30 January 2016
January 29, 2016
"For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, 'You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.' 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?' 7 They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.' 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.' 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.' 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”
A love that makes you wonder (“What kind of love is this?” LSB 542, refrain)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
I’ll call them Joni and Frank.
Our congregation and school had regular work days several times a year—Spring and Fall cleanup, planting flowers and trimming hedges, touch-up painting, whatever. We’d usually end with pizza for lunch.
You had to love Joni. One of the best! You could count on her. She would be there early, committed and ready to work, and stay until the end.
Then there was Frank, who showed up sometime late morning and promptly started to . . . talk! He wasn’t a bad guy, but he had a condition—a total inability to multi-task. He couldn’t do anything while he was talking—couldn’t rake, couldn’t pick up trash, couldn’t mop. He could hold a rake for an hour, while he talked. He could let all the paint run out of a paintbrush without ever hitting the wall, while he talked. The only thing he could do while talking was eat. Boy, could he eat pizza—as much as any two or three others.
Joni was nice, but Frank made her crazy. At times she felt like feeding Frank a pizza box, he made her so mad. And Joni would have had lots of assistance in the force-feeding. We could all sympathize. As much as we loved him, there was always that time when you wanted to throttle him.
If we’re anything like Joni, we can understand why
Think about this parable about the workers. Some work a full day—not an 8 hour day, either, but a long 12 hour day! And others work—how much? An hour! One lousy hour!
And everyone gets the same pay!? The Joni-types that day were mad! What in the world! Is this fair?
Is it? It really makes you wonder! What kind of parable is this, Jesus?
And this isn’t the only bizarre thing Jesus has to say. He talks about being unworried when you’re poor or naked or hungry since sparrows have food and lilies are beautiful (whoop-de-do); about being unafraid of murderous kings because they can only kill your body (is that all?); about mourning and meekness and the like as blessings (really?); about his disciples having to hatehusband and wife, father and mother, son and daughter to love him (if you can believe it!). And after he tells parables, like this one, that leave many confused, he goes on to explain that he’s doing it for that very purpose—to befuddle people, so that some will not see and not hear (13:13)!
How can he say stuff like that?
It really does makes you wonder—and maybe even a little angry.
But it’s not just what he says, because
He goes to the least, not the greatest. Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees, scholars—these were good people in countless ways, impressive people. But he seems to avoid them, and he calls them a brood of vipers. The rich? Their money matters not at all to him, who has nowhere to lay his head. He has the temerity to tell an eager-beaver lawyer to cash in his wealth and give it away. No wonder the strong and healthy don’t want him or like him.
And he doesn’t seem to notice, since he is surrounded instead by common, workaday men and women, and, yes, even the poor, and, worse, by the unclean, leprous, and demonic, by sick and blind and lame people reduced to beggars, by women (even though a man shouldn’t talk to them) and by questionable women at that, by traitorous tax men, and the like.
Surrounded by fellow Jews, he praises a Gentile’s faith and heals his servant. He heals lepers and unclean women. This man eats with sinners! He occupies himself not with the righteous, but with the seemingly worst of humanity!
What in the world? Is this fair? How can he do stuff like that? That really makes you wonder, too, and maybe even a little angry.
And that. . . that wondering. . . is the point.
We should wonder about this Jesus—what he says and does. The real danger is that we won’t wonder—we’ll just scoff. Worse, we might explain it away and water it all down and refuse to see how this dear Man longs to make us wonder—how he longs to shock us into sensibility. He longs to force us to see him as he is, so that we can see ourselves as we are.
We pride ourselves on being good, solid, dependable, and, yes, right. We believe rightly and we act rightly and we are right. . . with people and with God. Right?
Well? Not when Jesus comes back into our ears, into the eyes of our heart, into the secrets of our soul and starts to make us wonder.
Does he come to commend us? No, he comes to open eyes and unstop ears with stories that strike at our hearts and deeds that stun us, not with sweet nothings and pious pleasantries.
