Matthew 20:1-15

Good morning my name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here at Journey and it’s a pleasure to welcome you this morning, especially if this is your first time here.

I attended a small college in Georgia called Toccoa Falls College.  When I was a freshman, my room mate Rob and I both decided we’d try out for the men’s basketball team.  So we tried our hardest during the tryout, and we were told that the next morning the coach would tape a list of those who made the team on the gym door before Breakfast.

We both felt we did pretty good, and the next morning we walked together to the gym to see if either one of us made the cut.  When we got there, we leaned over and scoured the page looking for our names, but alas!  Neither one of us made it.

Which was fine because that coach was stupid!  Stupid McStupidface.  Isn’t that how you feel when you don’t make the cut?

In January though, an interesting thing happened.  The coach called my dorm room – Phil, he said, you may have heard that some of my players got into academic trouble and are suspended this semester, so we’re down a few players and need to add someone, so…  (Go on… do tell) So… I was wondering if Rob was around there, cause I’d like to invite him to be on the team.  That’s cold!  You stupid face!

Ever been told you don’t got what it takes…  Ever not make the cut?

This morning we are reading one of my very favorite stories that Jesus tells – it’s a parable that is intended to help people who feel like – when it comes to God, they aren’t sure if they make the cut.

We had Kirsten tell her story a few weeks ago and she said, what I’ve heard more than a few times – which is that she thought everyone in church would spot her as a newbie!  This person doesn’t belong here!

Well then, this parable is for you.  And I love it because it tells us so much about the wild generosity of God; and it tells me about His Kingdom where I am always treated way better than I deserve; and it also forces me to have to come to terms with the ridiculous nature of Grace.

This parable turns religion on it’s head.  See religion has this way of making people wonder if they have what it takes to make the cut.  Indeed – religious leaders throughout history have used that fear as a way to manipulate people.  You might not make the cut unless you do what I say.

Religion counts on some kind of spiritual ranking system – these people are clearly in and these people are out.

But when Jesus shows up – a funny thing – Jesus ends up spending most of his time with people the religious establishment deemed as “out”

Jesus seemed to give the impression that he actually preferred the company of those rejected by the religious society.  He seemed to prefer the company of people who religiously, couldn’t make the cut.

See, one of the great lessons we learn from Jesus – and this is important for us at Journey to remember – was that Jesus accepted people long before they changed their behavior.

He allowed people to belong before they believed.  And the behavior came as a result of a transformed heart – once people got to the place where they thought highly enough of Jesus to trust Him with their lives.

That takes time.  It takes time to think highly enough of Jesus to trust him to direct their life.

And to that end, Jesus often told parables – stories to help us understand what God is like, what the Kingdom of God is like.

And this here in Matthew 20 is one of my very favorites….

“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like…

Can I tell you, that once you start noticing this, you will be amazed at how often Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Luke calls it the “Kingdom of God.” Same kingdom.  It’s the place where God’s will gets done.

When Jesus taught us to pray, he taught us to pray to God, our father, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  “Thy will be done” is daily prayer of those living in the right now kingdom of heaven.

My will be done is the mantra of the Kingdom of darkness.  Those are our options.  It’s Thy will done, or it’s My will be done.  All of reality orbits around one of those two prayers.

Thy will be done is prayed by the person who thinks highly enough of Jesus to trust him.  My will be done is the self-centered prayer of the kingdom of darkness – where tiny kingdoms clash with other tiny kingdoms in an effort to bend and manipulate others to do what I demand.

Those are the only two kingdoms.

Every time Jesus preaches he is preaching the same message, which is – the gates to the kingdom of God have been thrown open through faith in Jesus.  Whosoever will – and Jesus really does mean whosoever – may right now, abandon their tiny kingdom and enter into a world where God promises to take care of them day and night.

Most people think of the Kingdom of Heaven as the place you go to when you die.  It’s not true.  The Kingdom of Heaven is a right now place and available to even the likes of you.

Anyway – Jesus sends quite a bit of time explaining how the Kingdom of Heaven is different than the kingdom of this world.  And this is one of those times.

“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.

A farmer is ready to bring in the harvest.  There are no combines, right?  So what do you do?  You go out and you hire a bunch of day laborers to work for you that day.

The farmer promises them a fair wage for their work.  And off they go.

 “At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing. 

