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Sunday, 21 January 2018


Rev. Brent Russett
By Rev. Brent Russett
Pastor of Sunnyside Wesleyan Church in Ottawa:   

PODCAST LINK to CFRA broadcast - Sunday, January 21st, 2017:

Broadcast Notes:

The Unfairness of Grace
            Good morning and Welcome to good news in the morning. I am so glad that you have tuned into the program today. My name is Brent Russett. I am the Lead Pastor at Sunnyside Wesleyan Church here in Ottawa. I have been pastoring there for 27 years. One of the things I love to do is show how God’s word that was written a long time ago, connects with our world right now.

            I would like to thank Bruce Newman for sponsoring this program. And I know that one of Bruce’s favourite ministries is Jericho Road. So I would like to give a shout out to them. The are a local charity that exists to serve the poor, the addicted and the mentally ill. It really is an amazing ministry.

            I know that some of you who are listening have been followers of Jesus for a long time, and I know that others of you think of yourself as spiritual, but you are not really sure of this Christian thing, and I know others of you just curious how people of faith think. I trust that wherever you are on yours spiritual journey, that you will find this program interesting and informative, and I believe that for those of you desire it, God can use a program like this to take you another step closer to Him

            This morning I want to talk about the unfairness of grace. We are going to look at it through the lens of Matthew 20

             There is a place in our city  called Handyman Personnel. People, mostly guys show up very early in the morning. Employers who need a labourer for the day, come and pick from the people who have showed up, drive those people to the work site, where they work for the day – at the end of the day they get paid for their labours.

            A friend of mine use to get work through there. He said you had to show up really early in the morning. He said if you showed up at 8 a.m. you wouldn’t get hired. You weren’t guaranteed a job if you showed up – but the odds were better if you showed up early.

            That is exactly what is going on in our scripture passage.

Matthew 20:1–2 (NLT)
 For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay the normal daily wage* and sent them out to work.

            Jesus tells us this story because he want’s to communicate what the Kingdom of heaven is like. As you know Matthew uses the kingdom of heaven, and Mark, Luke and John, use the Kingdom of God, but they are synonymous terms. They both mean the same thing.

            Jesus has to talk about the Kingdom of God in story form, because there is nothing quite like it on earth where he can point and say – this is what it is like. So he shows different aspects of the Kingdom by telling different stories.

            So in this story, the land owner goes to the Market, @ 6 a.m. where the day labourers, hope to get hired. He hires a number of guys, and they negotiate what they are going to be paid for a day’s labour.

            It wasn’t much of a negotiation, in the sense, that there was a going rate for a day’s labour. It was called a denarius. It was kind of like working for minimum wage. If you work an 8 hour day on minimum wage you make about $110. The labourers in our story, worked a longer day – about a 12 hour day, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. For round numbers Let’s call what they made, $100.

Matthew 20:3–5 (NLT)
3 “At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. 4 So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. 5 So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing.

            So the landowner goes back to the market at 9 in the morning and then noon and then 3 p.m. and hires more people. This time they do no negotiate what the landowner would pay them. He just told them he would pay what ever was right.

            The day ends at 6 p.m. So some are going to work a 3 hour shift and some are going to work a 6 hour shift, and some are going to work a 9 and a 12 hour shift.

Matthew 20:6–7 (NLT)
6 “At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’
7 “They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’
“The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’

            Now some of them are going to work a one hour shift.

            My daughter works at Starbucks. They have a number of weird shifts. Sometimes she will work 8 hours, sometimes she will work 3 hours. But she punches in and she punches out, and she gets paid for the hours that she works.

            That is the expectation of the labourers in our story. We work a half a day we will get paid $50. If We work a quarter of a day we will get paid 25 bucks. If we work an hour, well, maybe we will have enough to buy some bagel’s and lox, so we don’t have to go to bed hungry.

Matthew 20:8–12 (NLT)
8 “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. 9 When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 10 When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11 When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, 12 ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

            So it is 6 p.m. and the whistle has sounded and it is time to get paid. The Foreman gathers the workers and groups them into groups by when they started to work.

            The guys who had worked for an hour got paid 100 bucks. The news quickly trickled through the crowd of labourers. They men who had been working since 6 a.m. thought, if those guy who worked for one hour received $100 dollars, and I worked for 12 hours, I should get $1200.

            But when they got paid, they received $100 dollars as well. And they were mad. They protested. You paid those people as much as you paid us, but we worked at lot longer than they did. It is just not fair.

