Sunday, September 21, 2008

What the Christian Life Looks Like

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Matthew 20:1-16

Today’s Gospel reading shows us that being a Christian seems unfair. The world may say, if the end result is the same, then I’ll just hang around and convert toward the end of my life. The Christian looks at it and says that that’s unfair. What you end up having is non-Christians and Christians thinking and living in much the same way.

But Christians are to be different. We’re to be in the world but not of the world. We are to think differently, and we should be living differently. In order for us to do this Jesus has given us the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. The point is not that being a Christian is like getting hired to work a day job. The point is the grace of God.

The grace of God is by definition unfair. If God were fair we wouldn’t have anything here to discuss because we’d have no hope of salvation. God doesn’t save us according to fairness but according to mercy.

So if you think about the Christian life in terms of grace, doesn’t it stand to reason that the longer you’re a Christian, the more you get to rejoice in the grace of God? The Christian who’s been so for a hundred years will be in heaven alongside the thief on the cross who was a Christian in this life for only a few hours. But that thief went through a life separated from God and not under His blessings. The other person received a lifetime of gracious blessings from God.

What would you rather have? Our sinful flesh looks at the parable and the Christian life the way the world does and complains that it’s unfair. The new man in us, however, rejoices in a lifetime of receiving God’s grace.

Would you rather be born into a loving and caring family or be adopted into that same family much later in life? Both would be a blessing, of course, but the one receives a lifetime of those blessings whereas the other comes into it later on.

Those of us who have the joy of being Christians our whole lives need to quit our thinking about how things are unfair to be a Christian and start living as God has intended us to live. How, then, does a Christian live? What does the Christian life look like?

We may compare the bearing the heat of the day of the parable to the servanthood life of being a Christian. It’s hard. There’s blood, sweat, and tears involved. There’s a lot of pain in this world. Sometimes, that pain is in our own lives. But as Christians, when we bear one another’s burdens we bear their pain, too. When they hurt, we hurt. When they’re suffering, we’re suffering. When their lives are consumed by trouble, our hearts go out to them, we pray for them, we are there for them.

This is probably the most obvious way a Christian lives out his or her life, in helping others when they’re in need. When someone is having troubles, they can count on us. But is that all there is to it? What about in the day to day stuff? There is indeed difficulty in helping others in need. It can be an emotional drain on us. It can take up a lot of our time. But it can be even more difficult to live out the Christian life in the normal day to day living.

There are many reasons for this. We may be lazy. We may not think that the ordinary things we do are all that holy. We may not take too kindly to hearing how we are to live. We may simply not think much about it. But the main reason is that we carry around that old sinful flesh with us our whole lives long and it’s always wanting to go back and live the way the world lives.

Our sinful nature doesn’t want to give offerings. It doesn’t want to spend time each day in the Word of God and pray. It doesn’t want to be in the House of God for worship each Sunday. Or if it does, it wants to think about other things that are pressing at the moment. It doesn’t want to take the time to be in the Word of God with other Christians in Bible Study in order to grow and be strengthened in faith.

The new man within us sees possibilities. The new man sees that God desires our all and that there are all kinds of opportunities to serve Him. That since God doesn’t need money, that a portion of our money is given in order to help bring the Gospel to others. The new man within us sees that when we give a portion of our money as offerings, it’s not really our money we’re giving at all, but that everything we have is because God loves to give us His grace and loves to bless us. When we’re thinking things are unfair, we’re missing out on the blessings God loves to give us.

The new man sees that when one is united with Christ in Baptism that it is no longer he who lives but Christ who lives in him. The new man sees that if it seems boring to daily and often be in the Word of God and prayer that it is by this very sustenance that He receives the grace of God. The new man rejoices in the coming of his Lord in the Sacrament as his Lord gives to him His very Body that was given into death and His very Blood that was shed on the cross. The new man sees more and more that, far from being unfair, he is the recipient of continued undeserved love, grace, and strength. That, far from having the right to complain, he has only the opportunity to give thanks for all the benefits His Lord bestows on him.

What the Christian life looks like to the world is probably not much. They might even feel sorry for us because of how unfair it all seems. But what it looks like to the Christian is the ever new and daily opportunity to receive, rejoice, and share in the grace of God. Amen.


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