Friday, November 7, 2008

Sermon for Year A Proper 21

Just say YES

There is a book out now--
supposedly a true story--
about a fellow—Danny Wallace—
who is a freelance radio consultant for the BBC.
The book’s title is YES MAN.

Because Danny Wallace—
who had been accused of always immediately saying NO
to everything and everyone--
decided that for one year
he would say YES to everything and everyone.
Just to prove he could I suppose.

He says YES to people giving out pamphlets on street corners.
He says YES to credit card offers overflowing from his mailbox.
He says YES to all those pleas for help on the Internet.
He attends meetings with a group
that believes aliens built the pyramids in Egypt
and he says YES to every invitation to go out on the town
or come to a party.
Danny Wallace becomes the ultimate YES MAN.

In today’s Gospel reading
Jesus is telling yet another vineyard parable.
This time it sounds like the vineyard owner
has one son who is a YES man
and one son who is a NO man.

Or at least that is the first impression.

As the story goes on we hear the story a little differently.

The man asks his sons for help.
The first son says NO—sorry, I’m too busy, I’m too tired, I’m not interested.
I just don’t want to go work in the vineyard—
but then he changes his mind—
he does go and work as his father asked.

The other son says YES immediately—sure, Dad, of course I will,
no problem,
Only there is a problem
because he doesn’t actually go.
He says he will go,
He tells his father he will go—
But he doesn’t.

The son who says NO goes;
the son who says YES doesn’t go.

Jesus is quick to point out that the son who actually WENT and WORKED
is the one we need to look to as our model—
not the son who promised and did nothing,
not the son who boastfully said YES, OF COURSE
and then did nothing.

Jesus is making a very particular point here.
Jesus is teaching that what we say—what we promise God with words—
is not what matters.
The saying is so easy.
Words can slip and slide so easily off our tongues.
We can be so glib.

Jesus is teaching that what we do—how we LIVE our promises—
that is what matters.
And that doing is not always easy

Poet Mary Oliver has a line in her poem
I know a lot of fancy words.
I tear them from my heart and tongue.
Then I pray.

St. Francis said:
Preach the gospel at all times.
When necessary, use words.

Words are beautiful and good and indeed, can help us communicate;
but it is our actions that speak the loudest.
Showing up.
Showing up to worship.
Showing up to pray.
Showing up to give.
Showing up to help.

Preach the gospel at all times.
When in doubt use words.

There should be no doubt
that Jesus very purposefully
uses the imagery of a father and two sons.
A father loves both his sons.
Even the one that can’t seem to follow through on his promises,
Even the son who fails is still a beloved child.
Things done and things left undone.
We are such a mixture of both.
God knows that.

We want to be good and do good
But sometimes we over promise what we can deliver.

Jesus tells this parable so that we might grow a kinder, more compassionate,
And far less judgemental heart.
Tax collectors and prostitutes—
the lowest of the low in that first century society--
yet Jesus holds up his hands to the harsh judgments
that slip so easily off the lips of some
and says look with different eyes,
see with a different heart.
God welcomes everyone as beloved children.

We are called to change.
To change our minds.
To change our hearts.
God welcomes each one of US as beloved children.
We do not have to be perfect
to come into God’s kingdom.
It would be a lonely, empty place if that were the case.

We fool ourselves if we think God expects perfect.
Madeline L’Engle once told the story of her mother,
a life long Episcopalian,
who suddenly stopped going to church.

Finally, she confronted her mother and said,
What is this about?
Her mother said,
I can’t go to church because I can’t take communion.

What? asked her daughter.
What are you talking about.

I can’t take communion, Madeline.
I’ve thought about it and I am just not worthy.

Mother! No one could take communion if we had to be worthy.

There was a silence.
A long pause.

Oh, her mother quietly replied.
I guess that’s true.

Her mother never missed another Sunday==
or another communion.

We don’t have to put up a good face with God.
God knows whom we really are—
the good, the bad and the ugly.
We are created in God’ image.
God only wants us to be real, to be honest, to be truthful.
To be faithful.

We need to stop expecting others to be perfect.
We need to stop expecting ourselves to be perfect.
We need to just stop and listen and hear the invitation
to come—
come into the vineyard and go to work.
We are each invited every day.
Why not give it a try, says God?

And who do we find in the vineyard?
A bunch of folks just trying,
TRYING--to practice the generous gospel of Jesus Christ.

This means we will be mixing with
seekers, searchers,
and those who have been bruised;

those who limp and mourn;
orphans and widows,

folks who are worn out,
clapped out, burnt out,

wise elders, young wonderers,
lesbian and gay couples,
singles and married,

the wealthy who are trying to get through
the eye of the needle,
the poor who are struggling to maintain their dignity,

the emotionally deprived and harmed,
those who have failed to love
and those who are afraid to receive love

those who have broken their promises,
those bowed down with burdens,
those who teeter on the brink of breakdown,

those for whom the grip of alcohol or work,
food or drugs or sex,
gambling or unnamed powers,
is getting stronger,
and those for whom the grip is loosening,

Those struggling with faith and doubt,
and goodness knows how many others…

Indeed, anyone who is like those Jesus mixed with.

The kingdom of God is not a private club
and neither is this parish.
We are called to offer our parish as one little corner of the vineyard—
a sacred space open to all people of goodwill---
especially those who find difficulty with any of this.

And though we are not yet
strong and vulnerable enough
to show the unconditional love of God at all times,
we hope we are moving in that direction.

We hope we are moving in that direction.

+ + +

Note: This sermon was inspired by a brochure titled BEWARE! Found in St. Hywyn’s Church in Aberdaron, Wales.

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