The following post is a guest post/sermon from Jon Grabhorn, Engagement Pastor at Generations Church.
These past few weeks we have been in this teaching series of “Give Over Get.” And during this time we have been challenged to reflect Jesus’ characteristics and priorities, and then last week were challenged in living our generosity through our relationships. This week we are going to focus on living our generosity through serving.
In our teaching time today, we are going to look at three consecutive short stories that make up one story. While our primary teaching text is Matthew 20:1-16 the story starts in Matthew 19:16.
As Jesus is walking along his journey to Jerusalem he is asked a question by a man labeled as the Rich Young Ruler. He is asked a question that many of us may have asked ourselves at some point, “Jesus, what good things must I do to get this eternal inheritance you talk about?”
Jesus redirects the young man and points him to God as the source of all that is good. He simply tells him that if he wants to enter into this eternal life that he needs to keep the commandments. Which the young man quickly responds, “Which ones?” Jesus interestingly enough responds with the second half of the ten commandments and the second greatest commandment: do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.
The young man has an interesting response that I think often gets overlooked. There is a quick shift from confidence to insecurity. He states, “I have kept them all,” but, “what do I still lack?” The man seems to have this incomplete feeling within him that something is lacking.
Jesus bluntly tells him, “To be perfect, give up all your possessions and then come follow me.” This can seem a little harsh, and I think too often can be used in an improper way. Jesus isn’t calling us to never own anything, he is rather hitting on the young man’s insecurity. The young man is struggling with the external comfort he receives from his possessions, and they have become a godly idol. Jesus is calling the man to exchange the reliance upon worldly wealth in exchange for the wealth of eternal life.
The young man hearing this from Jesus turns and walks away sorrowful. There is a clear internal struggle within this man, and we don’t know what he would go on to do. But the story does not end here.
Following this interaction, Jesus turns to his disciples and tells them, “It is hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” I don’t know about you, but I struggle enough to get a little piece of thread through the eye of a needle.
The disciples hearing this ask Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” And Jesus gives a profound statement, “With man, it is impossible to enter into the kingdom of heaven, but with God all things are possible.” It is because of God alone that we can be saved. Our possessions, our good deeds, our lifestyle does not save us, it is only God. Recognize that when we talk about eternal life it is a gift that is inherited, it is not a reward to be earned.
Peter being Peter, asks Jesus a question that seems a little self-centered and self-seeking. He basically asks, “Jesus, look at all that we have done for you. We have left everything, possessions, friends, family, everything; just to follow you. So because we have done this what do we receive?” Peter here is assessing how he has lived his life in comparison to others, as though it warrants him to have a better standing or higher status in the kingdom of God.
Jesus acknowledges that his disciples receive rewards in heaven for their faithfulness. Verse 30 sets up our text for today. Jesus tells them, “Many of those who are first will be last, and the last first.” The parable Kyle read earlier acts as a subtle rebuke and reorientation for Peter’s line of thinking.
For the Kingdom of Heaven is like… when you see this into you know that Jesus is about to give an earthly illustration that has heavenly meaning. So he begins by talking about this vineyard, which is often used as a location of activities for the kingdom in our world. A vineyard was Israel’s most important crop, so the nation of Israel was often referred to a vineyard because of its importance to God.
So we have a landowner who goes out early in the morning to find some workers for his vineyard. After finding some workers he invites them to work in his vineyard for one denarius (basically equivalent to a day’s wage for labor). A little later in the day, around 9:00 am, the landowner saw others standing around in the marketplace, and he gave them a similar offer. He invited them to come work in his vineyard and that they would be paid whatever is right. A little later in the day, around noon, he went out and did the same thing. Again, later in the day, around five, he found some people standing around in the marketplace and asked them why they were standing there. They told him that no-one had hired them, the workday ended around 6:00 pm. So he invited them to go work in his vineyard.
