Thanksgiving Sermon: Grace & Gratitude (Matthew 20:1-16)

Even at a young age, we began whining out that expression, “That’s not fair!” We did it mostly when somebody else got more than we did. In fact, in this country we usually think of fairness as an absolute right. We believe everyone should be treated the same. When it comes to the administration of human justice, fairness is certainly a good thing. Equal pay for equal work is a good policy to live by.

But did you realize that fairness is not a virtue that God extols in himself? God is never unjust, but to say that he’s always fair is not entirely true. When it comes to money, talent, beauty, power, prestige, position, etc., God gives different people amounts. Some people simply get more than others.

workers-in-vineyard-pictureIn Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus tells the story of a landowner who goes out into the community multiple times a day to hire men to work in his vineyard. Although the laborers get hired at various times throughout the day, all of them receive the same wage at the end of the day. This upsets those who were hired early in the morning, for it meant they were getting the same amount as those who had worked fewer hours than they. When they complain about what they view as patent unfairness, the master challenges their attitude.

In this surprising parable, Jesus is not telling us how to run a business; he’s telling us how his kingdom works. It’s centered around the radical grace of God. His point is that, like the master, God is gracious toward all people, whether they’re seen to be worthy of it or not. He’s not obligated to give anyone grace, let alone the same grace to all people. The parable teaches us that God is not fair—and thank God for that. If God were fair, we’d all be in hell. But God displays extravagant love by seeking the lost and rescuing them at great cost to himself, even to the point of infuriating those with a “holier-than-thou” merit mentality.

Grace & Gratitude (Outline)

Grace & Gratitude (PowerPoint)




Good News, Bad News (Ecclesiastes 1:1-4; 12:13-14)

Ecclesiastes is one of the most puzzling and provocative books in the entire Bible. In a dour sort of way, it deals with a key issue of human existence—namely, the meaning of life and all the questions surrounding that issue:

  • “Who am I, and why am I here?”
  • “What can I do with my life that will make it worthwhile?”
  • “What’s the ‘big picture’ of this world, and how do I fit into it?”

Life and all it contains appear to be meaningless vapors—here today and gone tomorrow. What, then, do our transitory lives mean? And if there is no Big Story at all, what is the point of all our little stories? Ecclesiastes offers an answer that is rather surprising: Live now. Live forever. Amidst all the bad news of this world, there is good news in the end.

Sermon Resources:

Good News, Bad News (Sermon Outline)

Good News, Bad News (Sermon PowerPoint)


The Incomparable Christ, Part 5: The Wave Treader (John 6:16-21)

There are several stories in the New Testament involving Jesus, the disciples, a boat, and a storm out on the Sea of Galilee, but this passage has a unique focus. For example, sometimes Jesus calms the storm for his people when they’re being tossed around in a boat, but this is not a story about that. Sometimes Jesus calls his people to get out of a boat and walk on water toward him, but this is not a story about that. Sometimes Jesus calls his people to leave their nets and boats and follow him on a discipleship journey, but this is not a story about that.

This is a story about Jesus coming to his people when they’re having a difficult time, showing up in a miraculous way, joining them in their struggle, and helping them through the crisis. Indeed, it’s a story that reminds us that without Jesus, we’re sunk. Thankfully, Jesus still gets into people’s boats today, giving them peace in the midst of the storm when they need him the most.

Sermon Resources:

Part 5 The Wave Treader (Outline)

Part 5 The Wave Treader (PowerPoint)

Part 5 The Wave Treader (Dicussion)


The Incomparable Christ, Part 4: Channels of Divine Power (John 6:1-15)

The dictionary tells us that power is the ability to act. And we, as Americans, love power. We love to be in control. We like to call the shots. But all too often we want power just to make ourselves look good or feel significant. In our achievement-based, results-oriented culture, we want the ability to make things happen so that others will think well of us.

We even bring that mindset into the kingdom of God, baptizing it with Christian lingo. “I want to be powerful for God. I want to do great things for God. I want to be a channel for God’s power.” The miracle feeding of the five thousand is indeed about being a channel of God’s power, but once again, it’s not what anybody would have expected. One of the great truths we learn in this story is that Jesus’ power is for those who fulfill his purpose.

His question to us today is, “Where can I find one person willing to join me in what I’m doing in this hungry world? To whom can I give my power so they’ll use if for my will?” Might you be that person?

Sermon Resources:

Part 4 Channels of Divine Power (Outline)

Part 4 Channels of Divine Power (PowerPoint)


The Incomparable Christ, Part 3: Healed for Holiness (John 5:1-18)

Most Christians down through history have believed that God still heals people. That’s a comforting truth, isn’t it? When we, or those we love, are sick or injured, we want to know that God can restore us to health and wholeness. We want to know that God cares and that he’s able to fix what’s wrong with us.

