25.9.17

Great expectations Matthew 20:1-16


We have to remember something about Matthew, ex-tax collector as he was, he knew a thing or two about money. His gospel reflects this: hidden treasure, a pearl, and last week we were shocked by a debtor cleared of millions who was just beastly to some one who owed him only five months wages. We learnt something about a God who doesn't want us to live with unforgiveness. He wants us to be as lavish as he has been in setting us debtors free with the life of his very Son. He wants us to live free. Unforgiveness, even psychologists will tell you isn't healthy; isn't good. As Nicky Gumble reminds us in the Alpha course - “It's like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” We learnt something last week of the power of the Spirit as experienced by Corrie Ten Boom who had watched Nazis murder her sisters and go on to forgive one who became a Christian as he asked for her to forgive him, how it wouldn't have been something she could have done, unless the power of the Holy Spirit had not in that moment come over her and run like a current through her arm, causing her to reach out her hand to shake hands with him.


This week, then, workers called in shifts – first thing, at nine, at noon, at three, and five but the latest to work (working the shortest of time) given exactly the same salary packet as those labouring first thing. Page 22 in your Bibles (New Revised Standard Anglicised version NRSV), please. “The first is last and the last is first! at chapter 19, verse 30.

What is Matthew trying to tell us, here, about God?
How can it be that those clocking up such little time are paid the same as those who do so much?
Well, you might already have had a good go at working this out.

Let's look at the simplest reading.

To an extent it is about those who came later to a living faith in God? The Gentiles would be as loved and provided for as those Jews who had always known the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and then come to Christ in full faith. Applicable today? Yes. The church does not ordain, licence or give responsibility to its members on the basis of the years they have clocked up. You can be in church for decades and only later invest in your own discipling. Yet, the newest converts can turn around their whole lives for Christ.

Let's look at another simple reading - you work harder for God than someone else but receive the same reward as them from the Lord of the vineyard. Is God unfair? No – he's just all grace.

This parable does teach us something about “works” and efforts and how righteousness isn't ours because somehow we have earned it or tried so hard. The Gospel, instead, tells us Jesus earned salvation for us through his work – his work on the cross to clear our debt (wiping our slates clean with his blood) so that God sees you and I perfect before him. There is nothing we can do to make God love us any more. There is nothing we can do to make God love us any less. So this parable is a reminder that we do not earn God's love. Those first labourers aggrieved and in rumbling complaint would have boasted of their hard work in the scorching sun – wasn't there something more that they deserved and they thought it was, mistakenly, all about them.

So we learn God loves the new people just as much as the old.

We learn I cannot clock up brownie points with a Christian God.

But learning this there are some dangers. If the first will be last and the last will be first, I can delay my discipleship and perhaps instead give my life to God in the last ten minutes of my life, we might be tempted to think.

Or alternatively – if there's nothing I can do to make God love me any more or any less and Jesus earned my salvation – well, perhaps then I will just live as I wish.

No. This parable squarely confronts these temptations in our thinking.

Let's look to the context on page 22 (one of the reasons for the bibles in your pews). You see, Peter wonders why giving up everything doesn't earn him salvation – “Who then who can be saved- we've left everything for you?” The parable was always Jesus' way of answering that question. It's never about what I must or mustn't do. Peter is asking entirely the wrong question. And very often it's the question we ask too.

Peter is in as lamentable a place as the Rich young man who went quietly away before him (Chapter 19:vs16-26) because he was asked to give up his wealth and realised he had so much.
So - the rich man “What must I do? – I can't give it all away.”
and the poor man Peter: “What must I do – hey, I gave it all up!”
These are the responses from which Jesus comes to shake us free.

Jesus wants you to know that it is all about living with a different set of expectations about the goodness of God! It was never about you!