When the end of the day arrived, the landowner went around to the workers in his vineyard to pay them. He started with those who started last and ended with those who started first. Starting with those who started around 5:00 pm came, they each received one denarius. You can imagine the confusion and excitement that came across the other workers. Those who started the first shift in the morning must have been crazy exciting because they thought that is what they were going to receive for working all day. If those guys worked that long and received that, could you imagine what they were about to receive.
To their surprise they too received a denarius each. When they received this they began to complain, “Those men only worked one hour, and yet they made equal to us who have bore the burden of a full days work in the burning heat!”
The landowner has an interesting response to these claims, “Friend, I’m doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me on a denarius? Take what is yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what is mine? Are you jealous because I am generous?” The laborers are blinded by their self-interest and their assessment of others that they aren’t thankful for what they have received.
Jesus caps off this parable the same way he began it: “The last will be first, and the first last.”
When we look at this passage, there are two points Jesus is making. Remember the vineyard is used to illustrate God’s kingdom on earth. God is the landowner of this vineyard, his kingdom on earth, and we are the workers that he has called into the field. First point, God is calling people to join in his kingdom work. And second, God is calling those who are already working in the field to not assess the new workers, rather to welcome them in and to be grateful for their inheritance.
We emphasize being apart of God’s family here at Generations. We are all a part of God’s kingdom work that he is doing here in Vancouver, WA, but we are also a part of the kingdom that is happening all across our world. It is all one vineyard, one kingdom, one family. And God is inviting people from all walks of life into this family, yes it may even be that person you avoid or struggle to be around. We talked about this some last week, rather than asking “who is our neighbor,” we are to ask “how can I be a neighbor?” God is active in expanding his family. He does so by inviting people into what he is doing, and he is working to redeem the world, all the people in it.
So for those of us who have committed ourselves to God. We have answered his call, we have entered into the vineyard, into the kingdom, into the family. All of us who have entered, we have entered into the same work. The work of expanding God’s vineyard, his kingdom, his family to those who are not in. We are all striving to the same goal. So we don’t compare or assess oneself with another. We all will receive the same inheritance, eternal life with God. Whether you have been in for 30 years or 30 seconds, we are all one family. No amount of time in the vineyard will get you a better seat, closer to God, or higher status in the new heavens and new earth.
Out of this passage, there are three types of people that come to mind:
- There is the person standing in the marketplace, who has been invited into the vineyard but is unsure whether they will go and what their role will be.
- There is the lost believer, the one who has been roaming around the vineyard not able to find the type of work that best fits them.
- The experienced believer, who has been working away for a while now in the right spot.
Maybe you are able to find yourself in one of these three examples.
If you find yourself to be the first type of person, who is new to Christianity and God, my encouragement for you is to try out something that interests you. Accept the invitation into the vineyard, the kingdom, the family and plugin somewhere. Maybe you have a friend that is serving, try going alongside them and see if it is a fit for you. Maybe you enjoy working with kids, playing an instrument, talking with people, social media, and the list could go on. Share that interest with us and we will connect you with one of our teams. Now I do want emphasize, you may try something and it just doesn’t fit you. That is okay! Try something and shift to another team until you find your place.
If you find yourself to be the second type of person, who is someone who has been in the family for a while serving in some different roles but has yet to find the right place or maybe is dealing with some hard times. My encouragement to you is to share that struggle. Something you will find out quickly if you haven’t already is that just because you are a Christian and following God doesn’t mean life is going to be peachy. But that is why for the last three weeks in our flow of teaching we started by encouraging the growth of our inner resolve. That we find our hope, strength, and endurance in Jesus and not our own abilities.
Also, as we talked about last week that we want to develop a family mentality where we are a neighbor to each other. That we are a supportive community who truly cares and goes over and beyond for one another. There is a danger in being in this stage, I’ve heard it as beware of the 3 B’s: Busyness, Burnout, and Bitterness. That you may be serving away and away, but you aren’t seeing the change you thought you might get. Or you are just exhausted because you keep pouring out. Or you begin to develop a resentfulness towards what you are doing because things aren’t going the way you thought they would. If you find yourself here, your issue isn’t your serving. You may just be in the wrong place, maybe you’re just working the wrong part of the vineyard. Please reach out and share that frustration or struggle. Let’s have the conversation and identify where God might be calling you to work. God is calling you to work, but it may just in a different way than you currently are.