Now – I’m imagining that – maybe this farmer is looking out at the harvest and he is seeing on the horizon some dark clouds forming, and this farmer knows that unless he gets that harvest in from the fields, he stands to lose some of it to a hail storm or straight line winds.

So what does he do?  He heads back out to see if anyone is still around to work.

“At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’

“They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’  “The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’

Remember the torture of picking teams for dodgeball in gym class?  Everybody against the wall, we’re scarring one unfortunate soul with the chance to be the last one picked…

I’ll take tommy – I’ll take Jimmy, I’ll take Jill, I’ll take one armed Charlie, I guess I’ll take Phil, but we get the ball first.

Now let’s stop for a second and imagine the sad sack of workers that jumped off the back of that truck at 5pm.  No one in the whole city hired these guys…   That’s who’s left at 5pm.  And that’s who piles out into the field with one hour left in the work day.

“That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 

Now picture these workers, the foreman pays the last guy $200 for one hours work.  Way down here, the near the guys who’ve put in twelve hours of work, they all become instant mathematicians.  We begin to hear the sounds Cha-Ching!  Because they are all good at math.  One hour gets 200 – twelve hours will get 24 hundred!)

10 When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11 When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, 12 ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

13 “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? 14 Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15 Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’

Don’t you love these parables?  Jesus is the master teacher.  And he uses parables so brilliantly to get us to think.  Period.  Parables make us think.  Jesus likes thinkers.  And this parable makes me think.  It teaches me about God.  It teaches me about the Kingdom.  And it teaches me about myself.

What does this parable teach me about God?

Last week Jim talked about God the Father being immutable and unchangeable and unsearchable and the like.  Okay, true, which is why it’s interesting and even fun to listen to how Jesus describes God the Father.  Because he doesn’t use words like Immutable.

Jesus likens God to interesting characters in his stories. Jesus says things like, “God’s like a farmer out there throwing seeds all over the place.  Seeds in the rocks, and seeds on the street and seeds in the weeds and why?  He’s hoping that some seeds will get rooted and grow.  He’s a seed chucker, that guy!  Hoping to see some fruit growing from the work.  Maybe even in your heart and mine.

One time Jesus is like, God’s like an old woman who lost a coin in the house!  That lady – she’s tearing the house apart looking for one coin!  And when she finds it throws a party with her neighbors!  I found my coin!  Why?  She loved that coin.  And, well, you know that you are the coin in that story, right.

Jesus is like, you what God is like?  God the Father is like an old man waiting on his front porch searching the horizon for sings of his wayward son, who ran away to live a life of wild living, and one day, he sees the son dragging his penniless butt over the hill.  And the father, picks up his robe and straight Usain Bolts it down the driveway to greet him and throws a party for him because he loved his wayward child.  You know you are the son, right?

And here we see God is like a farmer who apparently struggled in his economics class – way overpaying a guy who clearly doesn’t deserve it.  Why?

And this is the point.  That’s just how God is.  He’s big-hearted kind of guy.  He’s generous.  He is kind to people who don’t deserve it.  See, God doesn’t treat us as we deserve, he treats us way better!

Jesus has to tell stories like this to help us get over our fear of Him.  This idea that we are worms and God can barely stand us and would prefer to wipe us out.  And he’s always peering at us, watching for us to slip up – no!  Jesus says, God is crazy generous.  And he treats people way better than anyone deserves.

That’s the point of the story – Jesus is trying to help people get over their fear of leaving their kingdom in order to walk into the Kingdom of God.

People aren’t sure they can trust God to direct their life and Jesus tells us – He’s over the top generous.  And in the Kingdom of Heaven people are always treated better than they deserve to be treated.  In the Kingdom of Heaven, I will be treated way better than I deserve.

How many of you – show of hands – have either had a parent tell you this – or you told your kids this – “This world ain’t fair, pal, you better get used to it!”  Anyone ever say that or hear that?

You and your brother each order an ice cream but his is twice as big?  That’s not fair!  Your Dad says, “That’s right buddy, life’s not fair, get used it.”  It’s just a depressing lesson.   I guess I need to get used to being treated worse than I deserve.

Well, the beauty of the Kingdom of Heaven is that it turns that saying on it’s head.  It sounds the same but we mean the opposite.

In Kingdom of Heaven, we say, “This life isn’t fair!  We better try to get used to it!”  (Excited!)  It’s unfair in that we get way more than we deserve!

