“The reward of grace, a pure gift” Septuagesima 2022

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13. February 2022
Matthew 20:1-16

In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.

Everyone gets a trophy. There are no wrong answers. You can do anything if you just set your heart to it. Anyone of my generation and younger has been thoroughly indoctrinated in the idea that everyone is equal; they can have equal opportunity leading to equal outcomes. We cannot provide everyone the same opportunity. We cannot guarantee an equal outcome. Not everyone gets a trophy. There are wrong answers. You can’t be whatever you want. 

God hasn’t made us that way. The Father wove you together in your mother’s womb, uniquely and wonderfully. And He sets us into excellent order, where each person’s unique given-ness compliments the whole. Before God, we’re equally His creatures. Before one another, we are equally human with God-given life and diversity. Such diversity of ability, intellect, knowledge, wisdom, skill, and insight is good because it comes from God

All God-given vocations are pleasing to Him and good for you. We can celebrate the phenomenal athlete. We can delight in talented artists. We can sing along with the delightful musician. We can appreciate the wise leader. We can give thanks to the skilled laborer. We can put our hands to the plow or udder with the noble farmer. We can honk in support of the long-hauler.

Yet, this also means that you’re not interchangeable. Not everyone is given by God for every job. We’re not factory models, stamped one after another with no distinction. Yet, we naively think we can overcome our given nature. The 5’4” featherweight isn’t going to make it in professional basketball, never mind collegiate. The musician is often notoriously bad with money. Pastors can’t manage the dairy farm. Not every parent has the resources to teach their children. You don’t ask the plumber to work in the kitchen. 

And if you’re going to run with the Bible, not everyone is given the same reward for their efforts. Some are given great wealth to be used in loving service for their neighbor. Some are given less and must live a life of frugality. Not everyone is successful. Not everyone receives the same reward for their effort. 

But why is this? It’s not God’s fault; it’s ours. We are so selfish that we refuse to reward effort, skill, and success. We are so greedy that we’ll steal, destroy, and ruin others to get what we think is rightfully ours. We whine and complain when we meet resistance, difficulty, and failure. We’re never content with who we are, what God has given us, especially how He has blessed others. 

None of us has earned any rewards from God. When we have done our very best, we have only done that which was our duty. And not even that! Our first duty is, of course, to love God above all, and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. And we have never fully finished even these obligations. We have broken free of God’s given-ness and live as if what we want matters most. In our selfishness, we fail to see who we are.

Our self-interest, our old Adam, is seldom convinced that it can be profitable to be a Christian. He wants first to have better evidence that God lives. And if anyone should become a Christian for the sake of rewards and not for the sake of Christ, then he is no Christian. One becomes a Christian through love to God. The prize is to possess God, see God, and serve God. But self-interest does not care for this kind of reward.

That is why we, in our pride and spite, try to shoehorn this world into a utopia that can never be attained. We were forced by idealogy and law conformity that was never part of this world. We demand that everyone get the same result, all the while our hearts know this is impossible and we wouldn’t want it anyway. The notion of a world of equal outcome is a Christ-less “heaven” without any diversity or uniqueness. 

We take that excellent insight of Scripture that all are equal before God. We demand that all become equal before one another, not only in their common humanity but also in their ability, skill, talent, and income. The flattening of a world with no merit or reward also discourages curiosity, innovation, and creativity. It’s a demonic rejection of God’s creative will and destruction of God’s excellent order. 

This applies not only to the world but even to the church. The Scriptures describe Christ’s church as a body. The body is wonderfully diverse, each member working together by the Spirit’s breath for the benefit of the whole. Yet, the hand cannot be the foot. The heart cannot be the head. Each of us is here to complement each other for the benefit of the whole. And so long as each member remains part of the whole and works as it’s been given to do, it is valuable and remains, even if it’s an appendix or tonsils. Each member has the same reward even though it is not the same or serves in the same way. 

It’s a demonic distortion to try to flatten the incredible God-given diversity and order of the world or the church. And to try to force an equal outcome on this world is to try to turn it into a flat, dull, and ugly place, a Christ-less “heaven” where you’ll own nothing and never be happy. 

And yet, Jesus says that our reward can be great in heaven. The fathers used to speak of this reward as the reward of grace, a pure gift since it is just as unearned and undeserved as the whole day’s pay that the laborers in the vineyard received, even though they had only worked an hour. 

There is, therefore, a reward that is awaiting us. Paul likes to speak of it as the reward of victory. He likens it to the crown which the winner received in a contest in the stadium. Not that we have earned it, but because this is the prize that has been held before us through the calling of God from the very moment when we were called to follow Jesus. He who has his eye on such a reward counts abuse suffered for Christ more incredible wealth than the treasures of the world.

What is it that awaits us? That which, “God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor 2:9) But this no eye has seen, and no ear has heard. It can only be described with such words as to “see Him as He is” and to “be like Him.” It is “glory and honor and immortality.” It’s a true utopia, new heavens, and earth, where we all receive the same reward of Christ’s forgiveness, life, and salvation—and we can rejoice in one another’s uniqueness, with everyone’s work celebrated and enjoyed as it benefits the whole. 

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin