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God's Amazing Grace

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Matthew 20:1-16
11am SMAS Holy Communion
(18.9.2011)

Jesus' story makes little economic sense but that's not the point. He is giving a parable about grace, God's undeserved favour. We can’t calculate the grace of God like we can a day's wages. We receive it as a gift from God, it is not something we work hard to earn. The person who comes to God at the end of life, maybe like the thief on the cross, enjoys the same ultimate benefits as someone who follows God from early childhood. Jealousy of someone else's "unfair" rewards should not take the joy from our own. When we see someone come to faith we must share in their joy, not to be jealous. God has enough love and grace for everyone.

During a trip to Switzerland, a businessman was watching a clockmaker carving the case of a very ornate cuckoo clock. He was amazed at his slow rate of progress. Finally the businessman said, "My good man, you'll never make much money that way." "Sir," the clockmaker replied, "I'm not making money, I'm making cuckoo clocks."

There’s a big difference in goals of those men. The businessman was concerned about the financial implications, the wages, and the clock maker was looking to the joy of a job well done.

This could apply to many things in our life including our spiritual life, our walk with God. Some people come to faith because the idea of death is too awful to contemplate and they are looking for a reassurance that their life can continue. A lesson for Christ’s disciples from this parable is that we should not serve Him because we want to receive an expected reward. God is infinitely generous and gracious, He always gives us what we need and it is always better than we deserve.

Jesus taught us to pray: "Give us this day our daily bread." There won’t be many of us who know what its like to live not actually knowing if we will have enough to eat on any one day. If we did we’d realize the generosity and fairness shown here. Everyone got a day’s wage and could go home and feed their family.

Everyone got enough, no one got too much, nothing was left over. As God made it clear to Moses that the manna couldn’t be gathered stuff up and saved for a rainy day. It would ruin and go mouldy. Take it one day at a time and all will be well.

In Jesus’ parable, everyone’s given a day’s provision, those who worked all day and those who worked just a few hours. There’s the usual cry of “It isn’t fair - we were here first. We deserve more because we did more.”  Jesus says that what’s fair and just, is established by God, not by our standards of merit.

What’s being discussed is God’s kingdom, life lived under the reign of God – a God who is generous to a fault, a God whose generosity we find hard to comprehend. The landowner agreed to pay the workers a denarius, a normal days wages for a Roman soldier, i.e. more than a normal labourer. From the start the owner is being generous to those who work all day. (£50 today) The first group were also the ones who have an agreement or contract.

But the last labourers would have the same financial needs as the first. It was unfortunate that they were not picked earlier. God's generosity is, however, received in full by all who respond to him. We are all equal recipients of God's gifts.

This can make us covetous, jealous, when God's gifts of forgiveness and life are given to other in equal measure. 'It's not fair' which usually means 'I'm not getting what I want!' or 'I'm jealous of what someone else has'.

But to be honest its good that life isn't fair. If it were we’d get what we deserve. The truth is that God actually gives us much more than we deserve and this is grace. Grace is being given what we don’t deserve, God’s amazing love and forgiveness. We can’t earn it. It’s a free gift. We can labour all day and all night in His service and we still can’t earn it. We can turn up at church every week – it doesn’t give us God’s gift of grace or a free entry to heaven.

It is also worth thinking too that serving Jesus is a reward in itself. Jesus said that He came to give us life in all its fullness – those who turn up late on the scene have missed out on that, yes, they will have the same eternal reward but will have missed out on having known God’s blessing in their lifetime here.

I had meningitis in my thirties and was seriously ill for a long time – it took best part of a year to recover. I remember being bored and unfulfilled because I couldn’t do much. When we have work to do we blossom and grow and become more fulfilled people.

As we continue in our Christian life we need to keep on serving so we can exercise our faith, grow in it, and bring glory to God. As part of our life and witness we may be able to help others into God's kingdom.

