Why Grace Ruins Everything

Text: Matthew 20:1-16

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

We do it all the time without even thinking about it. We have been ranking each other since childhood.  What happens is that we put people on a metaphoric ruler in our minds.  Back in school, we ranked everyone according to popularity.  The real cool kids were placed on top, and the not so cool kids were at the bottom.  During school lunches, those on the top of the ruler were able to sit at the cool tables, forcing those who were of lower rank to sit elsewhere.

Now, we must keep in mind that this ranking did not stop at the end of school but has continued through all of our lives.  Consider for a moment all the ways that we rank people without even thinking about it.  We rank people on the size of their farm, the success of their children, where they live, the size of their house, the type of car they drive, the quality of the clothes they wear, the church they attend, and also by their physical appearances.  Without even realizing it, we pay special attention to people who are higher than us in rank while many times snubbing those who are of lower rank. 

Subconsciously we are always trying to get higher in rank.  So we buy books to help improve our skills. We work harder than others to advance our rank. We obtain as many initials behind our name as we can to outrank others around us. We even watch popular culture on TV and social media to see what celebrities are wearing and doing so that we can mimic them and hopefully advance in our ranking.  If a famous musician has a new haircut, we get the same haircut so that we can identify with them at the top.  The point being, we are addicted to climbing the ranks.  And so, a great deal of our time and planning goes into our efforts of outranking those around us.  We want to convince ourselves that we are better than everyone else around us.

Now, I don’t have to tell you that this kind of ranking is highly dysfunctional in life, but it is even more problematic when it bleeds into the church. It is extremely problematic in the church because the Kingdom of God does not honor or respect the ranks that we give to one another.  The Kingdom of God doesn’t work this way.  Now, keep in mind that I’m not referring to different vocational roles.  I’m not talking about being elected to positions of authority to serve fellow parishioners in the church, but I am referring to the problem of doing things in the church to advance our rank before others. 

Jesus, in the gospel Matthew, speaks on this subject.  He tells us a parable about the Kingdom of God. He tells us that a bunch of different workers were hired throughout the day. Some were hired early in the morning, whereas others were hired late in the day. Now, using common sense and this ingrained need to rank one another, you would think that those who worked longer throughout the day would get paid ‘more’ than those who worked less.  However, this parable of Jesus scandalizes this whole idea of ranking and comparing. Jesus tells us in the parable that they ‘all’ got paid the same, regardless of the amount of time they worked.

You see, many of you have been a part of the church since birth. Some of you joined later in life.  And others of you are brand-new to the church. Now, you would think that those who have been a part of the church the longest would have the highest rank and the most payout from God. However, when it comes to the Kingdom of God, the master of the house pays the same wage to everyone regardless of rank.  When it comes to the Kingdom of God, the Lord distributes the same amount of grace to everyone.  The reason why?  You and I contribute nothing to grace. Your status in life, your sex, your ability, the amount of work you have done in the church, your family name, the amount of money you give in the offering plate, and your intellect contribute nothing to your salvation. 

And so, there is no good old boys club in the church.  There is no such thing as a favored class in the church. And God certainly does not reward the religious performance of some in the church more than others. At the end of the day, all Christians receive the same eternal life.  In the parable, all the workers received the same payment at the end of the day, regardless of how long they worked.

God’s grace really does scandalize you and me.  It scandalized the workers in our parable as well. Those who had worked all day were quite angry with the fact that they got paid the same as those who barely worked. Those who worked longer mumbled and grumbled because they were treated as equals with those they deemed as less deserving than them.

Perhaps that is the problem with us in the church.  We do not like being equal to others.  We like to feel special. We like to feel better than other people as a way to validate ourselves before God.  But when we realize that God is not some small-minded bookkeeper who penny-pinches His grace based upon our worthiness, well, it is easy to become hateful and frustrated that those who did not do as much as us receive the same amount of grace. 

Dear friends, if we rank each other in the Kingdom of God and then become resentful and angry that some people receive the same grace that we do, our problem is not really with them but it is with God Almighty who does not show partiality. You see, God Almighty distributes and gives grace to sinners alike. His partiality is directed only to Christ for our sake.

And Christ?  When He hung on that cross, He died for all sin.  All of your sin was laid on Christ's shoulders equally with everyone else’s sin. Christ did not die on a separate cross for you but He died on one cross for one humanity for one forgiveness.  Your huffing and puffing to impress God, your Bible trivia points, and your spiritual resumes count for nothing towards your forgiveness. You are only saved because of the graciousness of God on Christ’s account.   

Bluntly stated, when it comes to the Kingdom of God, you and I cannot and do not contribute anything. The Kingdom of Grace does not operate by ranking. The Kingdom of Grace does not look to your accomplishments, your spiritual resumes, your popularity, your status in society, the number of degrees that you have earned, or the amount of money you get in your paychecks. God does not repay us according to the size and number of works that we have done but pays us according to His goodness in Christ.

And so, repent of ranking, repent of the popularity mentality, repent of the social totem poles, and repent of the grumbling. This is not the way of the Kingdom of heaven; this is not the way of the Kingdom of Grace.  God’s grace cannot be bought.  Repent and receive the Lord’s grace for you – accomplished and earned by Christ for you.

Dear Baptized Saints, when it comes to the Kingdom of God, there are no scales, no need for popularity, no hierarchy, and no huffing and puffing with self-righteous works. Just Jesus and His work for you.  The Lord chooses to bypass these systems and comes directly to you in His Word and Sacraments, to give you His undeserved and unmerited grace

If you have been in the church your entire life or are just getting started, God be praised – the grace of Christ saves you. If you have an advanced theological degree or are just learning the basics, God be praised – the grace of Christ saves you. If you give a lot of money or a little, God be praised – the grace of Christ saves you! 
And being saved by grace alone means that you have tremendous freedom.  Yes, freedom!   Get this: since the Kingdom of God is based upon the merits and work of Jesus, you are free from the ranking schemes of mankind.   Who cares if you are ranked high or low according to mankind– you have Christ!  And Christ is all you need.  If you are not considered good enough, smart enough, or religious enough to specific individuals on their social, religious, and economic rulers, it does not matter.  The opinions of mankind do not matter, for mankind is not in charge of your salvation – Christ is. 

So, live your life in this freedom.  If your time is short and you find yourself being ranked at the bottom –serve your neighbors while thanking and praising Christ, for you rely upon Christ’s grace alone.  If your time is long and you find yourself ranked at the top – serve your neighbors while thanking and praising Christ, for you rely upon Christ’s grace alone.  It is about Jesus and His grace, not your efforts and certainly not your rank in life.   

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

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