Worship September 27, 2020
I welcome you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Loving God, we come this day to worship with so many things on our hearts and minds. We are drawn away by problems and cares. Heal our spirits. Open our hearts. Help us be your disciples. AMEN.
Hymn UMH # 715 Rejoice, the Lord Is King (verses 1-3)
Scripture Matthew 21:23-32 NRSV
Almighty God, we ask you to clean our minds and hearts of all the things that may prevent us from hearing your word. Empty our hearts of doubt and empty our minds of preconceptions and assumptions. May we know that you are the source of our knowledge. Prepare our hearts to be ready to accept your truth. Help us be capable of hearing your voice speaking to us. Amen.
The Authority of Jesus Questioned
23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
The Parable of the Two Sons
28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father[a] went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
Matthew 21:23-32 takes place during what we call Holy Week. Matthew spends the first 20 chapters of his book telling us about Jesus earthly mission. Starting in chapter 21 we are looking at the last week before his crucification.
It is common for us to jump from Palm Sunday to Easter without looking at the events of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Today we are looking at what Jesus taught on Tuesday of holy week.
Pastor steven Molin says that one of the joys of serving as a parish pastor is the privilege of helping couples prepare for their married lives together. I should tell you that, from the pastor’s point of view, the wedding itself isn’t necessarily the highlight. It is for the bride and groom; they love the wedding, and the reception, and the honeymoon. But for the pastor – for me at least – the joy comes in helping them prepare for marriage.
About ten years ago, I came across a tool for pre-marriage counseling; an instrument called Prepare. It’s a test consisting of 165 fill-in-the-bubble questions taken by both the bride and groom, and when it is scored, it becomes the basis for our counseling sessions together. Here is a sampling of the Prepare test.
Question: My partner has some personal habits that bother me: Strongly agree, agree, undecided, disagree, strongly disagree.
Or this one:
Question: Sometimes I have trouble believing everything my partner tells me: Strongly agree, agree, undecided, disagree, strongly disagree.
You can see how the Prepare instrument would provoke some interesting conversation among the three of us.
But there is one question among the 165 that I have never liked. It’s a trick question, really; a question for which there is not a satisfactory answer. The question is this:
My partner is the only one with whom I could have a meaningful marriage: Strongly agree, agree, undecided, disagree, strongly disagree.
How do you answer a question like that? If you say “yes” you’re saying that out of six billion people in the world, you found the only one that is right for you? On the other hand, if you say “no;” if you say that there are others with whom you could find happiness, why pick this one? Why not wait for other possibilities. There is no correct answer to this trick question.
But it allows me to explore with the couple what were the reasons they chose this partner? Out of six billion people, what are the qualities and characteristics in this one person that made you want to share your life with them. Trick questions are like that: the answers don’t really matter, but rather, they open up the door for the conversations that will follow.
- How much dirt is there in a hole that is five feet deep and five feet wide – none
- The attorney is my brother,” testified the accountant. But the attorney testified he did not have a brother. Who is lying? Neither the accountant was his sister
- Have you stopped kicking your dog?
The parable in Matthew 21: 28-32 sure seems like a trick question.
The Pharisees have been trying to trick Jesus by asking questions, questions that if answered to the Pharisees liking would prove that Jesus does not have the authority he claims.
To continue the level of authority that the Pharisee religious leaders have had they have stop Jesus form doing things like to teach and heal even on the Sabbath.
One would think that the Paradises would know by now that they were not going to be able to trick Jesus into anything.
Jesus now turns the table on them first by asking a trick question of his own. This question has to do with John the Baptist, and any answer the Pharisees offer will back them into a corner, so they play dumb. It is then that Jesus tells them, and us, a parable – the parable of the Two Sons.
Along with telling the parable Jesus ask them “What do you think”.
A man has two sons and asks each of them to go to work in the vineyard. Making wine was big business then and frankly quite important since water was scarce and the wine from the vineyard was a necessary form of hydration.
