Sermon for Sunday, 20 September 2020

By Revd George Mwaura

Jonah 3: 10 – 4: 11 & Matthew 20: 1–16

Nothing but the Grace!

A church minister died and went to heaven and St Peter met him at the Pearly Gates. ‘Here’s how it works,’ St Peter said, ‘You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you did on earth, and I’ll give you points for each item depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, I’ll let you in. Get it?’

‘Okay,’ the man said, ‘I was married to the same women for fifty years and never cheated on her, even in my heart.’

‘That’s commendable,’ said St Peter, ‘three points.’

‘I attended church all my life and tithed every month.’

‘Terrific,’ said St Peter, ‘one point.’

‘I started a soup kitchen in my town and worked in a shelter for the homeless.’

‘Fantastic, two points.’

‘Two points; two points!’ cried the man, ‘At this rate the only way I’ll get in is by the grace of God!’

St Peter smiled. ‘There’s your 100 points. Come on in!’

Friends, the sermon this morning is all about grace. Throughout his ministry, Jesus, often told parables with a surprise ending.
A good example is the parable of the labourers in the vineyard which we are looking at this morning.
It was roughly about this time of year when the grapes would be ripe in Palestine.
It would be a race against time. The grapes would have to be harvested in a hurry before the October rains.
Every available person in the community would be employed for a day or two to help with the harvesting.
So, very early in the morning the owner of the vineyard went to the marketplace to find workers to help.
The work would be hard, but the landowner promised to pay his workers well for their efforts.
After a couple of hours the landowner realized that he needed more workers, as time was running out.
He returned to the marketplace, found some men, and offered them employment.
‘I will pay you whatever is right,’ he told them.
Later, he realised he needed still more workers and so at noon, and at three o’clock, he hired more men.
But even with all these additional workers all the grapes would not be harvested in time.
So, at five o’clock, with only one hour left to work, the landowner went once again to the marketplace
and found some more workers whom he engaged.

Now, trouble began when all work was finished at six.
The workers who were hired at five o’clock and worked for only one hour in the cool of the evening were paid one silver coin.
The workers who had worked all day in the hot sun looked on in amazement.
They began to think that if the workers who had worked for only one hour got that much,
then certainly they would receive much more; after all, they had worked all day.
But they were disappointed.
In fact, they were angry because they received the same amount as those who had worked for one hour only.
How dare the landowner pay them the same amount as those who had worked fewer hours?
It wasn’t fair; they felt cheated.

Jesus’ audience, as in indeed most of us, agree: it wasn’t fair!
But in doing so, we miss the point Jesus was trying to drive home.
This parable is not about harvesting grapes at all.
No, it’s about grace. And it says to us loud and clear that grace cannot be earned.
The workers expressed their outrage to the owner of the vineyard
because he had paid them the same wage as those who had worked for an hour only
while they had toiled in the scorching heat all day.

Their reaction took the landowner somewhat by surprise.
In his mind he had done nothing wrong.
He had promised them a day’s wage for work done and he had kept his promise.

‘Friend,’ the landowner said to one of the disgruntled workers, ‘what wrong have I done to you?
Did you not agree with me the usual daily wage which I have paid you.’

And then he asked them an interesting, but loaded question:
‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?’

Here is an important lesson about the grace of God.
God’s grace is a gift, and it’s free to each one of us at the point of reception.
Whether we have been in the church all our lives or we have just started coming, the benefits of faith are the same.
God is not interested in being just; rather he seeks to be generous.
Jesus’ parable reminds us that, no matter how hard we try, we will never earn God’s grace.
It doesn’t matter how long or hard we work, or even how pious our demeanour is;
we cannot earn God’s love and acceptance. It is poured out freely on us all.
Matthew captures this sentiment brilliantly when he writes:
God causes the sun to shine on the good and the evil, the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Some people wish it was not so and no one makes this point more clearly than Jonah
in his refusal to take the message of hope and forgiveness to the Ninevites.
All Jonah wanted was revenge!

But let us be honest. Many of us who have served Christ for a number of years would like some kind of bonus.
It doesn’t seem fair that people can come in here at the last minute
and claim the same benefits as those of us who have laboured for years.
Jesus faced this very dilemma.
He was criticised for spending too much time with tax collectors and other sinners
and not spending enough time with the respectable folks.
Could it be, I wonder, that Jesus knows something that we don’t?
Could it be that the sinner we so harshly judge is closer to God than we might imagine?
Maybe their very helplessness has opened them to an understanding of grace that we will never have.
We are often eager to lump people into deserving and undeserving groups and quick to judge them.
But scriptures teach us that only God is qualified to judge,
because He alone knows the contents of our heart and our true motives.
And when God renders His verdict of forgiven, it is total and absolute.

And since none of us here this morning are deserving of such a verdict, then all of us deserve God’s grace.

God’s grace is poured out equally on us all,
whether we’ve worked twelve hours in the heat of the day
or whether we’ve worked only one hour in the cool of the evening sun.
But here is the good news for the day: you and I can be agents of God’s grace in this troubled world.
Place yourself for a moment, if you will, not with the workers in the vineyard
but try and imagine you are the supervisor in the farm handing out the silver coins to the workers at the end of the day.
Can you see the joy in the eyes of those workers who only worked one hour as they receive the coin from you?
Now, wouldn’t you like to bring the same joy into the lives of people you interact with every day?
Of course you would; of course you would.

Ladies and gentlemen, none of us deserves God’s grace: it is freely given;
but we can be partners with God in bringing that grace to others.
As the renewed church, in our new normal world, I urge you to be generous and begrudge no one.
After all, the only reason God is gracious to us is so that we can be channels of the same grace to those on the margins;
those less fortunate than us.
Go then, and practice the same in Jesus’ name.