+ IN NOMINE IESU +
We’re in that season of the church year, Pre-Lent, with strange names: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima. It seems strange but it is simply a way to mark time. They simple mark how many days until the Resurrection of Our Lord. Septuagesima is Latin for seventy days until Easter Sunday. Likewise, Sexagesima is sixty days, and Quinquagesima is fifty days until Easter Sunday.
And the message during the season of Pre-Lent is simple also. It highlights the great Solas of the Reformation: Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura, and Sola Fide. This Sunday focuses on Sola Gratia, which means, by grace alone. Next Sunday, focuses on Sola Scriptura, which means, by Scripture alone. And Quinquagesima focuses on Sola Fide, which means, by faith alone.
Thus, entry into the Kingdom of heaven is by grace not by works. And this is the point of the parable. Those hired first received the same wage as those hired last. Those hired first, even though they bore the heat of the day, received the same wage as those hired last. Entry into the kingdom comes by grace, by the gracious call and invitation of the owner of the vineyard.
And we chafe against this. We, like those hired first, object to the master’s decision. We begrudge him because of his generosity. We think that those who labored longer should receive a greater wage. And we protest that it’s not fair. But that is precisely the point. It’s not fair. It’s by grace. It’s given from God’s undeserved love and kindness, not by merit. So we should rejoice. For to ask for fairness, to ask to be treated by what deserve and have earned, is simply to ask for hell.
Our objection to this reveals something about us. It reveals how we view sin and our works. First, it reveals that we don’t think our sins are really that bad. And second, it reveals that we think that our work is unique and special, and that God owes us for what we have done. Combine the two and you get a recipe for disaster. You get entitlement thinking. And because of this, our eye is evil because the master was generous and good.
We have come to think that we are entitled to God’s grace, that if anyone deserves to go to heaven it is me because look at all that I do. And this leads to the thinking that our sin shouldn’t matter. That despite our sin, despite refusal to repent and do better, that despite the casting off of God’s warnings of what our sin leads to, we deserve, we are entitled to God’s grace.
The beginning of our services, with Confession and Absolution, are meant to dispel this notion in us. But oftentimes we rattle it off without thinking. This doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with the Confession and Abosolution. It means there is something wrong with us. We take it for granted. And the long pause before the Confession—the one where you are probably thinking can’t he just get this show on the road?—is meant to help us consider our lives in light of the Ten Commandments so that we plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, but also those that we know and feel in our hearts. And if you have none, perhaps you need to revisit the Ten Commandments and their meanings. Then we will come to realize what our Lord’s shedding of blood means for us.
For God owes us nothing. For by grace you are saved, by his underserved love and mercy. And even though it was undeserved, that doesn’t mean it was cheap. It wasn’t cheap, but costly. It cost God the Father His own Son. It cost the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, His very life. God’s grace is costly grace. It costs us nothing but the cost for God was great. For it was achieved by the shedding of the holy and precious blood and the innocent suffering and death of Jesus. And it is by that shed blood that God by grace calls us to be His own. It is by that death that God by grace gives us entrance into His kingdom.
He doesn’t owe us. We’re not entitled to anything from God. He is not indebted to us. We are indebted to Him. For we have not lived as He mattered most. We have not loved Him with our whole heart, body, mind, and soul, with all that we have. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve his temporal and eternal punishments. But unlike us, He doesn’t hold this debt over our heads. He has instead place our debt upon the head of His Son, and His Son has taken it willingly so that we would be forgiven and free.
For reasons all His own God has determined to love us. He has taken the punishment we deserve upon himself. He has given gifts to those whom He knows would take it for granted. This is grace. He is kind, forgiven, steadfast. He is slow to anger and abounding in love. For the kingdom of heaven is entered by grace, by His giving not our earning.
Do not therefore think of His grace lightly. He doesn’t owe you. But He because He is gracious, He calls you to be His own, to follow Him, to abide in His Word, seeking to live your lives as He has called you to live. It’s not your right. God’s grace is His to give and His alone. And thanks be to God, He does give it. But do not reject it by thinking and believing that He owes it to you.
You are called first, and being first, do not make yourselves last. That is the mistake of those who were hired first. They went away rejecting the gracious master and his generosity. Let us not take our master’s grace for granted. As St. Paul wrote: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” Run the race the God by His grace has place you in and run it that you may obtain the goal. Cast off everything that will get in the way. Not so that you earn it, but so that you are not led away from it.
For many are called but few are chosen. And God, by grace, has chosen you. He has chosen you in Christ by Holy Baptism to be His beloved children. You belong to Him. The kingdom is yours by grace. Act like it. Live like it. Run like it. He has done it all for you. For if it were up to us, we would surely be lost. Amen.