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Septuagesima, Seventy Days to Easter
“To Workers of All Kinds”
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
St. Matthew 20.1-16; Ephesians 6.5-8 (Table of Duties)
31 January 2021
+ In the Name of Jesus +
A few weeks ago it just so happened that the Gospel for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, the story of Jesus’ miracle of changing water to wine at the wedding in Cana, and our Lord blessing Holy Marriage by that miracle, coincided with the next sequential reading from the Small Catechism for our weekly “Family Catechetical Time” – the readings from the Table of Duties, “To Husbands” and “To Wives” were next to be read.
And again this week, to go with the Lord’s parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, the next part of the Table of Duties is “To Workers of All Kinds” – please turn now to the bulletin and read with me from the Catechism:
Table of Duties
CERTAIN PASSAGES OF SCRIPTURE FOR VARIOUS HOLY ORDERS AND POSITIONS,
ADMONISHING THEM ABOUT THEIR DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
To Workers of All Kinds
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. [Eph. 6:5-8]
Jesus’ parable today says that the kingdom of heaven is like the most unbelievable owner and employer. He goes out and calls and gathers workers into his vineyard. No matter when they’ve come in, what their history has been, where they’ve been – even those who stood idle all day – many are called and invited to work. It’s all grace. This owner wants to be that way, and wants everyone to know it. It’s how he is. All grace, love for others in fullest measure. A full day’s pay is paid out to all the laborers, even if they had only worked one single hour. Many who are first will be last, and the last first, says Jesus. Everyone receives what is promised, purely by the goodness of the owner. Being part of God’s kingdom is not based on earning or deserving anything – but all is according to God’s grace, His undeserved love for sinners.
How can our temporal places of employment ever live up to the kingdom of heaven?
In our “Table of Duties” passage from Ephesians 6.5-8, as with what follows next week, “To Masters” (Ephesians 6.9), both servant and master, employee and employer are summoned to live in healthy fear and trembling before the face of God – the One who owns all things. Workers and employers are to see in each other a blessing from the hand of a gracious God, and treat them accordingly. (This is, by the way, how everyone is to treat their neighbor, no matter what the particular relationship!)
For the worker, his or her work is not ultimately just for his employer or master. It is to work ‘as servants of Christ’ – doing the will of God from the heart, rendering your service with a good will “as to the Lord” – it is to do your work each day as if for Christ Himself! And then to see the reward for your labor as being from Christ Himself. This is, after all, how Our Father in heaven wills to provide daily bread for the worker and his or her family: through the means of the sweat of one’s brow. Through honest, hard work.
In the parable of the vineyard, everyone put in their work for the owner. Some put in more work than others. Everyone did what they were called to do. They were in the vineyard, and so they had believed the promise of the owner – he would pay whatever is righteous. It turns out, for this vineyard and owner, what was righteous was that all received one day’s wage. Some who worked all day grumbled. They felt they were underpaid for over-performance. They didn’t see things eye to eye with the owner of the vineyard.
Jesus was aiming this parable at His disciples. Unlike the rich young ruler who would not sell all he had and follow Jesus (Mt. 19.16-22), Peter and the disciples say, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” (Mt. 19.27) They were perceiving that they were among the first to work in God’s kingdom for Jesus, and they should have a special place. They had sacrificed much. In the parable, they are the all-day workers bearing the burden of the heat of the day – and who, with their Jewish brothers and sisters, would not believe that the sinners and Gentiles of their day – those ninth and eleventh hour workers – should be so freely admitted into the kingdom of God and paid the same wage at the end. Surely, reason says, one has to earn one’s reward in God’s kingdom!
Have you ever grumbled about your employer? Perhaps at God Himself? Is everything always fair at work? In life? Our sinful nature says it’s okay to grumble about those placed over us and their perceived shortcomings and bad decisions. The sinful nature tempts us to withhold something from those over us, if we perceive we are being short-changed. But the Scripture is always extolling us to bear our cross with humility and integrity.
