Introduction: When a race is run, you expect all of the runners to start at the starting line and to run the entire race and then cross the finish line. But that didn’t happen at the 1980 running of the Boston Marathon. What happened that day has been labeled one of the Top 10 Sports Scandals of all time. In that running of the Boston Marathon, a 23-year-old female by the name of Rosie Ruiz was the first woman to cross the finish line. It seemed she had achieved the third fastest time ever recorded for a female runner. And besides this incredibly fast time, she fantastically appeared sweat-free and relaxed as she climbed the winner’s podium to accept her wreath. Later she was disqualified after it was discovered she was a big cheat; apparently jumping into the race during the last half-mile and then simply sprinted to the finish line ahead of everyone else who HAD actually ran the race. Participants and spectators alike were enraged that someone would try to run just part of the race and then collect the prize as though they had been in the entire race.
Years ago I was in a golf tournament. The 18th hole was a par three and on this hole we played for “closest to the pin.” Whoever hit a shot that wound up closest to the pin would win a new set of golf clubs. In my group was the world’s worst golfer. In fact if you had opened up the dictionary and looked up the words “world’s worst golfer” his picture was beside the definition. I had just met him the day of the golf tournament and he was bragging about his game and how good he was. He was greatly overstating his abilities. When we got up to the last hole - the par three – he hit a terrible shot. It was at least 50 yards to the right of the green – oh my – his golf ball was heading for the banquet tent where we were going to have lunch. “FORE” he yelled. The ball hit the top of that banquet tent, ricocheted to the left, hit the cart part, bounced up on the green and rolled to within 2 inches of the cup. He proudly went up the green, and signed his name as closet to the pin. There was only one other group to the play the 18th hole. They were right behind my group. They had an “A” player on their team. He struck a beautiful iron shot. It hit the green, almost going in the hole on the second bounce, and finishing about 12 inches from the cup. So who was the winner? The one who hit the straight-on shot or the one who bounced it off the banquet tent and the cart path? The man who ricocheted his golf ball won the prize. It didn’t seem fair.
Today we are going to look at another strange story from Scripture. It is about some workers who came to the race late and yet they got the same as those who had been there from the very beginning. And as you are going to see, some did not think that the situation was fair.
Focal Scriptures: Matt 20:1-16"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3 "About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' 5 So they went. "He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6 About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?' 7 "'Because no one has hired us,' they answered. "He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.' 8 "When evening came, 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.' 9 "The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.' 13 "But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' 16 "So the last will be first, and the first will be last." (from New International Version)
The Story. "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
We have a very interesting story about a landowner that must have paid out more than he would ever take in. In our story the grapes are ready to be harvested. This was the fall harvest and everyday was a race with the sun to get the harvest of grapes in before they spoiled. He goes to the marketplace at 6am to get workers for the day. This was a very common practice of hiring people on a day-to-day basis. Well he brought these workers back to the vineyard and a few minutes before nine, he realizes that he needs to recruit more workers. So he is back at the marketplace and 9AM hiring more. A few minutes before 12noon, he looks at how much is still to be harvested and he heads back to the marketplace again. At 2:50PM, he realizes if he doesn’t hire still more workers, he is not going to get the harvest in, so he is back at the marketplace. At the 11th hour, 5PM he’s got one hour to go in the workday, and this is where I would say the story heads into the Twilight Zone. He feels he still needs more workers, so he is back down at the marketplace trying to hire men for the last hour of the workday. The emphasis here in the GK is that he found them. They did not find him. It is a miracle that he found anybody down there at that hour to hire, but he does. He asks them why they are standing around and their answer accuses them rather than excuses them. They respond - because no one hired us. Well, he had been down there 4 times already that day hiring.
What were the times that the landowner went to the marketplace to hire workers?
Count them up - 6, 9AM, 12 noon, 3, and 5PM. Five times he is down there or to put it another way, as long as there are workers to hire, he is in the hiring business. ((persistence of God in reaching out to us))Ty Cobb is generally regarded as one of the greatest baseball players of all time. When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936, he received the most votes of any player on the Ballot.
Cobb is widely credited with setting 90 Major League Baseball records during his career.
However, as most baseball fans know, Ty Cobb was not a nice man. He was an overt racist, and he was mean and surly on the baseball diamond. He would not be on anyone’s list for preferred role models.
In 1961, Ty Cobb lay dying. Reportedly a pastor came to Ty Cobb’s bedside during this difficult time and urged him to repent of his sins and confess Jesus Christ as his Lord. Cobb looked up from his deathbed and said, “You’re not telling me that a whole life of sin can be done away with by a deathbed repentance, are you?” And the pastor assured Cobb it could. And Ty Cobb invited Jesus into his life. Shortly thereafter he died, and we can assume that he passed comfortably through the pearly gates as if he had been a Sunday School teacher all his adult life. Because Christ is risen from the grave we can trust that His promises are true. Jesus said that He was the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE.
