Scripture Readings for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost

What is our God like? Over the next few Sundays, the Church hears Jesus tell parables which reveal characteristics of our God. Today’s lessons cause the worshiper to ask: Is God fair? No, he’s not. He doesn’t give us what we deserve, and that’s called mercy. In fact, he gives us what we don’t deserve, and that’s called grace. Our God is inconceivably gracious. May we see our lives as our “Time of Grace” to know God and serve him & others!

THE FIRST LESSON – Isaiah 55:6–9

How gracious is God? His call to repentance doesn’t extend only to backsliding Christians. His call to return to him isn’t restricted to upright citizens. His invitation to call on him is not reserved for sensible, suburban folk with 2.1 children and a white picket fence. The LORD calls the ungodly and wicked men who worship lust and self. The LORD calls the hardened sinner whose conscience has long stopped balking at his deeds. Look at what he promises to these people when they repent: mercy and pardon, the care of God and the forgiveness of God. They won’t get what they deserve, that is, mercy. They get what they don’t deserve. That is, the free pardon of grace. God’s plan to save sinners by grace soars above all that we could conceive or imagine.

Isaiah 55:6–96 Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. 8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

THE SECOND LESSON – Philippians 1:18b-27

From prison, St. Paul speaks of the joyful tension in which a Christian lives. On the one hand, we long to be with Christ in heaven. On the other hand, we are happy to serve Christ on earth. Paul’s confident words remind us that because of God’s inconceivable grace, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Life lived under such grace is life filled with joy and ordered by God’s wisdom (Prayer of the Day). May God give us courage and willingness to exalt our Savior in life and in death!

Philippians 1:18–2718 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me. 27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.

VERSE OF THE DAY Alleluia. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Alleluia. (2 Corinthians 12:9a)

THE GOSPEL LESSON – Matthew 20:1-16

What is our God like? Jesus teaches us with a story, but we struggle with the lesson. The parable offends our finely honed sense of what’s fair and what’s not. God’s kingdom comes to different people at different times. The reward is the same for all because it is a reward of grace, not personal accomplishment. Work in God’s kingdom, be it short or long, is the privilege of grace. Those who take issue with God’s grace will find themselves “last,” that is, outside of his grace. In reality, God is not fair; rather, he is inconceivably gracious. One-hour-workers receive the same as those who bore the heat of the day. This parable carries both warning and promise for us—a warning that all comparisons based on merit or work do not belong in God’s kingdom; a promise that our relationship with God is based solely on grace which he lavishes in abundance. The story only offends our sense of fairness when we compare ourselves to other workers. When we keep our eyes where they belong—fixed on God—then we have a correct view of our worth and labor. Then, when God places a denarius in our hands, we can marvel that the Lord isn’t fair—thanks be to God! He doesn’t give us what we deserve; no, he gives us what we don’t.

Matthew 20:1–161 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3 “About nine in the morning 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 noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon 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 five in the afternoon 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 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, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one 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.”

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