When Paganini, the great violinist, died he left his violin to the city of his birth, Genoa, but only on condition that the instrument never be played. This was such a sad thing to do because when wood is used and handled, it shows little wear. But when left discarded, it begins to decay. His wonderful, mellow-toned violin has become worm-eaten in its beautiful case, valueless except as a relic – and as a  reminder that a life withdrawn from all service to others loses its meaning. But we must never think that what we DO can earn us any extra from God.

A man died and went to heaven. St Peter met him at the Pearly Gates and told him he needs 100 points to get into heaven. Tell me what you've done, and depending on how good it was, I’ll award you points for each thing. If you’ve reach 100 points, you get in. "Well, I was married to the same women for 50 years and never cheated on her, not even in my heart." "Wonderful," says St Peter, "that's worth three points." "3 points?’ "I’ve attended church all my life, given a tenth of my income and much service to support its life and ministry." Terrific!" say's St. Peter. "That's certainly worth a point." "One point? Well I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for the homeless." Fantastic, that's another two points". "Two points!" he cries. "At this rate the only way to get into heaven is by the grace of God!" St Peter smiled. "There's your 100 points! Come in!"

God’s grace is hard to understand – it is nothing to do with what or how much we’ve done. It’s nothing to do with how much we are worth. When we get what we deserve, that’s justice. When we don't get what we deserve, that is mercy. When we get what we don't deserve, that is grace. We need to spend less time trying to understand it and more time on letting ourselves receive it. Listen to this story:

Four churches once came together for a combined Communion service. The vicar presiding saw a former burglar kneeling beside the very judge who had sent him to jail where he had served seven years. After his release this burglar had been converted and became a Christian worker.

Later when the judge and the vicar were walking home together the judge asked "Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the Communion rail?" The vicar replied, "Yes, but I didn't know that you noticed." They walked along in silence for a while, and then the judge said, "What a miracle of grace." "Yes indeed, what a marvelous miracle of grace" the vicar replied. The judge asked, "But to whom do you refer?" And the vicar said, "To the conversion of that prisoner." But the judge said, "No I was not referring to him. I was thinking of myself."

Surprised, the vicar replied: "You were thinking of yourself? Why? I don't understand." "Yes, it did not cost that burglar much to get converted. He had nothing but a history of crime, when he met Jesus he knew there was salvation and hope and joy for him. And he knew how much he needed that. But look at me. I was taught from infancy to live as a gentleman; to say my prayers, go to church, take Communion etc. I went through Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the bar and eventually became a judge. I tell you vicar, that nothing but the grace of God could have caused me to admit that I was a sinner on level with that burglar. It took much more grace to forgive me all my pride and self deception, to get me to admit that I was no better in the eyes of God than that burglar I sent to prison."

It is only when we receive the grace of God that we understand how truly gracious God has been. Living alongside others with the same amazing grace poured out to them, is part of the privilege of being children together in the Kingdom of God.

And this parable teaches us it is never too late in the day to receive the gift and be part of God’s Kingdom. There was a lady in her late 60’s in my last parish who came to know Christ and she would often speak of the love, the joy and the peace she came to know. A great reward to receive in this life as well as the assurance that her relationship with God would last forever, something we can all know for ourselves through Jesus.

The temptation is always to believe that somehow those who come to the vineyard first and early are more deserving to stake a higher claim on God’s generosity, love, and forgiveness. The temptation is to believe that we can really earn the right to more than bread that is given daily. What we need to consider is that the reward of being in the kingdom of heaven is "enough,". Heaven’s daily bread, heaven’s daily wage make all earthly comparisons look meaningless and silly.

We should be people who, when we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” actually make an effort to live that out. To live life trusting totally on God’s provision for each day and forever. We need no more and so we don’t need to envy what He has given anyone else – we all have our needs supplied. And, even as the sun sets on this life, it is never too late to accept God’s truly Amazing Grace.

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