May 21 – “Which Are You?”

May 21, 2017
Sermon: “Which Are You?”, Rev. Steve Anderson
Matt 21:23-32

Don’t raise your hands, but how many of you who are married, were previously married, or someday hope to be married, would prefer a spouse that says they love you but doesn’t show it OR would you rather have one that never says it, but shows it in numerous ways?  Neither is perfect, but which kind of friend would choose, a friend who repeatedly promises support, but fails to back up their words with action, OR one that you aren’t always sure how they feel about you but whom always delivers in the clutch?

As Jesus and his followers entered the temple, the air was filled with a mixture of enthusiasm for Jesus by his followers and tension and conflict emerging from his engagement with the chief priests and elders, those faithful, religiously active, spiritually responsible people.  The religious leaders wanted to know what was behind Jesus and his ministry, which was attracting large groups of followers.  The religious leaders tried to trap Jesus with their question.  If he claimed that God gave John and him the authority to act and speak, the religious leaders would have accused him of blasphemy and speaking against God which was a capital offense in their society.

Jesus was unwilling to argue with or attempt to persuade the religious leaders that they were wrong.  Have you ever tried to convince someone who was not interested in hearing the facts because their mind was already made up?  Why do we think that if we speak louder they will change their mind, or that today will be the day that we have just the right word to sway them?  Jesus asks about John who had baptized him and others into this new way of thinking about God.  Was John speaking and acting based on what he heard God saying to him?  Who gave John the right to baptize people?  Was it God or John’s own actions?  If they said John was divinely inspired, then why didn’t the religious leaders believe him?  If they say that he was acting on his own authority, they would lose the crowd’s support because they believed that John was a great prophet speaking and acting for God.  

So Jesus told a story about a man who had two boys.  The first didn’t want to work in the vineyard but did, the second said he would but didn’t.  Have you ever had kids like this?  Jesus is suggesting that what they did was more important that what they said.  One was a great talker but poor with follow through.  The other was like a slick salesperson, but poor in service.  Jesus closes the interaction by suggesting that the tax collectors and prostitutes would get into heaven ahead of the religious leaders.

The people who looked like lowlifes and spiritual losers—the folks who had by all outward appearances said “no” to God would come around to God’s message after all.  Talk about a great reveal.  The amazing thing that we need to remember is that the gospel often gets a hearing and response in the lives of people that the religious elite despise.  These are the people who make no claim of being righteous or religious but who carry out daily tasks given to them by God.  These were people who don’t try to be religious but simply do the will of God through their normal course of living.

The Pharisees thought that they were doing the right things, and they wanted to know who had given Jesus authority to act and speak, but they had gotten so attached to their own ideas about what they thought brought people closer to God that it was hard for them to listen to Jesus.  Jesus suggested that they trade in their beliefs for a fresh new experience with God, but they couldn’t bring themselves to do that.  The religious leaders were angry with Jesus because he exposed them as people who talked about loving God but did nothing to show it.  It was not that they said wrong things, but they didn’t practice what they preached…  They mistook their convictions about God for obedience to God.  

The leaders of the temple were more concerned with public opinion than truth.  Stuck in their old predictable ways, they not only rejected John who announced the coming of the messiah, but they could not possibly believe that Jesus’ new way was anything but trouble.  The truth is that God welcomes all those who say yes with their lives, who repent, who change their minds, who care about others, and whose faith is mirrored in their actions.  

We all know churches that act more like religious clubs that function exclusively for the care and feeding of those on the inside rather than joyously finding ways to share the good news of God’s kingdom with people who might be considered outsiders.  These churches are long on words but short on deeds, spending more time discussing the church than being the church, assuming that knowing what it means to be a Christian is the same as living as a Christian.  

Some churches talk about the poor yet never share what they have; agree about the importance of Jesus coming to save us, but never share this with anyone outside the building; applaud their knowledge but ignore what needs to be done.  

In the corporate world, there is talk of the three B’s—believe, behave, and become.  The idea is that what we believe in our hearts drives our behavior which drives what we become.  What we become can also begin with behavior which changes our beliefs.  Some people believe that they should come to church to learn more about God and become more proficient in talking about God.  According to Jesus, what you say you believe is not as important as what you show that you believe.  

The difference between talking about the Christian faith and living like Jesus is like the difference between reading sheet music and singing a song.  The reason that Jesus calls us out into the world is because there is more joy in loving your neighbor than there is in knowing that you should.  If we’re not careful we’ll spend all of our life in the batting cage and never play in the game; we’ll study the cookbook, but never enjoy a meal; learn our lines, but never raise the curtain.  

We can be the people who visit people in the hospital, who bring people to church, we can read the Bible, not just toy learn something but to learn what kind of people we could become.  We can pray, not to tell God what need or what God should be doing, but ask God what God needs of us.  Everything that Jesus did was according the authority of God.  So too, everything that we do should also be under God’s authority, not national interest or self enhancement.  

Too many churches spend way too much time beating people.  They emphasize that they aren’t doing enough.  The reality is that there will always be more that we can do for God—always things left undone.  

During the 9 months of my junior year in college I worked for a farmer.  Each week I would come to work earlier and stay later doing things that he had not asked me to do.  After some time he asked me what I was doing.  I told him that I realized that he was behind on so many projects and that I was just trying to get him caught up.  He laughed and told me that he had been farming for many years and that he didn’t figure that he’d ever be caught up.  

Some people get the opportunity to do great things.  Most of us don’t.   Mother Teresa spoke to this when she said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can all do small things with great love.”  Jesus told this brief story about two sons.  One says that he will do what his father asks, but doesn’t.  One says he won’t but does.  I think everyone of us has to ask which one we are most like.  Are we the one who presents themselves as obedient while running around raising havoc behind the scenes, or are we the son or daughter who to all appearances is the “black sheep” but in the end, does what needs to be done?  Do we talk but do nothing, or are we living out God’s plan and purpose even though we’re not very showy about it.  Which are we?