The first son says no, but then he has a change of heart. Haven’t we all said no to something and later changed our mind?
Now the second says yes, but then does not show up for work. There certainly have been times in my life that I have said yes to doing something and then changed my mind.
A specific incident comes to mind – when I was about 14-15 I said yes to an evening babysitting job.
I had babysat for these neighbors about five houses down and across the street once previously. During that one time I had seen so many mice running around the house that by the time the parents came home I was sitting on a wooden kitchen chair in the middle of the front room with my feet on another kitchen chair.
I have no idea what prompted me to say yes to babysitting for them a second time, but I did and as the time drew near, I chickened out. I not only chickened out I was not mature enough to tell them in person but instead left a note in the mailbox. The note just said I could not babysit. So much for my example, I am guessing you might have your own stories of saying yes but not following through.
Back to Jesus and the parable of the two sons –
After telling the Pharisees about the two sons he asks “Which of these two sons did the will of his father?”
Of course the Pharisees say that the first son did his father’s will, but it is a trick question. Neither son in this parable did the will of his father.
The first son bluntly said no. The father did not ask the son “will you go and work in the vineyard”, the father said “son, go and work in the vineyard”. Not a question but a command.
The second son’s respond was totally different. – he even called him “sir” – but then he failed to follow through. We do not know if the second son planned to work the vineyard and got sidetracked or never intended to in the first place.
The question is which one did the father’s will? Jesus presents a trick question to the Pharisees.
You see neither son did his fathers will.
Jesus is using this trick question to teach the Pharisees about the Kingdom of God. If the Kingdom of God were here on earth, the parable of the two sons shows us that then as now living as God calls us to live is challenging and requires a true following of what Jesus has taught.
These religious leaders followed all the picky religious rules; rules about what they should eat, and what they should wear, and how they should say their prayers. They looked and sounded very religious. But when it came to issues like loving their neighbor, or showing kindness to the poor, or showing compassion to the lowly, they never showed up in the vineyard! They said they would; their religion was very impressive when they were at the synagogue, but they did not live it out in their daily lives.
You see, the Pharisees were examples of the second son in the parable. The Pharisees talked the talk; but did not walk the walk. These religious leaders not only made the rules they appeared to follow the rules. Since they made the rules it was easy to follow the rules that pertained to them. It was easy for them to always give the appearance of serving God.
The second son in the parable said he would go work the vineyard but, he did not.
Now let’s talk about the first son.
If we give a superficial look at the actions of the first son, we could might think that he was eventually came around to doing what pleased is dad.
If we dig deeper into the parable, we find he wasn’t much better than the second son.
In the parable the first son represented the tax collectors and the prostitutes of the day. Jesus spoke about the people who lived lives that were notoriously sinful. The tax collectors were known across the region for stealing from the common folk for the purpose of lining their own pockets. The prostitutes, well we know what they do. The tax collectors and the prostitutes did not have time for religion, and even if they did, some were of the wrong ethnic origin to worship God.
So even though they were known for the things they did wrong, they had the ability to change directions, and when Jesus called them away from their sinful ways, they left those lives behind and followed him.
Even though the response from the sons was not as the father wanted, there is grace in this parable: both were called “sons.” Even though the father may have been discouraged or upset by the son’s actions he did not disown either one of them for what they did or did not do. In fact, according to Jesus, both sons will still enter the Kingdom of God. One might go in ahead of the other, but neither is being excluded because of their sinfulness.
Helmut Thielicke a German Protestant theologian describes this parable as a mirror for us to look into. He suggests this parable has significance if we can see ourselves reflected back at us.
The pharisees are easy to see identify; they are represented by the second son who said he would work but didn’t.
But where do you see yourself?
I think the world and even the church is still filled with both kinds of people. Still, there are those whose religion looks and smells lovely when they are surrounded by other religious persons. They can quote scripture and can be quick to tell others how to act, and live.
