Wonder of Being Chosen
by Jack Wald | January 27th, 2019

I Thessalonians 1:4, Matthew 20:1-16

Last week we began a series of sermons looking at I Thessalonians. This is the second of the letters Paul wrote that are recorded in our New Testament. It is a look into the life of a church in its infancy and helps us to see who we are to be as a church as well.

Paul came to Thessalonica with Silas and Timothy and begins his letter by reminding the church in Thessalonica who they are.
Paul, Silas and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

They are a church that is in relationship with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. A church is a community which lives in relationship with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Secondly, in verse 3 Paul tells us that a church is a community which is distinguished by faith, love, and hope – each of which is expressed in practical, tangible ways.
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

This morning we come to a third description of a church. The church is a community which is loved and chosen by God.

1 Thessalonians 1:4
For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you,

Being chosen is a mystery. Why was I chosen and not someone else? Why was I open to the call of Jesus to come and follow him and my father was completely uninterested in anything that had to do with the existence or non-existence of God and what happens to us after we die?

Did I choose better than my father did? This makes my salvation the result of my good choice. Did I choose because of the grace of God in my life that helped me to make a good choice? Then why did God not give that grace to my father?

Salvation is a mystery. Being chosen is a mystery that we will not be able to resolve with our theologies on earth.

Moses spoke to the people of Israel who had been miraculously delivered from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)
The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the Lord loved you

In the same way, in I Thessalonians 1:4 Paul makes the connection between being chosen and being loved. John Stott writes in his commentary, “He chose us because he loves us and he loves us because he loves us. He does not love us because we are loveable, but only because he is love.”

What happens to people who reject the love of God? We have to let go of the question of who is saved and who is not saved. We are in the realm of mystery and all we can do is rejoice that we have been saved and trust in the love of God that he deeply loves those who do not seem to be responding to his love. God will do everything within his power to encourage all people to freely choose to accept his love.

I want to spend the rest of the sermon talking about the wonder of being chosen. And to do this I will preach from the parable of the workers in the vineyard.

Did you ever play a pickup sport when you were young? Not a formal sport with adult coaches, but a simple game where two kids are picked to be the leaders and then they stand and face the rest of the kids wanting to play and begin to pick their team. They take turns and pick the best players first. They continue to pick from who is left and as the picking continues, the ones still waiting to be picked stand there, shuffling their feet in the dirt, trying not to appear bothered by the selection process. But inside there is a war going on. There is hurt and shame at not being wanted. One by one these less desirable ones are picked and finally there are just two kids left and the leaders doing the picking say, “Ok, I’ll take Pete if you take Jim.”

After the top tier of people are selected, those selected stand with their respective captains and look at the dwindling number of kids yet to be selected. The number becomes less and less and pretty soon, it seems as if everyone is looking at the ones not selected. It seems to those waiting to be picked that the fact that they do not have enough talent to be selected earlier is being broadcast to the whole world. This is a moment of intense public humiliation.

For kids growing up who were not talented athletically, this is a painful memory. And it continues to be a painful experience when we are in a situation where we are not chosen.

What happens when you are an adult and your lose your job? Your employer is telling you that there are others in the company more important to the future of the company than you. Others are picked and you are rejected.

What happens when you like someone but they choose another man or another woman to be their romantic partner?

What happens when someone is hiring and they do not hire you, not because you are unqualified but because of the color of your skin or your sex?

We never get too old to be unaffected by rejection.

The parable this morning is about people who were rejected, but even more than that, it is a parable about people who were chosen.

I want to share three lessons from this parable that will help you see how wonderfully good news it is that we are chosen, but first let’s take a look at the parable.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.  2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 

For we who live in Morocco, this scene is very familiar. When I walk up into Takaddoum to the market, I pass a line of trucks waiting by the side of the road for someone to come along and request their service. Across the street there are a large number of sub-Saharan African migrants, waiting for someone to come and take them to do manual labor. As I continue on, I see a line of men sitting on the side of the road with their tools – plumbers, masons, whatever. They are there early in the morning and they wait and wait and wait until someone comes by and says they need their help. They are there in the morning and if they are not hired, they are there all day into the late afternoon. You can see a picture of some of these men on the cover of the bulletin.

