Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sermon for September 20-21

The Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
September 20-21, 2008
Text: Matthew 20:1-16

Dear Friends in Christ,
Pastors are sometimes accused of preaching about what they did all week. Jack Preus was notorious for this. Having been cued in to this tendency, I try to avoid doing that. My life isn’t all that interesting to talk about in any event - though I find living it interesting enough. But this week I’m going to break this rule and talk about my week. First I must say that pastors of very small churches are often not all that busy. I have summer weeks where I do nothing extra. This week was certainly different. Monday was my slow day. Didn’t do too much, other than get ready for our pastor’s conference. Tuesday was our pastor’s conference. Before I left for the conference I got a call that Dick Dahling was in the hospital in St. Paul. I was hosting our conference so I had to lead the service. We had an adventure when Wilma Fink passed out at the communion rail. Wilma’s fine. Just a momentary bout of low blood pressure. I was also volunteered to be chairman of our pastor’s conference. I’ll continue as secretary for a couple more months but we have plans for pass that job on to another pastor shortly. Then on Wednesday morning I had to run into the cities to see Dick. Then there was Bible class and confirmation class. I must say both classes were really good and on task this week. Then I got a call about Gene Bender in the hospital in Eau Claire. I had heard he was in, but hadn’t followed up. I fell down on the job a bit there. I thought at first I was going to have run down Wednesday night. But it wasn’t quite that urgent. I went down to see him Thursday. All this is to say it was a busy week. I shouldn’t complain. For many of our pastors this is a normal week, or even a slow week. But compare this now to some of the weeks this pastor summer. Once when I was vacancy pastor, there were so many calls you had to visit the hospital and several shuts every day, just to keep up. But here there is not so much work to do. As a pastor you have to do the work God sets before you. God doesn’t always give you the jobs you like. God doesn’t always give you the jobs you’re good at. Often times you get a task and look up to heaven and say, “What do I do with that?” Sometimes there’s not so much work. Sometimes there’s a great deal. But every task is a gift from God.

Our text is another of Christ’s parables. It is the story of a man hiring day laborers to harvest his crop. But the point is usually lost. Some background is needed. This is a wealthy farmer. He has a large farm. He also probably has servants to tend his fields. He could go out and harvest. He could send his men out to harvest. He doesn’t have to hire extra help. So too for God. He has His armies of angels. God could have them do anything that He wants. I’ll just bet there are angels waiting in line to preach a sermon - and they could surely do it far better than I can. There is nothing that God needs us to do. God doesn’t need us to preach, teach, help the sick and the poor, aid disaster victims and the like. God could have the angels do all this. And they’d be more than happy to do it.

In the story, the man goes and hires workers for the harvest. These are poor, unskilled laborers. They don’t own land of their own. Without some assistance, they and their families would probably starve. In our world, they would be like migrant farm workers. I remember as a child having migrant workers come begging for work. We were small farmers and didn’t hire any help. Dad was farming to put us kids to work. For workers like those in the parable, just having work at all was a gift.

This is the point of the parable. The work we do for God is a gift of grace. We are privileged to be given tasks for God. It should be our honor to do this work. Sometimes it’s not the work we would choose. But it is the work that God knows to be good for us to do.

We are sinners. We have no right to expect anything from God. In fact, Christ would just in condemning us. We should have no place at all in the kingdom of God. But Christ takes our sins upon Himself and carries them to the cross. He bears the punishment that should have been ours. Then He doesn’t just let us sit around, but puts us to work in His kingdom.

Why are there different levels of work and different times of employment. This represents two things. First, some are lifelong Christians. Some become Christians late in life. The task that the Lord assigns to each Christian will relate to when they became a Christian. Obviously, a person who becomes a Christian late in life, will not labor as long for the Lord as a life long Christian. Second, even among Christians, there are different tasks assigned by the Lord at different times. But these tasks are given in love for the good of each Christian. Christ knows what each Christian needs to be doing to strengthen their faith and the faith of those around them. He doesn’t give us tasks that are too hard for His purpose. Does God ever give us tasks that we will fail to accomplish? All the time. But that doesn’t mean that they are aren’t for our good. The tasks given to us will accomplish God’s purpose one way or the other, some by our success and some by our failure. But in each case, the task was given to us by God as a gift.

In the end, all true Christians, that is those who trust in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, go to heaven. Rewards beyond that are not revealed to us. Scripture seems to speak of higher honors in heaven for some, such as the martyrs. But it is not revealed to us how this works. So we cannot even seek a higher reward. We don’t know what it would be or how God will award such things. All we can be concerned about is getting to heaven. So in the end, from our earthly perspective, all believers get the same reward. We get the same reward, a place in heaven, because this is a gift of grace. We don’t earn it by our work. In fact, even the tasks God assigns to us are gifts of His grace. They are a mark that we are His child. They are given to strengthen us in the faith and to show us how God intends us to live. I suspect that such lessons might still be useful in heaven. So we as Christians should embrace the tasks we are given. We should not grumble. Nor should we even concern ourselves with the tasks given to others. That’s between them and God. We keep our focuse on Christ and the salvation He has given to us. That keeps everything in perspective. It reminds us that even our labor for the Lord is a gift of God’s grace.

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