The Epistle – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
The Gospel – St. Matthew 20:1-16
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
We have begun our Pre-Lenten descent into that season where the very important act of penitence is not only contemplated more fully and deeply…but the practice by chosen disciplines helps to bring it to a greater reality.
Penitence is to be a distinguishing feature, a distinguishing characteristic of the Christian life.
One of the chief callings of the Christian is to share the Gospel with those who do not know Christ.
And, part of the what Gospel entails is a call to repent, turn and live. Repent from one’s sins. Turn from one’s wickedness and live as the Prayer Book says. Repent and turn….which really are the same thing.
Repenting is turning away from something that we should not be doing. Turning from sin. It is not just being sorry and trying not to do it again…though that too plays a role.
Repenting is acknowledging the sin.
Hating the sin.
Desiring to shed oneself of sin.
And intentionally turning from it.
And of course, pursuing Christ for the strength and the grace to do so.
Pursuing the Spirit of Christ in order that we may in fact desire to hate the sin…and to turn from it. To have a full desire to love God and a desire not to offend Him.
That is what is required to become a Christian. An awareness of sin and at the same time, an awareness of the need for Christ.
A turning to Christ and a turning away from sin.
And yet there is also another aspect…a further calling…. and that is to remain steadfast in the faith and a continual repenting of sin.
We must persevere and we must repent over and over.
Christianity has never been a one-time turning to Christ and then living unchanged, unaffected and unproductive.
We are again, only in the pre-Lenten season.
The fuller weight of what Lent entails is still three weeks or so away…beginning with Ash Wednesday. And lasting 40 days after that.
So, we turn to the Scripture passages today for understanding just what we are heading into and also, what the rest of our Christian life will be like.
In the Gospel for today, we have the familiar parable from Jesus called The Laborers in the Vineyard.
Jesus tells us that “…the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.  After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.” (ESV)
Of course as the day progresses, the Master of the House finds others who are in the marketplace, not at work and he hires them as well.
St. Paul in the section from his first letter to the Corinthians likens the same Kingdom of God to “a race” in which “all of the runners run, but only one receives the prize?”
And exhorting us at the end to, “run that we may obtain it.”
In both of these passages, both in Jesus’ parable of the Vineyard workers and the Race Paul refers to, we see that there is labor. There is effort and exertion.
Running in a race is work. It is labor if we want to win.
Working in the Lord’s vineyard is labor if we want to be fruitful.
There is one clarifying point here though.
Paul and Jesus are approaching the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven with slightly different points that they want to make.
Paul tells us basically that the Christian life is a race of sorts. Not to win over other people, but to win the prize. An imperishable prize, won through discipline and self-control.
Jesus also tells of the Christian life, but from the standpoint of God’s calling…and the timing thereof.
None can enter the Kingdom of God unless He be called to enter. No one can turn to God unless God first turns him.
No one can be called to work in the vineyard …or maybe better to see it this way….
Notice the laborers are all standing around idle. No one is out working. The Master has to call them into the work…into the vineyard.
So likewise are we. We are likened to dead men until the Spirit of God breathes life into us.
Paul and Jesus are just emphasizing different aspects of the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom is entered by those who seek it and labor to enter, but no one enters through the works that he does, but by faith in the One who calls us to labor… and enter.
This is the nature of what we call the Divine Calling.
With Jesus, the Spiritual life is compared to the earthly life. Same with Paul.
They both use earthly life scenarios to help us understand the Kingdom of God and the spiritual life we live both now and forever.
The reward of eternal life is compared to money, which one man pays in return for work done for him.
In this case all people that are called to enter the Kingdom of God are equally rewarded…even though they find it at different times of the day…or in our terms, different times in their lives…or different times in history even.
Calvin – “As the apostles were the firstfruits of the whole church, they appeared to possess some superiority; and Christ did not deny that they would sit as judges to govern the twelve tribes of Israel. But that they might not be carried away by ambition or vain confidence in themselves, it was necessary also to remind them that others, who would long afterwards be called, would be partakers of the same glory, because God is not limited to any person, but calls freely whomsoever He pleases, and bestows on those who are called whatever rewards He thinks fit.”
Those who entered last, receive the same as those who were called first or early.
Paul, of course is not saying that life is a race to heaven and only one person will be the winner.
We know that heaven will be filled and overflowing with those whom God has called.
