Sermon audio here.
It’s amazing how much more productive and hard working you can be when the boss is around. Slackers magically become productive, and those who already were hard workers kick it up a notch to make a good impression.
That’s the idea behind the show Undercover Boss. By pretending to be a regular worker in their own company, everyone lets their guard down and the boss gets to see what things are really like on a daily basis.
Our Border Collie, Floss, is the same way. He’s the sweetest, most obedient boy. When we’re watching. But the minute we’re not looking, he makes a beeline for the kitchen and starts licking the dishes in the sink. He’d never dream of doing that in front of us and he knows he’s in trouble when we catch him. It’s amazing how wicked we can be when we think nobody’s watching.
The children of Israel were the same way. God put Moses in charge to lead them out of Egypt and through the wilderness for 40 years. And, of course, the Israelites wanted to make a good impression, sort of like the new employee who’s putting in all that extra effort to prove themselves. So after Moses read them the book of the covenant, they said, “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do, and we will be obedient,” (Exod. 24:7).
But then the boss went away. Moses went up the mountain, and lo and behold, those good intentions vanished more quickly than the hopes of Cubs fans come playoff time. The people started acting like they were in charge, calling their own shots, even ordering Aaron to make some shiny new gods for them.
The same temptation exists for the Church today. Christ lives and reigns over all creation, but we can’t see Him—not with our eyes, at least. He ascended into heaven and we can only see Him by faith. But our spiritual eyesight isn’t exactly 20/20, and so it’s easy to lapse into unfaithful behavior, forgetting that the Boss is always watching.
Everything we have is His. We are but managers of what God has given us. Your life, your abilities, the things you have: they all belong to God, and He expects you to use them according to His will, not your own.
Jesus knew the temptation to mismanage would be strong, especially since we can’t see Him. So He says,
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” (Matt 24:45–51).
Pretty harsh. But as bad as being cut up into pieces would be, that’s nothing compared to an eternity in hell.
God has made you a worker in His vineyard and He expects faithfulness. You may remember last summer Brookfield Zoo fired one of their workers for putting up a racist post on Facebook. Companies have zero tolerance for that sort of thing because the conduct of their workers can have a bad impact on their reputation.
It’s no different when it comes to the Christian faith. When you sin, you give Christ a bad name; you reflect poorly on the Boss. That’s what God was lamenting in today’s Old Testament reading from Ezekiel. God said,
“It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them.”
The problem, as God went on to tell Ezekiel, is that we have a heart of stone. That’s why you haven’t been a faithful worker in Christ’s vineyard. Your faith in God and love for neighbor has failed. It’s not just that you’ve lapsed on occasion; your heart is stone cold.
What’s needed is nothing less than a heart transplant. The good news is, God says, a new heart is available, a heart of flesh to replace your heart of stone. The problem is it’s way more than you can afford, and there’s no insurance company on the planet that’s going to pay for it.
So when you can’t afford something you need, you have three options. The first is to go without it. In this case, you die with your heart of stone and spend eternity in a place where the love of God and neighbor has grown cold. As Christ said, in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The second option when you can’t afford something is to steal it, and it goes without saying you can’t steal a pure heart. Theft is sinful, and you can’t become holy by doing something that’s unholy.
The other way you can get what you need is if someone who can afford it buys it for you. This is what Jesus does for you, beloved. You’re like the worker who’s been caught stealing from the company, but instead of a pink slip you get a bonus.
You’ve let Satan employ you for his demonic purposes, but Christ doesn’t repay you according to your labors. He gives you treasures in heaven in exchange for the golden calves of your heart. These are the wages He has earned for you by His work on the cross.
Instead of giving you the wages you’ve earned—temporal and eternal punishment, leaving you homeless and hungry—Jesus welcomes you into His own house and gives you the seat of honor at His Table, nurturing you with the very Bread of Life.
Here in this Sacrament Christ invites you freely to a feast that you never could have afforded. Come, he who has no money, come, take and eat: the Body and Blood of Christ without price.
But first He does divine surgery. After all, the terminally ill don’t often feel much like feasting. So Jesus replaces your heart of stone with a heart of flesh. This is a surgery that involves being sprinkled with clean water, Ezekiel says. Christ baptizes a new heart right into you.
And though you immediately begin to harden it, Christ keeps working to softening it through the preaching of His Gospel, doing divine surgery and even giving you a new heart as often as you come here to His divine hospital.
You are not your own, beloved, for you were bought with a price. Jesus has made you a laborer in His vineyard. And the Master is always watching over His vineyard with great interest, even though you can’t see Him. So glorify God in your body.
The end of all things is at hand and the Master is returning. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, just as Christ loves you. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good managers of the sacred gifts[i] God has given you—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.
Soli Deo Gloria
[i] 1 Peter 4:10 speaks of vocational responsibilities as examples of God’s varied grace. God serves us as we serve one another, so in this way all of our work becomes holy. What’s more, everything we have and everything we are is a gift of God, and in this sense may be considered “sacred.”