February 19-20, 2011
“Life isn’t Fair”
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I. The last first - Fairness.
“So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” Surprise, surprise. The Kingdom of heaven is not about fairness, equity, or even, normal common sense. The fair thing, the obvious thing, the decent thing is “first come, first served.” But it is not “first come, first served” or “take a number” in the Kingdom of heaven. For the Kingdom of heaven is not the kingdom of fairness. The kingdom of fairness does exist. It is ruled with an iron fist by that most sublime of all lawyers, Job’s accuser from ancient times, Satan. Yes, Hell is ruled by the exact science of Newton’s principles of retribution: for every action there is an equal reaction. For every sin there is a punishment. The fair wages of sin is death. In Hell, it is always, “first come, first served.”
And our constant complaint has been that life is not fair. Never mind the fact that this chaos and turmoil is the product of our own sin. Never mind the fact that none of us can claim that we were born here and in this time by our own merits, that we earned or deserved it. We could have been born slaves in the American South. We could have been born Germans who lived in fear first under Hitler and then under Stalin. But, when you get right down to it, we are not complaining day in and day out about the truly great injustices and tragedies of this life, such as the lack of civil rights in China, the atrocities of the military regimes in Africa, or the sustained, legal murder and destruction of babies in their mothers’ wombs right in our own midst. Instead, we complain and grumble all day long because other people seem to be having more fun, or have nicer stuff, or better looks and more talent, than we do. We waste away the hours in daydreams, wishing we were richer, thinner, better looking, smarter, more disciplined, and so forth. We imagine ourselves humbly, graciously accepting the accolades of the masses and giving great, inspiring speeches on television. We are sure that if we were rich and powerful we could use it for good. Talk about vanity! Meanwhile, in between fantasies, we grumble about the slightest little ache, pain, or inconvenience. We impatiently tap our foot as we wait for the microwave to heat up our coffee, or the computer to boot up, thinking everything is so slow, such a waste of our precious time! At our worst, we are grossly jealous when other people prosper. We are even judgmental about our friends, thinking they’ve been handed everything, while we have gone unrewarded for our hard work. We act like children on Halloween with their goodies strewn all over the living room floor fighting over a single piece of candy and mad because it looks like someone else might have more.
II. Call to Repentance - Grace
Repent. These complaints, this dissatisfaction, this discontentment is rebellion and dissatisfaction with God. It is saying, “God you are no good at being God. My life is not very enjoyable. It should be better. You should give me more.” How dare you! Repent! The gifts are His. He distributes them not according to Satan’s laws of equity, or according to our vain lusts and evil desires, but according to His own wisdom, generosity, and mercy. We can demand nothing. But if you insist, if you demand recompense on your own merits, your own deeds, if you demand fairness, then that dishonorable judge of fairness, that old devil, will measure your wages with atomic precision: eternal torture in Hell for each and every misdeed, paid in full. You cannot pay the debt. It requires eternity in damnation.
Thanks be to God that the Kingdom of heaven does not run on fairness. Instead, it is “first come, last served.” The First-born, the One by whom all things that are came to be, did not come to be served but to serve. Fortunately for us, He did not take a number. He laid down His life. He gave us His place in line. It is not fair that He should serve us, that He should wash our stinking feet, be circumcised and baptized. It is not fair that He should live as a pauper, while we live as kings. It is not fair that He should suffer and die. But His Kingdom is not about fairness. It is about Grace. Grace is God’s undeserved love. The greatest injustice of all time - the execution of Our innocent Lord, Jesus Christ, found guilty by that most ridiculous of all kangaroo courts - that injustice is how He gives us His undeserved love. It is not fair, but the charges placed over His head were accurate. He is the King of the Jews. He is the King of kings. By His own decree, invoking His Divine Right, He rules now not by power and might, but reigns in the hearts of men who believe in Him by Grace. So we call Him, “Lord.” He is Our Lord by love.
III. The point of the parable: Generous Mercy and Grace
So, back to the parable at hand. The point is rather simple: The vineyard owner over pays. He pays more than his employees deserve. Now, it is hard for us to imagine any employer ever paying his workforce so foolishly. But that is precisely the case in this parable. This is typical behavior for the characters in Our Lord’s parables, especially those who represent Him and His Father. They tend to behave in a seemingly outrageous and foolish manner. That is because the wisdom of God confounds the wisdom of man. But however foolish he may appear, the vineyard owner is not stupid. He knows what he is doing. It is deliberate. No, it is not stupidity that causes him to overpay. It is generosity. The point of comparison, or the lesson of the parable, then, is that God is merciful, gracious, and generous. He does not give us what our labors deserve. Instead He gives us His own Son. He lavishes upon us that which we had no right to demand or expect, that which is utterly and completely unearned. Though He is the Father’s beloved, His most precious possession, nonetheless He gives Him to us that we might live. He is not stupid. He knows full well the cost of our salvation. He pays it willingly. Indeed, this is His good and gracious will. Thus He pays us, rewards us, not according to the work or deeds we’ve performed, for it is not by works or righteousness that we are saved, but according to His mercy. So He pays us with His own abundant love, with His Grace. It is His to do with as He desires. He desires you to have it and to live.
Consider, then, pay day. We go to the line and there we see a crowd gathered together. God is recklessly handing out great things to these people. Some who are gathered there are notorious and terrible sinners of the worst sort. Adulterers, murderers, drunkards, and blasphemers are in the front of the line. Do not be scandalized. Instead, rejoice, O Sinner! By the Grace of God you are counted as one of them. Rejoice and give thanks for this great mystery: God is merciful, loving, kind, patient, steadfast, generous, gracious, and faithful. He loves to forgive. Look not to your own works. Look neither at the sins of others. Make no comparisons. Look to the mercy of Almighty God in the Flesh who loves to love you. Rejoice that you are not alone. Rejoice that these once sinners now saints are with you, that you are with them. Delight in the company of your brothers and sisters, a great, terrible, forgiven people who have been brought out of bondage to sin into freedom in Christ. Revel in the joy of Grace that is not fair. Bask in the wages paid, the reward given, which you have not earned, but have received from His lavish and unfailing love. Your cup runs over, O Christian. There is nothing left to complain about.
IV. Invitation to come and get what He gives.
Come this day then to the Altar. Receive what He desires to give, that which you have not earned: His very Body and Blood. For it is now the eleventh hour and no one knows when the clock will strike twelve. You are a beggar. You have no right to make demands. But this is what He desires you to have. In Grace and Mercy, He treats you not as a hired hand, but as His own, beloved child. He pays the wages due to the First-born, the Son of Righteousness. They are yours. He pays life and salvation, the forgiveness of sins, unity and peace with Him. It is the wages He has determined for you from eternity. Here is the call. You are the chosen. It is your inheritance from Baptism for you belong to Him.
That’s Grace. Come. Be satisfied and content in these gifts. It is what He wants you to have. In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.