Septuagesima Sunday (2015)
Delivered By
Pr. Mark D. Lovett
Delivered On
February 1, 2015
Central Passage
Matthew 20:1-16

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

It was pride that caused the laborers in the vineyard to complain that those who worked but an hour received the same as those who had borne the heat of the day and worked all day in the vineyard. Pride comes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18).

To be a sinner is to be a proud person. Sinners are full of pride. Sinners take pride in their humility and so pervert humility. Now it’s not the pride of a father for his son or a mother for her daughter that I’m talking about. That sort of pride is really best called honor, not pride. Our sons and daughters that do well honor us and so we are honored by them and are lifted up by them and we want to lift them up as well. We call this being a proud dad or a proud mom, but really we ought to call it an honored dad or an honored mom. For what more is it to honor someone than to do that which lifts them up and swells their heart? We bring honor – not pride – to one another, to our parents and families, when we do what is right and what is good. So even a son or daughter who gets a job or is accepted to a good school or says no to the ways and perversions of this world doesn’t so much make a proud parent but rather brings honor to her parents. Pride lifts up the individual and exalts him or her above the rest, but honor lifts up everyone. Pride comes from within, and so defiles a man, as our Lord says, “That which comes from within defiles a person.” But honor is bestowed on you by others and thus is a gift and a blessing.

So maybe we ought to begin again to use that word “pride” with contempt, as it is used in the Holy Scriptures. For nowhere in all of Holy Writ is the word “pride” followed by or is the result of something good. Pride in the Bible is always evil, always a downfall that leads to destruction.

It was pride that caused those workers to begrudge the Master’s generosity. His goodness toward others fanned their hatred of others and unmasked their self-love. They had been there longer, worked more and harder. In their pride, pride in themselves, they believed that they deserved more than those who had not done as much or worked as hard. If this doesn’t describe our daily attitude toward ourselves and toward others then nothing does. How angry we get when someone is promoted above us when we have so obviously deserved more than they. How much hatred is in our heart and on our lips when someone who should be less deserving receives as much – or God forbid! – more than we get. We are even angry and filled with hate when they probably did deserve more than us. That is the nature of pride: it hates everyone. We want to be on top. We want to be first.

Repent of your anger. The first are last and the last are first.

This parable of our Lord teaches two things: that the grace of God is given equally to all and that the godly condition is humility and that pride leads to destruction. But we already know both of these things. Even if we’d never heard of the Lord or the Bible, the ways of men teach us what grace is: getting what you don’t deserve. And for that we hate grace, unless, of course it is applied to us. We hate that others get what they don’t deserve while we rejoice when we get what we didn’t pay for, what we don’t deserve. The workers were hired by grace, but they didn’t complain then. They didn’t deserve to be hired but the Master was gracious and put them to work in His vineyard that they might enjoy the work and the fruits of their labor. But as soon as others got what they didn’t deserve, the first workers were filled with hatred. The sons of this world know what grace is, and hate it.

They know humility, too. The ways of men teach what humility is: putting others before yourself. They even teach that humility is better than pride. We enjoy watching prideful jerk get put down and a humble person exalted. Though, to be honest, we enjoy watching the proud jerk get put in his place more than we enjoy watching the humble receive accolades. But that is because we ourselves are proud and want to be recognized and exalted by others. Grace and humility do not belong to the Christian only but to all humanity, even if they are warped and twisted by the world so that everyone – even the Christian – really only uses false humility and imagined grace. For are we not gracious to those we like and who are like us? And do we not use humility to promote ourselves and gain the upper hand?

These things are taught by our Lord not because we do not know them, but because we are so bad at them and so unable to do them rightly that He must continually teach us these things and all things pertaining to godliness so that we would learn to do what the apostle teaches and discipline our bodies.

After all, it is your body that leads you into temptation. Thus it is written, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). So the apostle teaches that he disciplines his body – he trains his body – so that after preaching to others he himself might not be disqualified to gain the prize, which is an eternal crown. Discipline your body. Your body says hateful things. Discipline it to say beautiful and loving things. Your body makes hateful gestures. Discipline it to make godly and humble gestures. Your body lusts for what is not yours. Discipline it to love what you have been given. Your body walks away from those in need. Discipline it give alms. Your body turns from those who need your love. Discipline it to love even your enemies. Train your body in godliness because that is what was lost when the pride of man broke through and he ate of the forbidden fruit. The body became shameful and subject to death. Discipline it now so that it becomes honorable and will inherit eternal life.

Consider this: godliness is what we were created for and godliness is expressed and lived most of all in grace and humility. Now consider that the grace and humility which God shows gained for Him the cross and tomb in this life. But consider, too, that He bore the cross and scorned its shame – the shame of sin and guilt and weakness of the body – for you and for all people, not to rule over us but to honor us all. The Lord Jesus died to lift us up, to exalt us all to the right hand of God where humanity sits as Christ, the Son of Mary is exalted to and sits at the right hand of God. The Lord Jesus who was first became last so that we who are last would become first.

And now, to show you His love for you, His dedication and devotion to you, and to honor you with the title of children of God and heirs of His eternal kingdom and inheritance, He invites you into His vineyard to enjoy the work and the fruits of your labor. When our eyes are on Christ and we consider our heavenly Father, then the work of grace and humility is a delight and we find joy in serving others, in loving others even as the Lord’s joy is in loving all people. Not that we condone or accept their evil, but we offer the goodness of God without charge. We invite them as we were invited, by grace and humility, not begrudging what they will receive from our Father who art in heaven. Through the grace of God poured out through you, others are invited to work the vineyard so that they, too, would enjoy the reward, which is not earned but promised.

But what does this look like out there in the mirage that is so often mislabeled as “the real world”? How do we show grace and humility toward others? Certainly in many ways, but chiefly by prayer.

It is no surprise that prayer is the hardest thing for a Christian to do. Especially ritual – that is practiced and disciplined – daily prayer. But there it is: we are nation of priests and priests pray. We are the children of God and the children of God, like the Son of God, listen to and do the will of the Father. You bless others by your prayers, perhaps even if you offer them in pride and self-vainglory, for prayers are not dependent upon you or your efforts but upon the promises of our Father. So whether you feel like prayer or whether you feel like your prayers are forced or puny or whatever, still your prayers are promised to be heard. So pray for those around you, especially your family and this congregation. Pray for both those inside and outside the Church. Pray for their salvation and faith, yes, but pray also for their daily needs.

Don’t pray with an eye on the result, that’s how those first laborers worked: with their eye on what they would receive. Such prayer is not prayer but self-promotion and glory. Instead, pray because it is the work of the vineyard and those hired are hired to work. Work thusly, with an eye to the work, and you will be doing as the apostle says, disciplining your body and running the race to win. Because what you win, the prize you get, your reward, is not the outcome of the work, which may or may not be knowable, but is the promise of the Master: that you will receive the crown of eternal life.

+ In Nomine Iesu +