September 27, 2020
17th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 21
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Remember last week we said that the time for Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem was coming soon? Well, it happened in between last week’s gospel reading and today’s. Even though in the church calendar we save that reading until the Sunday before Easter.
So, let’s just take a moment to remember, shall we, because it will help us understand what we read today – Jesus and his disciples have made their way back to Jerusalem for the last time. As they entered, he rode on a donkey with people spreading their coats and palm branches on the road before him. They went to the Temple with people cheering and praising God as they passed by.
And when he got to the Temple, what Jesus saw infuriated him. Some were attempting to make a profit with the holy and sacrificial gifts people brought to God. The Temple leaders weren’t even trying to hide their love of money over God. And instead of looking the other way, Jesus cleared them out.
And then he began to heal the people who had come to the temple not for power or prestige but to be made well. The children witnessing these loving acts of healing cried out in praise and glorified God. They couldn’t help themselves. And Jesus says we should all be like children, seeing God with clear eyes for who God is and not who we’d like God to be for our own comfort.
When Jesus returns to the temple the next day, we get the exchange with the Temple leaders we read today: The chief priests and elders are angry with him. He had received the praise and glory that they so desperately desired for themselves and they wanted him gone. And so they attempt to question Jesus’ authority to teach and heal, to discredit him before the people whom he had healed.
True to his nature, Jesus doesn’t give them pat answers or platitudes to make them feel better about themselves, but he gives them the questions to enable them, if they choose, to look within themselves to the real issues. Jesus knows that true healing begins within us, in our hearts and souls, regardless of the outward image we attempt to put up.
What Jesus’ question reveals in them is their ego-driven need for power over others, that need that causes us to twist the narrative away from the truth in an attempt to keep our outward image of power and prestige in tact. Instead of taking a stand about what they might truly believe, they skirt the whole issue of what Jesus asks and say “we don’t know” to save their image.
Now, We need to be careful when we read of Jesus calling out the religious leaders of his day. We can’t use their sins to make ourselves feel more righteous. We must instead ask ourselves the very questions Jesus asks of them, working out our faith in the fear and trembling that comes with looking deep within, knowing that we will be changed. Changed for the good, changed for the better because we will be transformed into who God intends for us to be. That is how we find true peace and confidence and freedom, knowing God is with us always, loving us.
After confronting them with their lack of commitment in their self-proclaimed faith, Jesus tells them a parable of two sons. One son who says yes to his father and does nothing and one son who says no to his father and then has a change of heart.
Notice there isn’t a third son who does it perfectly – saying yes and doing it. If there were, we could easily say “of course I’d do it like that” and go on our merry way never having looked inwardly to ask ourselves which one am I. If there were the perfect son, we’d miss the whole point of the parable.
And the point of Jesus telling parables isn’t to help us point fingers at others or to enforce our false image of ourselves but to encourage us to do the difficult work of looking inside ourselves to see, with God’s help, where we need to change and grow, where we need to let God transform us.
So, which son are you? Do you say “yes” to God in the words we profess in worship each week and then attempt to leave God out of everything you do all week long?
Or do you start with “no” because you don’t feel worthy or equipped or strong enough to do what God is asking but then change your heart and mind because you know that it is in God that you will be made worthy, equipped, and strong enough?
What causes us to change our minds?
What blocks us from allowing ourselves to be changed?
What allows for our hardened hearts to be broken open?
Do we respond to to change and invitations to grow deeper in relationship with Jesus with resistance or acceptance?
Do our behaviors all week long reflect the words we speak when we come to worship in community?
The good news is that there is always the opportunity to change our mind, to ask God to change our hearts and souls. So even if we’ve been the son saying yes with our lips and no with our lives, we can come to the vineyard to work at any time. And, as we talked about last week, we’ll be welcomed and provided for in the same way as those who arrived before us.
We are all equally un-worthy and un-entitled when it comes to God’s kingdom, and God loves each of us as if there were only one of us. We are all equally welcomed into the kingdom if we are willing to do the difficult work of letting God transform our hearts and minds into who God intends for us to be.
The gospel doesn’t make us comfortable in our own way of doing things but brings us comfort as we learn to love others as God loves us, not the sentimental warm and fuzzy love of greeting cards, but the enduring, doing-the-right-thing-for-others-even-when-it-makes-us-uncomfortable, opening-ourselves-up-to-be-transformed-through-the-discomfort kind of love. Love as God loves is always other-focused, never self-centered or self-serving.
Our behavior really does reveal what is in our hearts and souls, regardless of what we may say or the image we may try to project.
True righteousness, God’s righteousness in us, is reflected more in our doing than in our confessing.
In other words, our behavior does reveal what we truly believe. Our actions speak louder than words.
What we say on Sundays isn’t about making ourselves worthy. It is only when we acknowledge that it is God who makes us worthy that we can come together to praise and glorify God for the healing work God does in us. Only then can we go out and reveal the God of Love with all that we are and all that we have and in everything we do. Amen.