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It’s hard to rejoice in the generosity of God when you’re worried about keeping score.
And everyone seems to be keeping score anymore. David Zahl has this insightful little book called Seculosity. He points out that there’s this thing called virtue signaling. Virtue signaling is when you go out of your way to signal that you’re righteous—you support the right causes and do all the right things. So, for example, some people will signal their virtue by the car they drive. Someone might drive a Toyota Prius with a “Coexist” sticker in their window to show everyone that they’re virtuous. They care for the well-being of the environment and outrightly condemn religious intolerance. Or someone might drive a Ford pickup with an American flag to show everyone that they’re virtuous. They buy American and publicly support our troops. We signal to others how righteous we are. Our score sheet is out in the open where everyone can see it.
Zahl notices that outrage is another form of virtue signaling. We act outraged on social media or when we’re talking with our friends to show that we’re on the right side. Zahl noticed this for the first time in 2015 when there was all this outrage over the dentist who shot and killed Cecil the Lion at a wildlife park in Zimbabwe. He thought it was a joke at first, but several of his friends were posting obscene comments about someone who shot a lion no one knew about half way across the world. It was a way to signal that they stood for what’s right by blaming and attacking the “bad guys.” No doubt, this is why there’s so much outrage over masks these days. Whatever side of the mask issue you stand on, the outrage you express at the other side is a way of keeping score and signaling that you’re in the right.
Even Christianity can seem like a giant score-sheet these days. It’s easy to think that being a Christian and going to church is a signal of our virtue. We’re in the right because we go to church on Sundays and don’t live like all those pagans out there. And in order to boost our score, we’re tempted to act outraged at all the immorality in the world and the people who support it. Our moral outrage at the world is a way of keeping score—of showing how we’re in the right because we’re against what’s wrong.
But it’s hard to rejoice in the generosity of God when you’re worried about keeping score.
Take the guy in Jesus’ parable today, the last guy to be paid and the first guy to go to work. You would think that at the end of the day this guy would be glad it’s payday. You know, when you put in a good day’s work and now you have your paycheck in hand, and no matter what you’ve done all week, it’s time to celebrate—kick back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. I mean, he could have spent the entire day standing in the marketplace wasting his time and waiting for someone to hire him. But not today! Today he was hired into the vineyard. And now he has his denarius in hand. You would think that he would rejoice. But he can’t. And the reason he can’t rejoice is because he’s a scorekeeper!
You see, the Master of the Vineyard is a generous guy. The Master of the Vineyard isn’t worried about the bottom line so much as he is interested in putting people to work. He doesn’t want anyone standing around idle. He has plenty of work to give, so he might as well bless as many people as he can. That’s why he goes to the marketplace at the break of dawn. And when he found laborers who wanted work, he sent them into his vineyard. And then when he went back to the marketplace at the third hour, he saw others standing in the marketplace, and said to them, “You go into the vineyard too.” And again at the sixth hour and the ninth hour. And even at the eleventh hour, when there’s only one hour left in the day to work, he went back to the marketplace and found others standing around. And he said, “Why do you stand here idle all day?” And when they said, “Because no one has hired us,” he replied, “You go into the vineyard too.” It didn’t matter that it would just be an hour of work. He has work to give, so he might as well bless as many people as he can.
And pay? Well, he’s not worried about the bottom line so much as he is interested in putting people to work. The Master of the Vineyard is a generous guy. So, when evening came and it was time to pay his workers, he pays every last one of them a denarius, a day’s wage.
But since the guy hired at the beginning of the day is a scorekeeper, he notices that his fellow worker got paid a denarius for only an hour’s work. And he put in twelve hours of work. And so, because he’s a scorekeeper, he begins comparing himself to his fellow worker and now he expects more of a reward. Let’s see, he put in one hour and got paid a denarius, I worked twelve hours I should get paid twelve. And when he gets a denarius too, he can’t enjoy what he gets.
You would think that he would rejoice in the fact that he’s put in a day’s work and now it’s payday and he gets to kick back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of his labor. But he can’t enjoy it because all he can notice is what the other guy got. He’s a scorekeeper. And when someone else gets the same as he did even though he put in so much more work, he can’t stand it—he’s outraged!
It’s hard to rejoice in the generosity of God when you’re so worried about keeping score.
And of all people who have reason to rejoice, it’s us Christians! But if we all we can do is keep score, trying to prove that as Christians we’re in the right by signaling our virtue and acting outraged at everyone else’s sin, then we’re missing out on the one thing we have going for us! What makes us Christians isn’t that we live upstanding, moral lives. Quite the opposite, actually. Each and every one of us is a debtor to the generosity of God. As Paul says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood...” What makes us Christians is the overwhelming generosity and love of God.
And that’s why we come to church—not to signal our moral superiority or add tallies to a score sheet. We come to church because here, in this place, the generous God lavishes his grace and mercy upon us. It started in your baptism, where He grabbed ahold of you, made you his own, and promised to never let you go—not because you’re so wonderful or so special, but simply out of the abundance of his love for you. And he continues to generously give you his Word and promise that no matter what you have done, no matter what you have been, your past will not stand in the way of his future. He will not hold your sins against you, but instead, forgives you all your sins—not because you’re so virtuous and faithful, but because he is rich in mercy. And he generously gives you the body and blood of his Son, Jesus Christ, so that you can taste and see his overwhelming love for you—the same love that in this meal promises you that the death Jesus died, he died for you, and that his resurrection from the dead will one day be your resurrection from the dead. Not because you’re so much better than everyone else or more special, but simply because he is the generous God of all grace who abounds in steadfast love.
So rather than rejoice in your supposed righteousness and be outraged by your neighbor’s faults, repent. Turn from all that, and rejoice in the generosity and goodness of God.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
[Jesus said to the dicsiples:] “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”