It’s getting dark and nervously she paces in her modest home. She is worried. Nervously, she sweeps the dirt floor from one side to the next. She stares into the darkness. It is late and she begins to pray, “O God, O God, where is my Joseph? Where is he, Lord? It is getting late and I know he didn’t find work today. I went to the market place and I saw him still standing there late in the afternoon. O Lord, where is he? Has something happened to him, or is he too ashamed to come home again empty handed?”
Her prayer is broken by a tug on her dress. It’s her five year old daughter Elizabeth. Little Elizabeth asks, “Mama, where is Daddy? Why has Daddy not come home yet? Is he bringing us something to eat? Mama, I’m hungry.” And with that the door burst open and he says, “Hello, Elizabeth! Hello, Rebecca! Prepare the table, we have a feast! Look! I have bread, I have cheese, I have figs and for the two women in my life, a little bit of honey!”
“Joseph, where did you get all of this? I know you didn’t work, I went by the market place and I saw you standing there late in the day.” He said, “The most amazing, the most marvelous thing happened to me today. I was standing in the market place waiting for someone to come by and hire me. The day was getting late and many had given up. Others had gone to work and just a few of us were standing there. I just couldn’t come home empty handed again. I couldn’t stand another night just lying in bed when sleep would not come. The growling of my empty stomach could not drown out her words, ‘Daddy, I’m hungry.’
I was almost ready to give up when around the eleventh hour the most unusual thing happened. A fellow came up and he yelled to us and asked us why we weren’t working. We said, “No one has hired us.” He said, “I’ll hire you! Come on and work!”
“It was late in the day but a few pennies was better than nothing at all, so I went and worked in the vineyard. There were people there who had been working a long time. You could tell they were tired and hot and dusty. We worked for only an hour. Then the land owner gathered us together to pay us, and would you believe he paid us first, the ones who had only worked an hour, not those who had worked three hours or six hours or nine hours or twelve hours, and would you believe he gave us wages for an entire day? We worked one single hour and we were paid for an entire day! I was so happy! I was so joyous! I ran to the market place and bought all of this food. Doesn’t it look good? Isn’t it wonderful? We shall have a feast tonight.”
“As I was in the market place, I heard some of the workers who had worked longer than I had grumbling. They were just down right mad. I didn’t say anything, I just came on home. I just couldn’t wait to get home and spread this feast before your eyes. Let us gather around table and thank God for the favor He has bestowed upon us.”
“Joseph, may I ask a word?” “Yes, honey.” “I’m curious, why are there just three loaves instead of the customary four? And are my eyes deceiving me, it looks like someone has cut off half of the cheese.” “Well, you’re right. I hope it’s okay but on the way home I thought of the widow Sarah and I stopped by her house and gave her some of the bread and cheese. And wiping moisture from her eyes, Rebecca says, “Oh my dear Joseph, my kind and generous Joseph you know that it is more than alright. Let’s bow and thank God.”
You may not have ever heard that parable in this way. It’s a strange story. It really is strange when you think about it. What would the United States Government do with this? What would the labor relations office do with this? What would the unions do with this? What would a good attorney do with this?
Right in the middle of this is the landowner — peculiar. You know the land owner represents God and shows to us a side and angle to the nature of God. This land owner is unpredictable and generous to a fault. He will do what he will with his favor and with his money because he wishes to do so.
Why did Jesus tell this strange and unusual parable? In Matthew 19 a man came to Jesus. He is called the rich young ruler. He came to Jesus and wanted to be Jesus’ disciple. To make a long story short Jesus said, “You will have to sell what you have and give it to the poor, and then come and follow me.” The Bible says that he went away sorrowfully. He simply would not do what Jesus asked.
Jesus also says in Matthew 19 that it is more difficult for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to come into Heaven, but with God all things are possible. That just blew the minds of the disciples, and they then asked who could be saved. They felt if you were rich it was because God was honoring you and if you were poor it was because God was punishing you. If a rich man could not get there, who could?
Then Simon Peter said, “Lord, we have given up everything to follow you, and we know we’ve got a lot coming.” Simon was trying to move himself into position, trying to scoot himself up next to Jesus so that when Jesus came into His kingdom he could get all the goodies. He was thinking how he could manipulate and control and get all of those things that come to those who are favored by God. Peter is wanting the choice church, the honorary doctorate, a sign out front that has Reverend in front of his name, that reserved parking place with his name on it, a clergy sign on the front of his automobile where he could go to the hospital and get that convenient clergy parking place, a country club membership. Peter wanted all of those perks and discounts and ministerial advantages. Jesus said that there would be rewards alright and they would be beyond our imagination but they will not be given out the way we think they are going to be given out. Strange story!
Then Jesus tells this parable about some who work one hour and got paid as much as those who worked twelve hours. Now the land owner honored his agreement with those who worked twelve hours. They got exactly what they contracted for. The land owner was generous and kind to those who only worked an hour. He didn’t want them to go home empty handed to a hungry family.