What wage did he offer to pay to each worker? To the 6AM workers he hired, he promised them a denarius. The GK wording of the text indicates that they tried to hassle him for a higher wage, but he agreed to pay them a daily wage - the denarius. It is hard to make an exact conversion today, but it would be about $20. We know that a denarius was the average wage for a man for one day of work. Now notice when the landowner returns at 9AM, he does not promise a denarius, but “I will pay you whatever is right.” The GK words here mean “right” “just” or “fair.” At 12 noon and 3PM he does the same thing. The Scripture doesn’t record him promising them anything.
The Sermon. The Goodness__ of God This landowner represents the goodness of
God. He kept going back to the marketplace to get more workers. It was more of him looking for them rather than them looking for him. On this Easter Sunday morning, as we celebrate the risen Lord Jesus, He is still seeking us. You might recall on that first Easter morning, over 2000 years ago, Mary went to the tomb searching and seeking Jesus. In your search for goodness, you don’t have to look any further than the Father.
Some of you women, when you were young girls, undoubtedly belonged to an organization known as Brownies. This is the youngest segment of the Girl Scout organization--from ages seven to nine. Like the other members of this organization dedicated to fostering good citizenship and service, as a Brownie you earned "points" when you attained certain levels of achievement or performed various services. You may have accumulated enough points to translate these points into awards.
So influential has the Brownie organization been that the concept of "Brownie Points" has been transferred to general usage in our language. Earning brownie points has come to mean earning credit for doing the right thing in a wide range of endeavors. For example, we might say of someone, "she earned a few brownie points with her boss." It means she did something to win her boss' favor. And that's great! We all need our boss' favor.
But here is the message of the Gospel: you can't build up brownie points with God. "Oh shucks," you're probably thinking to yourself. "All those years teaching that Sunday School class for nothing. All those years tithing. All those years sitting in those Board meetings. And they haven't earned me a thing." And that's true. If you were doing those things with the intent of buying off God, your efforts have been wasted.
The Generosity_ of God When the day is over the landowner instructs his foreman to pay the workers and to begin with the ones who were hired at 5pm or the 11th hour. You might remember that they were not promised any particular wage and they held out their hand and got a denarius – a full day’s pay. To those who started to work at 3 and those who had begun 12 noon, and 9 – got a denarius. Those who had started working at the dawn of day must have been licking their chops – what on earth are we going to get.
The rock group Genesis has a song titled "No Son of Mine." The story tells of a son that leaves home under a cloud. He feels that if he doesn't leave he will never grow. As he gets older, though, he wants to reconcile with his father. He goes home "with his heart in his hand." His father rejects him. His father says, "You're no son of mine." As far as this father was concerned it was payback time. The boy had rejected his father; now the father would do the same. "You've made your bed; now you can lie in it!" That's one kind of father but there is another. “For God so loved the world...” On this Easter Sunday morning, Christ is risen! He stands ready to save you!
The Grace ____ of God When the landowner got ready to pay the ones who had started almost at the end of the day, do you realize he could have paid them 1/12th a denarius? There was actually a tiny coin and it was worth 1/12th. He could have paid them that - but this strange story is really about the grace of God and there is no such thing as 1/12th the grace of God.
“You Get__ it all or you get None____ of it at all”
There's an old story told about a little church west of Winchester, Virginia. One Sunday morning, their minister was rather preoccupied. His sermon did not make as much sense as it usually did. As the congregation listened, they became concerned about him. At the close of the service, before he pronounced the benediction, he said, "You know that my wife and I have a daughter we haven't seen in awhile: She was living another kind of lifestyle, one that we didn't exactly approve of. She left home, and we hadn't seen her . . ."Until we found her the other day. She was in an apartment with no heat, no warm water, no electricity. We also found her with our grandson, three months old. We asked her if she wanted to come home, and she said that, yes, she would. "Many of you in our congregation will not approve of someone like that living in your parsonage. But she's our daughter, and we love her. "There are two doors to our church. I feel that some of you won't be able to shake my hand this morning. And that's okay. I'll understand." And with that, he went to the back of the church, pronounced the benediction, and waited. You know how it is on Sunday. For one reason or another, people are always slipping out the other door so that they can get away quickly. But, that Sunday morning, every member of that church went out the front door to shake their minister's hand. And it went further than a handshake. The people opened their loving arms wide, and accepted the young mother and child into their congregation. Clothes seemed to materialize out of nowhere. A job was found so that the young lady could make her own way. Babysitters just seemed to appear from out of the congregation so she could go to work. In short, this congregation began to take the Lord Jesus' Christ's message of forgiveness seriously.
There were those in the community who began to talk. "Did you hear about the minister's daughter who is going to church now? And they're letting her in! Sinners worship in that church!" Yes, sinners did worship in that church. In fact, there were people who were members of that church who had not been seen in years, but now began to attend services. They had not felt good enough to attend before. But now they realized that not being good enough was exactly the reason they ought to attend. And attend they did. A church and a community were changed forever when a lost daughter and her child came home. I want you to know this is a place of grace. If you are far from God or close to God, this is where you should be and we welcome you today.