This is the scene Jesus paints in this parable. The owner of the vineyard goes to the marketplace and negotiates with the workers he needs for that day. He agrees to pay these men, hired early in the morning about 6AM, one denarius for their day’s work. This was a fair wage for working one day. The owner of the vineyard has hired the men he needs for that day. He is done.

But then for some reason, he goes out at 9AM to the market. Perhaps he is on his way to meet someone. Perhaps he has to pick up some supplies. The parable does not say.

3 “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing.  4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’  5 So they went. 

Why does the owner hire these men three hours later in the day?

He went to the market and saw them standing there doing nothing. The owner had hired workers in the morning, but so had other owners looking for workers. He and the other landowners left with the workers they needed and these men had been left behind. Now upon his return, he sees these men who were not hired. He sees them and it is his compassion that makes him hires them. It is not apparent that he needs more workers, but he cares about those who do not have work.

“He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 

The owner goes out again at 12 noon and at 3PM and sees men standing there doing nothing and hires them as well.

 6 About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ 
7 ”‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. 
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ 

The eleventh hour, 5PM. These are the last of the lot, the ones nobody wants. The last two kids being picked for teams to play football. The ones who are hurting inside. They have waited all day, discouraged because no one wants them, wondering how they would bring home food to feed their families, feeling unwanted and rejected. Can you sense the inner pain these workers felt? They sat all day long, waiting for someone to tell them their help was needed, and nobody came.

Now we come to the end of the day.

8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ 

When the workers were hired early in the morning, they were promised one denarius for the day’s labor. The workers hired at 9AM were told that they would be paid what was right. They expected to get some portion of a denarius. The workers hired at noon, 3PM and 5PM were just happy to get anything, whatever part of a denarius they received would be better than nothing.

But now comes the twist, the surprise, that is found in each of Jesus’ parables.

9 “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius.  10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.  11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.  12 ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ 

When the workers hired at 5PM received, to their great surprise, a denarius for just one hour’s work, they were ecstatic. They expected very little and received a day’s pay for just that one hour of work.

Now the 6AM workers were thinking. If they received one denarius for one hour’s work, I worked twelve hours and that would be twelve denari of pay. Maybe that is too much to expect but I will surely go home with more than the one denarius I expected.

But then the ones hired at 3PM who worked three hours were given one denarius. The ones hired at noon worked for six hours but still got one denarius.

The ones hired early in the morning are getting upset. This is not fair. The ones hired at noon got paid the same as those who worked for just an hour and barely had time to draw a sweat?

Then the ones hired at 9AM also got one denarius and now the 6AM hires were angry. When they too received just one denarius, their anger boiled over.

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you.  15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” 

What is the point of this parable? Look at the context. Remember, whenever you read a parable, if you want to understand the point of the parable, you have to look at the context. Once you understand the context, you have a much better understanding of what Jesus meant to say with his parable.

In this case, we have to move back to chapter 19 where, just before this parable, Jesus had been talking with the rich young ruler who was unable to give up his riches and come follow him. When Jesus took a hard line with the rich young ruler, the disciples were amazed because in the culture of Palestine at the time of Jesus, wealth was a sign of blessing from God. If anyone would be saved, it would be those whom God had blessed with wealth. Why had Jesus drawn such a hard line with this wonderful, young man?

But then Jesus said to his disciples (Matthew 19:23–30)
“I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

If the rich cannot be saved, is there any hope for the rest of us? This is what the disciples were thinking.

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 

This is the context of the parable of the workers in the vineyard. The question that is being asked is: Who can be saved? And Jesus turns the cultural understanding upside down and says at the end of this teaching:
But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

The fact that this is the context for the parable of the workers in the vineyard is confirmed when Jesus ends the parable with the same phrase he ended his teaching about the rich young ruler:
16 So the last will be first, and the first last.

The point of this parable is that the world’s understanding of who will be saved has been turned upside down. The teaching of Jesus often turned the popular understanding upside down. In the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, the Pharisee who was understood to be closer to God than anyone else was rejected by God while the tax collector who was understood to be the least deserving of God’s help was accepted by God.