The first workers in that vineyard needed to have their perspective shifted because unfortunately like Peter and just like the rich young man, they had worked it all out beforehand with God, set the terms, brokered a deal and were 'all control': - “I will give you a full day's work and expect a danarius in return.” 'He made an agreement with them for their usual daily wage,' at verse 2.

We can be like this in our discipleship:

“I put in some hours for you God, I came to church, I listened and paid attention but left without what I had hoped for; it didn't meet me, didn't feed me, you didn't answer my prayers.”

This is what God challenges this morning and it is tough. Vicars are just as guilty. We think there might be something we have done or failed to do to create the right conditions for you to meet with God. We put in certain efforts and expect certain results when instead we must just trust you in your love for God and let God be God.

The later workers in the vineyard simply trusted God would do what was right at verse 4 “I will pay you whatever is right.”. This is the alternative put before us. When we let God be God and trust him and know him, he gives to us in far more abundance than our limited imaginings could have asked for. These later labourers in the vineyard just trusted in the Master's generosity – knew so much better the character of God – trusted the master to do what was right and 'this right' by our lavish God's standards was paying the workers far more than they actually deserved because this is the nature of an audacious God who redeems us with everything he has – even the life of his own Son Jesus Christ.

Those first workers with their smaller expectations are made to stand in line and simply watch... as the last workers are paid the same danarius. We are left with the image of the first workers' grumbling complaint.

Now God in his mercy still loves you even when you complain – 'the hymns aren't like they used to be, I expected to meet with God but that last one was a funny song,' (say gently with a smile, Rach!)

They all received a danarius but how much greater has been the experience of the later workers, not because they had less work to do but because they live as we are to live, as we can not help but live if Jesus lives in us – they live so overblown and so thoroughly surprised by the overwhelming love of an audaciously lavish and generous God.

When God is at work in your life, you don't just expect the ordinary, you expect the extra-ordinary lavish love of God to be at work in your life and the people around you – you see the world in new ways, you come to worship him with a different grace.

Those who expect less of God and less of other people; who only expect something right in their own eyes will receive exactly what they expect.
Those who trust instead in the goodness of God, though receiving just the same, seem to receive so much more. They know how great God is and how small they are, that he will give the Holy Spirit to them if they ask; that it is only through such a baptism in the Holy Spirit's power that we can receive at all (Luke 13:11b).

The rich young man seems to think faith has so much more to do with 'man': “Teacher, what good thing must I do in order that I might have eternal life?” Jesus responds, “Why do you inquire concerning the good thing? Only one is the Good One” (19:16, 17). It is Jesus and his Holy Spirit we are to pursue: God the Good one.

It is an openness to the one who came to baptise you in the Spirit which will open up your life with God and as a result impute to you a genuine love for everyone else. (see Matthew 3:11; Ephesians 5:18; John 3:5; Acts 2:4; Acts 19:2; Acts 1:8, Acts 11:16; Luke 3:16, Luke 24:49; Acts 19:6; Acts 19:1-6, Acts 2:1-4; Acts 4:31; Mark 1:8; John 1:33; Acts 10:44; John 20:22; Romans 8:26; Acts 1:4-5; Acts 10:44-46; Luke 11:9; Luke 11:13; Acts 11:15-16; John 14:16-17.)

So...
Jesus teaches us through this parable, then, to set our sights so much higher, to bring the whole of ourselves to worship and to sacrifice what pleases us for the sake of one another.

God will meet us as our hearts become full of him, it's not in the music or a warm and floaty feeling, where you understood the sermon or found it more encouraging – it's in your openness to him and to one another; letting God be God. It's in your expectation. 

So in many ways then, yes, it is the very hardest thing of all he asks of us. It's got more to do with our surrender and our letting God be God; not working it all out beforehand and setting limits on our reward. A simple trusting receptivity to the sheer goodness of God is what this parable teaches: –

“I trust you God to do what is right and that I am not to control that ... and as we learn else where from scripture and Ephesians verse 20 of chapter 3: He can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine!

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