1 Corinthians 9:24-10:5
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
If you were hired to go work in a vineyard then, though you may work hard hauling water from the vineyard’s well, clipping, tending, and bending over vines all day, at least you are out of the sweltering heat of the city and sheltered from the sun by the vines and the protective hedge walls of the vineyard. There were also lovely breezes that wafted over the gentle slopes vineyards were built on and a well near by to get cool water to slake your thirst. At the end of the there was the hope of pay, of survival one more day for your family.
But if you are not there first thing in morning, you might not get hired. You might not get a full day’s pay. Your children might go to bed hungry. So apart from family circumstances or personal hardship that might keep you from getting there early, it must have been the height of laziness for a worker on whom his family depended to not go out first thing in the morning. Thus the master of the vineyard says at all the other hired later, “Even you go into my vineyard,” knowing that these are the folks who are particularly burdened by the circumstances of life, or that they are just plain lazy.
And the language of the gracious master of the vineyard—whose call to the workers is pure mercy on a poor, miserable soul—is interesting. “Depart into my vineyard.” Depart this scorching heat of the marketplace. Depart the desperation, futility, and useless idleness of standing here without hope, without income, without a way to provide for your family. Depart this life and know the joys of working in my delightful vineyard. Sure, there is still heat there. There is work to be done there. But there is shade from the sun, there is water for your thirst, and there is joy and a future for you a your family.
And, behold, at the close of the day, those workers hired last, whose personal laziness or hardship kept them from going out for work when they ought, are given great joy! They receive what they do not deserve. A whole day’s pay, when they have done little work. Sheer grace and mercy from this kind Master.
To the noble and upright workers who worked the whole twelve hours of daylight is given exactly what they wanted and agreed to: a whole day’s pay. Yet they grumble, “These last ones did but one hour of work and they are made equal to us who bore the burden of the day and the burning, scorching heat.” And they grumble so loud that the Master can’t help but overhear them. So again the master says, “Depart.” Depart with what is yours, but depart from me, from my vineyard, from my grace. For is He not free to be gracious to whom He will be gracious? Or do we grumbling servants give Him the evil eye because He is good?
For this is how Our Lord Jesus acts with us. He calls us in Baptism away from the terrible heat of life without God into the joys of His vineyard. He grants us water which washes our sins away and revives our souls. He shelters and supports us all the day with food from His own table, wine from His own vineyard, and in the end He grants those who have not earned it eternal life.
Begrudging God’s grace our eyes go bad. Our whole outlook is poisoned. And not for any good reason, but because we are angry that He is good to those who don’t deserve it: the broken, the downtrodden, the lazy, the undeserving, the sinner, you and me. This is what it means to grumble against God: to hate Him for His grace.
Pious Christians sitting here might think it unfathomable to grumble against God because He is good! But then, don’t we grumble about the wealth of others, either because they don’t deserve it, didn’t earn it, are idiots, we’d do better with it, put it to better use, we’d even give some to God. There are always times where we are not content with our lot in life. We wish we had a different family, different friends, better social circle, richer house, more income, even while God richly provides a roof over our heads, food on our tables, and grace for our sins. We are grumblers. We are not satisfied. Advertising plays on that and inflames our inborn sin all the more. How can you be satisfied until you have the latest great gadget? Our world, in the grips of its sin, has even built a culture of newness where we become dissatisfied with what is perfectly functional, even aesthetically pleasing simply because it isn’t the latest, greatest, newest thing out there. Dissatisfaction. Discontentment. Grumbling. Not just against your spouse, your parents, against the stuff you have, against your friends, but ultimately against God your provider. Repent.
Grumbling is a dangerous sport. Look what happened to the Israelites in the wilderness. They were decreed forty years of wandering in the desert for grumbling against the Lord’s grace. Forty years that would kill off that whole generation of grumblers, raising up a new generation taught to trust in the Lord to provide all things for them. Repent and trust your gracious God.
For the Christian does not grumble against God. The Christian instead wrestles with God in prayer. Wrestles with God against their own discontentment, against their own unbelief, against their own lack of trust in the Lord.
For what is prayer? It is not some magical source of power that makes things happen. Prayer is us wrestling with God till we trust Him to work what has been His gracious plan all along. We bring to Him our wants, our desires, our needs, as well as the needs of family, friends, nation, and world. God does what God has always intended. He is gracious. He is just. He is merciful. He gives good things both to believers and unbelievers alike. He does all of that with or without our prayers. But as we wrestle with Him we come to know, to believe, to trust that it is, in fact, Him at work doing these things! We trust that He is the one who fashions all the crosses Christians bear. He fashions them perfectly for each of us, so that through the trials we wrestle with He strengthens, teaches, blesses, protects, and calls us to leave behind the scorching heat and the useless idleness of standing around all day without Him. And when in prayer He pins us, convicts us, convinces us of His goodness, we are then put to good use in His vineyard, serving and loving Him by loving those He gives to us in our vocations, thanking Him for being gracious to sinners burdened by the weight of their own sin, by the weight of their own personal and family struggles. He calls even the one who lazily wandered out into the marketplace well after noon, and gives him what he do not deserve.
He does this for Our master is gracious, for He Himself carried the burden of the day and the heat of His Father’s wrath when He went to the cross. But His grace does not end there, He even sends his vineyard foreman to you to deliver to you a reward you have not earned, pure grace and mercy to ones who are undeserving.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church,
Thunder Bay, ON