That’s So Unfair!

Post Script: Once again, my sermon took an interesting turn compared to what I had prepared. What a fun conundrum on Sunday! I got to church and tried to print off my sermon, but the printer wasn’t working. I make an outline and used that in place of my manuscript notes.

Here’s the full service from Sunday:

The prepared manuscript

Message Title: That’s So Unfair!
Theme: Life Lessons from the Playground
Main Text: Matthew 20:1-16
Scripture Reading: Exodus 16:2-15
RCL Scripture: Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45; Jonah 3:10-4:11; Psalm 145:1-8; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16
Focus: Jesus uses a parable to talk about the God’s unfair character.
Function:  To recognize the connection between unfairness & eternity and express gratitude for God’s unfair generosity.
Other Notes:

SCRIPTURE READING: Exodus 16:2-15 The whole Israelite community complained against Moses and Aaron in the desert. The Israelites said to them, “Oh, how we wish that the Lord had just put us to death while we were still in the land of Egypt. There we could sit by the pots cooking meat and eat our fill of bread. Instead, you’ve brought us out into this desert to starve this whole assembly to death.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “I’m going to make bread rain down from the sky for you. The people will go out each day and gather just enough for that day. In this way, I’ll test them to see whether or not they follow my Instruction. On the sixth day, when they measure out what they have collected, it will be twice as much as they collected on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “This evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt. And in the morning you will see the Lord’s glorious presence, because your complaints against the Lord have been heard. Who are we? Why blame us?” Moses continued, “The Lord will give you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning because the Lord heard the complaints you made against him. Who are we? Your complaints aren’t against us but against the Lord.” Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole Israelite community, ‘Come near to the Lord, because he’s heard your complaints.’” 10 As Aaron spoke to the whole Israelite community, they turned to look toward the desert, and just then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11 The Lord spoke to Moses, 12 “I’ve heard the complaints of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat. And in the morning you will have your fill of bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’” 13 In the evening a flock of quail flew down and covered the camp. And in the morning there was a layer of dew all around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the desert surface were thin flakes, as thin as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What[b] is it?” They didn’t know what it was.


PLAYGROUND: I want to start out our playground lessons by doing some word association.

This will be super awkward if you all stay silent. I’m going to say a word or phrase and I want you to respond with what comes to mind. We’ll start with a few examples.  Please know, there isn’t a “right” answer I’m looking for, I want to jog your memory.

  1. Recess
  2. Math races
  3. Spelling Bee
  4. Presidential Fitness Test (the PACER!, v-sit and reach, push ups, pull ups, crunches)
  5. Finally: Group Projects

Can we all agree that Group Projects are actually the worst? I remember the genuine struggle of group projects in school being rooted in one person, always doing most of the work. That’s the real frustration, right? An unequal distribution of work load yet we all get the same grade?! Totally unfair! The unbalanced responsibility yet equal reward makes group projects the closest thing to hell on earth.

TRANSITION: Good thing God isn’t unfair.… Or is God? In our text for today we will see Jesus share a parable that depicts God’s character unfairly, BUT maybe that’s a good thing?


 “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After he agreed with the workers to pay them a denarion, he sent them into his vineyard. “Then he went out around nine in the morning and saw others standing around the marketplace doing nothing. He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I’ll pay you whatever is right.’ And they went. “Again around noon and then at three in the afternoon, he did the same thing. Around five in the afternoon he went and found others standing around, and he said to them, ‘Why are you just standing around here doing nothing all day long?’ “‘Because nobody has hired us,’ they replied. “He responded, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.’ When those who were hired at five in the afternoon came, each one received a denarion. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion. 11 When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner,12 ‘These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.’ 13 “But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ 16 So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.”

  1. “kingdom of heaven is like”—Jesus is using a parable to talk about the way things operate in God’s kingdom. This is to contrast the way things happen in the world.
  2. Landowner & Workers
    1. Recruiting:
      1. Group 1, (Early? Maybe 6? Sunrise?) agreement on work & wages. 11 hrs work for 1 denarion
      2. Group 2 (9am) 9 hrs work
      3. Group 3 (12pm) 6 hrs work
      4. Group 4 (3pm) 3 hrs work
      5. Group 5 (5pm) worked 1 hour and received 1 denarion
    2. Payment: the workers are paid in reverse, starting with those who arrived last.
    3. Resentment: Group 1 mad that Group 5 got paid the same amount.
      1. Landowner replied: I have given you what I promised, why is it a problem that I’m generous?