The workers who worked and sweated all day long received their pay but so did those who came in at the end of the day and did not work long enough to get tired.

The last will be first and the first will be last.

So let me share the first of the three lessons about how wonderfully good news it is that we are chosen. Who you are is determined by God’s choice of you, not by the world’s approval or disapproval.

The world has a set of standards by which we are rated. How much money do we have in the bank? What kind of house or apartment do we live in? How tall are we? What color is our skin? How important are our parents? What university did we go to? What job do we have? How beautiful or handsome are we? How strong and how fast are we? How much power do we have?

The world has a set of standards and most of us have suffered at some point in time because we did not measure up. Sometimes we are not in a place where we can use our gifts and talents and we suffer because of that. But sometimes, it is not anything we do, but just because of who we are, that we are rejected.

When someone rejects you because of who you are, the color of your skin, your nationality, your height, your weight, your looks, your perceived talent level, this hurts. We are not unaffected by rejection. Being rejected, unwanted, not valued hurts and this has an affect on who we perceive ourselves to be.

So here is the message from this parable for you.

What this parable reveals about God’s character is that God loves you and searches after you. When nobody else wants you, when nobody else values you, God wants you. God values you. The vineyard owner came into the marketplace and hired people when he already had enough to do the work for that day. The owner did that because he had compassion on those who were waiting. He wanted to restore honor to those who had been shamed.

Many of the parables of Jesus talk about the character of God and how God pursues us. In the parable of the Prodigal Son the father sat, day after day, looking for his son to return and when he saw his son far off, he humbled himself by lifting his robe and running to great him. God pursues the ones who are outcasts, unwanted by the world.

Note in the parable of the workers in the vineyard that there is a foreman who oversees the workers. The owner could easily have sat back in the city gates discussing affairs with other important city leaders. But he walks from the country where his vineyard is to the village center where the workers congregate. And he makes the trip four times himself, including a trip at noon in the heat of the day.

This parable reveals the character of God who has compassion on those who are vulnerable and publically humiliated. It is not enough for the owner to send his foreman, he must go himself. His compassion dictates that he go himself to those who are unwanted and rejected.

It was not enough for God to send his prophets and angels, God came himself in his son Jesus to bring the message that he is a God who takes on himself the pain and frustration of those left behind in society. He is a God who restores honor.

God demonstrated his love for sinners through Jesus, and if you study God’s work in history, you see that over and over again, God comes to the side of those who are unwanted. In India, it is the lowest caste that is responding to the Gospel. These unwanted citizens of India are discovering that God thinks they are wonderful and worthy enough to die for them. They are discovering what it means to be loved, independent of their place in society. God comes to those rejected and devalued by society and brings good news of great joy.

God is at your side this morning. When you walk along the street and someone insults you, know that God has picked you to be on his team, in his family. You may not be wanted where you are, but you are wanted by God.

God does not look to see who is fastest or strongest or most beautiful. God looks in the heart and makes choices the world does not make.

For anyone here this morning who is in a situation where you do not feel welcome, where you do not feel wanted, where you are not valued, God is on your side. God has chosen you to be in his family. Let that feeling of being wanted allow you to keep your head high.

Henri Nouwen writes in Life of the Beloved,
“First of all, you have to keep unmasking the world about you for what it is: manipulative, controlling, power-hungry, and, in the long run, destructive. The world tells you many lies about who you are, and you simply have to be realistic enough to remind yourself of this. Every time you feel hurt, offended, or rejected, you have to dare to say to yourself: ‘These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself. The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity, and held safe in an everlasting belief.”

Who are you? Peter wrote: (I Peter 2:9)
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

You are wanted!
You are somebody!
You are a valued and special child of God!

The second lesson about being chosen is that we do not earn and cannot repay the gift of being chosen.

This was the source of the problem for the 6AM workers. They thought they deserved the pay they received at the end of the day. When they saw those who had worked just an hour receive a full day’s wage, they readjusted the pay scale and assumed they would be given more.

The 5PM workers knew they had been given a gift. They expected next to nothing and were amazed at the generosity of the owner who paid them for a full day.