            So if I were to conflate this story into these workers perspective, they would say, The Kingdom of God is just not fair.

            It is not the first time that the Kingdom of God has been accused of being unfair.

            You remember to story of the prodigal son. The younger son comes to his father, asks for and gets his inheritance, and then moves to a distant land and parties until the money runs out.

            Broke, destitute and broken he decides to return to his father and ask for forgiveness. The father sees him from a far off and runs towards him, wraps his arms around him, and throws a party for him. He says, my son who was dead, is now alive.

            When the older brother hears the party and finds out what is going on he basically says. I stayed at home, and been the good kid, and my brother has been off partying, and he comes home and you throw a party for him, but you haven’t thrown a party for me. That is just not fair.

            From the older brother’s perspective, from the labourers who stared at 6 a.m. – the kingdom of God is just not fair.

            And you can see it from their perspective can’t you?

            And yet Jesus chooses to tell these stories, and say the Kingdom of God is like this. The question is, Why?
            Here is what you need to know. The kingdom of God’s perspective on life is very different from a normal perspective on life.

            You might expect that from one who said, love your enemies, bless those who persecute you. Forgive those who have offended you. You might have expected that from the one who taught us that to gain life, we had to lose it. To be great we had to become servants. To be strong, we needed to be humble. The Kingdom perspective is different.

            Jesus in our story today, says the kingdom perspective is different. You may think it is unfair.

            But Jesus says, the Kingdom is not unfair, Sometimes it is only fair, but in most cases it is really generous. Back to our story.

Matthew 20:13–15 (NLT)
13 “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? 14 Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15 Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?

            The land owner said, Friend. Notice the relational world. – I haven’t cheated you, or been unjust. I have paid you what we agreed on this morning. I am choosing to kind and generous to others. What is that to you, how I am treating other people, I have treaded you fairly.

            From the landowners perspective he was being fair to some and generous to others. The ones who started early in the morning got what they agreed to and others got more than they thought they would get.
            We are going to listen to some music and then ask the question  what does this parable mean to you and to me.

            The Landowner in story represents God. The labourers in the story represents people who are already in the kingdom of God.

            This is not talking about earning your salvation. We don’t work for our salvation. You are saved by grace through faith, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one can boast.

            So the landowner comes and calls to the labourers, go work in my field.

            God comes and call to people, become part of my family, part of my staff, part of my church.

            You will notice that the land owner initiates the call, and the labourers respond. That is a very important observation.

            The time of day represents the span of a life time.
            I became a Christian when I was 5 years old. I remember in the basement of the Arnprior Wesleyan Church, that my teacher told a story, and said something like, why don’t you ask Jesus to come into your life.

            The next day, my family had a tradition of reading a bible story after breakfast and then everyone in the family prayed. During my prayer I asked Jesus to come into my life. My mom and dad were so happy about that. The next day and family prayers, I asked him to come into my life again.

            I was one of those 6 a.m. labourers. God called me very early in life and I responded. Some of you responded to the call of God in university. You are the 9 a.m. labours. Some of you responded to God in you 30 and 40’s you are the 12 o’clock labourers. Some of you responded to God in your 50’s and 60’s, and 70’s you are the 3 o’clock labourers. I know some people who have responded to God just before they died. They are the 5 p.m. labourers.

            There have been times in my life, where following Jesus has been very difficult. If I were not following Jesus I would have made some very different choices, and my life would have been different and may have been easier.

            Don’t get me wrong I am glad I have chosen to follow Jesus, but sometimes it is just hard. Some of you because, you came to faith latter in life, missed that. Although I missed some of the devastation that sin can cause in a life, for which I am thankful.

            Yet what this story is saying, is that whether or not you came to faith when you are 5 or you are 80 your reward is eternal life.

            That is the unfairness of grace.

            But unlike the labourers in our story, I am always happy to see someone come into Jesus field. I don’t feel resentful, if they come later in life. God has not been unfair to me – I don’t mind if he is generous to you. -That is the kingdom perspective.
            There are some of you who are well on in years and you have given much thought to God over your life time and you are tempted to think that it is too late now. That could not be further from the truth. God invites people into his kingdom at all kinds of ages. The fact that you are thinking about it, means that he is inviting you – I would urge you to respond to that invitation, and invite Jesus into your life, to forgive your sins.

            For some of you, you haven’t been in church for a long time, and church is a foreign place to you – for some of you it is an intimidating place.

            Here is what you need to know, the church has its own culture, and it you come into the church later in life – it can feel very foreign.

            We sing together, which not everybody does. And we sing songs that you don’t know. And we have traditions, like communion, that may be a little odd.

