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Grace. Matthew 20.1-16

Matthew 20.1-16

Last week we looked at forgiveness. This week we look at grace.

Forgiveness is about mercy. It is about me not receiving what I do deserve.
I do wrong. I deserve punishment. But I am forgiven. 
And last week we thought a little about how much we have been forgiven and how much it cost God to forgive us 

But grace is more than mercy. 
Grace is not simply about me not receiving the bad that I deserve but receiving far far more good that I don't deserve


Mercy is when I break the windscreen of your car and you forgive me
Grace is when I break the windscreen of your car and you freely go out and buy me a car

Let’s look at the story Jesus tells:

At the beginning of the day the landowner goes at about 6am to the market place and hires people to go and work in the field. He promises to give them a denarius, which was a pretty generous daily wage. He then goes back at 9am, at 12 noon, at 3pm and again at 5pm, just one hour before the market closes and work finishes. He doesn’t promise them a denarius. He has no contract with them, but he does promise to give them what is right.

At 6pm, at the end of the day, he calls the workers together.

Now if this was a good businessman, who wanted to be fair with his workers, and to his profit margins, he would keep his word to those who had worked all day in the vineyard, and he would have given them a denarius. And he would give to those who had worked for him for half a day, half a denarius. And he would give to those who only worked for one hour, 1/12th of a denarius: it would at least enable them to get something to eat.

But he doesn’t do that.

He is fair. He gives to those who have worked for the whole day what they agreed and what they expected, and far more than they deserved: he gives them a whole denarius.
And he gives to those who worked for him for 9 hours, 6 hours, 3 hours and 1 hour – far more than what they would have expected. He also gives them a denarius.

And when the first complain, he rebukes them. ‘No. I agreed to give you a denarius. And I kept my word. What I choose to give the others is my decision. It is between them and me. Do not condemn me for being generous’.

God is free to do what he chooses, and he gives us far more than we deserve.

What did you do to deserve life, to be born where and when you were, to be brought up as you were? Why were you born now, and not in some C13th village when life was nasty, brutish and short, and they had toothache without paracetemol. You may say that you have had a lousy background, but what did you do to deserve the opportunities that were given you, the intelligence, determination and the initiative to make something of it? What did you do to deserve the ‘lucky’ breaks that came your way?

We’re like those first workers – always looking at others.

We see what they have, or at least we think we see what they have, and are resentful. We think, why can’t I have what they have got? 
I was talking with one person this week who was very honest. He was telling me that he works with bad people who have got rich, and that at times he resented the fact that he worked hard and honestly and within the law, and he didn’t get rich! 
Which one of us has not been there?!

But it doesn’t need to be as big as that.

We simply envy people who have what we don’t have.

If we’re married at times we envy those with the freedom of being single. If we are single at times we envy those who have a partner. As one woman said: men are the problem. They are a problem if you have one and a problem if you don’t have one.
If we don’t have children at times we envy those who do and if we do have children at times we envy those who don’t.
We envy those who are famous, rich, who have celebrity, and who we think have influence. We envy their significance. It seems that they really matter. And they, no doubt, envy those who more famous, richer, with more influence.

When the people of Israel came out of slavery in Egypt about 4000 years ago, God gave them his law. One of those summaries of the law is what we know as the 10 commandments. The tenth commandment tells us: Do not covet. Don’t covet your neighbour’s wife or husband or their house or their donkey. I tend not to struggle with donkey envy, but do struggle with car envy!

The problem is that envy or covetousness is destructive. It not only destroys our relationship with other people, but it also prevents us from giving thanks to God for what he has given us, and it prevents us from receiving all the other good gifts that God would give us.

God has given us so much, so much more than we deserve.

He has given us life and this world and the beauty of a night sky and the sun and the moon. He has given us each other, families and friends. He has given us (humanity) marriage and singleness, music and laughter and beauty and desire. He has given us senses so that we can delight in this world: and so often we only become aware of what a wonderful gift they are when we lose them. He gives us the gift of freedom, which means that we can love, to delight in others, to lose ourselves in others and other things, to enable others to grow into the people who God made them to be. He gives us happiness and glimpses of real joy.

But more than that, when we mess up this life, God gives us new life.
He gives us himself, in his unique and only Son. He gives us Jesus. And Jesus gives his life for us. And in Jesus we have so much.

Someone defined grace as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

Because of Jesus, he offers us forgiveness – we saw that last week – but he also offers us his Holy Spirit to come and live in us, to bring his presence to us, to change and transform us so that we become beautiful inside and radiant outside. He offers to set us free from condemnation and sin and death. He gives us the authority, the right, to become his children so that we come to know God as our heavenly Father and become part of a communion, a family, which stretches through space and time.

And God gives us hope. Hope that this creation will also be transformed – because beautiful as it is is, because we have rebelled against God and tried to live without him, it is now deeply scarred and broken. Nature is incredible, but nature is also vicious and brutal. And there is great injustice in the world. While some have far more than we need, others starve.

But we have the hope, because of Jesus and the resurrection, that there will be a new transformed creation, justice and the hope that suffering will be transformed. Hope that there will be a day when he will wipe away the tears from our eyes, and there will be no more walking in the shadow of death, because there will be no more death.

What did you do to deserve that, to hear the good news, to respond to the good news?

Was it because you were particularly good or religious or humble or worthy? – You! Me! Don’t make me laugh!

We may think that we went to the market to pick and choose what we wanted to do, who we wanted to believe. But when we were in the market we were like cattle. Waiting to be bought and sold, waiting to be exploited for someone else’s benefit.

The only thing that we did was to stand there in the market, hoping against hope that someone who was reasonably decent would choose us. And as the day went on, and as others were chosen and we were left, it became more and more hopeless. And then, when it was too late, and all hope had gone, he came and he called us. We heard his voice. And we simply had to say ‘yes. I’ll work in your vineyard’.

The story Jesus tells here is not a recipe for good industrial relations in a world where we zealously guard our rights and where we demand what is fair for me.

But as one commentator wrote, “The point of the story is plain. Length of service and long hours of toil in the heat of the day constitute no claim on God and provide no reason why he should not be generous to those who have done less. All human merit shrivels before his burning, self-giving love. Grace, amazing grace, is the burden of this story. All are equally undeserving of so large a sum as a denarius a day. All are given it by the generosity of the employer. All are on the same level. The poor disciples, fishermen and tax collectors as they are, are welcomed by God along with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There are no rankings in the kingdom of God. Nobody can claim deserved membership of the kingdom. There is no place for personal pride, for contempt or jealousy, for there is no ground for any to question how this generous God handles the utterly undeserving. He is good.” (Michael Green, Bible Speaks Today Commentary on Matthew)

If you are part of the economy of the Kingdom of God you need to be prepared to be surprised 

Surprised by the fact that you are not in the centre of this world
Surprised that God uses people who we would never use
Surprised by the way that he distributed his gifts, by his generosity
Surprised by love
Surprised that, of all people, we have been called and invited to be part of his miraculous grace filled kingdom.


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