Who are the 6AM workers? They are the Pharisees, the moral, religious, church goers who read their Bibles and pray and give to the church and begin to think the kingdom of God is blessed to have them as members.

Who are the 5PM workers? They are the sinners, the tax collectors and prostitutes who have no hope they will be permitted entry into the kingdom of God.

Jesus makes the point that salvation is a gift we do not deserve and we can never repay. His choosing us is a gift for which we can only say, “Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus.”

The third lesson is that it is never too late to be chosen.

Christianity is not, as some accusers say, an exclusive religion. God has opened the doors wide. All are welcome. All are wanted. God comes to us at the beginning of our lives and asks us if we want to come to work in his vineyard. God comes back to the market in our adolescence and asks us if we will come to work in his vineyard,

God returns in our young adult years and our middle age years and asks us if we will come to work in his vineyard.

Even at the end of the day, in our last years, God comes to us and asks us to come work in his vineyard.

There is a reward for coming early in our lives. The extra years we have with Jesus on earth allow us to grow more in faith, to have his peace in the midst of life events, to have the privilege of working with him to bring others into the kingdom. But we all share the same glorious reward of living with Jesus for eternity.

Whether we follow Christ for as long as we have had memory or whether we turn to Christ at the end of our life as did the thief on the cross next to Jesus, God’s grace welcomes us in to his family.

It doesn’t matter when you come to the vineyard, it matters only that you come.

Pete Maravich was one of the top basketball players of all time. Thirty years after he finished his university career, his record for total points scored still stands. He played ten years as a professional until his knees forced him into retirement and has been called the best ball-handler of all time.

His life off the basketball court was not as productive. His fame and financial success did not bring him happiness and for many years he tried to find satisfaction in wild living and heavy drinking. It was not until after his retirement from basketball that Pete Maravich found true happiness. He gave his heart to Jesus Christ, and for the next five years, he was on fire for the Lord. He put all the energy and passion of his basketball career into his new life with Jesus.

In 1988 he was asked by James Dobson, host of a popular Christian radio broadcast, to appear on his show. After the interview, they played a game of pick-up basketball with several others. When the game ended, Dobson turned to Maravich and said, “Pete, you can’t give up basketball. This game means too much to you.”

Maravich explained he had experienced pain in his right shoulder for more than a year, but now it had disappeared. “I feel just great,” he said.

Those were his last words.

Maravich collapsed on the basketball court, and minutes later, died in Dobson’s arms.

I listened to the radio broadcast when Dobson talked about coming home that day and sitting down with his 17 year old son. He told him that what happened that day on the basketball court was not an isolated event. This is what will happen to us all. Dobson told his son that this would happen to him some day.

Dobson told his son, “Pete Maravich didn’t have an opportunity to speak with his family one last time. But I want to tell you, be there. On resurrection morning, be there. I will be looking for you then. Nothing else matters. Be there.”

When I came home that night, after listening to the radio broadcast, I sat down with my two daughters and told them the same thing. “Nothing else matters. I will die and then one day you will die and when you die, I want you to be with me. I will be waiting for you. Be there.”

And this morning I tell you the same thing. I want you to be with me in eternity. You may struggle over the years. You may have doubts. You may be hurt by the church. You may be deceived by your church pastor. You may suffer great personal tragedy and wonder if anything makes any sense.

It does not matter what will happen to you. Persevere. Hold on to Jesus. Do not give up. At the end, when we are gathered together into heaven, I want you to be there.

This parable offers us such amazingly good news. We are chosen by God to be with him for eternity.

The world may think you are nothing more than an old newspaper to be thrown into the garbage but take heart this morning. You are loved. You are wanted. You are a special, valued child of God.

The world may not treat you well,
but you are somebody.

The world may not value you,
but you have worth to God.

The world may not care about you,
but God loves you.

The world may say you are only one of several billion humans on earth,
but God chose you to be his child.

The world may say we don’t want you,
but God sent Jesus to die for you.

The world may say it doesn’t need you,
but God has a purpose for your life.

The world may be indifferent to you,
but God will throw a party to welcome you when you come into his heaven.