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Working in the Last Hour (Feb. 9, 2020 - Septuagesima)

[Matthew 20:1-16] “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. 2 After 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.”

Working in the Last Hour

“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.” The kingdom of heaven – the kingdom Jesus has brought to us – is like a man hiring laborers.

The kingdom of heaven is not said to be a place where a man invites vacationers. Nor is the kingdom of heaven a place where a man receives occasional guests. No. Jesus says His kingdom is a kingdom which employs workers. Like a man who hires laborers for a vineyard.

The kingdom of heaven, on this side of heaven, is not a place of retirement. It is a place of labor. The kingdom of heaven, on this side of heaven, is the church – your congregation even – that body into which you have been baptized. Look around you: Welcome to work! Welcome to your factory! Welcome to your office! Welcome to your place of labor!

Welcome to God’s vineyard, His grape-farm - a place of planting, growing, harvesting, and also of enjoying the wine. Heaven’s kingdom into which you have been baptized – even your own congregation – and even your whole life, as you live your life now as a citizen of heaven – it is all now a place of meaningful, valuable labor for heaven’s sake - and of labor which gives true joy.

In our Lord’s parable today, we see that those who are called to be members of heaven’s kingdom – that is, those who are called to faith in Christ for salvation – are called as laborers. Yet the reward of the labor is a reward of grace – even those called to labor at the very last hour receive the full-day’s reward.

But, brothers and sisters, I want you to think about the whole crowd – the whole group of laborers, some called in the morning, some later, and some last. They do not all work the whole day, but they are all called to work until when? The first and the last, they all labor to the very end of the day.

Are you working in heaven’s kingdom to the very end of the day? Or have some of you retired even from being a Christian? Each of you ask yourself, when is it right for you to retire from your labor of Christian faith and love? Are you called to work to the last hour?

You and I live in a retirement culture. No longer do people hope for their eternal rest after death. Instead, we labor, labor, labor for a couple decades of vacation and selfish living. The hope of a comfortable retirement in this world has replaced the hope of eternal life. No longer does heaven deliver me from this poor life of labor. Instead, it’s the balance in my IRA which does it.

The American dream – the middleclass and working-class dream – has now become the dream of the Rich Fool of whom Jesus once spoke, the man who said to himself: “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” [Luke 12:13-21]

Don’t get me wrong, it may be good to retire from this or that career or job. And it’s fine to enjoy those things for which you’ve worked. And some people are more prosperous than others.

But, brothers and sisters, there are some things, as Christians, from which you cannot retire. You cannot retire from service to others. You cannot retire from responsibility to others. Scripture says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” [Philippians 2:4]. You do not get to retire from that, not even in this your last hour of life.

No matter our age, no matter our experience, there is not a retirement from the work of the Lord’s vineyard. “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” [Matthew 7:12]. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength.” And, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed – in action - and in truth.” [1 John 3:18]. There is no retirement from these. This is the labor of heaven’s kingdom. And it’s a real labor.

There is retirement from jobs. But there is no retirement from your vocations. You do not get to retire from being mother or father, grandmother or grandfather, aunt, uncle, godparent or sponsor, brother or sister, friend, neighbor, or congregation-member. There is no retirement from these. Instead, by prayer and by being attentive to God’s commands, each of these roles becomes a labor of heaven’s kingdom as these roles are carried out by God’s baptized, believing people.

“Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you”[Matthew 5:42]. “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return…” [Luke 6:35]. “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” [Luke 3:11]. From this too, there is not a retirement. “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up[Galatians 6:9].

“Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap– we will gather a harvest for our labors - if we do not give up.” [Galatians 6:9]

None of us deserves a harvest for our labors. And none of us can honestly claim that we’ve worked the whole day. But in today’s parable, even those who stood idle all day – unworthy, perhaps, to be called into other vineyards – were invited into the Master’s vineyard even at the last hour. Because God’ vineyard – and heaven’s kingdom – is a place of grace, of gift. A place of the Master’s generosity.

At the end of the workday, those hired first and those hired in the last hour each received the same full reward. Those hired first grumbled about this grace. But the Master responded, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” “I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.”

The labor of heaven’s kingdom on earth is a blessing because the end reward depends not on your merit or worthiness as a laborer but upon the generosity of the Lord who called you.

In fact, the reward of your labor depends totally upon the labor of another. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is Himself Lord and Master, has become the Laborer and has worked the full day in our boots. Jesus Christ has borne the full burden of Man’s day and has suffered the fullness of the scorching heat for our sins.

Jesus, by His perfect life and obedience, fulfilled the required labor. Jesus, by His innocent suffering and death for, not His, but our sins, paid all our dues owed. Now there is nothing but reward and gift, though we remain insufficient in ourselves. Jesus, by His life of labor and His sin-atoning death, has secured God’s generosity for the first and the last.

So, in peace and joy, we do not retire from doing good. We do not retire until the Last Day comes or until our last hour ends. Forgiven and called, we have a meaningful place of meaningful labor in doing good for a good Lord – one who counts us as valuable, and who counts the unworthy as worthy of great reward and final rest. So, we do good and labor, and we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”Amen.

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