Heritage Days Community Sunday Service
September 22, 2019
Pastor Donna Herring from Madison Christian Church


"It's Not Fair"


Matthew 20:1-16
20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” 

Just about any of us who have children or grandchildren or have worked with children have often heard the words, "It's not fair!"  Disputes over toys, bedtimes, and just about anything you can imagine all create dissension in the home, school or wherever children play together. 


My own youngest granddaughter wasn't even three when she recognized the fact that she didn't get to do everything that the two older girls did.  One Sunday evening after my son Alex's family had been over for dinner, Alex and Samantha prepared to go home and picked up little Lilli and headed for the car.  Lexi and Hadley were spending the night with Larry and me so we settled in to read a good book, have a snack and go to bed.  It wasn't long before my phone rang and Samantha told me between bits of laughter that Lillie had protested all the way home in the car, "Not fair, mommy, not fair!"  Sam thought it was so cute but I felt for poor Lilli.  It was just the first of many lessons of life not being fair.


The next time I went to pick the girls up for an overnight, Lilli begged, "I want to ride in your car Noni, I want to spend the night!"  Sam said, "Go ahead and take her.  I'll come and get her later."  As it turned out she got to ride in my car, came in the house and drank a glass of chocolate milk, curled up on my lap and went to sleep.  She got her way and spent the night.  Sometimes persistence pays off.


What about adults?  We end up in the same systems of unfairness, don't we?  We've been with the company longer and get passed over for a promotion.  The ball team has had a great winning season and in the final game of the tournament, nothing goes right and suffers a miserable lose.  You're running late for work and you hit every red light on the way or there has been a wreck and traffic is backed up for miles.  You finally get to retire and you have all kinds of plans when you are diagnosed with cancer.  Life can throw us a curveball and it's just not fair!


Jesus told a parable about a landowner who went out about six in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About nine o'clock he did the same thing. He returned to the marketplace about noon and repeated this procedure. Then again at three. Finally, about five o'clock--just an hour before quitting time--he went back to the marketplace and hired one more round of workers.


At six o'clock, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, "Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first." When the workers who began to work only an hour earlier came to be paid, they each received a denarius. Well, this delighted those who had been working since six that morning. "Think how much we're going to get," they thought to themselves. But when their time came to be paid, they each received a denarius as well. Matthew tells us there was grumbling in the vineyard. What do you think they said? "It's not fair. We've labored all day in the hot sun and you've paid us the same thing that you've paid those who worked only an hour."


Let's pick up the story in Matthew's own words: "But [the landowner] answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' " Then Jesus added this cryptic phrase, "So the last will be first, and the first will be last."


If anybody but Jesus had said this, we would be up in arms. Most of us would think that the people who worked all day ought to be paid more than the ones who worked only an hour. What's Jesus thinking about? Those workers are right to grumble. It's not fair!


Well, I can understand where the early workers are coming from, can't you?  After all that work, I wouldn't be any too pleased to see others getting the same pay for an hour's work that I got for the whole day.


I. God is not fair.
Mark that down. God is not fair. If fairness is the primary attribute you are looking for in God, then don't go to Jesus for instruction. In fact, if what we expect from God is fairness, we wouldn't need Jesus at all. Are you awake now? In some churches what I'm going to say would be shocking. But I believe you will understand. This is the heart of the gospel.


Old Testament faith is all about fairness. The Jews would have used another word--justice! For the Hebrews, God, above all things, must be just. What does that mean in practical terms? One thing it means is that you can always determine what is right and what is wrong. The second thing it means is that if you are righteous you will be rewarded and if you are unrighteous you will be punished. What could be fairer than that? 


There's only one problem: it doesn't work in the real world. Many good people suffer and many scoundrels prosper. The Old Testament man or woman expected to see God's justice prevail. The reward for righteousness was prosperity, a large family with lots of sons, good health, a long life. But then the best man in town gets struck with cancer. Well, maybe he has a sin that nobody knows about. There must be some just explanation.


Even as a nation, Israel believed it was rewarded when it was virtuous and punished when it was not. We read verses like Jeremiah 46:28, "Do not fear, O Jacob my servant, for I am with you," declares the LORD. "Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only with justice; I will not let you go entirely unpunished." That's something to look forward to. "I'm going to punish you, but I'm not going to destroy you. Hey, I'm just being fair."


Is that a sufficient explanation for Israel's travails? What about the Holocaust? Six million Jews, many of them as good as any people on earth, murdered at the hands of a madman and his deluded followers. Where's the justice in that? No wonder Jews have struggled with their faith.