Where are you in this parable? I’m sure that probably every single one of us here at some time has been the one-hour worker, and sometimes we have been the twelve-hour worker. There are people who have done so much more than we. What kind of chance do you have in comparison to missionaries? Think of all those years in school, think of having to learn different languages, think of being away from family, think of never getting to see your kids and your grandchildren, think of being in hostile countries with all kinds of crazy diseases. What chance do we have against those kind of people?
Think of those bi-vocational ministers, many times deprived of education but faithfully week in and week out doing the very best that they can with those small congregations. They love the Lord and love the people, but never make enough money to get ahead and when they come to the end of their life they have very little money in retirement, have probably lived in parsonages all their lives and probably don’t even have a roof over their head. How do we stand a chance with people like that?
Think of that mother who single-handedly, either through death or through an uncaring husband, is raising children all by herself. She sacrifices and works and does without to see that her children get things that you and I just take for granted. How do we measure up against people like that? We don’t!
Sometimes we see ourselves as the twelve-hour worker. I mean we’ve been in it all day long, we’ve been in the baking hot sun and the dry and dusty heat is choking our throats. We have worked in the nursery for thirty years. We have changed more diapers than Gerber. We have done it all! We have worked in Vacation Bible School in the hot part of the day. We’ve listened to more dry, dusty sermons than we can count. We’ve tithed and every time the church would have a special program then we would give above our tithe. We’ve served on every committee. We have been there every time the door has opened and sometimes we have dragged our children screaming and hollering to the church. We’ve done it all! We’ve been there, we’ve been the pillar of the church! We sometimes feel that the church could not get along if we were not there.
Here they come, bopping in the church with their flowered short sleeve shirts and Bermuda shorts and tennis shoes and their crazy looking hair and say, “Man, let’s get turned on to Jesus!” And they get turned on to Jesus. They have never listened to any of those long dry, boring sermons, never worked in Vacation Bible School. They think John 3:16 is a rest room on the third floor. They don’t know a benediction from an introit. They know nothings They respond to Jesus in faith and they are going to get the same thing we are? Wait a minute! Is this fair?
We have a choice. We can either be gracious and thankful for what God has given to us or we can gripe and complain and grumble that God has been gracious to others. Sometimes it is hard for us to celebrate God’s goodness to someone else. It is difficult to be happy because God has been good to someone else and probably someone that we don’t think is as deserving as are we. It is difficult when we work twelve hours in the long hot sun and we get paid the very same thing as that person who worked only one hour. It is sometimes hard to celebrate the goodness of God when it is extended to someone else.
It is easy to be bad when God is good. That’s what happened to Jonah. God told Jonah to go and preach in Nineveh, and he took off the other way but God finally got him to Nineveh. He finally preached, pronounced that doom like he loved doing. But lo and behold the people repented. And Jonah was as mad as an old wet hen. He said, “Lord, that’s the reason I didn’t want to go there. I knew they would repent. I knew you would be gracious, because I know that you are a gracious and long-suffering God.”
Sometimes it is hard to be grateful when God is good to others when we don’t think they deserve it as much as we do.
For some of us it is a personality thing. We decided a long time ago that we’re going to be miserable. We sort of feast on melancholy. That is a natural state of life for us. We like it that way. It feels good to feel bad. “That’s a beautiful dress you have on.” “Oh, this old thing. It is old and faded and doesn’t fit right. It’s difficult to iron. I bought it at a yard sale on credit.”
“Heard you had a wedding in your family.” “Yea.” “I know that everyone is really happy.” “Well, we’re waiting, sometimes these marriages don’t work out.” “Heard you had a new baby in your family. I know everyone is excited. Boy or girl?” “A little girl, named Elizabeth.” “Oh, that is wonderful!” “Well, we’re not getting too excited yet. You know how some of these little girls can be.” It’s a personality thing. It’s just part of our nature. We have a hard time being happy.
The wonderful thing is that God has come to change our nature. God has come to make us gracious. God has already done His part. God has been generous to us. He sent His Son Jesus to die on Calvary’s Cross for you and for me, because of His love and His grace you can be forgiven and have a home in Heaven. Our part is to accept it and be gracious. We can’t do anything else. I have never met one single person, and I have known and do know some great Christians, that had any kind of claim on God. Not one! Not by our money or our good works or anything that we can do or say do we have one ounce of claim upon God. It’s all grace! It’s all God’s work of grace in us to make us gracious. We can spend the rest of our lives grumbling and envying and complaining and griping or we can live life in gratitude and be gracious.
This is a stewardship sermon. We’re not filling the air with “oughts” and “shoulds.” You ought to tithe, you ought to give, you ought to support your budget, you ought to give your time and talents to God’s work. You already know that. A lack of knowledge is not the problem. It is lack of motivation. We are motivated and our nature is changed when we realize what God has done for us. There is not one single thing on God’s green earth we can ever do to merit one ounce of God’s favor. We have no claim on God whatsoever. None! It’s all grace. Out of the heart of gracious love, God forgives us and loves us.
If you could give one gift to your children, what would you give to then? Would that gift be gratitude? I have never known a thankful and gracious person who was mean spirited or manipulative. God’s work of grace is to make us gracious. He has made more headway with some of us than He has with others of us.
“Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling.” God wants to make you gracious.

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