This is supposed to be the convert text. This one doesn’t get it. When I was new, I’ve never found anyone upset I was here. That came later, once they got to know me. I’ve never had anyone complain that I did a funeral for someone who God brought back in at the 11th hour. I have had a few upset about the funerals we just couldn’t do here though, even though it was for someone who never once set foot in the door. We pretty much want everyone to show up. Better late than never.
Really, it was probably only a shock that people all got paid the same the first time. The problem ever since, in my experience, is people trying to game the system. Before the reformation, the Roman Catholic church taught that baptism forgave only past sins, not future ones. So nobles wouldn’t get baptized as infants. They paid priests to follow them with a bottle of water anytime they thought they might die. Why not get more sins in while you can, I guess? We still play Jesus musical chairs. How long can you stay away from God’s gifts and God’s house before you really need them?
Some of us came at different times, but all of us are here working. The real problem is you don’t know what to say to others to make them actually show up. There’s lots of excuses, some better than others. But really, we don’t make excuses about the stuff we actually think we need. It’s a really good chance to get up on a high horse and complain about people not here to defend themselves, but only the worst kind of sermons try to convict people not here to be upset about them. They’re always tempting for lazy preachers because if I only preach about sinners that aren’t you, I can’t get yelled at because none of you get offended. But the thing is, nobody who needs help gets it either.
And really, they’re sort of right. The parable calls attention to it. The forgiveness of sins is so powerful, so free, that the ones who show up at the last minute get the same resurrection you do. Should they stay away? No, but it turns into more of a discussion of the probability of dying before the average life expectancy, which even in a pandemic isn’t actually a discussion that yields a lot of positive responses. Also, randomly asking your family “What if you die tonight?” doesn’t strengthen the relationship so much as seem somewhat threatening after a while.
2020 changed my perspective on the parable a little. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways, so I’d have done a lot differently this year, but maybe He gave us a gift. I’m not sure this is about the hour the workers come in. The Lord actually tells us that doesn’t matter, even though we want to make it so important. If nothing else, this year reminded us just how terrible idleness is. What seems to frustrate the master isn’t that some come later than others. He’s fine with that. It’s that they stand around idle in the marketplace. Idleness isn’t laziness. Idleness isn’t doing nothing. Idleness is doing everything but not accomplishing anything. Your car idles. It’s on. It’s running. It’s even working. It’s just not going anywhere. It’s wasting gas. Idleness is use without benefit. Idleness is that feeling of being stuck. It’s acacia. The sin of sloth. Sloth isn’t too much Netflix. It’s running your motor and not getting anywhere for so long that helplessness and despair start to set it. Idleness is going about your whole life and not finding the peace you’re looking for no matter how hard you try until you’re tried out. It’s not being able to find the divine. It’s being able to find where you fit. It’s not feeling like you’re moving anywhere despite trying your best to make it through this mess the same as everyone else. But rather than talking about that feeling, which everyone has but nobody knows what to do with, we resort to guilt, which can at past be used to leverage. You really should go to church more. Even if I can’t quite tell you why.
Really, I wonder if the reason we heap guilt is that we can’t help but see it as a system too. This is what you do to get to heaven. Go to church. Maybe it’s slanted system. One hour’s the same as the whole day. Still, this is what you do to get paid. But if it’s just a system, even an unfair one, there’s nothing really unique in it. Life is unfair. There is no perfect system. There’s always a way to game it. There’s always people who are going to try. This is a religion of law without gospel, but worse. You Showed up in beginning of the day, worked the whole time, but the people who did next to nothing got the same. So why bother?
You can say it’s for society. There is work to be done here. But this thing has to be more than civic pride. That only goes so far. I know people that care about their country and neighbors and still won’t go near this place. You know more.
You can say it’s about morality. Be honest. Work hard. Do something religiousy once in a while. In short, be a good person, go to nondescript good place after you die. But again the folks who snuck in at the 11th hour still gets paid in spite of doing none of that. Why try harder than you have to? And really, how’s that different than any other religion? If you just want a once a week pep talk about being a good person, you could go anywhere.
There’s so much time and effort to game the system. There’s so much effort going into how to recruit to the system. The whole point is there is no system, just a God who wants to see everyone cared for no matter what. There’s a God who sees how destructive idleness is for your soul. Jesus says the first shall be last and the last first. If this is a system, it’s a dumb one. If you want Christianity to be about what you earn, it’s never going to make sense. Because that’s not what it is. God already paid it. He just wants to see you cared for.
Because the question isn’t when you showed up. It’s when the Son was crucified for you. For those who worked the whole day and for those who brought staggering in at the last minute, the answer is the same. It is finished. There is mercy for you here. That’s always what this place has been. The place Jesus is given to sinners. You don’t come here to do good works, you come here to receive your pay for His. For Christ’s work, life, and death, you are given forgiveness, life, and salvation.
They’re not just words. They devour idleness. They root you, not where you keep trying and things feel the same, and more frustrating each day, but in Him who has already conquered not just your problems in this life, but also your death. What if you die tonight is an irrelevant question for Christians, but so too is, do I matter? You are worth enough that God would die for you. You are worth so much that God would not simply see you as the product of what you can do, but as a gift to gather to His side. You are not stuck. You’re tied to life. Your life isn’t the sum of the progress you feel you make, the problems you solve, or the feeling of accomplishment. Your life is the sum of the price given for you. You all got bought with the same price. The blood and death of Jesus. You are so priceless to God He’d rather die than lose you. He sets this place up as the one building in the world we would not be judged by what we do, but simply gathered in to receive. This place is where you show up to receive. You could probably skip a paycheck, but why would you want to? The works already been done by Him who died and rose for you.
Instead of talking about church as if there’s a positive reason for going, we only talk about it as if there’s negative reasons for not. Isaiah tells us. There’s actually places you can’t find God. Seek the LORD where He may be found. That doesn’t mean He’s not everywhere, but there’s places it’s just not possible to find him. Sooner or later that feeling of getting stuck, of idleness sets in and works to destroy. God sets this place up so you can actually know He’s here for you. In His sacraments. In His word. He is found, not hiding. He promised to be here, so we actually know even when we have trouble feeling right. He’s here because He promised to be. He’s
giving, not demanding. He is hope, not another thing to do in a life already too busy but not near productive enough. Return to the Lord here, that He would have compassion on you. That He would pardon and comfort. That He would nurture and save.