Hello Church family!
With much appreciation for Fred Legg who prepared a place and set up the needed recording equipment I am now able to livestream sermon messages each week. This week’s message, “Extravagant Grace” was uploaded to Facebook and our Grace Communion Melbourne website. To watch this week’s worship service, follow this link: https://www.facebook.com/meetsyouwhereyouare/videos/2386378451670463
We are looking forward to our first in-person worship at GCO on Sunday, October 18th, at 2:00 p.m. Some will decide not to attend due to health risks, but for those planning to attend worship services that day at St. Andrew’s UMC, please reply to this email with the names and numbers of people who will be attending with you.
For those who appreciate a hard copy of my sermon notes I have included them below.
May our good Father keep you each safe and healthy!
Your pastor & brother,
Grace Communion Melbourne
Grace Communion Orlando
SERMON STARTS @ 2:27
Extravagant Grace – Matt 20:1-16
Recorded and livestreamed on Facebook and church website
Steve Schantz – 10/04/20
Matt 20:1 “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.” (ESV)
When was the last time you thought something just wasn’t fair? A lot of football fans in the South have noticed that SEC Football has rekindled -“It’s Back!” And of course “It just means more” for Southeast conference fans. But if Florida State is your Alma Matter, then the win/loss record of the ‘Noles just doesn’t seem right! (Although the Gators did well last week on the first game of their season!)
Or perhaps you were one of the 73 million Americans who watched round 1 of the presidential debates this past week, and as you watched and listened, your stomach began to churn because your candidate didn’t appear to be getting a fair shake. Perhaps inequity has touched you in a more personal way… where you or a family member have just come through a painful ‘injustice’. Something hurtful was said or done to you that did not deserve. Fairness is something we continue to evaluate from the cradle to the grave. Let’s tune in for a few moments and listen to what these children have to say about Fairness:
(Children’s Interview Video)
When something isn’t fair, it hurts. When something isn’t fair, we get upset. In part because everyone recognizes the importance of fairness to some degree, and we want life to be fair. When asked the question “DO you think everything should be fair?” One child in the video answered, “Well, I kind of think so, but I kind of don’t” Recently I heard about a parent who answered her own children’s complaint about things not being fair with this: “Fair is for games. Life isn’t a game, and life isn’t always fair.” She was trying to help her children deal with the incongruities of life… So, if we always look for fairness, we will be disappointed at times. Another little girl in the video summed it up this way: “You can’t always get everything you want… you have to go with the flow”. There’s some Deep wisdom in her answer!
But we all recognize the importance of fairness don’t we? Let’s face it, as adults we to struggle when things aren’t fair! Hard workers lose their jobs; drunk drivers kill innocent people; powerful men manipulate the system to get what they want. Parents cheat to get their kids into college. What should our response be in the face of such widespread injustice? How do we seek justice? As students of God’s Word, we worship a Just God. Scripture reveals that justice is a part of the way He rules the universe! Speaking of Jesus, the Apostle Peter would write…
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Pet 2:23)
So our desire for things to be fair comes from a good source. Can we admit we are all about fair? Parents count the presents given out to each child at Christmas so each child receives the same number of gifts. When planning a Birthday party for one child some hosts even make sure all the others at the party receive a gift as well! When my wife’s mother Margaret threw a party for all her grandchildren, she always made sure that every one of them went away with something special.
But there are also times when we want anything but fairness, or let’s say, we want anything but justice. We want justice until we realize we are the one being held accountable when we’d rather be let off the hook! Then what we deeply desire is mercy. When we feel cheated, or are not getting our due, we get angry and frustrated. That’s why this particular kingdom parable of Jesus can be a challenging one! It’s good to remember that Jesus purpose in the parable is to tell us what life is like in realm of God’s Kingdom, and not the modus operandi of the kingdoms of this world. It also helps us to notice the context of this parable. In a conversation that he has just had with his disciples in chapter 19, Peter asks Jesus what the reward will be for those who have left everything to follow him… what can we expect for all of this? Or, putting it bluntly – “What’s in it for us?” Now Jesus promises them life eternal, but then he also says, the first will be last, and the last will be first.
He then continues with this parable as an example of how the first will be last and last will be first. Let’s be honest, there is something a bit annoying here. You may have silently sided with the day laborers who get the same wages as those who only labored at the end of the day! (How do you feel when the cable company you have paid faithfully month to month for the past 10 year raises your monthly charges and at the very same time gives their new customers a big discount? Yeh – that bugs you doesn’t it!) It bothered me enough to change cable companies- again!
As day laborers these workers lived hand to mouth… what they earned that day they needed to live on that day. No doubt they are grateful for the work they had, and we can easily imagine those who had been there all day watching as last minute workers also receive a full days wage… YES, we would grumble in the payroll line as well! This isn’t fair!
Then the Land owner reminds them that they have not been cheated – they had received the amount he promised them… He had not shorted them! And then he asked, “Am I not allowed to do with my own what I choose?”) “Are you envious because I am generous?” If we are honest, we might say yes, I disagree with your payroll policy… It is NOT FAIR! The longer and harder a person works, the bigger their paycheck should be, right? They are more valuable to the company business than the next guy, especially that late guy!
