“Doing God’s Will”
October 1st, 2017
Matthew 21: 28-32
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Let us open our hearts, as well as our ears and minds, as we listen to the reading from the gospel according to Matthew, chapter 21, verses 28 thru 32.”
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 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.
“Let us allow the Living Spirit of God to alter our understanding of this message as we seek the will of God in our lives today.”
Three years ago, September 28, 2014, I preached to you on this same scripture lesson. I called that sermon “What You Do Is What Matters!” Making promises is not enough! We are all judged, in heaven and on earth, by what we do! You know the old saying: “Talk is cheap!” Pastor’s like me must live by the slogan: “I would rather see one good sermon than hear ten.” Some of my friends say it this way: “Walk like you talk!” Doesn’t matter how you say it, the point is, telling someone what they want to hear… but never following through is simply not good enough. This is what our scripture lesson is all about. Two sons were asked to work in the vineyard. One said no, and the other said yes! Later they both had a change of heart, and each did the opposite. Clearly, the one whom went and did the work that day, he was the one who did the will of his father. Obviously, Jesus told this story as a parable, meaning the deeper interpretation and implication is in the parallel story.
The hidden story line, which we need to grapple with today, is simply the whole concept of doing the “will of God”, or as the parable says: doing what our Father, our Creator asks of us – in our lives. Most of us are quite clear as to how to do our own will, disregarding the will of others and oftentimes not doing God’s will. So, there are two parts to our lesson today. One is to discover the will of God; the will of the ‘parental figure’ in our parable. The other is to actually-do the Creator’s bidding, the will of God. Of course, this leaves us a bit of a puzzle, as God does not often come and sit amongst us, nor leave us written instructions. Or, perhaps God does? So, this is the ‘paradox’ about which we must ponder, as we seek to discover the will of God, in our lives, and consequently… for our lives.
One of the writers from Abington Press, where we get the material I work from to piece together our weekly liturgy, the prayers and responsive words we share each Sunday. One of their writers puts this thought forward for our reflection. “God works in us, around us, among us, and through us. When we believe the evidence of God’s presence in our lives, and when we surrender to the will of God for our lives, we become agents of God’s redeeming love.” /Abington Press/ It is a beautiful writing and sums it up quite nicely for us. Yet, it still leaves us with our predicament: actually-doing God’s will and determining what is God’s will. Even saying this, it is still a beautiful writing and contains some clues to get us started. The author is telling us that it is our belief which causes us to be aware of God interceding in our lives. The state of faith is in-itself an ‘attitude’ which we must take, in-order to accomplish this. If you are a skeptic you will not go along with what I am saying. If you are a realist you are questioning the feasibility of this proposition. But if you are a person of faith, you will, with an open heart, seek to find God at every turn in your life. That is the desired ‘attitude’ one needs in-order to get started in this conversation.
In-order to speak clearly, we need to agree on a couple points. The first is, I am assuming you are interested in doing what God would like to see you do today and subsequently in your life. If you have not really considered this at any real depth, I would ask that you keep an open mind about this. Secondly, I must assume you are familiar with the overall story line of God, as is written in the Bible. No, you do not need to take every line, verse, and passage literally. However, you do still need to use this book as the very best written document in existence, which gives us an understanding of who God is, and how others have witnessed to God; and ultimately the best observation of how others have experienced God in their journeys. Furthermore, it is the only place you will get comprehensive ancient writings which tell us about Jesus and his journey here on earth, and how the authors of these writings came to believe Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah. (The Savior the Israelites longed for and the prophets spoke about). It is believed by most Christian scholars and theologians that Jesus was God incarnate, or God in person. With your ‘willingness’ to know God’s will and your ‘openness’ to consider the Bible as a reference, I think we can make some inroads on this discussion.
What I have witnessed to and my personal experiences tell me, is that we must often go against the flow of ‘common opinion’ when deciding to do God’s will. Looking to the conventional way of doing things, or the way one group of people do something verses how others may approach this, these models often, are not at all helpful in determining the will of God in our lives. Many times, unfortunately, when we seek out clarification, by asking others for their opinions, on what God’s will for us may be, we still are no closer to getting any clarity. Nor will polling six or seven of our family or friends help with this. Although that method of fact checking sometimes may help if you are looking for a good contractor to repair or replace your shingles after a storm. But when it comes to discerning God’s will we need a good working knowledge of the Bible, or a willingness to council with someone who is; and we need to be sure that person is someone with a good Spiritual life. Meaning, they are close to God and show it in how they talk and how they walk the walk of a faith filled person. Ultimately, it is good to have someone to chat with about major changes in your life, especially, when you think God is talking with you urging you to do things differently.
With these thoughts as a basis, now all you need is the tools of discovering God in your life. Remember, as you move forward, God loves you. Virtually, everyone believes that God is the source of life and love. So, if the voice you are following is speaking hurtful things in your ears or planting hatred in your heart, that is not God’s will! Terrorist, declare they are doing the will of their understanding of a god every day! Don’t listen to that voice! The voice of God challenges us with compassion and kindness. God encourages us to be all that we can be, without hurting others or ignoring the needs of others. God always tugs at our inner self to take a risk now and then. God nudges us to be inconvenienced now and then. It is ok, take that moment to fully experience the presence of God, no matter what form God uses to catch your attention. It is worth listening to God… with all of your essence!
How do we nurture and encourage our spiritual senses thus expanding this God consciousness? One of the easiest is to take time to pray and meditate in God’s presence. Yes, it really is that easy. But, don’t forget to listen for God’s urging, God’s response. God has a way of putting things out there for us to see and sometimes hear through the voices of others around us. Learn to trust that inner voice that tugs at your heart. That is God knocking at the door of your spiritual life, your spiritual heart. Listen for those moments. They are precious and extra ordinary, and come to us when we are least expecting it. Sometimes, when I am writing I can’t type fast enough. It is as if the words and thoughts are coming from some mystical place in my being. Is it God’s urgings? Sometimes it sure seems like it. It is like a gift of clarity. Other times I think I ate too much chocolate or stayed up too late. That’s right – be careful you don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh a little and relax. God’s still in charge!
God’s will is something mystical and needs to be pursued on a day to day basis. Work at it. Observe a ritual of seeking to know God better. You can’t put it in the bank nor know the results instantly all the time. But if you pursue God’s will with a willing heart and a sense of selflessness, you will be totally amazed when you look back upon your life now and then. Others will start to notice a shift as your God consciousness continues to grow. It is a fantastic adventure… I pray you will pursue God’s will with your whole heart, soul and mind.