You are welcome and encouraged to read the last two sermons preached. An audio of the most recent sermon is available above.
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God Gives You the Denarius of His Grace in Jesus – Mt. 20:1-16 (Septuagesima Sunday, 2.17.19)
“The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.” (Ps. 116:5) Amen.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. So who wants to work in the vineyard in Jesus’ Parable of the Vineyard Workers? No matter what hour you’re called to work in this vineyard, you receive the same wages as everyone else – even if you’ve worked longer and harder than they.
Jesus’ parables oftentimes have an “absurd twist” to them that sets them apart from how we’d expect them to go, or how they “should” go according to the way of the world. They are, after all, parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. As our Lord says, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” (Jn. 18:36) A Master of a wedding banquet instructs His servants to gather the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame into His banquet hall after those originally invited refuse His call to come. A Father sees His rebel son – who’d wasted his inheritance in foolish, shameful living – returning to Him. So the Father runs to embrace him, kisses him, clothes him in a fine robe and welcomes him back home – lavishing him with far more than he ever expected or deserved. As for the vineyard Owner, He pays all His laborers the same wages regardless of what hour they began to work in His vineyard.
In our eyes, the wedding banquet is only for the originally invited guests. The Father shouldn’t let his miserable son back into His heart and house. And the vineyard Owner should pay His workers fairly. In God’s eyes, lovingkindness abounds, as He says: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Rom. 9:15)
As we hear our Lord speak this parable to us, we see clearly that God our Father doesn’t run the vineyard of His Kingdom like business owners run their businesses in the world. Business owners pay their workers according to their merit and the work they’ve done. The Father doesn’t deal with His laborers this way at all. He chooses to be gracious, generous. His payment – really, His gift – to all Who labor in His vineyard-Kingdom has nothing to do with their merit and the quantity and quality of their work. He rewards them only according to the work of His Son.
What’s striking to us is that, by every worldly measure, the Master of the house underpays and cheats many of His workers. Those who’ve worked much or all of the day respond as we’d expect them to – as laborers who’ve been treated unfairly and wronged. They grumble at the master of the house and regard Him with an evil eye: “These [you hired] last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” (Mt. 20:12)
It hasn’t slipped the minds of these disgruntled workers that they’ve already agreed with the Master of the house to be paid a denarius for the day’s work. But when they see that others, who’ve worked less than they have, receive the same valuable coin, they resent the vineyard Owner. They’ve worked more, they’re worth more; they should receive more! So they tear the agreement to shreds. The denarius is now worthless to them.
We need to beware of casting aspersion on other people who’ve received the same divine favor that we have, thinking in our hearts that we’ve been faithful to God longer, done more to deserve His grace than they have through our works and godly zeal. We dare not lapse into believing that our favorable standing before God depends on us – what we deserve. This turns God’s grace into works-righteousness (See Romans 11:6) – which is to lose His grace altogether.
This parable blows away our insistence that, while we’re far from perfect as sinners, we’re better than some other people are in the Church. Sure, we’ll “admit that [we] don’t deserve eternal life, but [we’ll also] insist that [we’re] more deserving than so-and-so.” (higherthings.org/reflections, 1.28.18) “I’m a sinner,” we say, “but I’m not as dirty and rotten a sinner as others are. I’m worthier of God’s favor than he or she is.”
The person who would “boast of his own pitiful merit, shall be last in such a way that he cannot remain in the Kingdom of God.” (scholia.net/files/crumbs_sequential, Epiphany 3) God defend us from this! The most fearful words of this parable are the Master’s command to the ungrateful, embittered workers: “Take what’s yours and go.” (Mt. 20:14) They weren’t pleased to receive the denarius when it was given to them. They revolted when they saw that their hard work earned them what far less work earned others. They certainly don’t want to be in the vineyard. So they depart from the presence of the Lord as Cain did. “Save us from this, dear heavenly Father!”
None of us is worthy to receive the precious denarius of God’s grace and favor, let alone work in His vineyard. All we merit and deserve is God’s wrath. No one is greater or lesser than anyone else in God’s Kingdom. All are sinners. All are equally justified by faith in Christ as God’s saints. “In the Kingdom of God nothing but His grace” benefits us. (previous)
Learn from Jesus that God’s “grace is extravagant and gratuitous. Those who wish to possess it by right, by merit, or on their own terms, find a harsh master. Those who desperately need it find the true God, Who gives even His own Son up for the benefit of those who do not deserve Him and His love.” (whatdoesthismean.org/Around the World Devotion; 1.28-2.3.18)
You desperately need God’s extravagant grace in Jesus! In Him, you have it! “It is God’s will, of His great goodness, to make [you who’re] last first.” (scholia.net/files/crumbs_sequential, Epiphany 3) To give you the denarius of His grace in Jesus! You share – together with all your fellow saints – in Christ’s righteousness, holy and blameless in God’s sight. What more could you ever need or desire? What more could He possibly give you for your present and eternal well-being?