Dr. Luther has a lot to say on workers doing honest work in his commentary on the Seventh Commandment in his Large Catechism. “You shall not steal.” You are to help your neighbor – especially your employer and fellow workers – improve and protect their property and income, or their livelihood. Luther lists these as sins for employees: treating entrusted property carelessly and thoughtlessly. Neglecting and wasting the goods of your employer. Robbing your employer with bad or shoddy work – especially if one thinks one is underpaid, and the employee decides to “repay” the owner with bad or shoddy work.
Luther reminds us that our holy and zealous God watches over our human community, and especially the economic sphere, and protects the possessions of our neighbor against infringements of our greed, both by having the Law preached to us, and by the enforcement of civil law by the appointed government. And do not forget the Law may work in this way – the employer may just “reward” your bad work for him or her by terminating your employment.
How different is God’s kingdom, God’s vineyard! Our temporal worker/employer relationships are mere shadows of the reality of our gracious and forgiving God. This side of heaven, those relationships must strive to live up to and reflect the love of our holy and just God. But in God’s kingdom, His Holy Church, all who are in His vineyard, no matter when they’ve come, even at the eleventh hour, God graciously accepts and adopts and gives them the inheritance of eternal life. For if one has entered the vineyard of the Lord, one has the gift of sincere repentance and true faith in Christ wrought by the Holy Spirit, and thus God accounts him righteous on account of the blood of Christ.
God ordains to sanctify, makes holy, in His love, all who are in His Kingdom. He protects them in their weakness against the devil, the world, and their flesh. Note how the Lord of the vineyard earnestly entreats the grumbling first hour workers not to begrudge His generosity! He longs for them to accept his payment with humility and grateful hearts! Do you think they heard His word, repented of looking out “for old number one”, and instead looked gratefully to Him for His gracious wage? That’s what we need to humbly do when we err. Put aside our pride, humble ourselves, listen to God’s Word, and repent. This is to say, humble yourselves before the Word of God, live out your Baptism, seek His absolution, joyfully yearn for His supper, for by these means He is preserving you through the heat and toil of the work in His Kingdom, until that day when He pays the wonderful and undeserved wage.
Remember, when the heat of the day burns overhead, as you live out the vocations God gives you, you will be gravely tempted to forget the promises of our gracious Lord. You will sometimes stumble and fall, sometimes grumble and complain, and sometimes, the Lord will seem to be silent to our calls for help and cries for justice and mercy. The Lord, who yearns for you to fear, love, and trust Him, may rebuke your hard heart and seek to discipline you. The work of each day in the Lord’s vineyard may become very hard and sometimes discouraging and sometimes there seems to be no harvest visible and no wine is flowing out of the press.
Nevertheless, unlike our earthly employers, where none are perfect or full of grace all the time, and there are no perfect jobs, no matter how much we may love our vocations, remember this: In God’s vineyard, God’s kingdom, your calling and election in Jesus Christ are sure. The gates of hell cannot prevail against Him or His Church, His calling, His promises. You are in the vineyard through your Baptism into Him, and you will receive what is righteous from God because He accounts you righteous, because He made you righteous, because He gave you what is righteous – Himself.
For God’s Son has borne the brunt of the work. Jesus is the singular worker of all kinds, of all time, who blesses our daily work in His kingdom through His ultimate, sacrificial work for our sake, as our dear brother. The winepress of God’s wrath over sin He allowed to be pressed on Himself, He the vine and the fruit of the vine, and so from God’s Son was extracted every drop of His own holy, innocent, precious blood, to bring about a wonderful deliverance by His goodness and grace. For the last – you sinners, you “workers of all kinds,” by nature whose work is no good and whose condition is lost – have been made first. And the first – the only begotten Son of God – made Himself last for your sake, so that you would not perish, but enjoy the fruit of His labors, the unbelievable, undeserved deliverance by His goodness and grace, the wondrous free gift of God, eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +