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17th Sunday after Pentecost (cycle a)
Proper 20 (25)

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| World Communion Sunday

Texts & Discussion:
Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Jonah 3:10-4:11
Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

Other Resources:


Matthew Henry,    Wesley

Word Study:
This Week's Themes:

God's Providence amid Suffering
Christ--Foundation of Our Faith
Amazing Grace


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 Texts in Context | Commentary:  First Lesson Epistle Gospel | Prayer&Litanies |  
Hymns & Songs
| Children's Sermons | Sermons based on Texts




The Unfairness of God
Sermon based on Matthew 20:1-16
by Rev. Karen A. Goltz

            I hear today's gospel lesson, and I'm reminded of the movie Labyrinth.  In it the heroine says (for about the dozenth time) It isn't fair!  The villain replies, You say that so often.  I wonder what your basis for comparison is.  Well, I think by anyone's standards, today's gospel lesson isn't fair.  And we have a problem with that.

            Let's face it; walking the Christian walk isn't easy, and, much of the time, it isn't fun.  There's a lot expected of us, and just when we go that extra mile for the sake of Christ we find out that no, we don't get to rest up nowówe have to go another mile, and another, and another, and another, with no end in sight.  The more we show we're capable of, the more that's expected of us.  Sure, there are some rewards along the way, but by and large, it's hard work.  And we know that the absolute best we can hope for is to hear God say at the end of it all, Well done, good and faithful servant.  If we're being honest with ourselves, we'll confess that we would like to receive a little more.  Not necessarily a lotómost of us aren't expecting all the hosts of heaven to give us a standing ovation and God to fawn all over how good a job we did here on earth.  But we would like a little extra acknowledgement, especially over and above those who weren't as good Christians as us, like those who came to it later in life, or those who didn't seem to take it as seriously as we did.  My little daydream is God looking a lot like my great uncle who passed away years ago, with his shiny bald head and that twinkle in his eye behind his thick glasses, and his gruff voice saying, "You done good, kid."  And I can take that and know that that recognition was just for me, just for what I did, and not shared with anyone else.

But that's not the picture today's gospel gives us.  Instead we're told a story that basically boils down to "You did your job, nothing more, nothing less, and here's the agreed-upon wage for it, and oh-by-the-way I'm giving the same wage to a bunch of people who didn't work nearly as hard as you.  See you tomorrow, bright and early, so we can do this again."  Looked at that way, we may as well call this the "Why Bother?" parable.

So, to quote the girl in Labyrinth, it's not fair!  But, as she comes to realize later in the movie, no, it isn't, but that's just the way it is.  Which leaves me with a dilemma as your preacheróhow do I preach grace from that?

Well, let me start by asking you a question: if grace were fair, would it still be grace?

Today's gospel reading is one of those lessons that both comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.  How we interpret it depends largely on how we perceive ourselves.  Most of us are pretty comfortable, so we feel afflicted, and we don't like it.  But we have to ask ourselves, why are we so comfortable?  Is it because of our works?  Is it because we feel we'll get our just due at the end of a life well-lived?  That's what this parable seems to suggest, by talking about laborers working a day for a day's wage.  And it's no accident that this parable immediately follows Jesus telling his disciples that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.  But we need to realize that Jesus' parables are never about what they seem to be about.  Over the summer we heard him give farming advice that would make most farmers cringe, and today we hear him recommend a business model that would bankrupt many businesses and encourage tardiness and absenteeism, destroying productivity.  But Jesus wasn't a farmer or a business executive, and he wasn't providing consulting services on either topic; Jesus was and is the Son of God, and he is telling us what the kingdom of heaven is like.

So what is the kingdom of heaven like?   [continue]