Sunday, September 25, 2011

WALK THE TALK...Sermon for Year A Proper 21


The chief priest and the elders march up to Jesus
and interrupt his teaching.
Jesus has come boldly into the temple--THEIR territory--
and has begun to teach.

The officials do not like this one bit.
They’d like to just throw him out--or worse--
but there is also an element of fear.

So instead of tossing him out
they question him, try to trick him.
They want him to convict himself--so they won’t have to do it.
They challenge Jesus in front of everyone.

The chief priests and the elders have a powerful need to CONTROL.
To control their space, their domain.

They question his authority---
What are YOU doing HERE?
Who gave YOU permission to speak in OUR house?

But Jesus does not answer their question about his authority directly.
Jesus will not be put on the defense.

He wants them to think--to ponder--to step away from THEIR authority
and to recognize God’s authority--over all of them--
over the priests, the elders, the people gathered--over Jesus himself.
Only Jesus seems to understand it is not THEIR house--
the temple is God’s house.

So he questions them about John’s baptism.
We need to remember
that at this point of the story John has been killed.
An almost fanciful beheading has made John a martyr to the people.

So Jesus asks the Temple leaders--
Was John’s baptism from heaven or was it just a human thing?
Divine or mortal?

It is an interesting question.
A question, which later in church history, authorities will ask
and struggle over about Jesus, too. Divine or human?

Perhaps this is even a question that we can ask ourselves about our own baptism:
Does our baptism come from heaven?
Or was it of human origin?

I wrote a little book of meditations about baptism a few years back.
I wrote that I was disappointed on the day my baptism--
which happened at age 11 by full immersion.
I was disappointed because I had truly expected to see rays of light
and a dove descend upon me that day at Emmanuel Baptist Church.

I was too young to realize--and too afraid to ask--
that those signs are not needed
to mark an event or us as holy and blessed.

I believe now that my baptism was absolutely from heaven--
walking into that deep pool of water
I was surrounded by more grace and love than I could imagine.

But Jesus isn’t asking about Jeanne Finan’s baptism.
Jesus is asking the priest and the elders to respond about John’s baptism.

And the truth is, they don’t know what to say.
It is a true “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” moment.
And they all know it.

So they respond much as we might,
when fearful,
they say, “We do not know.”

And then (and you can almost see Jesus trying not to smile too broadly)
Jesus replies,
“Well, if you can’t answer my question,
then I’m not going to answer your question.”

Jesus refuses to play their game.
Instead he turns and asks them a question:

What do you think?

And then the parable.
This wonderful way of teaching--of encouraging--people to think.

Two sons.
The father asks each son to go and work in the vineyard.
(Remember--it’s a parable--
think of the father as THE Father--God--
asking his beloved children
to go out into the world and work,
to spread the good news to all the world,
to LIVE the gospel.

The first son says, “No. I won’t go. I won’t do it.”
Maybe in terms of the parable
we could think of this response in the 21st century as something like,
“No. Forget it.
I’m going to Starbucks with the NY Times this morning.
I’m going to a movie instead of the Parish Work Day.
I don’t want to work on a Habitat House
with a bunch of Episcopalians.
So the answer is No.”

But then this child CHANGES his mind.

(This is an important point in the parable--
God gives us permission to CHANGE!!)

The first son goes and works in the vineyard.
He doesn’t make a big deal about
but something shifts inside of him--
or perhaps he goes against his rational thinking
and goes simply because of his great love for his Father--
He goes.
He goes and works.
He shows up.
He spreads the gospel by his actions--
by what he CHOOSES to DO.

And the second child?
He immediately says YES.
Of course I will go, Father.
Remember, I am your GOOD child, your pious child,
you OBEDIENT child.
Yes, yes, yes.

But that beloved child does not go, does not do as he promised.
His words are empty, meaningless--
because there were no actions that followed those words.

This son is all for show.

