“Saying Thank You”
Matthew 20: 1-16
September 22, 2002
There is no other word in the English language that sounds as sweet to our ears and our hearts as the word grace, a word that so moved hymnist John Newton, that his famous and familiar words are still sung in church’s all over the world:
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.
By its very nature and meaning, grace reflects and embodies so completely the divine, that without grace, we could not begin to contemplate the absolute liberality, pleasure, and favor of God toward us. Without grace, the love of God would have no meaning for us. Without grace, we would still be in our sins and apart from God. Without grace, we would have no hope of salvation.
Grace is much more than an attitude of God toward us, it is an attribute of God, a characteristic, a reflection of who God is. In the giving of grace, in God’s free gift and unmerited act by which we are restored and reconciled back to Him, God is not only doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves, He is also acting out of the very core and deepest part of His being. And the good news of our text today is that God holds nothing back in the giving of His grace. God gives freely and abundantly. God is exceedingly generous.
It would be a mistake for us to try to delve into this parable and try to find some deep rooted meaning behind the words, and we do no not need to spend a lot of time trying to decipher who is being represented by the first-hour laborers and who is being represented by the last-hour laborers, whether we are referring to Jews and Gentiles, or whether we are talking about people who have become Christians early in life or very late in life. What we should be asking ourselves instead is, how are we going to respond to a God who uses his own freedom in giving grace? How are we going to respond to a God who is so exceedingly generous with the grace that is given?
Our text for this morning describes for us one possible response we can give. The workers who were hired in the morning are really no different than many people today, who equate the giving of grace with the giving of rewards. Our western, and particularly American, mind set and culture cannot help but see the giving of grace as a sort of payment for a life lived in devotion and faithfulness. That is what we have come to understand in our society where a work ethic of “an honest days work for an honest days pay” still rings true for most of us.
On one hand, it’s not hard for us to be sympathetic with the reaction of the first-hour workers. They have labored all day long in the vineyard under the hot sun. How is it fair that the ones who were hired at the end of the day get the same amount as the ones who worked all day? Do we not expect to be paid for the time that we worked? Do we not expect to be paid more than those who only work half a day, let alone only a few hours?
In the economy of the world, for an employer to something like this would cause a riot, grievances would be filed, inquirers and investigations would start, managers and labor leaders would be meeting in closed door sessions trying to come to an agreement. Workers would either refuse to work, and walk picket lines, or they would have quit and found somewhere else to work, all the while saying to themselves, “This isn’t fair, this isn’t just. I deserve more for my life long faithfulness. I deserve what’s coming to me. I want what’s mine.”
On the other hand, maybe we just have a hard time understanding and fully grasping what it means to get something for free. The concept is too foreign to us, because we have been taught that nothing is for free, there is always a catch, there is always the small print at the bottom of the magazine page or the tv screen. I’m sure that there is a disclaimer somewhere here in the Bible, somewhere there is the fine print if you look hard enough, somewhere you will find the catch, because there is always a catch. Thanks be to God there is nothing of the sort.
In the end, there is something desperately sad about the first-hour workers. The notion of grace is not in their vocabulary. They neither know what it means or have ever truly experienced it. They are bargainers, contract workers. To them life works according to deals and negotiations. God is nothing more than another employer who we work for and try to bargain with. “If you just do this for me, God, then I will do this.” In the end, faith becomes a time card that we use to clock in when it is time to be faithful, and clock out when other things come up or get in the way. And devotion, discipleship, stewardship, obedience is nothing more than overtime, and that pays time and half.
Maybe the issue with the first-hour workers is that people like this look upon themselves as the keepers and trustees of God’s grace, who believe that only they deserve God’s grace, because they came first and worked the hardest for it. They are the chosen elect, who consider themselves to be the privileged few, who wear their grace as a medal or badge on their shirt for services rendered or work done.