The fact is, though, God doesn’t always heal us the way we want him to, nor does he heal us when we want him to. Indeed, the New Testament indicates that God often doesn’t heal according to our purposes at all; he heals according to his own. Is that still a comforting thought?

In John 5 we read about Jesus healing a man who had been disabled for 38 years. As the story unfolds, we come to see, in part, that God’s healing grace is for our holy living. The miracle is not an end in itself. Rather, it highlights Jesus’ compassion and authority—including his authority over our lives after he’s healed us.

Sermon Resources:

Part 3: Healed for Holiness (Sermon Outline)

Part 3: Healed for Holiness (Sermon PowerPoint)

Part 3: Healed for Holiness (Sermon Discussion)



The Incomparable Christ, Part 2: Growing in Faith (John 4:46-54)

Believers often hear the great slander that “faith is just a crutch for the weak.” While it’s certainly true that our Christian beliefs can bring us comfort in challenging times, it’s also true that our faith often places great demands upon those who have it. Noah was asked to build an ark. Deborah was asked to lead an army. Moses was asked to defy a foreign king. Abraham was asked to sacrifice his own son. Some crutch.

The reality is this: wherever you are in your faith journey, God will meet you there, and he will work to stretch your faith, deepen your faith, mature your faith, and ultimately strengthen your faith. That strengthening isn’t always an easy process. In John 4, Jesus meets a royal official at the level of faith he has and takes him to a whole new level. It’s a story that shows us the way to increase your faith in Jesus is to exercise your faith in Jesus.

It also shows us that Jesus has supreme power over sickness and disease. In fact, he can heal in absentia, demonstrating his authority over the entire world and all that is in it. As a result, we can bring ourselves and our loved ones to Jesus in prayer because prayer knows no distance.

Sermon Resources:

Part 2: Growing in Faith (Sermon Outline)

Part 2: Growing in Faith (Sermon PowerPoint)


The Incomparable Christ, Part 1: Transforming Power (John 2:1-11)

If you set out to create a myth about an awesome deliverer who could do amazing things, what would you concoct as the inaugural feat of his career? If you were fabricating a biography about some great messianic legend—just making up stories to get people to believe in his power and glory—how would you begin your tale? A marvelous healing? A mighty exorcism? A mind-blowing resurrection?

Jesus’ first miracle was to prevent a catering disaster! That’s not a likely place to start a landmark biography, but that’s what happened in history, so that’s how John recorded it. Before Jesus saved any souls, he saved a wedding reception. The story of Jesus changing water to wine at Cana of Galilee shows us that Jesus is the promised messiah whose mission is your joy and transformation.

At this particular wedding reception, Jesus functions in three different roles—as a guest, a son, and a host. What he did there was so marvelous, we’re still talking about it 2,000 years later.

Sermon Resources:

Part 1: Transforming Power (Sermon Outline)

Part 1: Transforming Power (Sermon PowerPoint)

Part 1: Transforming Power (Sermon Discussion)


Let Freedom Ring (John 8:31-36)

If there’s one thing that has generated a huge amount of motivation in human history, it’s the quest for freedom. For most of the world, that quest has involved the establishment of political systems guaranteeing individual rights over against a reign of tyranny. So, naturally, we think with gratitude of the millions of people who have fought and died to liberate their people from dictatorial regimes.

We might think of the French Revolution and its cry in the streets of, «Liberté!» (“Liberty!”). We might think of the American Revolution and its cry in the streets of, “Don’t Tread on Me!” Or we might think of Franklin Roosevelt’s fourfold definition of freedom in his famous address to Congress in 1941. Freedom, he said, means:

  • Freedom of Speech
  • Freedom of Worship
  • Freedom from Want
  • Freedom from Fear

Freedom, according to Roosevelt, was something we have to achieve through democratic reform—which is how most people think of it today. But when Jesus spoke of freedom in the New Testament, politics wasn’t his primary focus. In John 8:34, he says, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” In other words, in Jesus’ mind, the most vicious form of bondage to which human beings are enslaved is not bondage to an oppressive political system. The fundamental slavery of the human race, he said, is bondage to moral failure—a slavery to sin.

On top of that bombshell, Jesus has the audacity to say, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (v. 36). He was saying, “The only way you’re going to find true freedom is to believe in me and submit to my rule in your life.” The claim was unparalleled and bold. And his teaching for us today is clear. Only when Jesus Christ is your master will you be truly free.

The birthday of America is called “Independence Day,” but the birthday of a Christian is “Dependence Day.” The birthday of America was the day we achieved self-rule. The birthday of a Christian was the day we relinquished self-rule. That’s the true road to true freedom, says Jesus. Happy Independence Day.

Sermon Resources:

Let Freedom Ring (Sermon Outline)

Let Freedom Ring (Sermon PowerPoint)