This child doesn’t need to change his mind--
he needs to change the center of his soul.

Perhaps this son never really intended to go--
he just says what he thinks the father wants to hear
and then forgets about it.
All talk no walk.

Then Jesus asks:
“Which of the two did the will of his father?”

It’s a pretty easy answer.
The priests and the elders know the answer--
The first son.

They KNOW what is right.
They KNOW what God asks of each of us.
Put some walk behind your talk.

And as soon as they answer Jesus,
they know they are trapped.

They know
because they realize they are all talk and little walk.
They detest Jesus
because he fully walks his talk.

And Jesus does not hesitate to tell them
how obvious their lack of walk is.
He tells them that the tax collectors and prostitutes are going to heaven
before you fakers.
That’s right--the lowest of the low,
the despised and the hated
will get into heaven ahead of you.
Because when they heard the talk--from John and then from Jesus--
they heard it as so true that they changed.
They could not change their past
but they were doing one amazing job of working in the vineyard
to change their present and their future.

And Jesus says to the Temple authorities,
“You did not change your minds and believe him.”

This is a message to all of us who come to church.
All of us who have made a covenant--
a covenant---a binding agreement--
with God at our baptism.
You see we, in so many ways, are the “Temple Authorities.”
We show up here week after to week to say,
“Yes, Lord, we believe.”

There is nothing wrong with believing
but we must be so careful.
It is so easy to just become wrapped up in the talk,
and forget that our real call is to walk the walk.

How do we walk that walk?
There are some obvious ways--
Habitat House, Welcome Table, MANNA Food Baskets, Room in the Inn, Family to Family.

And there are some less obvious ways--
loving our neighbors.
Even if those neighbors seem to us on first glance to be prostitutes
and tax collectors
(I don’t mean that literally--but I think you know what I mean).

Back in the early 70‘s Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sang,
“Love the one you’re with.”
They probably weren’t singing a gospel message with those words--
but when Jesus says, “Love one another,”
he never says, pick and choose. Love the ones you like.
He just says love.
Love the one you’re with.
Love all God’s children.

We also walk the walk with prayer.
We can’t just say we will pray for someone unless we really do pray.
If we want to walk the walk
we need to make sure we will go out into that vineyard of prayer
and pray, pray, pray.

We walk the walk by being good stewards--
of the earth, of this parish, of our bodies, our minds, our spirits.

We walk the walk by being willing to listen,
especially to those who feel that no one hears them.
We walk the walk
by being willing to change.

It is so easy to make excuses for not going into the vineyard.

I have thought a lot about the second son this week.
Was he just trying to impress his father?
Was he trying to trick his father?
Was he trying to outshine his brother?
Or did he intend to go--
and just got distracted?
He logged onto his FaceBook page or started watching a movie on television
or got lost in some other distraction.
Time just flew by
and then it was too late.
Oops! I meant to go into the vineyard.

Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying:
You can fool some of the people all of the time,
and all of the people some of the time,
but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.

Who does the second son think he is fooling?
Who do we think we are fooling sometimes?

Every week our service of Holy Eucharist opens with the priest saying
the “Collect --or prayer--for Purity”.
It begins:

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from you no secrets are hid...

Jesus is reminding us of this in the parable he tells.
God knows all our desires, all our secrets.
We may be able to fool the people around us--
though probably not as often or as much as we might believe--
but what we need to remember, what matters is,
God knows.

God knows if we are all talk and no walk.
God knows if we are trying to change.
God knows what is in our hearts.

And the good news behind all of this?
We hear it in the letter to the Philippians:

God is at work in you.

We are not cast in stone--not our hearts, not our minds, not our bodies or souls.
God is at work--always--in each of us.

Even when we say NO,
we have another chance to say YES.
Even when we say YES and then don’t live into that YES.
we have another chance.

God is at work in you and in me --
in each of us.
And that, my sisters and brothers in Christ,
is very good news.

Very good news for all of us.

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