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10-1-17 Sermon

Sermon for October 1, 2017                                                                                                                                                                                       

Matthew 21:23-32

                                                                                                                                                                                              

Today’s Gospel proves the old adage that it’s better late than never.  Jesus is once again in a debate with the Pharisees over His authority.  It was only the Pharisees who were authorized to forgive sins and if they didn’t like you or didn’t want you around, guess what? You didn’t receive forgiveness.  It was only the Pharisees who had the ability to talk to God—or so they thought.                                                                           

They used their positions to LORD over the poor and to push the people they didn’t like further and further away from the Temple.  The Pharisees prized their positions of authority, control and power and didn’t want anybody even the Son of God to upset the apple cart.    

 Our Gospel today comes right after Jesus had cleared the temple after His ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The Pharisees knew Jesus forgave sins and Jesus healed people. Jesus said everyone could speak to God.    

As a result, Jesus took control away from the Pharisees.  So the Pharisees ask Jesus by what authority he does these things?  Or in other words who do you think you are?                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Jesus does not answer the question but asks them a question they hesitated to answer. Jesus knew these religious leaders were people you couldn’t please, regardless.  They’d already made their decision and didn’t want to be confused with the facts.  We who are followers of Jesus Christ don’t have all the answers, but we know the One who does.  And rather than trying to fit the truth into our preconceived notions, we’ll be much better off living our lives following Jesus.                                                                                                                                                                               

So rather than answering the Pharisees questions, Jesus tells the parable about 2 sons asked by their father to go and work in the vineyard. The first son says that he won’t go, which shows a blatant lack of respect for his father, which publicly humiliates him.   Eventually the first son realizes his mistake and goes out to work.                                                                                                                                                                                         

A man in his mid to late 40’s had already spent 17 years of his life either in a juvenile correction facility or a prison. He’d been a drug addict since 13, arrested for armed robbery, assault and stealing from his very own mother.  This man hit rock bottom and received the grace of God offered to him. And for 15 years he’s been clean and sober, sharing his faith, telling everyone how God rescued him from eternal damnation.  God never gives up on anybody—no matter what we have done, He always allows U-turns & second or third chances.  As Christ’s disciples we are called to do the same.  Today’s Gospel lesson points out 2 kinds of sinners: the one, who says no, but repents and does the will of the father.  And then those like the second son, who quickly says yes, but never does. Those folks who pay lip service to God, may even be present in church Sunday after Sunday, those who are involved in every event, but never take seriously Christ’s call to them personally to take the Gospel into the world, to love your neighbor, to serve your enemies, to care for the poor, to house the homeless, to visit the sick.

 The Pharisees, the wealthiest Jews at the time of Jesus, said they were religious.  The temple doors at that time were almost 20 feet high and covered with gold.  Huge grain silos were filled to the top--for a rainy day. There were people begging for food. Around the temple walls were widows who had to decide whether to let their families starve or turn to prostitution because they were not allowed to work.

 Yet the Pharisees never reached out, never offered help, never offered to share the gifts God had so graciously given them.  Rather they condemned those in need and pushed them away.                                                                                                                                                                                

So how have we used what God has provided?  Money is only one part of the picture—even though it is a good barometer.  How are we using the faith God has given us? How do we bring the Gospel or more importantly live it out on a daily basis?                                                               

Too often we say yes and then work gets so busy, or we have community commitments, we have this or that, and even our good intentions become a burden.  So we never make it to the vineyard.                                                                                                                                                         

Jesus is illustrating to us that what matters to God is not lip service, it’s not promises to do something that never gets done.  What matters in the Kingdom of God is action, service, mercy, grace.                                                                                                                                                                       

There’s a fable about a man who died and went to heaven. Everywhere he looked it was spectacular! But then the man came to a room lined with shelves stacked with human ears! Ears that belonged to all the people who had heard the word of God, but never acted on God’s teachings. When these people died, only their ears were in heaven.                                                                                                                                                         

The Pharisees answered Jesus correctly.  It was the first son who was more obedient.  God forbid that our self-righteous piety blinds us from the truth.  God always allows U-turns and gives us an opportunity to repent to go out in the vineyard and start working.           

Life is about using our God given abilities to help others grow in faith and love—to come to Christ.  May God bless you with genuine Christian humility that seeks to honor Him.  May God bless you with christian humility that seeks to serve others in Jesus name.  Amen.