Matthew 21:23-32: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Philippians 2:1-13
October 1, 2017
One of my favorite musical movies is My Fair Lady, the story about a poor Cockney Eliza Doolittle who on a bet between too scholars of language becomes the student of Professor Henry Higgins. After being partially transformed in language, appearance and demeanor she is pursued by a young suitor Freddy. After he tells her how much he adores her she responds with “Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words. I get words all day through, first from him, and now from you, is that all you blighters can do. Don’t talk of stars burning above, if you’re in love, SHOW ME!”
In the Gospel lesson, in a more gentle way, Jesus echoes the sentiment about showing we live in response to God’s love. He calls us not only to speak about loving God and obeying his will, but to show it in our actions. Jesus seeks congruence between our hearts, minds, and activity.
Jesus makes his point with a simple story that many of us who have been parents or children of parents can relate. A father asks his two sons if they will help by going out of the house and into the fields to work.
The first son answers in his as of this moment honesty, “No, I don’t feel like field work today.” While engaged in the first century A.D. equivalent of watching a football game on TV he thinks about his relation with his father, the provision he has received and concludes he owes him his obedience. He goes in the fields and works. The second son replies, “Of course.” He is not interested in working that day and probably figures if he says ‘yes’ his father will leave him alone for a few hours. He goes back to the first century A.D. equivalent of searching the internet or playing video games.
Jesus than asks a question or the gathered priests, elders, disciples, and currently you and I, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” This is a ‘no brainer’ and the listeners respond, some maybe eagerly and some maybe showing this is so obvious why ask tone, “The first son.”
Rather than say, “Good answer” or “Right you are”, he gets to his present application point, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of heaven ahead of you.” He returns to the question he asked the chief priests and elders at the beginning of today’s gospel lesson: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” He explains, “For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even after you saw this you did not repent and believe him.” John’s preaching combined a coming Messiah with practical ways to live a life showing repentance.
Jesus teaches God is looking for more than a words confessing faith. In addition God desires living in accordance with confessions of faith. He wants first sons in the parable who are honest with Him and who reflect and alter behavior in response to Almighty God’s love for us in Jesus.
This message is supported by this morning’s Old Testament and Epistle lessons. They say specifically to someone in my calling, “Pastor, do not rely on your office for your salvation while living according to your will of the moment.” They say to parishioners, “Confessing followers do not rely on your church membership while living according to your will of the moment.”
In the first lesson, the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel and informed him, “When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it….Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live.”
In the second lesson the strongest apostle of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, Paul, in a more positive manner writes in a similar vein. “If you have any encouragement from being united in Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than your selves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” He goes on to describe how Jesus took on the nature of an obedient service for God’s purposes. Martin Luther provided a succinct summary when he taught, “We should be little Christ’s to our neighbors.”
Hearing Jesus version of John the Baptist’s declaration, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance, and do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for as our father. I tell you out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham,” can be disturbing. However it resonates with what we know to be right and good.
As a child it grated me to hear an adult, often my father, say those infamous words, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I much preferred hearing someone could be relied on because he or she was a person of his or her word. Even when they did not perform, I could see not being able to deliver bothered them as much as it disappointed me. They were people easier to forgive and continue relating. I could sense their beings were rooted in what was right and good.
At a Nebraska Synod Assembly the Methodist minister and professor Tex Sample spoke. He related he was always looking for universal proverbs. He found one that he believed did not have a contradictory companion. His father once came into the barn where he was working and wondering where to start. His father said, “That board will not nail itself to that wall.” There may be another saying, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi that Jesus, Paul and Ezekiel would approve. “Always preach the Gospel. Sometimes use words.” Amen.