20 Pentecost Proper A21
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 21:23-32 Sermon
September 28, 2008
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
426 "All Hail The Power Of Jesus' Name"
468 "O Jesus King Most Wonderful"
425 "Saviour Blessed Saviour"
431 "Crown Him With Many Crowns"
PROMISES BROKEN AND KEPT
TEXT: (vs. 28-31) "...There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, `Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' `I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, `I will, sir,' but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?" ‘The first,' they answered. Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you."
Some of the biggest frustrations in my life are people who tell me they are going to do something, but they don't follow through with it. Even as we speak, I have several situations where I've had people promise me something, and it just hasn't happened. These situations are creating problems for me, and I'm fixing to start tearing my hair out. Because of these situations, others are getting upset and putting pressure on me; and so it goes.
One story in particular I remember was a time when I invited two friends of mine over to my house for supper. It was summertime, and I was going to barbecue some steaks on the grill. I had everything all planned out; and if everything went according to plan, it would have been a great meal. And I said "would have," because the meal was anything but great.
These friends of mine were people who were habitually late for everything, and this evening was no exception. But silly me, I thought that maybe this time I could believe them. They called me on the telephone and told me, "We're walking out the door; we'll be there in five minutes." And I figured they told me the truth, that they were immediately hanging up the phone and coming right away.
So I gave them about ten minute's leeway, and then I started the steaks. I am well aware of the cardinal rule when it comes to grilling steaks: don't put them on the grill until you see the whites of their eyes. Steaks don't take very long to cook, and the timing is crucial if you want a perfectly cooked steak. But I believed what they told me, and started the steaks cooking without them being there.
It was almost an hour after they phoned when they finally showed up on my doorstep. And because I believed them, they sat down to a meal of steak that was burnt to a crisp and soggy, greasy potatoes. I was not happy at all about the whole situation, and I know they weren't. My friend likes his steak cooked medium rare, and his steak passed that point long before they were at my door.
Like I said earlier, I know the cardinal rule about cooking steaks. But for some reason, I chose to ignore it and believe them instead. We all suffered the consequences because of it.
Our Gospel lesson for today contains a lesson in broken promises, and what that means as far as God is concerned. Jesus uses a story with which we can all identify. Someone makes a promise, and doesn't keep it. And another keeps a promise he hasn't made. The result of the two actions has two entirely different outcomes.
The owner of a vineyard has two sons; let's call them Son A and Son B. The dad in this case needed some help. The vineyard was their livelihood-this is the way that their entire family was supported.
Son A was perhaps the rebellious sort. He probably had other plans he had made, and working in his father's vineyard wasn't amongst them. He had friends, he had social engagements, and he had plans to do the things he wanted to do.
But after taking some time to think about things, he reckoned that his dad really wasn't asking that much of him. After all, he had enjoyed the fruits of his father's labor his entire life, and his father's vineyard had provided well for him. Besides, what his father wanted him to do wouldn't have taken that much time. He could do his father's bidding and still have enough time to do at least some of the things he wanted to do.
So after thinking things over, he sets about doing what his father wanted him to do in the first place. Then he could do the things he wanted to do with a clear conscience. And of course this would have greatly pleased his father.
Son B was a different matter altogether. He would have most likely been a conniver and a liar. By telling his father that he would do what he wanted, he knew full well this is what his father wanted to hear. Son B was out to merely placate his father by making promises he never intended to keep. So he gets his father off his back for the time being, perhaps giving him enough time to think up an excuse as to why he didn't do the things his father wanted him to do.
There are numerous reasons as to why people don't keep the promises they make. Sometimes the reasons are legitimate or at least excusable. There are times when unforeseen circumstances come up. There are times when we make mistakes in scheduling. There are times when we just simply forget. We make promises with every good intention of keeping them, but for various reasons we find we just can't do as we promised. Sometimes that's just the way things work out. The attitude is right, our heart is in the right place so-to-speak, but things just happen.
The attitude that is so difficult to deal with is someone who makes a promise and has absolutely no intention of keeping it. So often a promise is made just because someone wants to hear it. The person making the promise only wants to pacify someone else, or just to "keep you out of their hair," so-to-speak. And so you'll hear such things as: "I'll do it!" or "I'll be there!" or "You can count on me!" or "Gotcha covered!" or one of my favorites "Sure, I'll be in Church on Sunday!"