They know all the religious language, all the religious rituals. But they do not go to work in the vineyard. And all the love, and all the kindness, and all the compassion that they speak of in church…tends to stay at church. Where is our vineyard? I am reminded of the words to a Keith Green song written a generation ago:
To obey is better than sacrifice
I want hearts on fire, not prayers of ice
I want more than Sundays and Wednesday nights
But there are also those whose lives are laced with sin, whose language would make a sailor blush, and who wouldn’t know a bible from a dictionary if it were handed to them, but they are kind, and generous, and compassionate to no end. They do not get it when it comes to religion, and yet they are walking examples of the very people Jesus came to love and bring eternal life.
At the start of his public ministry, Jesus demands that people repent. To some this message comes as no surprise. They know what they have been doing. They are simply relieved to hear that there is the hope of something different. Once the word is out, they start marching toward the kingdom.
The problem cases are those of us who believe the demand for a change of heart is meant for somebody else. We think we know the answer to all the trick questions.
There’s much to be said for an assurance of God’s mercy. God can and should be trusted.
Which of those people is doing the will of God? It’s a trick question because neither of them is. But here is the word of grace: Which one of them is God’s daughter or son, which one of them does God want to nurture, and mold and change into walking examples of righteousness in the vineyard? All of us. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Let Us Pray:
Pastoral Prayer and Lord’s Prayer
Lord of hope and healing, you have heard the cries of our hearts. You know that we want to serve you, and yet when things get tough, we buckle and cave in. We lack the courage and strength to work for you. You have reminded us that you will be continually with us and we need to place our trust in that fact. Your love will sustain and heal us. Your mercy and grace will give us courage and strength, joy and peace. As we have come before you this day, offering our prayers for those near and dear to us, let us remember that you constantly lift and carry us in your love. Bring us to the knowledge of your mercy and powerful love that will never leave us. Prepare us for ministry in areas of need and desolation. For we ask these things in Jesus’ Name
We pray all these things in the name of the Lord that journeys with us through the darkest of valleys and helps us to find new life along the way, Jesus the Christ, who taught us to pray as one, saying…
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen
Hymn UMH # 176 Majesty, Worship His Majesty UMH # 177 He Is Lord
The parable of the two sons in Matthew can be frustrating. One commits to doing something and doesn’t do it, the other doesn’t commit to anything but goes ahead and does it anyway. Is there a third option here? Where’s the son who says he’s going to do it AND does it?
We’d like to think we’re that third child, and yet we are often guilty of overcommitting and underperforming. There are so many demands placed upon us that it’s hard to remember them all, much less fulfill them. As Paul says in Romans, we all fall short of the glory of God.
That doesn’t lessen the importance of the call God has placed on us. When we gave our life to Jesus Christ, we covenanted to be God’s people in and for this world. That includes promising to share our blessings for the care of the least of these. We don’t always do it perfectly, but we are called to do it faithfully. May this moment in worship be our opportunity to live out that promise. Let’s collect our tithes and offerings.
Prayer of Dedication
Living God, you have promised to be our God and we have promised to be your people. Thank you for keeping your promise so faithfully. Help us to do the same as we offer these gifts to your service. Thank you for calling us to be your hands and feet in this world. Amen.
HYMN UMH #382 Have Thine Own Way, Lord (verses 1-3)
Go bravely and boldly into this world of confusion and pain. Bring God’s healing words of love and forgiveness. Know the power of mercy and grace in your life and use those wonderful gifts to serve God by serving the people. Go in peace. AMEN.
- Thank you to Arnie, Rod and Jacki for sharing your gifts of reading and music with us.
- Lawn Chair Worship continues (weather permitting) at 10:30 Sunday mornings in Mora.
- Ogilvie continues at 9am each week.
- Online worship and mailings continue so if you have health conditions that put you at a higher risk for contracting the COVID virus, please allow yourself the privilege of staying home.