Our question for today is one I struggled with. The initial question wasn’t “What about Grace?” The question was about the meaning of sin and salvation and every part of my body got tense. I don’t want to talk about sin. Mostly because the word itself comes with so much baggage. All too often at least for me sin has been defined a set of moral behaviours that you must avoid in order to get you into heaven. Just think of the so called seven deadly sins – pride, greed, lust, envy, sloth, gluttony, and wrath. I see in that list sins that I’m well acquainted with. Like pride, greed and envy. It reminds me of terrible song we learned in Sunday School. “Be careful little eyes what you see. Be careful little eyes what you see. For the father up above is looking down in love. Oh be careful little eyes what you see.” The suggestion of course if we aren’t careful some version of a vengeful God will keep track of what your little eyes have seen and your little ears have heard and what you little hands have done. And for me none of that fits with the God I love that I know. The one whose carried me through the most challenging times in my life.
Not to mention the fact that it makes the second word – salvation an impossible goal. If sin is a list of moral behavioural code that we must fit ourselves into, then salvation becomes something that we must work towards. We can strive and strive to do all the things on the good list but we will always all short because we humans make mistakes. Frances Spufford writes in his article on sin in the Huffington Post, “The human propensity to [mess] things up, because what we’re talking about here is not just our tendency to lurch and stumble and screw up by accident, our passive role as agents of entropy. It’s our active inclination to break stuff — “stuff” here including moods, promises, relationships we care about and our own wellbeing and other people’s, as well as material objects whose high gloss positively seems to invite a big fat scratch.” (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-sin-really-is-the-hu_b_4164852_)
It seems to me that we’ve spent too many theological hours focusing on sin as moral behavioural code and not enough time talk about grace as gift from God. truest sense of the word is about the things that separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. And to many hours focusing on somehow achieving salvation, that we’ve lost sight of Grace. Salvation isn’t about striving for that unattainable perfection. Nadia Bolz-Webber writes, “…the Greek word for salvation is sozo, which means “to heal, bring wholeness, preserve.” (Shamelesspage 18)
This is what Jesus was about. Healing. Bringing wholeness. Preserving our lives. For me this is what grace is all about and what Jesus wants for us all. Our parable of labourers in the vineyard is all about grace. Jesus is describing the kingdom of heaven. There is a landowner who needs labourers for his vineyard. So he does what everyone does and goes to the town square and hires those waiting for work that day. The first workers agree to the usual daily wage. Then he landowner goes back to the square at 9, 12, 3 and 5 and sees workers still waiting to be hired for the day. The landowner says to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay whatever is right.” (Matthew 20:4)
At the end of the day, when the labourers are getting paid, the landowner pays everyone the usual daily wage. The people who were hired first thing – and got paid last and the same as everyone else were furious. I think they got their hopes up that they would get more because they’d worked longer than all the others. But God’s kingdom is not about what we consider fair. God’s kingdom is about grace. The life a day laborer was precarious. Not get hired meant not eating. When the landowner says to those hired first, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:13 – 15)
God’s grace is getting paid a full days wage when you worked only an hour. Grace is the prodigal son being welcomed home with open arms and a party. Grace is the lost sheep who gets brought home safe. Grace is not about what you earn or do or striving for perfection or a moral behavioural code, it is being loved just as you are. Grace is a gift, just for you. And it doesn’t matter whether you laboured all day in God’s vineyard or for one minute. We are all given the same amazing gift – no questions asked. No strings attached.
Today we celebrate baptism. Sacraments are that visible sign of an invisible grace. We pour water and offer blessing. So that we can remember the gift of grace that comes to us each day. It is a daily gift and no amount of living can wash it away. So on those days when you are haunted by the voices that tell you terrible things like “not good enough or not loved or failure” we have Gold’s grace that whispers, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Amen.