  1. We’ve examined two separate weeks on forgiveness and conflict, now it seems we are hopping onto a new topic with Jesus’ parable about fairness & generosity. However, these two topics are more connected than we may realize.
  2. Group projects: It really is unfair that the work is uneven in group projects. This inequity can build resentment in the ones carrying the weight of the grade.
  3. Uneven reality of Eternity: I have an uncomfortable truth to share, God is not fair. God may not be fair but God is good. God’s goals are not to make everything fair but to bring about God’s plans for creation.
    1. We see in throughout scripture examples of God’s unfair and unending love.
      1. In Ecclesiastes we hear the teacher exclaim about God giving the same fate to both the good and the bad.
        1. Ecclesiastes 9: 1-2 So I considered all of this carefully, examining all of it: The righteous and the wise and their deeds are in God’s hand, along with both love and hate. People don’t know anything that’s ahead of them. Everything is the same for everyone. The same fate awaits the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad,[a] the pure and the impure, those who sacrifice and those who don’t sacrifice. The good person is like the wrongdoer; the same holds for those who make solemn pledges and those who are afraid to swear.
      2. In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus tells a parable best known for the title The Prodigal Son. But that story includes two sons. The son that stays is bitter about the father’s joy and grace at his brother’s return. “I have been faithful and you haven’t even given me a fatted calf”
      3. Paul writes to the Ephesian church that God’s salvation is not about their own actions or merits, but about God’s grace.
        1. Ephesians 2:8-10 You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of.10 Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.
    2. God is unfair. God offers mercy, grace, and love to all creation. God does not offer eternity ONLY to the obedient and righteous.
      1. Yes, I know! We want to stop and shout: “That’s not fair!!!”
      2. I follow God’s rules!
      3. I show up to church.  (It’s cold and I’m here! I should get extra points for that, right?!)
      4. Sure, I don’t always think about God when I’m away from the church building or church family.
        1. I forget to demonstrate love to the clerk at the grocery store who is taking too long helping an elderly person with their self check out process to help me!!!
        2. I forget to be loving when a person is going exactly the speed limit and I’m running late for an appointment.
      5. But I’m the righteous! Surely God favors me more!
        1. Jesus even has a parable about two men praying in the temple (Luke 18:9-14). A tax collector and a pharisee go to pray, one brags of his righteousness and rule following while the other comes humble before God and expresses need for God. Jesus says the humble one was righteous, not the rule following pharisee.
    3. God’s kingdom isn’t fair but it is good.
  4. Fairness & Goodness in the world:
    1. Day care “you get what you get and don’t throw a fit,”
      1. We had a common phrase in daycare for kids whining, “That’s unfair!”
        1. “ You get what you get and don’t throw a fit.”
      2. Since then, I have seen an amazing quote about fairness.
        1. “You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if YOU have enough. Look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if THEY have enough.”
    2. Can you imagine? Can you imagine a world where we didn’t feel like we had to compete? Picture a world:
      1. Compete for God’s favor? Where an unmarried couple’s pregnancy doesn’t result in threats about the sins of abortion or the sins of living together but about helping them prepare for the birth of their child. What grace!?!
      2. Compete for security? Where a response to a minimum wage worker’s struggles to pay bills isn’t “get another job” but “Why isn’t minimum wage a livable wage?! How can someone work for 35-40 hours a week and still not be able to pay their bills?”
      3. Compete for freedom? Where a response to Black lives Matter isn’t “All Lives Matter” but “Oh no!? You feel undervalued and oppressed, how can I help?”
    3. Imagine a world where we saw each other not as competition but as team mates?!
      1. Not you vs. me but us vs. the problem, striving towards the same goal


  1. In the past few weeks, we’ve seen:
    1. Jesus’ conflict resolution flow chart was about community gathering and listening for God’s guidance. Our goal should be community development, not winning an argument.
    2. Jesus’ parable about the gift of forgiveness should lead to transformation. We can have forgiveness and accountability. God’s people are transformed by God’s grace.
  2. Now we hear that God’s kingdom is unfair.
    1. God gives equal doses of eternity and love to all creation.
    2. God’s kingdom is about reunion and redemption.
    3. God’s kingdom is better than fairness.
    4. God’s kingdom is about God’s love.

The outline I used to preach off of:

Intro: Word association

  1. recess
  2. lunch
  3. math test
  4. gym
  5. group projects

Group projects: One person does all the work

Scripture: Matt 20:1-16

  1. All workers got – same income but did diff amounts of work
  2. Mad b/c I’m generous?
    1. connect to series
  3. Recap
    1. Jesus conflict resolution chart leads to healing communities and collectively listening for God’s guidance
    2. Jesus’ parable about forgiveness tells us forgiving doesn’t disqualify accountability.
  4. NOW Jesus’ parable (seems) to be about generosity. God’s generous love.
  5. Natural to be angry/jealous that God is taking all people in, no conditions attached
    1. remember: belief leads to a transformed life
  6. We should be joyous at all reunions and redemption stories. (we talked about accountability last week)
  7. It’s not a competition for a grade from God to get a better spot in eternity.
  8. There is no scarcity in God’s economy.
    1. in God’s economy…
      1. Instead of responding “All Lives Matter” when we hear “BLM” we respond “Oh no! You don’t feel safe, free, or respected! How can I help so we’re all safe, free, respected?”
      2. Instead of responding “Get another job” when you hear a minimum wage worker can’t pay their bills after a 40 hour work week; you say, “the system is not working—we need minimum wage to be a livable wage.”
      3. Instead of judging women about considering abortions; be a church where an unmarried mother is loved and cared for without judgement.
  9. In God’s kingdom, there is no competition for love or space in eternity.
    1. everyone gets enough.
  10. During this election season — I call for Liberty to be a church spreading connection, reconciliation, and love; rather than division, judgement, and hatred.

Be a church sharing God’s economy without fear of getting enough.

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