The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Let’s join in a word of prayer:
God of such amazing grace and mercy, we know from Scriptures, the certainty of your care for us. Help us express this care for others as your children, seeking to be compassionate and setting aside our pride. God of all mercy, help us to hold onto the faith that your Holy Spirit puts into our hearts by word and sacrament. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Amen.
Two brothers were born into a middle class Christian family here in Australia. The brothers grew apart, with one embracing Christianity as a teenager, while the other became interested in experimenting with all that living in a broken world offered. As life progressed the Christian tried to encourage, warn, and even frighten his brother into accepting faith in Christ Jesus. Nothing seemed to make a difference.
As they matured and became older, the wayward brother became ill, and faced death. The Christian brother sat at his bed side through the last days of his brother’s life, and spoke gently of Jesus. In the last moments of his life, the brothers prayed together and the dying brother expressed a reborn faith in our Saviour. He closed his eyes for the last time with the shadow of a smile on his face, and contentment in his heart.
At the funeral, the Christian brother was sad and angry. The Pastor spoke to him with concern over his grief. The Christian explained that he was angry because his brother had lived his life devoid of faith, but at the last moment received life eternal. It was clear that the Christian brother was resentful of his brother’s wayward life and deathbed conversion.
The Pastor gently related the parable we shared in the Gospel today. It made all the difference, because the reality of God’s grace and love for every believer shines through, no matter how confused our life becomes. In the Kingdom of God, it may even seem that ‘the first will be last, and the last will be first,’ as Jesus relates to us.
This does raise an interesting question though. Can we disregard our relationship with Christ Jesus until we are near the point of meeting Him?
In light of such a question, I am reminded of Paul’s words, ‘what ever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.’ And so, I suggest that it does make a difference. We don’t believe in Jesus just for the eternity we will share with Him. We believe in Jesus for the hope we have each day we live with Him here and now. ‘To live is Christ and to die is gain.’
I am convinced that when we get to heaven, there will be no contest to see who was the most deserving of God’s grace because no one deserves it. We receive it because of God’s nature, not because of our’s.
I suspect there will only be one contest in heaven. When we look back and see what we were before, when we see how Jesus rescued us, when we recall how confused we were, when we remember how God reached out and brought us into His family, and how he upheld us in his hand, and when we see Jesus who loves us and gave himself for us, the only contest will be to see which of us will sing the loudest: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” Grace that set our hearts free to trust and believe.
God’s generosity is limitless. His forgiveness has no boundaries. His love is eternal. He is not a respecter of merit. And yet, Jesus ends the parable with the words, ‘the last will be first, and the first will be last.’
From the words of Christ Jesus, I have a sense that there is an order to things in eternity. That we have a foretaste of this in the parable. The followers of Christ Jesus can be assured of the promises of life eternal from God. Life that is special, joyous, and exciting.
In the parable, we see workers who are hired in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening, all receiving the same reward for their commitment to the landowner. In the reality of salvation, I expect the same generosity from God, for those who come to faith in Jesus Christ, and receive the gift of baptism. Whether as a baby, a child, a teenager, an adult, or on their deathbed, the same salvation is offered and received. There are no levels to salvation, and there is no purgatory where we must work away our sins. Jesus fulfilled the entire law, and took our punishment to free us from judgement. Nothing is impossible for God.
I suspect that there is not one Christian who would disagree with the mercy and grace of our loving God. After all, God sent his Son to die on the cross to offer us this salvation.
And yet, among the workers, those last hired, are first paid, and they receive the same reward as all the others. In our minds, this seems unfair. We most often work an hour for an hour’s wage. In the parable we have the words of the landowner, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a normal days wage? Take your pay and go.” Jesus died on the cross for all humanity. Because of this universal act of sacrifice, God offers the same unlimited salvation to every person individually. And we receive this gift individually, by faith in our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
When the landowner went out to hire labourers, he did not pick and choose among those who were there. Everyone who was standing there was hired, and the landowner returned again and again to discover those who were ready to begin work. Yet the landowner made the agreement with each worker individually, when they were hired.
God’s Holy Spirit has been poured out upon the whole human race at Pentecost. God keeps every person in his view, and when we are ready to receive his grace and mercy, He is ready to receive us. And the angels in heaven shout for joy as a new child of God is registered in the book of life.
But let’s not be confused about this. When God chooses us to join the Kingdom of God, our work on earth is not finished. It is just beginning, and will continue as long as we have breath. Paul writes, ‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me.’
While we labour in the field, God’s Holy Spirit gives us different gifts and abilities. It must have been in the parable that some of the workers tilled the land, some cultivated the crop, and others harvested the fruit. As the Scriptures tell us, ‘we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us. If our gift is to speak God’s message, we should do it according to the faith that we have; if it is to serve, we should serve; if it is to teach, we should teach; if it is to encourage others, we should do so.’
Whatever gifts God has given to us, and whatever we do, we do all to the glory of God. And we do all with love for one another. All to the glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is no reason for any Christian to complain about God’s grace from envy or resentment, as the workers did in the parable. And as the Israelite people whom God led to freedom from Egypt.
In Christ Jesus, we have the spiritual freedom to do our best to align our priorities with God’s will for our lives and our world. We can give thanks to God for his mercy in offering salvation through our Saviour. It’s only wise to use whatever gifts we have been given to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the harvest fields where we have been placed. Our generous and loving God who wants everyone to be saved.
Over the weeks and even months ahead, we as a worshipping community will rely upon the gifts we have been given, and the spiritual freedom we are blessed with. We see from the Contact, and other testimonies that the Lutheran Church especially in New South Wales are facing a future with hope, faith, and confidence. Facing the challenge and the opportunity to re-imagine worship and mission as Lutherans of the 21st Century.
I am excited to witness what that future will bring. New expressions of worship with word and sacrament. New opportunities of mission right here in New South Wales and even Port Macquarie. And new challenges of working closely with the District and the Lutheran Church of Australia in redefining the LCA Constitution and identity. I have a keen desire to be part of this new initiative, and I hope that we will all move forward with faith, hope and expectation, rather than anxiety, fear, and lost familiarity. And as we open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit to go out and call others to join us in our little vineyard of the world, we can rejoice along with the angels in heaven.
So, for today, for tomorrow, and for the future, may the grace and peace of our Triune God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN.
Rev David Thompson.