Praise and thank our heavenly Father, “Who has qualified [us in Jesus] to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” (Col. 1:12) He “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” (2 Tim. 1:9) Christ offered the payment of His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death to the Father on our behalf. God the Father heartily accepted His saving work done for us, so that we receive the benefits of His Son’s death and His resurrection.
You know and love these benefits, as Rev. Luther loved to describe them: “God is superabundantly rich in His grace and goodness. First, through the spoken Word by which the forgiveness of sins is preached in the whole world; which is the special office of the Gospel. Secondly, through Baptism. Thirdly, through the Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourthly, through the Power of the Keys [Holy Absolution], and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren.” (Smalcald Articles, Part 3, Article 4) This is the blessed communion of saints in the Church, as Jesus describes in Mathew 18:20: “Where two or three are gathered in My Name, there I am among them.”
Brethren in Christ, in these Means of Grace, you receive your priceless denarius! You heartily take possession of it, grateful to God for His goodness to you. You’re also given a sure and certain place in which to confidently receive God’s grace and goodness in Jesus, and in which to serve: The vineyard of God’s Church. Your exalting yourself over others in terms of your good works, your thinking that you deserve more from God than they do, has been charged against your Redeemer on the cross. He in His body has put it all to death for you! So treasure Christ’s holy, saving work for you and for all people alike as the highest work and good that there is!
There’s no need to begrudge God’s generosity. Not when He’s given you the riches of His grace in Jesus Christ! Be glad that Christ was poured out as a drink offering for all people, shedding His sacred blood to wash away your sins and the sins of the whole world! “Everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:21)
Your labor of love in God’s vineyard won’t gain you His grace and favor. Even so, God highly regards your service and blesses it. Christ has called you into the priesthood of all believers so that you may love and forgive one another and support each other as His Church. Your very presence in this holy house and in these pews is a sure sign of your love for God and for each other. Do you not confess your sins together and receive the absolution of Christ together as one body? Do you not confess your faith in the Holy Trinity together, hear God’s Word and cherish it together, and joyfully sing together? Don’t you also pray for one another, and together receive the precious body and blood of your eternal Savior unto eternal life? How good it is that you do good works in this congregation and that you support this parish with your tithes and offerings!
So who wants to work in the vineyard in Jesus’ Parable of the Vineyard Workers? You do, since God has brought you, together with your fellow saints in Christ, to be saved by Him and to abide in Him always. Love and cherish, hold fast to and never cast aside Christ your denarius, Christ your salvation, Christ your beloved Lord! Amen. The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Jesus Calms Your Storms and Saves You From Them - Mt. 8:23-27 (5th Sunday after Epiphany, 2.10.19)
It is for us to say to Jesus: “Save us Lord!” It is for Him to say to us, “I will!” Amen.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. You no doubt appreciate the sudden change in weather that a blue norther brings or an afternoon thunderstorm produces after hot weather. Warmer, oftentimes sticky conditions give way to a refreshing transformation: cooler air and maybe even some rain. Streaks off lightening and the resounding thunder can be a welcome change from the normal din of the day as well.
Severe weather is a different story. If you’re like my sister Andrea, you dread even the thought of severe weather, particularly the bright flash of lighting and the loud boom of thunder. At the first questionable cloud on the horizon or at the approaching sound of weather’s fury, she feels ill-at-ease and would rather be somewhere else.
Stormy weather days. Like them or not, stormy, atmospheric disturbances can impress and awe us. But they can also overwhelm us and even threaten our well-being and lives. What starts out as a light wind and a few raindrops can climax in the destructive, deadly winds of a tornado or the damaging power of a hailstorm. What’s to like about that?
Take all you know and fear about a deadly twister, the waters of a flash flood surrounding you as you drive and the never-ending flashing and pounding of a severe thunderstorm… Take everything you’ve seen outdoors and on television regarding the awesome power of nature and the devastation it can cause… Multiply it all by a thousand. Even then, you are a far cry from the deadly effects of sin in your life. You know that lightening injures, even kills, as does wind-blown debris and mudslides. But how often do you consider that sin kills as well? God’s Word declares, “The wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) Sin produces certain death in us. As St. James the Apostle writes, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:14, 15) The Apostle Paul cautions all of us: “If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die.” (Rom. 8:13) That is, if you let sin rule your heart and mind, you will perish eternally.