But when we picture God now as the land owner, (as He is in this parable), can you imagine coming before God and asking Him for what you deserve? Really? If God were indeed fair by human wisdom, I would never know God’s grace, mercy, and love. I recognize that the only reason I am in the vineyard in the first place is because of His extravagant Grace and invitation. And, furthermore, no matter how long I’ve been in the Vineyard, my worth, my value to this generous Landowner is the very same as yours! In looking at the parable through the eyes of what each of these laborers is worth, and not what they have earned, we begin to see the Kingdom principle here. In one sense, we are all late comers to the grace of God! This is what the parable is about. His grace is so large and infinite that it offends all of our sensibilities. It is a grace that welcomed the thief that hung beside Jesus on the cross after his two word plea, “Remember Me”. It is about a grace that welcomed the prodigal son home after his wandering, but also invites his rule following, hard-working envious older brother to the party. It is not what is fair from our earthly perspective. Grace that is so big and so infinite that it can and does offend our sensibilities, our scaled reaction to the world as we know it!
Jesus offers a caution here, as does the Landowner. How we view others matters! What if we could join in God’s generosity by seeking to imitate the landowner’s extravagantly generous love and grace? What if we could realize that the God we worship, while caring deeply about fairness and justice, asks us to move beyond fairness to extravagant love and grace?
He sends anyone who will into his field. He invites all who will to come to His party. Why? As Jesus says in another place, because “the fields are already white for the harvest!” And, “I work and my Father works”…No one is standing around idle, and the landowner is constantly bringing new laborers into his vineyard. There is no idleness, no standing about. The Kingdom of Heaven is a very active place, and the harvest is worth it! There is no shortage of Grace, and there is no shortage of the need for Grace! But in the field referenced above that is already white with harvest, Jesus asks His disciples to pray for more laborers. Short term, long term, any term… everyone is needed.
When we see injustice of any kind and it bothers us enough to do something about it, there is a spiritual gift in play. But justice alone is not enough. Especially in relationships. Justice calculates and measures. Who wants to try and make a relationship work that is always governed by justice? Keeping a ledger, counting up every tit for tat… Parents tallying up every time their child disappoints them… Children mulling over everything their parent has or hasn’t done for them… Saving up stamps in marriage and cashing them in because your spouse has not measured up.
Matt 9: 13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
You may remember that in the Old Testament, deep inside the Tabernacle in the wilderness was the Holiest of Holies. The inner sanctum of God’s traveling presence with His people. In this room the Ark of the Covenant was housed. The top covering or lid of the Ark was called the mercy seat, and it was made of pure gold. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest was allowed to go behind the veil and into the Holy of Holies.
Ex 25:17-21 And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.
We are told that this seat of mercy on top of the ark was flanked at both ends by hand carved cheribims. (Angelic Figurines!) And you could not get to the law, (the ten commandment carved on stone tablets) contained inside the Ark without lifting this seat of mercy. Once a year the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled the blood of a Lamb on this mercy seat. (All of the furniture and equipment and liturgy of the tabernacle points us to a reality that is in Christ.) And so when Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb of Christ only to find it empty. She stoops down to look in, and she sees “two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.” (John 20:12) God desires to meet with His people, and the blood of the spotless lamb is the only means by which that meeting is made possible.
God’s gracious love and mercy is bound to His justice! In Christ our experience of God’s justice has been mediated by the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus! What happened to Jesus wasn’t fair… But we call it Good Friday for what He accomplished for us. It is scandalous grace… The kind of grace that leaves the 99 to run after the one lost sheep! (This is not good herds-manship whether you’re collecting wool, making FETA cheese, or marketing lamb chops!) This is the grace which drives a woman to search her whole house over for just one lost coin and when she finds it she jumps up and down and throws a party! This is the kind of grace that moves the father of the prodigal to come running to embrace his wandering/squandering son, (the son who shirked working in his father’s field leaving it to his older brother!)… At his return the Father says “Put a ring on his finger” and “shoes on his feet” and throw a BIG LOUD party! (Music and dancing and all!) This is the kind of grace that reaches out to the older brother stewing in resentment. He notices that his father’s eye has been good toward this wastrel of a brother, and he WILL NOT go into that party! But then his Dad reminds him, “Son, everything I have is yours!” Come on – come in! Celebrate with us because the lost has been found! Take you mind off comparisons and start thinking about what is GENEROUS!!
As a follower of Jesus, the command to love mercy reveals my heart. Too often I love justice and am rather miserly with mercy. My skewed idea of justice lets me demand my rights, but make other people face the consequences of their actions. Arrogance creates this mindset and I find myself living the exact opposite of God’s desire for me.
Jesus invites us to see justice through the eyes of mercy. To join the Father in generosity, grace, love and mercy. Instead of being caught up with an evil envious eye, to celebrate the extravagant grace of God – no matter when the other workers come into the Vineyard. It is so easy for us to be in the place of the elder brother of the prodigal son. But Jesus turns the tables here and reminds us that: What is right is what is generous, not what balances out.
Perhaps you’ve seen yourself as one who has been toiling a long time – and it’s about the end of the day… a touch of entitlement sneaks in – that my goodness and long effort earns me a place at the table. But this parable reminds us that it is His generous love and grace that invited us in the first place. What we should long for in this parable by God’s grace is to be more like the landowner! To be more generous with our love… not just to those I think are deserving. To be less concerned with me, and getting my due, and more concerned with reveling in the grace that is already more than I ever deserved! How about you? Where do you find yourself in this story? Where does God’s generous word of grace find you? Let’s pray about that…
Our gracious and Holy God, we get so easily caught up in what we think we have earned or deserved. We look at others with an envious eye, but Your grace turns the tables on what we consider to be first and last. Help us to embrace you Kingdom work all around us, help us to embrace the extravagant generosity of your love and your grace for ourselves and for others! – AMEN
Thank you for worshipping with us at Grace Communion Melbourne and Grace Communion Orlando! We hope to be able to meet again in person, but until we do, may God’s extravagant Grace unfold new ways for you to share His love! Life may not always be fair, but our Triune God is always Good!