Septuagesima 2018

January 28, 2018 A+D
St. Matthew 20:1-16

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

A restaurant had only two waitresses show up for a shift that called for five. The two who were there divided the tables as best they could but ended sharing a single table and customer. One of the waitresses was lazy. She only made a pretense of helping. She not only neglected the customer, making the other waitress do all the work, but she also interfered, sabotaging the meal with her incompetence and making the experience worse. The customer knew this, but in the end he tipped them both a whopping 25%.

Which waitress, do you suppose, complained about the tip? If you think it is the one who did the work, you’re right. She would have been satisfied, of course, if the other waitress had gotten stiffed and she had only gotten 10% given the state of her service, but as it was the customer’s generosity did not please her but angered her. Even though the tip she had earned was generous, in her mind she had earned it. Therefore she was insulted that the other waitress got the same reward without the work.

Welcome to the Kingdom of heaven. The Kingdom of heaven is not a Kingdom of fairness. It is a Kingdom of grace, of unearned favor and gifts. That is the main point of the parable. God can do what He wants with what is His and what He wants to do is give it away to those who don’t deserve it.

We are not workers whom He owes. We are beggars whom He loves. We have no right to complain. We are saved by grace, undeserved and free, bought and paid for by the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ and delivered through faith.

We should, of course, strive to be the waitress who works hard, who serves her customers, not to earn a fair wage, but as those who are glad to be part of the whole affair, who rejoice in what God gives.

There is another point in this parable. The Lord describes the Kingdom not simply as any old place of generous wages, but as a vineyard of generous wages. He also tells us that those who begrudge His generosity, who think they are there by right, are told to leave.

Why a vineyard? When God gave manna in the wilderness and again when He multiplied the loaves, He did so to keep the people from starving. He was providing the daily bread that is required for life. Bread does not come from vineyards. Wine, non-essential, superfluous, luxurious wine that no one needs, comes from vineyards. No one needs it, but it makes glad the hearts of men.

Jesus turns water into wine at the wedding in Cana to honor marriage, to increase the people’s joy, and to demonstrate the character of His Kingdom. Here He likens His Kingdom to a vineyard for the same reason. His Kingdom is not only a Kingdom of generosity, of undeserved grace, but so also it is a Kingdom of wine, that is a Kingdom of joy, of the Holy Spirit, and of feasting.

The Sacrament of the Altar is the defining Sacrament of the Kingdom. That is why it is likened to a vineyard. Baptism is initiation and entrance into the Kingdom. It continues to define us. It is how we were born and given a name. It is our inheritance and who we are. We belong to Christ. We are His family, His children and His Bride. The Sacrament of the Altar, though, is not who we are or how we got here, but it is what we do and where we are to live. We keep on eating and drinking the Lord’s Body and Blood, proclaiming His death, that is the kind of death He died, substitutionary, until He comes again. We devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.

The Lord did not choose elements for the Lord’s Supper an arbitrary way. It was not and is not as though bread and wine are simple two things, one to chew and one to drink. Rather bread and wine are the stuff of life and of joy. While the two elements can’t be divided in the Sacrament, because Christ can’t be divided, there are two distinct elements. He gives us His Body by means of bread. Bread is what He gave the Israelites in the wilderness, what He multiplied for the widow through Elijah. It was what Jesus gave the people who had followed Him into the barren place so that they would not faint on the way home.

He gives His Body in bread because by His Body,  given into death and raised again, we live and have life. Without His Body, we would faint on the way home, wither, and die.

When Moses, later quoted by Jesus, says that we do not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God, he is not denigrating bread but elevating it. Bread is what is needed for physical life. The only thing that is greater and more necessary than bread is the Word of God. That is why we are taught to pray for daily bread. Bread, then, is essential to the Sacrament and in this way, through bread, God gives us food for the journey, strength for the day.

But that is only half of it. He doesn’t only give us His Body in the bread. He also gives us His Blood in the wine and that, explicitly, for the forgiveness of sins. He gives us more than the minimum, more that what is needed to make it through the day. The Kingdom is a vineyard. The Lord gives us His Blood in wine to our make hearts glad, that is, to fill us with His Holy Spirit and give us joy. Wine turns the Lord’s Supper into more than the bare necessities. It makes it a feast and our cups runneth over.  That is why the Kingdom can be likened to a vineyard.

Sadly, though, some will not stay there. There is probably no sadder sentence in all of Holy Scripture than “Take what belongs to you and go.” If you want to earn your own way, you can try. If you hate God’s generosity to others, His forgiveness and grace for sinners, you are no Christian. Repent. Envy is a easy sin. It shows how dark our hearts are. It is only overcome by receiving God’s gifts in repentance and thankfulness.

And there is a final hint here at something else. Since the workers that worked all day are told explicitly to leave, those who came in by grace are meant to stay. They don’t go back to the marketplace to look for a master or for work. They aren’t being treated as workers at all. This is they way you treat sons   and co-owners of the vineyard. They share in its profits as an inheritance. They enjoy the fruits of the vineyard and abide in it, in the Kingdom of unfair generosity.

There is where we want to be and where we are. The Divine Service brings us and keeps us in the vineyard. Here our sins are forgiven and we are given the feast of Jesus’ Body and Blood. Our hearts are made glad. The Holy Spirit takes up residence and we never have to go back to the marketplace or work for tips again. We live and we abide by grace.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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