            We use words that don’t otherwise come up in every day conversation.

            And we do promote the culture of the Kingdom of God, which is just odd, if you are not use to it. Love people, even if you don’t click with them. Serve people, even when you get nothing in return. Forgive people. Be generous.. Are all cultural issues people may have to get use to.

            Then there is the issue of holiness, and purity and righteousness. Sin matters to God, because it is what sent Jesus to the cross. God has an aversion to sin, and he calls us to have an aversion to sin. This is somewhat counter cultural – where many people in our world revel in their sin and boast about it.

            All that to say, is that for those of us who have grown up in the church get how things work, and we take it for granted. Those of you coming to work at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, are kind of new to the job. You take a look around and you think, this is a different culture.

            I don’t know if I fit in here. I want to fit in, but I will never be like that. It is fairly easy to go from there, to, I don’t know if I belong.

            What our story is say though, is that from God’s perspective, it doesn’t matter what time of life you came to faith, you belong with the people of God as much as anyone else.

            God went to the market and found you. He invited you to come and work for him. You responded to the invitation and he has made you one of his workers. He would say to those of you who are not sure if you belong, - you belong. It doesn’t matter that you came later, and are not quite sure that you fit in. You don’t quite know what you are dong. I chose you – you belong.

            There are no second class citizens in the kingdom of God. I have been serving God all my life. You have been serving God for six months – But in God’s sight we are equal. See yourself as God sees you.

            I remember about a decade ago sitting in an Arrow Leadership classes, with ministers and ministry leaders from all across the country, and the speaker looking around the room and saying, Some of you are going to make a good salary doing your ministry and following your calling. Others of you are going to barely be able to make ends meet. You will be poor all your life.- Then he said, and God seems to be OK with that.

            I thought that was unfair when he said it. Here I was, sitting with top notch leaders from across the country – all with great skills and abilities, and this speaker was talking about the unfairness of ministry.

            And he was right. One person in that room is planting a church, and working at Starbucks to do it. And God seems to be okay with that. Another person in that room is now the head of many Baptist ministries in Atlantic Canada and travels all over the world. And God seems to be okay with that. If you would have asked me who had the strongest leadership gifts, I would have said, the one working at Starbucks.

            Our passage seems to indicate that, God is okay with this kind of unfairness. It seems really unfair to me, that get to pastor in a great place here in Ottawa, and many pastors in Africa have to walk or bicycle great distances to get to church, and they have to work a lot harder than I do, just to keep their family together.

            It seems unfair to me, that in many parts of the world, there are pastors who are imprisoned because of their faith. Whereas, after this mornings services, I will likely go home and watch a football game.
            Jesus told the story that we are looking at today in response to a question.

Matthew 19:27–30 (NLT)
27 Then Peter said to him, “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?”
28 Jesus replied, “I assure you that when the world is made new* and the Son of Man* sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.*

            Jesus tells his disciples this and then he tells the story of the landowner.

            Then after story here is what he says
Matthew 20:16 (NLT)
16 “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”

. 30 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.*

16 “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”

            Many who serve me in obscurity now, will be most important when all is revealed. Many who are important now, will not be so important then. Those who are last now, will be first then, those who are first now, will be last then.

            Here is the thing about the kingdom of God – success looks different than it does in this world.

            You are not judged by the amount of time you have put in. You are not judged by your status here and now. God has a different standard.

            What he does ask is that you follow him where you are now. Be faithful where you are. Serve him, even when it cost you. Serve him, even when you don’t get credit for it. Serve him, even though you have come in late in the game.

            Don’t judge yourself by the standards of this world. Your judge is Jesus – he is always fair, and often is generous, and this life is not all there is – he will make things right.


Lord, for those people who are thinking about coming to you later on in life, I pray that you would help them to receive you into their life --- even right now.
Help them to open their heart to you and ask for forgiveness and I ask you to come into their life.
Then, I pray that you would get them to a good church, even if it’s a challenge to fit in.
Lord, I pray that you would give them a sense that they belong to you, so they belong with your people.
Lord, I ask all these things in your name. Amen.

            And thank you for listening to Good News in the morning. 

            This program is on the air by the grace of God and donations of many faithful people. Again thanks Bruce Newman for sponsoring this program.

            My name is Brent Russett, and it has been a privilege to bring you Good News in the morning.

By Rev. Brent Russett
Pastor of Sunnyside Wesleyan Church in Ottawa:
PODCAST LINK to the CFRA broadcast:

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