1 John 3:1 Behold what manner of love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

This parable that Jesus tells, it teaches me about God – that God is wildly generous and big-hearted.  And it also teaches me about the Kingdom of Heaven, and that it’s a place where I will be treated better than I deserve.

Now – I want to pause here and talk about one more thing that I learn about this parable.  Not only do I learn that God is generous, and not only do I learn that I will be treated better than I deserve – if I’m honest – I also have to admit that I learn something about myself by the manner in which I respond at a gut level to this story.

Maybe when you first heard this story that Jesus told, you were left feeling uncomfortable.  The reason this parable works is because most people, if we are honest – think at some point – those people who worked 12 hours in the heat?  They got gipped.

Maybe, deep down, you said, that’s not right.  Jesus, the farmer shouldn’t pay the person who worked one hour the same as the person who worked 12.  It makes me uncomfortable.  It’s unsettling.  I’m not sure I like the story.

Here’s an interesting fact about this story in the bible.  There are some manuscripts that have been found of this story that have an alternative ending.  In some manuscripts – hundreds of years after it was originally spoken, someone decided to add an ending that sounded something like this:

And the man hired last was so thankful that he did as much work in one hour as the man who was hired in the first hour! 

Why the alternative ending?  Because there is something inside all of us that has a hard time accepting grace

Has anyone ever given you a gift that you felt was too generous – and you are like, this is too much, let me help.  Anyone ever offered to pay your dinner tab and you say – at least let me pick up the tip.  Let me help.  Let me feel like I’ve contributed somehow to this!

Oh no, says Jesus – life in the Kingdom is a gift.  You don’t do anything to earn it – you just receive it as a generous gift from your big-hearted King.

You know why I have a hard time with this parable?  Because I think highly enough of myself that I imagine that I would certainly have been one of the people on the first crew.  I am a hard worker – I’d make the cut!

But here’s the key to recognizing the awesome beauty of this parable.  See, the key to recognizing the power of this parable is to put yourself in the shoes of the last one hired.  If in fact, you accept the truth that, spiritually speaking, you are the last one hired.

You did nothing to deserve the love that God lavishes upon us.  Indeed neither did I.  Its not about what I deserve – It’s about the wonderful, ridiculous love of our generous big hearted God.

He wants to walk with us.  He enjoys walking alongside us on a day to day basis.  He likes being with you. In fact, he likes you.  Once we begin to understand these things about God, well, who wouldn’t want to pray Thy will be done.  There’s no reason to fear praying the prayer of the Kingdom.  Thy will be done.

Rest assured, we are always treated better than we expect and better than we deserve by a generous and big hearted God.

This is the kingdom that awaits you.  It’s never too late to walk into it.  I don’t care how old you are, how long you’ve been stiff arming God, how many times you’ve turned down his invitation to follow Jesus.  It’s never too late.

The invitation stands – even to you last hour people – to turn and walk into the Kingdom where God promises to care for you day and night.

One day a few years ago my doorbell rang and it was the daughter of my neighbor, Donny.  I think about Donny every year about this time especially – as he used to put on this huge firework display in our neighborhood that was quite the sight to see.

One day the doorbell rang and it was Donny’s daughter.  She came to tell me that her dad had been diagnosed with cancer and was in the hospital – and that he didn’t have much time left.  So I went to visit him in the hospital and I said to him,

“Donny, sometimes guys like you, who have for whatever reason kind of kept God at bay most of their lives –  they come upon situations where they are aware that they will soon be on the other side – and they begin to think about God and they want to get squared away with him but they feel like somehow that wouldn’t be right.  They work hard for what they’ve gotten and sometimes they feel like they are cheating the system to turn to God for help in their last days when they’ve basically ignored him all the days thus far.  And he just nodded.  I was on the right track.

And I said, “Let me read to you a story that Jesus told just for people like you.”  And I read Matthew 20 to him.  And I said that Donny – you are the 5pm guy.  You might be the last guy hired but what awaits you is a generous God who will treat you way better than you ever deserved.

And he at that moment made peace with God through faith in Jesus.  He allowed himself to be okay with being the last guy hired, and decided to trust God with the outcome of his life.”  And two days later he went to see the generous and loving and forgiving God who treated Donny as though he spent his whole life for him.

Our Father, Who art in heaven
Hallowed be Thy Name;
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory, forever.  Amen.