But wait! You say. You are dealing only with life this side of the grave. Humanity survives the grave, right? Then, the righteous can go to heaven and the wicked can go to hell and burn forever, and all will be well with the world. And for many people, this is enough. Ultimately God is fair. Hitler is in hell and Mother Teresa is in heaven, and everything works out as it should. 


Then you're left with only one question. Where is the dividing line? What are the sins that are worthy of hell? Murder? Theft? Adultery? A woman was recently tried for killing a man who raped her daughter. Would she qualify? How much do you have to steal to be headed for Satan's domain? The kid who breaks into your house and steals a few hundred dollars to support a drug habit. Is he a candidate for hell? But wait. What if he happens to be your kid? Then what? What about the company president who steals millions? But he's a deacon at the Presbyterian church! Does he get a pass just because he's a believer? Well, that's certainly not fair! Jesus said that a man who looked at a woman with lust has already committed adultery in his heart. Is heaven only for women and a few virtuous men who have trained their eyes not to look?  My Dad in Dominican Republic Story.
One problem with a faith-based on fairness is that it is very difficult to apply. 


II. The Law is Not Fair
Wouldn't there be the tendency, if you were among the spiritual elite, to look down on those who didn't measure up? This is what happened to the Pharisees, and it has often happened among those we might dub as super-Christians.


A minister was characterizing a woman in his congregation. He described her as a scriptural machine gun. She could mow down persons who disagreed with her by quoting scripture and condemning them. "A-a-a-a-Thou shalt not kill. A-a-a-a-"Thou shalt not commit adultery." She could mow them down with her tongue, but she had no compassion, no empathy. She could only criticize and ostracize those who did not measure up to her standards. 


Some of us would find a special place in hell for the self-righteous, but would that be fair? After all, they are simply trying to apply as best they can the rule of law to their lives and yours. 


Do you see the problem? So Jesus tells this parable about people who have worked all day and they come to be paid and they're paid the same as those who have only worked one hour and those who have worked all day complain, "That's not fair. It's not just." And Jesus says to them, in effect, "God is not just; God is generous."

III. Thank God the Cross Is Not the Law.
Here is what distinguishes Christian faith from all others: 
How often does the loving parent hear her children complain, "That's not fair!" when seeking to fashion an appropriate response to a particular situation? And sometimes, from a strictly objective standpoint, what you are doing is not fair. But fairness is not your objective. Raising healthy, responsible children is your objective. So it is with God. God is a righteous God, but justice is not God's primary concern. God is not interested in balancing our virtues and our vices and passing out punishment accordingly. God is interested in fashioning souls who can live with Him for all eternity. 


That is what the cross is all about. The old system of offering sacrifices for sin, even sins we may not be aware of, to an angry and vengeful God is done away with forever. Christ has borne all our sins upon the tree. This is why his passion and death were so horrific. He who knew no sin bore the sins of every person who has ever lived--your sin and my sin--on the cross of Calvary. That's not fair. We ought to pay our own way. But that's what happened. Jesus paid it all. 


And it's not fair for another reason. It's unequal. Murderers, thieves and adulterers receive the same absolution as Sunday School teachers and martyrs, but there it is. It's all done. The slate is wiped clean. Never again will anyone ever have to avoid God because of his or her unworthiness. And never again will anyone deserve to feel superior to anyone else. We may not be equals in the boardroom or on the athletic field, but at the foot of the cross we are all sinners saved by grace.


Let me tell you a little story.  Lenard went to heaven.  He was being given a tour by St. Peter.  The first-place St. Peter showed him was where the new arrivals came.  "This is where new arrivals are healed and receive new bodies," said St. Peter.  At the second stop Lenard heard laughing and weeping and people were embracing.  "What is this place?" Lenard asked.  "This is where people are reunited with their loved ones," St. Peter replied.  At the third stop people were on their knees in front of other folks weeping and asking forgiveness.  "And this place?"  asked Lenard.  "This is where amends can be made with others they have wronged."  At the next stop people were singing and praising God.  Lenard felt this place was self-explanatory.  At the final stop.  St. Peter turned to Lenard and said, "Shhh! This is where the Baptists are and they think they are the only ones here!


Well I'm here to tell you folks that it doesn't matter which church we are from or how long we've been a member.  We are all workers in God's vineyard and it just doesn't make sense to compete or to be jealous of each other because we are all doing God's work and we are doing it for the same pay.  It isn't fair!  But the Good news is God is not just;  God is  Generous and our pay is eternal life made possible by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross!  You are perfect in God's eyes. So come to Christ today!  His arms are open wide!  

 

Amen.

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