Maybe they are so used to the certainty of their salvation, so used to being a part of God’s work, that they can no longer remember or imagine what being on the outside is like, what being without and apart from God is really like. Maybe they have forgotten, just how blessed they really are. They have failed to see that God has given to each of them exactly what they need and more, they have failed to consider the true gift of God’s grace, the grace that has been given to them freely, the grace that is nothing short of the daily wage of heaven for all those who have worked in God’s vineyard, the grace that is nothing short of the true treasure of the kingdom of God.
But, I will tell you that the more I read this text, the more I believe that we are not the first-hour workers. I want to believe that we are different from them. I want to believe that we are a people who look upon the grace of God as a blessing we could not have possibly earned at all. I want to believe that we are a people, who are not only grateful for what God has given us, but also want everyone else to have the same thing and more, to experience the amazing grace of God, whether they have been Christians their whole life, or whether they become Christians on their death bed.
Do we not want all people to experience the abundant and generous grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God? Do we not want all people to come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior? Do we not have hope that all people will be saved? Of course we do. We rejoice when someone becomes a Christian. We rejoice when we see the power of the Holy Spirit in someone else’s life taking them away from their idleness and transforming their lives into lives of faith and service. We rejoice knowing that God is working even now to bring about reconciliation and redemption, liberation and justice, not only for all people, but for all of God’s good creation.
Yet, the question still remains for us. How do we respond to God's generosity? Maybe the answer for us lies in us thinking about the reaction of the late-hour workers. Imagine for a moment that you are a worker, who has a family, and you cannot find work. No one will hire you. When suddenly a landowner comes to you and asks why you are standing around, and you say, “because no one will hire me.” But instead of the employer saying, “tough luck, it is too late in the day, I have no need for you now”, the landowner says, "you also go into the vineyard." Well, you will at least get a little bit of money to take home, maybe just enough for some food. But then imagine how you would feel when it is time to get paid, and the landowner does something crazy, something so out of the ordinary that it is shocking, something so generous, he gives you a full days wage, even though you didn't earn it. He gives you more than you deserve, more than you need. How can you possibly respond in any other way than by saying thank you, just saying thank you.
And we can begin to say thank you to God through prayer. Every day, we should take the time to get on our knees and say thank you. What better way to say thank you than to commune with God through prayer. What better way to say thank you than to have a personal relationship with God where we listen for God's voice to speak to us and help us discern his will for us.
We can say thank you to God by coming to Sunday school and worship. The new life we have been given through the giving of God's grace, should make all of us want to worship God and learn more about God every day. What better way to say thank you than to come and sing out with joy and praise for the goodness and generosity of God. What better way to say thank you than to come and hear and learn God's Word, so that we will be able to give to others a reason for the hope that we have, so that we will be able to proclaim to others the good news of God's salvation through Jesus Christ, so that we will be able to live our lives in faithful obedience and thanksgiving for what God has already given us.
We can say thank you by giving our time, energy, and financial resources to community of faith for the building up of the body of Christ. What better way to say thank you than to be good stewards of ourselves and our possessions, and to give back to God, not only ourselves, but the many blessings we have been given, the many blessings we do not deserve.
We can say thank you by committing ourselves to be loving servants and faithful witnesses in every area of our lives, to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ and go and serve others in the world. What better way to say thank you than to go and be teachers, leaders, and helpers in the church, to be a positive influence in the lives of our peers and in the lives of our children, so that the Gospel might be made manifest through our lives of faith, so that they too will be able to see, hear, and experience the mercy, love and forgiveness of God in their lives.
Thanks be to God that we are not given grace according to the amount of work we do. Thanks be to God that God does not give grace according to the economy of the world, but according the God’s own love. Thanks be to God that God knows what we need and meets those needs. Thanks be to God that God does not ask, “what do they deserve” but rather “how can I help them, how can I save them.” Thanks be to God that God is so generous, so exceedingly generous with his grace.
Let us remember that we cannot ever say thank you enough to God for what God has so freely and lavishly given to us, and let us never forget to rejoice and be glad and live our lives in faithful obedience, so that in all that we do and say, we might give praise and glory to the abundance and generosity of God's grace.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come;
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.
Thanks be to God. Amen.