Monday, September 19, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 20:1-16, for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, "The Compassionate Employer"

Sermon Outline

1. The irregular behavior of the master of the house: a) went himself to the marketplace 5 times in one day to hire workers, though he had an employee, b) pays the wages in reverse, creating a stir among the workers, c) pays an equal wage to all.

2. Reasons? a) not because he underestimated his needed workforce, but out of his compassion to hire all the workers and give them the dignity of a living wage. Day-laborers were like the unemployment line. Personal visit to the unemployment lines 5 times. Even at the last hour of the day some were still waiting for work—didn’t want to return home to a hungry family empty-handed. b) could have done in normal order, everyone would have gone home happy—but to show the first workers his generosity and teach them about grace. c) the master was free to do with his own as he pleased. Didn’t need to go out at the 11th hour, but had compassion for the unemployed. What dignity did it give them? Last call.

3. God’s incarnation in Jesus, went in person, like the master, to call workers to the vineyard. Vineyard = the church. God is always hiring! By His Gospel He calls us, loud and long. Main audience of the parable are those who work in the vineyard and receive the reward of eternal life.

4. None of the workers were underpaid. The first workers agreed (symphaneo—harmony) with the master for their 1 denarius wage. Their complaint was with the grace of the master, that he treated the late arrivals as equal to them! “Equal pay for equal work!” that’s the accepted view of justice, right? How would you like to get paid the same for 12 hours of work as someone who worked only one? Strikes us as unfair. “How much am I going to get paid?” Want to be rewarded more in proportion to our amount of work. Entitlement. Missing the point of grace and generosity. Previous verses Peter is seeking a reward. There will be a reward (unearned) but don’t place yourself forward as first—you will be last. Last will be first. Work instead for the love of the master, trust in His justice, and give no thought to reward or repayment.

5. Parable doesn’t tell us the final outcome, it leaves the story open so the story finishes in our lives. Looked down on others? Who didn’t pull their weight, pay their dues? Danger that the first workers fell into—those who obeyed God’s will, now seeking to dictate His will toward others. Demand more than agreed, withhold grace from others.

6. Easy to enter first by grace, be grateful, overwhelmed, thankful, but over time develop a sense of entitlement. I deserve it. Merit-based system. Earn my love, trust, support, respect, etc. Natural to us, but not the way of grace. Does it sound silly? “I got here by grace, but you have to work your way!”

7. Vs. 15 lit: “Is it not lawful for me to do what I desire with what is mine? Or is your eye evil because I am good?” No one can tell God what to do with what is His. What is an “evil eye?” Begrudging generosity. Resentment toward others. Someone else was honored instead of me. I deserve the credit. Not appreciated or recognized enough. Jealousy. Envy.

8. What does Jesus say about an evil eye? “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matt. 6:22-23). The Proverbs describe a person who is stingy as lit. “evil of eye” (Prov. 23:6), whereas “Whoever has a bountiful (or good) eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor” (Prov. 22:9). If the lamp of our body is bad, how great our darkness!

9. We need a light shining in us, a healthy and generous eye, to have a body full of light. Jesus’ parable shines the light in our eyes to show the compassion of our God. God is free to do with His own as He pleases, and is free to show generosity as He wills. And He in fact does this. He breaks with our conventions and expectations about what is right or fair, and shows amazing generosity. This parable teaches “God’s mysterious way of reversing things” so that the first will be last, and the last first. (TLSB, 1624) Shows the compassion of Jesus, so that this mercy might take root in us, and cleanse that infected, stingy, evil eye with light. Light that drives out the darkness.

10. He is the master of the vineyard who came and bore the real burden of our sin, and faced the scorching heat and wrath of God’s anger against sin. The load we carry is a light and easy yoke. But He earned our denarius. He paid the price for our wages, which was death, so that we might have the gift of eternal life. We are paid out of the generosity of the God who would not have us perish, but give us everlasting life—whether we come to God early or late makes no difference, even at the 11th hour, so long as we answer before His final call. Thanks to God that He has a good and generous eye toward all of us, and freely gives of what He owns as He pleases, for the love and benefit of those called to His service. Not paid according to merit, but according to His grace.

Sermon Talking Points
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1. What was the wage the first workers agreed to accept from the master for a day’s work? When the master returned four more times to the marketplace, why were there still workers there? (v.7)

2. What is surprising about the master’s trips to the marketplace, in light of the fact that he had an employee (v.8)? What about the order in which he made payment? How much he paid to each?

3. What does this parable teach us about the compassion and generosity of our God? What was the protest of the first workers? Were they underpaid? How and when do we show a similar jealousy or resentment? What must we do with sinful feelings of “entitlement?”

4. The end of verse 15 could literally be translated as “Or is your eye evil because I am good?” What does Jesus say about having an “evil eye?” Matthew 6:22-24

5. God commanded this same kind of mercy of His people in Deuteronomy 15:7-11 and 24:14-15. This parable shows how God would (and does!!) keep those same commands. How does the parable show the incarnation of Jesus, and how He took on Himself the atonement of the world?

6. How can we look out for and help the “11th hour” unemployed? What is significant about the fact that this was the “last call” for workers to come into the vineyard? What is the “equal reward” for all who trust in Jesus? It’s not a “reward” in the sense of something we earned, but what? Romans 6:23

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