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus is dealing once again with the Pharisees. And he is using this illustration of the two sons as a way to show the Pharisees their sinfulness and their lack of regard for God's Word. The Pharisees wanted to put on a good show, but they were far more interested in themselves than they were in serving God.
They were the church people, the people who were entrusted with God's Word in Scripture. They were to be faithful in their study and application of it. It was their job to be the chosen stewards of the communication between God and mankind.
In verse 23 they ask, "By what authority are you doing these things?...And who gave you this authority?" Now since the Pharisees were responsible for what was being taught in the Temple area, they had every right to ask Jesus this question.
It is at this place in the reading that we learn the true agenda of the temple authorities. They don't really care about the truth. Their dialogue is all about their standing before the people. And they discussed it among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'From man,' we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet." So they answered Jesus, "We do not know."
The Pharisees were playing politics. They never had any intention to give either John or Jesus any credibility at all. They were supposed to be God's spokesmen and the learned theologians of the day; but instead they were nothing but selfish, greedy, conniving liars. So Jesus uses this illustration of the two sons to convict them of their sinful stubbornness and pride. Clearly they were being compared with the antics of Son B in our Gospel lesson.
Son A however is more realistic of humanity and the way of the Christian. By nature we are sinful and disobedient. By nature, we ourselves along with the rest of the human race have in effect said "no" to God and have turned our backs on him. We have wanted to go our own way. We have wanted nothing to do with him and his ways.
But something has happened. There has been a change of heart. The Holy Spirit has stepped in and done something miraculous in our lives. And what has occurred is a complete about-face in our relationship with God. We have turned from going down the path that leads away from God, and we are now walking down the path of blessing he desires for us.
In our story for today, the result of Son B's actions is a bitter disappointment for his father. The father knows that Son B's promises ring hollow. They sound good on the surface, but underneath the words no actual meaning exists.
But in the case of Son A, the father is delighted. The son who refused the father at first has had a change of heart. He comes to appreciate the love his father has for him, and so the son seeks to serve him out of a grateful and loving heart.
If we think about it, we have both sons A and B within ourselves all the time. They're products of our sinful human nature. They're always there doing battle within us, and they will be until we breathe our last.
Fortunately, there is a third son. He is not in the parable. Instead, he is the one who first told it. This Son said, "Yes Sir!" To his Father and then obeyed him perfectly.
His Father said, "You need to be human." The Son said, "Yes sir!" and was born of the Virgin Mary.
The Father said, "You need to humiliate yourself under the law." The Son said, "Yes sir!" and lived a life that was perfectly free from sin.
The Father said, "You need to exchange your perfection for the sin of the world." The Son said, "Yes sir!" and John the Baptist baptized Him.
The Father said, "Now, carry that sin to the cross." The Son said, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will."
The Father said, "Now, take that sin to the grave." The Son said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he breathed his last.
The Father said, "Now, proclaim your victory to the world." Then Jesus rose from the dead and he said to his disciples on the road to Emmaus as it is recorded in Luke 24: "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem."
As human beings, we will always have the spirit of Son A and Son B within us. That's part of our sinful nature. We'll make promises that we can't keep, and we'll turn away from God and try to glorify ourselves and go our own way.
But we can be thankful that God keeps his promises. Our sin has been removed and is forever gone through his perfect son, Jesus Christ. Because Jesus was perfectly obedient to his Father in heaven, the price for our sin has been completely paid.
And there is one more promise too, and that is the assurance of our eternity in heaven. Regardless of who we are, or what we've done, or what we haven't done, or what we've said, it makes no difference. Through faith alone in Jesus Christ our Saviour, we know without a doubt that we will receive an eternal welcome in the home of our heavenly Father. That's a promise that will give us a shining hope on our dying day, as well as throughout our lives.
This morning as a closing thought, we need to be reminded that our Father in heaven speaks to us as his dear children. He asks us to go and work in his vineyard, which is in fact the world around us. What's our response going to be? Are we going to make empty promises to try to placate him and get him out of our hair? Are we going to turn away and refuse the task that's set before us? Or are we going to joyfully engage in loving service to the one who so graciously has given his all for us?
There's much to do in our Father's vineyard. And it's up to us as his children to gladly and obediently serve him in whatever way he asks of us.