So, back to the story. Am I a Joni or a Frank—the one who works all day and grumbles or the one who shows up late only to be treated so generously?
I might prefer to think myself a Joni, who’s worked all day. But fat chance! Any work I’ve done is not for him, but for me! No, his probing truth makes me realize that I’m not the strong and holy worker who has done all for him, but the sick and troubled beggar who needs everything from him.
In his parable, Jesus tells us only about the Joni-types—the hardworkers who are ticked off at the end of the day. What, I worked all day and you only paid me for working. . . all. . . day?
He tell us about the Joni-rejoinder, but he also invites us—if we are not too put off—to see that we are fellow-Franks—the ones who came later, who hoped for a farthing or a few cents, and got. . . can you believe it?. . . a whole day’s pay!
He helps us—if we’re not too ticked off—to realize the incredible surprise, the great joy of the screw up who discovers that this rich guy chose to be generous beyond belief!
He welcomes us—if we’re not too full of the fire of unfairness—to realize how wonderful this is, how wonderful is this gracious, undeserved, utterly kind Lord!
He begs us—if we’re not blinded by pride—to see and hear his words, because he is speaking to us, to us sinners, to us screw-ups, to us beggars.
And so we beg: please, Jesus, we’re ready to listen, so say it again. “. . . ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. . . . Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Do you begrudge my generosity?'”
Do we? Do we begrudge his generosity?
What is going on here with this Jesus? He is our Friend—and none is dearer. He is doing no harm to us or anyone in his great generosity. He is loving with a genuine love, a generous love, a stunningly wonderful love, rather than with our shallow kind of love that extends only as far as those who are good to us, those who benefit us, those who give to us.
No, this is Jesus, the Savior, this is the God-Man. Did we expect a selfish man, like us? Would we want his love to be like our own, shallow, selfish version of love?
Shall we begrudge his generous love—or luxuriate in it in wonder with joy and gratitude?
He loves the sick, the sinner, the fallen, the hapless, the helpless, the foolish, the lost.
Even more stunning: He loves so much He dies for us: “While we were yet sinners,” writes the sinful screw-up named Paul, “Christ died for us!” (Rom 6:8).
He loves losers—people who have nothing going for them, and no excuses. He loves me, and he loves you!
Thank you, Lutheran High North Choir, you sang it: this is the One whose love quiets souls, who defends those without excuse, who steadies weak knees. This is the One whose name and love extend to all the nations.
We will all sing it too in just a minute, a song of wonder (#542): “What kind of love is this?!”
What kind of love? The love of the “True God who died for me.”
What kind? The kind that does this: “For me you gave all your love, for me you suffered pain.”
What kind? This kind: “You had no sin, holy Lord”. . . [but] “for all My sins you bled and died”.
That’s the kind of love we will sing into eternity. That is Jesus! That is the God, who is love, made flesh.
What kind of love? Love for the world! Love for me and you.
A love that should make us wonder, because it’s the wonderful love that has saved us all.
29 January 2016
27 January 2016
26 January 2016
25 January 2016
22 January 2016
21 January 2016
20 January 2016
19 January 2016
17 January 2016
16 January 2016
Frank and I graduated the same class from Concordia Seminary, but he'd already had a career in the Air Force. I checked the LCMS site and noted he was not listed and thought "oh no." Sure enough, found his obituary. He died last February out in Cheyenne, retired from the ministry and a member of Pr. Maas' congregation, where I had just been this fall. He was one of my favorite people from the first time I met him. We'd catch lunch together quite often. Always laughing! But my favorite memory of Frank?
I was very frustrated. I could NOT get the microfiisch machine to work at the library. Seeing Frank nearby I asked him: "Do you have the first clue why this won't work?" He gave me a very solemn look. "William, did you remember to check the O-N button." I said: "Frank I didn't even know there was an O-N button." With a completely serious face he walked over to the machine and flipped it on. Then he burst out laughing. Then solemn again: "William, never forget to check the status of the O-N button before you attempt to use the equipment." He told me later that military officers were famous for forgetting about the mysterious O-N button too!