Summary: Care must be taken to properly interpret the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.
Sermon: Here Be Dragons!
Text: Matt 20:1-16, I Cor 9:24-27
Where: Arbor House
When: Sunday, January 23, 2005
When: Friday, February 11, 2005
Occasion: Morning Prayer
Who: Mark Woolsey
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I . Intro
I trust each of you woke up today and immediately wished all you saw, "Happy Septuagesima!". What, you forgot? Well, I guess that’s undersandable since this is one of the more obscure times in the church calendar. Actually, this season, the three Sundays before Lent, are known colletively as the pre-Lenten season. Yet each Sunday has a particular name: Septugesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, which means 70, 60, and 50. They represent roughly the number of days until Easter, that central event of the church year around which everything pivots. These "gesima" Sundays are preparation for that austere and holy time of Lent and reflect that spirit in their collects and Scripture readings. I commend to you these days and all they bring to mind.
In the Gospel & Epistle readings today I’m reminded of that ancient cartographer who knew his land well and drew up an accurate map of that place. Reflecting, however, the ignorance of his day, and the danger of travelling far from home, on the edge of some of those unknown domains of his map he placed this famous warning, "Here be dragons". In our own Christian walk we must take care how we relate to God and how we understand the roles of God’s grace and our works or we, too, can be consumed by that dragon, Satan himself. This is reflected in the sobering words of our Lord, "So the last will be first, and the first last", and "For many are called, but few chosen." (Mat 20:16)
II. The Contrast
In the parable today notice that our Lord divides up the workers into two general groups: those that work for a wage, and those that depend upon the faithfulness of the landowner. To the first group the owner promises a specific wage, but to the latter all he promises is to do what is right. The first are diligent, working through the heat of the day while some of the latter are idle most of that time. Compare this parable against Aesop’s fable of the ant and the grasshopper, where the ant worked hard all summer and the grasshopper simply played. In the end the ant reaps the reward of a good life in the winter while the grasshopper perishes. Using that same logic for this parable, we expect the owner to similarly reward his workers - the harder workers get more, the slackers, less. Yet both are paid the same, and then the harder workers sent away and rebuked. Communism triumphs! Capitalism is vanquished! Actually, this is simply another example of how Kingdom economics is so backwards according to the world - or perhaps I should say, the world is backwards according to the Kingdom.
III. The Probem
The problem with imposing the order of this world upon the next is that try as we might, we can never place God in our debt. It is always the other way around. Not that He hasn’t given us our chance. In that first vinyard of Eden, God gave us our task list when He laid out Adam’s responsibilities to him. However, Adam immediately "sold his soul to the company store", thus depriving him and his posterity of any chance of paying their debt. When the owner of the vinyard promises a day’s wage for work done, it is all His grace that we receive what we get, regardless of our own efforts. Our debt to Him is so great that no amount of work on our part can begin to pay it off, much less earn a wage. When God promises us anything for our works, it is always because He has mercy upon us, not because our works earned anything in His sight. When a man pays his three year old granddaughter for the "masterpiece" she just created, the money is given not based upon the quality of the work, but out of the love of the grandfather. So it is with God’s relationship to us.
These two groups, one promised a wage and the other promised what is right, also represent the two major covenants, or bargins, that God has made with His people: the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace. The first is typified in Lev 18:5:
"So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD."