you and your brothers and sisters will all receive the same body and blood of Jesus Christ for the complete forgiveness of all your sins.  Rejoice and be glad. 

Indeed, in the days to come when you slip into comparing yourself with others, your baptism remains steadfast and true reminding you that you and your brothers and sisters were all baptized into the same name, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” from the same baptismal font, into the same death and the same resurrection.  Rejoice and be glad. 

Given the good news that we have heard thus far, it can be faithfully and confidently asserted that in Christ’s church no one can tame, limit, or legislate the Lord and His grace.  The Lion of Judah will not be tamed.  The flowing grace from Mt Calvary cannot be dammed up. The cup overflows for you today and for you tomorrow and the days to come.  As the workers received a full-days’ wage for only an hour of work, it is the same for you.  In fact it is better for you, for you “are no longer mere workers being overpaid.  By grace we are now all members of the family, co-owners of the kingdom, [and] the bride of the Son.  We remain with Him.”[4]

Blessed Saints, “May God in His mercy keep this ever new to and for us that our hearts would not grow cold or take His grace for granted.  May He keep us ever mindful of the cost of His love in the death of the Son and the fulfillment of His love in the resurrection as He provides once again in His risen body and blood.”[5]

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

[1] Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Matthew 11:2-20:34: Concordia Commentary  (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2010), 990.

[2] Ibid, 991.

[3] David H. Petersen, Thy Kingdom Come: Lent and Easter Sermons (Fort Wayne, IN: Emmanuel Press, 2012), 4.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

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