If you find yourself to be the third type of person, the one who has found their role in the vineyard and is thriving. My encouragement to you is to look around the vineyard (those in the family) or the marketplace (those who aren’t in the family) and be willing to invite them to come to serve alongside you. There is plenty of inheritance to go around, just because someone else comes in doesn’t mean your place in eternal life is hindered. Rather there will be so much joy when you see others thriving in the vineyard. Are you open and willing to receive new workers in the kingdom? God is going to continue to invite and bring people in, are we being receptive and helping them find their place? We are all co-laborers in the vineyard.
I want to share a quick story of someone in our family who has found their place in the vineyard, and my hope in sharing this is to emphasize that it is okay to not know your place in the kingdom. But if you are open and willing to have that conversation God will work and he will lead you to that place, and you will see the fruit in how the Spirit will work through your willingness to serve.
Some of you may know Charity. She has been around Generations for quite a while now. She was a part of our initial team that was sent from the Branch. She felt God calling her to join Generations, she had no idea what that looked like, but she trusted and followed. She accepted God’s invitation, without a clear direction. She showed up and began feeling her way around Generations looking for her place. In November she made a note on her GenCard that she was interested in joining a ministry team, to serve somewhere, but she was unsure of where that would be.
About a week later Charity and I are talking over coffee. She shared how she has served in many different roles in the church before but has never found her fit. She loved serving and felt like she was doing good work, but there was still this uneasiness as though this might not be the right fit. She resonated that there was a level of burnout in her last role of serving. In hearing that I asked her a question that I was once asked and now use regularly in my ministry, “What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy to do?”
I think she was a little taken back when I first asked that, but it led to a great conversation. She shared how she loved to plan, organize, and execute events. I began to share a few places where she might be able to use that here at Generations and there was almost an instant and fired up response, she wanted to join our events team.
So I got her connected with the team and she went to work rather quickly. Some of you may have attended our Valentine’s Masquerade event this past Friday. It was such a great time! But it only happened because of the work and effort of those on our events team. Charity is one of the people on the team. She found a place where she was passionate and it showed in how she helped the team. She was ecstatic after the event because she found her place in the vineyard. God has gifted her in her ability to plan, coordinate, picture, and execute events. This was obvious in her ministry towards our Valentine’s event. We saw some of our family show up for a good, fun time to interact with one another, and we also saw new people interact with us. We had people there who have never connected with Generations before, and we were blown away by the connections made from this event.
I love stories like this because you see someone who is committed and in the kingdom, but just hadn’t found their right spot yet. Feel free to ask her about why she does what she does and how she has seen God at work in her life. It is incredible when you see people find their ministry fit, there is an unfathomable passion and overflowing of love that comes from it. It isn’t easy, but when your hope is found in Jesus and you have a family around you that wants to see you thrive, it will completely change how you work in the kingdom.
If you have questions or want to have a conversation about your place here at Generations make a note on your GenCard [For those reading this post, text GenCard to 97000 and we will help you get connected to your ministry fit].
Feel free to be open and honest. We want to see everyone find their role in God’s family and to find their right ministry fit. Communicate that on your GenCard, drop it in the response box, and let’s get together for a conversation about your place in the vineyard. Our desire is to equip and empower others. This is why here at Generations we function as a team, and we want you to be a part of that. We want to see you identify the passion and gifts God has given you, and for you to find how you can use that in his vineyard.
We are all one family. A family that is committed to expanding the family of God, we do it because of Jesus. And that expansion goes on to the next generation and all the generations to follow. We do this by identifying where God is calling us to work in the vineyard, caring for our family that is struggling, and inviting others to join us as we seek to advance God’s kingdom.