Paul’s point is to get us to strive to win as if we were going to be the only one entering. Knowing that we are not is not the point. Knowing how important it is to run and to win…….is.
But both of these lessons, from Jesus and Paul are appropriate and necessary in order for us to understand our time during Lent.
In the collect for today we asked God to hear our prayers.
That we who are justly punished for our offences, may be mercifully delivered by His goodness… all to the glory of His name.
Generally, the collect is a good summary of the lessons we hear from Scripture. Today it serves better to prepare us for Lent.
It does have of course daily application. From time to time, we do sin against God. In thought, word and deed.
And these sins do bring with them consequences or a type of punishment for what we have committed. Temporal punishments that sometimes follow when we have committed some sin.
Disease, sometimes as a result of sexual sin.
Pain or grief, imprisonment sometimes as a result of reckless behavior toward others.
But we are to always keep in mind that the punishment for our sins was laid on Christ. And what we receive here is light compared to what it deserves.
What we commit today in our lives is to be acknowledged to be sin against God and then repented of.
Lent calls us to that way of thinking and acting.
This is the great benefit of being called by God… that those who are not do not enjoy.
Through the grace of God, we have been saved and regenerated. In that process, we have been awakened more greatly to our sins…to know how much they offend God….and to then seek forgiveness.
Knowing that He promises to forgive them in Christ every time we ask.
Because we belong to Christ, we now have an awareness by the Holy Spirit of our offences, and the power to turn from them…and pursue repentance and holiness.
This is the life that Paul is talking about in the lesson today.
What does Paul tell us about his life in Christ? He says, we are all running in a race. We are running to obtain the imperishable prize.
In order to run well, he says, we exercise self-control. We exercise discipline.
He says about himself, “…I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one who is just aimlessly swinging, beating the air. But, [he says] I discipline my body and keep it under control.
He further says that he does so, not only to strive to obtain the imperishable prize, but so that when he preaches to others how to live, and does all that is in him to live for Christ, he doesn’t want to end up being disqualified, coming across as a hypocrite.
That too should be a concern for us. Do we run, not so that others would place us on a pedestal, but in order to draw others to Christ…and so that what they see in us should be an example of how Christ has redeemed us.
To that end, we show that we run and fight toward the prize, but along the way, as we stumble and fall and fail, we draw attention not to our failings but to how Christ graciously carries us along.
We are to share a Gospel of forgiveness. This breaks down hindrances to following Christ.
When we make clear that the Christian is not the Gospel, but a recipient of God’s grace, then we correct the focus of those who see us and on to Christ.
We press on to reach a goal. That is what others are to see in us. And we are to do so, by not only running with one another as Christians, but helping one another along the racecourse.
And the race does not end until our life ends. Upon our death, we cease to run the race. It is an exhortation to perseverance.
Sin will continually take hold of us and hinder us and try to take us out of the race. But because of the Holy Spirit, we are able to continue on.
In the world, many run the race to receive the perishable crown. One that eventually fades or has no lasting value.
In the Christian life, we run to obtain an incorruptible crown of eternal life.
We should see the difference and strive toward what is the greater reward.
We should strive in life to do well, but the overarching importance is much bigger and eternal in its value. The crown of life that does not fade, wither or tarnish.
The practice is described by Paul in the latter part here. He says that he does not run aimlessly in his life, nor does he swing aimlessly. Rather, he keeps his body under control.
There is a “less is more” aspect here.
In other words, Paul says that he restrains, and holds back his inclinations. He tames the body’s sinful affections and inclinations.
He makes it a habit to do so.
Each of us here has been called by God in Christ to run the life of the Christian race with great zeal and fervor and intensity and to exhort one another to do the same.
Putting other’s interests ahead of ours and desiring that all who run the race receive the common prize of the crown.
From what we heard today from the Scripture lessons we see that the Kingdom of God …the Kingdom of Heaven is both a future hope and also a present reality.
Our citizenship is in heaven. And yet we strive on earth to obtain it.
Christ said to His Disciples when He was letting them know the hardships they would encounter once He had gone that “…the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Let us then take full advantage of the opportunities of repentance that we have now… to run the race that is set before us, and as St. Peter says, “be all the more diligent to confirm [our] calling and election, for if [we] practice these qualities [we] will never fall.  For in this way there will be richly provided for [us] an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (ESV)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 2, p. 412). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.