The storminess of sin in our lives never ceases. It persists without signs of ever letting up – and we’re responsible for it! It’s particularly unrelenting and ruinous to those who want to remain blind to God and at enmity with Him in unbelief. Who desire to remain slaves to sin and its twin – death. We, however, have been freed from slavery to sin in order to serve the living God as slaves of righteousness. We know from God’s Word and our God-given consciences that our distrust of Him, our doubting His goodwill for us and His desire to always help us is completely unfounded and wrong. We must repent of this, always seek God’s mercy in His Son, and seek all the more to trust Him no matter what. How you and I need the forgiving power of our Savior from sin! How He gives it to us all!
When we’re caught in the storms of life or the storms of our own making, Christ Jesus is always there to pull us out and hold us in His saving, calming arms. You who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ unto salvation, yet are still heavily burdened by your sins… You who’re fearful because you’ve failed to always keep God’s commandments, the same Lord Jesus is there to rescue and forgive you. A lack of faith and the crushing weight of a host of sins can both be obliterated by the power of the One Who stilled the stormy sea.
Being caught in the throes of sin in life is not a whole lot unlike being caught on a turbulent, punishing sea during a storm in a boat that cannot stay afloat forever. At least a person can seek safety and take shelter on land in the midst of life-threatening weather. At sea there’s no place to run and hide. There’s no way out; there’s only entrapment, terror, doom. Apart from being rescued at sea, sailing out of the storm’s fury or the storm subsiding, there’s no hope.
No doubt Jesus’ disciples figure their minutes are numbered as a vicious squall breaks out around them. There’s going to be no sailing out of this storm – otherwise they’d do so without bothering to wake Jesus. There’s no sign that the storm’s anywhere near subsiding. So as the waves crash over their boat, threatening to capsize it, the disciples lose all hope. They’re set adrift – done for. All that’s left for them to do is to plead with God for His mercy.
esus rests down in the ship’s hold. The disciples, caught as they are in this hopeless situation, wake Him. St. Mark in his Gospel account includes their dread, and their being irked that Jesus doesn’t share their appreciation for the seriousness of the situation: “Teacher, don’t You care that we’re going to drown?” (Mk. 4:38) Some of these men are experienced fishermen and sailors who’re doing everything in their power to save the boat and their lives. It’s no use. Powerless to do anything at all to help the situation, they appeal to Jesus for His aid: “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” (Mt. 8:25)
They ought to have asked the Lord for help and deliverance right away. They shouldn’t have despaired, since the Holy Son of God is with them! Since God’s for them in Jesus, who or what can possibly prevail against them? That’s why the Lord says to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” (Mt. 8:26) The thing of it is, they’ve already put their faith in Jesus as their Lord after He changed water into wine. They know Who He is, yet their faith in Who He is falters here. Despite their doubt and terror, Jesus rebukes the wind and stills the sea.
Why do Jesus’ disciples doubt His goodness and power to save them even when they know Who He is? The wind and the waves must obey Him since He has power over them. Yet Jesus’ disciples fall short of trusting Him as their one true God Who’s come into their flesh, Who’s entered their time from eternity in order to save them and the whole world! This is the problem we all face. What’s the solution, the remedy?
Out of His love and compassion for the fearful, doubting men He’s sailing with, Jesus rescues them from death. He puts an end to their distress and grants them His peace and comfort. He stills the storm to a whisper; the towering waves He levels to a glassy sea. Your Savior promises to do the same for you! As you cry out to the Lord in your trouble, He hears you and delivers you from your distress. He stills the storms of your life. He hushes the surging waves around you. He makes you glad by restoring calm for you where there was none. And He brings you safe and sound to your desired haven. (See Ps. 107:28-30) As St. Paul writes: “The Lord will rescue [you] from every evil and bring [you] safely into His heavenly kingdom.” (2 Tim. 4:8) So give thanks to the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wonderous works to the children of man! (See Ps. 107:30)
esus’ miraculous calming of the stormy Galilean Sea foreshadows a much greater deliverance – your deliverance and the deliverance of the whole world! His rebuke of the wind and His command to the sea – “Peace! Be still! (Mk. 4:39) –anticipates Jesus’ words from the cross: “It is finished!” (Jn. 19:30) God’s mighty work for your salvation is done!
Look to Jesus alone for your good as the disciples did. He defeated the storm of sin in your life once and for all by dying for you and rising again on the third day. In Christ you’re freed from the bondage of sin and the law’s condemnation. You’re cleansed from all unrighteousness and made holy in God’s sight. Even though you continue to face many trials and temptations; though sin is always right there crouching at your door, you have victory over it all in Jesus! Your Lord never fails to shield you and rescue you from every maelstrom in your life. He’s in complete control of everything! You’re always saved by God’s grace. Believe it! Rejoice in it! Praise Him in the assembly of the saints! Amen. The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.