I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Psalm 122:1

A Labor of Love

Septuagesima – Pr. Anderson sermon
St. Matthew 20:1-16 “A Labor of Love”
January 28, 2024 | Christ Lutheran Church

In Nomine Iesu
+ + +
Lord God, heavenly Father, through Your holy Word You have called us into Your vineyard: Send, we beseech You, Your Holy Spirit into our hearts, that we may labor faithfully in Your vineyard, shun sin and all offense, obediently keep Your Word and do Your will, and put our whole and only trust in Your grace, which You have bestowed upon us so abundantly; through Your Son Jesus Christ, that we might obtain eternal salvation through Him; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen. (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, by Veit Dietrich, p. 151)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (Rom. 1:7, etc.)

The sermon text for today is taken from the 20th chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. We read selected verses in Jesus’ name:

[Jesus said:] “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
“And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius.
“So the last will be first, and the first last.”

These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by Your truth, Your Word is truth. Amen. (Joh. 17:17)

In Christ Jesus, who bestows upon you His grace and mercy not because you deserve it, but because of His love and giving up His life for you, dear fellow redeemed:

“What a long day at work.” I don’t have to assume that each and every one of us have said this exact saying in our lives. Many of us have punched the time clock over and over again. Some of us are still punching it. Those long days can have us questioning why we are there?Are we getting paid enough to be there in the first place? One that we hate to admit is how we judged our co-workers, thinking to ourselves about their treatment whether good or bad compared to our treatment. Like all parables, we can find ourselves very easily in this one. This parable however is not teaching about our vocation. Jesus is teaching the disciples, teaching us about the work in the church. Now there is plenty of work to be done, and we do see in the text for today how hard it is. As this work in the church continues, Jesus teaches this work is not done to increase our status. “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard,” and the master is looking for a labor of love.

To give a labor of love seems easy enough. When I was at Stevens Point, they had an event with the same name. We did acts of community service helping those who needed it. As we are thinking to ourselves how easy it sounds to help others, Jesus’ parable tells us just how good people are at helping. “After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.” In Jesus’ day, when you needed to hire workers, the master and the laborers set the working wage. Once set, it was like a binding contract. Our parable tells us that the master and the laborers agreed on a day’s wage and this was set by
the laborers. A denarius was a day’s wage and for the time, this was a generous wage. These laborers were making more money than what a roman soldier made in a day. The laborers asked and the master gave them their asking wage, they headed into His vineyard.

Now the master of the vineyard wasn’t done. He saw that there was more help needed in the vineyard. He again went back to the marketplace. “And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same.” There was always someone who was in need of work and the master was being more than generous to hire them. He even went out one more time, an hour before quitting time. There were still men who had been standing idly by with no work. As the parable reads, it looks like this master has plenty of help in His vineyard. Why would He need any more help an hour before quitting time. Even in Jesus’ day, the people hearing this parable would know that the master is just wasting money to pay some laborers for an hour of work. Jesus tells us that these men were willing to give the master their labor, so the master showed His love.

Jesus continues to tell how loving the master was. It was indeed a great love. “And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius.” Could you imagine, getting paid your entire day’s wage for only working half of the day? How about one hour of it? This master was very generous! These men had worked very little and they were able to get a meal when the work day was done. For those who put in long, hard days, if we see someone getting paid their whole days wage for an hour, we are probably thinking just like the men who were hired first. “Man, oh man what am I going to get paid! I’ve worked so hard; the boss has to be giving me a significant bonus. I mean I worked out in the sun, toiling the whole day. I deserve that bonus!” “Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius.” What a gut punch!

“And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These 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.’” It is hard to watch when it looks like someone gets rewarded doing a job for a short amount of time. We feel we have gotten snubbed out of what we justly deserve. Now as we look at it from a worldly perspective, Jesus says look at it from a spiritual point of view. As we remember that this parable is about “the kingdom of heaven,” instead of labor, label the denarius as God’s free gift of grace and the first laborers are Christians who fall to temptation thinking they have earned God’s favor. Most of us have been baptized since our youth and have been at church our entire lives. When people see a new convert come into the church, maybe even someone who has struggled with a “radical sin,” there are some who will have offense. How can God forgive someone like that? Maybe that new converts life looks like it is going well. How come I’m struggling so much? It’s hard to commit a labor of love for God when we think that God owes us. Jesus points out that the attitude of thinking that we deserve something because we are Christians is not true. He says that our lives will be hard to follow Him.

The response is very harsh for those who were first hired but Jesus’ point is clear. We can’t demand God of anything. The disciples would still have issues with the topic. They would argue over who was the greatest, and Jame’s and John’s mother asked Jesus if her sons could sit on Jesus’ right and left. In their struggles with following Jesus, He continues to point out what it will be like to follow Him. It will be a labor of love and a struggle. Jesus showed them what that labor of love and struggle looked like all the way until the end.

The labor of love that Jesus brings to the disciples is unmatched. While the disciples were worried about
how they were going to follow Jesus, He perfectly followed the Father’s will. Many will worry about what they should be paid and what should be owed to them, but what about Jesus? Did He “deserve” what He was going through? He was already from Heaven. He was true God. Yet it was the Father’s will that He would suffer for every single sin that every single person in the world has committed. For completing the Father’s will He was going to suffer the pains of hell. The labor of love that the disciples hear in the parable is the master paying them a denarius, a denarius that is not deserved.

You might be wondering if you are going to get your day’s wages. Jesus labored for you. Where there was judgment, Jesus looked on with mercy. When there are demands, Jesus submitted. Jesus labored what you could not. This parable is used as a warning to make sure no one thinks they can grab God’s grace based on what they have done in their lives and the slip ups that have been made are recognized by the master who still pays. He reveals, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The death that you deserved was given to Christ.

The labor that is hard to complete, is love in Christ. This parable is about the kingdom of heaven, eternal life. Thankfully you don’t get there based on your works. Jesus’ labor of love was for all. He labored until the time came for Him to labor no more. He saw your struggles and demands and, in your place, He willingly struggled and submitted to the will of God, stretching out His arms on the cross. He did what you couldn’t with no complaints. As He hung on the cross, He said, “it is finished.” He labored in love and died. As He rose from the dead with His glorious resurrection, He tells you that the kingdom of heaven is now yours. The master gives you the denarius, God gives you the gift of grace not because of your labors, but because Christ labored for you.

As you labor for Christ and His work, the devil will still try to get you to once again think that it is your works saving you. This is a hard balance and that is why Jesus teaches us this parable. He wants you to realize that as you toil for Him in the world, it won’t be easy. He wants you to rejoice when you see others converted by the Gospel. He shows you how He is for all people at all times. He deserves thanks and praise that He goes out an hour before work in the vineyard is done. The Holy Spirit works through your labor of love for others. As Jesus says, “So the last will be first, and the first last,” you don’t have to worry about how long you have been in the vineyard. You find strength in knowing that you are in the vineyard and you are receiving the free gift of God’s grace.

It is this gift of free grace that we understand being Lutherans. We know that God isn’t with us because we have had it the worst. Luther looked to Scripture and it is there that we see this parable. We will be in the vineyard and it isn’t because we earned our pay. It is a struggle to labor for Christ, but this labor is found in Christ. He suffered everything for us so that we might be saved. It is His grace that called us into the vineyard to work and it is the gift of grace that we receive as payment. You get paid, because Jesus paid for you with His blood. Amen.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
+ + +