Pastor James Hopkins wrote this sermon for Septuagesima Sunday, 2/13/2022. The service was broadcast live on the FLC youtube channel at 11am. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Septuagesima Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and Old Testament lessons. To read the Bible texts for Septuagesima, click here.
This morning marks the first of the “gesima” Sundays. These are those three Sundays that precede Ash Wednesday and Lent. Historically, they serve as a time for you to get ready, for you to mentally, physically, and spiritually prepare for the church’s penitential season.
It’s a time when people pray and plan out their spiritual disciplines: how will you focus on the Word? Of what will your fasting consist? How shall you serve your neighbor?
And so, the Church, in her aged wisdom, appears to have picked the least relevant text possible. Can you imagine the conversation they must have had in drawing this up?
“Hey, we need to get ready for Lent. The Lord has work for us to do, after all. So, what from the Gospels will serve to encourage that kind of rigor?”
“I know. What about that parable: The Laborers in the Vineyard? You know, the one where the Master gives everything to people who did nothing? Let’s start with that one.”
The Gospel today should come with a trigger warning for business majors and book keepers. This sort of ridiculous and lavish showmanship is no way to run a company, let alone a kingdom.
Anyone would look at this and say that the Master is a fool; the Master is wasteful; the Master is setting up for failure.
But, reasonable as those reactions are, they all miss the point. Jesus is not telling a parable about the kingdoms of this world. Jesus says that this parable is about the Kingdom of heaven. (verse 1) How is that?
In the Kingdom of heaven, the Master is not interested in profit margins. Of all those He hired, did He send even one of them to go and sell His grapes or His wine?
In the Kingdom of heaven, the Master is not concerned with cutting expenses. The cattle on a thousand hills are His already (Psalm 50:10); He provides water for all the people of Israel by opening up a rock. (Exodus 17) This Master is working with limitless resources. Which means that we are kind of stuck.
If the Master is not concerned with profit; and if the Master is not concerned with wise spending; then what is He concerned with? Hear and consider:
Though He has a foreman, the Master goes out to the marketplace personally. And straight away, He snatches up the go-getters and the early risers. “Go work in My vineyard!”
And then He heads out again. The Master prowls the market at 9; He scans the food court at lunch; He does another lap at 3. And every time, it is the same: “Go and work in My vineyard! Whatever is right, I’ll give you.”
And then, finally, one last time, about the 11th hour, i.e. at 5 p.m., finally, at the very last moment; when systems are shutting down, and phone calls aren’t getting answered; finally, at Miller Time – colloquially understood – the Master finds the idle and the lazy, and sends them to His vineyard, too.
Now things are becoming clear. What does the Master want? One thing: The Master wants His vineyard full. The Master wants everyone to be in and nobody to be out. He wants idle hands to be put to good use. He wants grapes harvested and pressed so there would be wine for the party.
He will even pay handsomely to make all of this happen. The Master is happy to reward everyone who will not reject His invitation. That’s why everyone gets the same thing in the end.
They are not being paid for their labors. They were never working on commission. They are being rewarded just for being in the vineyard.
If they are there early, thanks be to God. The Master can make tremendous use of them.
If they show up in the middle of the workday, thanks be to God. They can encourage the others with their zeal and energy.
If they are those who slipped in just before quitting time, barely long enough to punch the clock, thanks be to God. For they can boast nothing of their labors. And so they serve as an example to all.
Those hired last are a picture of what is true for everyone. They have brought into the Master’s vineyard by grace.
Remember, this Master has no need of profit; neither does He have need to spend His money wisely. So, the first and the last and the rest are all there for one reason: by grace, the Master wants them there.
So, to you who came to the Kingdom of heaven early: you who were baptized as babies and raised in the church, the Master has done you no wrong. Grace He promised you, and grace you have received.
To you who showed up in the third, sixth, and ninth hour of your life, who heard the Master’s invitation at school or at work: like those first hires, Christ has promised to give to you whatever is right. That, also, has been made yours.
Rejoice, all of you, at the generosity of Your Master. He gives freely to you as He did to the woman riddled with cancer, dying in hospice, who heard the Word and clung to it, who received Holy Baptism a week before her labors ended. Her reward is no less in the Kingdom of heaven.
All because the Master is free to do what He wishes with what belongs to Him. Christ took Heaven, and set it aside to join you on earth. He took His own body and handed it over to judgment and to the shameful death on the cross. He took your sin and made it His own. He took your death and suffered it in your place.
These things of yours, this sin and this death, He is their Master, too. And He has done with them as He pleases. Sins He has cast into the bottomless Red Sea of Holy Baptism. Death He has destroyed with the glory of His resurrection.
And now, what shall He do with everything else? What, now shall Jesus do with what belongs to Him? He shall give it to you. His own righteousness. His own keeping of the law. His own life and resurrection. They are made yours now and forever.
“Forever,” in the Bible, usually brings us back to the beginning; and it brings us back to our initial dilemma.
How does this parable prepare you for Lent; for devotion, prayer, fasting, and faithful witness? How in the world does this parable prepare you for the work of the Kingdom?
Or, to put another way: Now that you know the character of your Master; now that you know He gives freely to the first and the last; now that you know again that you are not working on commission; now that you know that everything comes by grace and as gift:
What happens tomorrow?