September 28, 2014
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Matthew 21: 28-32
“What You Do Is What Matters!”
In Delray Beach, there is a club house where they often have meetings of various groups. I remember the first time I sat in that room. As I got comfortable I started reading some of the plaques and banners that differing groups had put on the walls. In the front of the meeting room in a very prominent spot was a simple slogan or message. It reads like this: “I would rather see one good sermon than hear ten.” I asked a few folks that were there that day where that slogan came from and they simply said: “It probably originated from that old adage ‘walk like you talk,’ in other words talking or preaching is good but walking the talk is ten times better!” I followed up this memory by checking the slogan on Google Search and could only find a similar slogan by a pastor who said in a sermon “I would rather see a sermon than to hear one any day. /Jeffrey Smead/
Let us hold onto that slogan as we look to our scripture passage this morning. In our lesson we hear of two sons being asked to do something by their father, one says he will do the task and the other says he will not. Yet, as time moves on the opposite happens. The one who said: he would – does not, and the son who said: he would not – does. The easily identified conclusion is shaped in the question posed by Jesus to the Chief Priests at the temple. “Which of the two did the will of his father?” Their respond to Jesus’ question is clear and correct; ‘the son who said no, yet did the work is the one who did the will of his father.’
It was and it is an obvious answer. None of you ought to be surprised by it. What may surprise you and definitely set the Chief Priest and those listening on their heels were the rest of the response Jesus gave them that day. Jesus continues on by scolding them and saying that the worst amongst them: the tax collectors and harlots would get to heaven before they would. Both categories, tax collectors and harlots, were considered – in their society – to be sinners due to their way of making a living. Going on he points out that some of these two groups of folks accepted the teachings of John the Baptist, whereas they, as Priests and Leaders of the church, did not! It is clear that their lack of repentance has brought the wrath of Jesus upon them!
I suspect that no one here today wants the wrath of Jesus placed upon on them, I am correct, Yes?
Going forward I am now of the impression that the majority of us want to find favor with the Only Son of God. Thus, if we need to repent we do so and if we are unsure of the message here, we will strive to listen a bit longer to glean what we can from my humble understanding of this passage.
Looking back into what we know of the culture and social setting that Jesus lived in we can draw some clarity as to what Jesus was so upset with, regarding the Temple Priests and Leaders. They like the two sons in his allegory had been asked to do something for their Father, in their case their Heavenly Father. The Priests that Jesus was speaking to and of had taken a vow to serve God in a special way. Although I have not read the oath of ordination of a Jewish Priest, (a Rabbi,) certainly not the oath that was administered back in the time of Jesus, I believe it is fair to make certain assumptions. It was surely an oath to serve God, as they understood God, their Creator and their Heavenly Father, and they were to serve people of God in a certain way. What we know, based on scripture is that the leadership of the church, at this point in history, they did not accept or authenticate Jesus as the Messiah.
Furthermore, based on the writings attributed to Jesus, it would appear that there were various assertions that Jesus made, that would lead us to the conclusion that Jesus felt the leaders (at the very least that certain leaders) of the church were not properly serving the people but rather were serving their personal needs and comforts over theirs. Therefore, Jesus makes the assertion that they needed to repent, for not taking the voice of John the Baptist seriously then; and still had not repented after personally seeing and hearing from Jesus Himself! Thus Jesus is scolding these, the Chief Priests, and the Elders the Leaders of the people, whom Jesus clearly felt needed to repent!
I noticed, as Chris and I were putting together the liturgy for today, that is the prayers and responses that we have and shall read this morning, I noticed they were slanted more toward the Old Testament readings than the gospel I have chosen for us today. This leads me to think that there are at least a few clergy that are choosing to not discuss this passage with their congregations this morning. Perhaps they are concerned they may be misunderstood regarding Christianities relationship with modern day Rabbi’s and the people they serve. Just so we are all clear about this, this scripture passage is not speaking out against Twenty-First Century leaders or clergy within the Jewish faith as we know it today. Nothing could be further from the truth. We walk hand in hand as servants of the people we serve, seeking to clearly express the beliefs of our church’s understanding of God through our traditions and our understanding of Holy Scripture. We, as Christians, also honor and consider the role of Judaism central and sacred in the formation of the Old Testament. And also the role of Jews, such as the Apostles Peter and Paul, who did follow and honor Jesus as fundamentally crucial to our current understanding within and of the New Testament.
Let me site an example: I once was put in charge of the Ecumenical Easter Sunrise service while I was serving as an Associate Pastor in Delray Beach. In love, I invited all the clergy of our association of local clergy that shared in a community luncheon each month to participate in the service. We usually brought together roughly a thousand or two folks at sunrise on Easter morning at the pavilion on A1A in Delray Beach. It is a beautiful ocean side setting. Well I got Roman Catholic Priests, Anglican, Lutheran and Episcopalians to participate; I got a Southern Baptist, a Unity Pastor and a Methodist as well a hospice chaplain. There was one slot left open and I asked one more time who would volunteer to do the benediction at this public Easter Sunrise service. Well a retired Rabbi volunteered and his son an active Rabbi volunteered to accompany him in the task, interpreting the words back into Hebrew. Together, they did a beautiful job and they did it with integrity respect and in fellowship as men of strong faith, following their belief in God as recorded in scripture and practiced in modern society. I want to say, it was my first time working hand in hand with a Rabbi but there have been a number of occasions when we have worked together since that Easter morning; working side by side, hand in hand, together, as clergy serving the people of God with integrity and truth, and as we individually understand it.
As we look back to today’s lesson, holding these thoughts in our minds, let us consider our own personal integrity. When we, when you or I commit to do something do we do it with the same enthusiasm in which we promised to do it? Do we? If yes, then we have shown respect and integrity. We have not only spoken well, offering or accepting to do something, we have put into action our words. We are walking like we are talking! That is what the sign in the meeting room I spoke of was referring to. If you are going to give a sermon, be sure you personally are willing to walk the talk. It is one thing to say you will do something or that you the listener should do something, but it is far more important to actually live into and up to the words we speak and or preach to one another!
When I was younger, before I finished my education, I worked for a small company that repaired teletype machines. For those of you too young to remember, these were the old mechanical communication devices that gave us the ability to transmit data that consisted of written documents, at the rate or 66 to 75 words per minute, over telephone lines and radio frequencies. Well, I was working in a setting were we were rebuilding these pieces of equipment as needed. One of the older fellows, sort of like a boss, had gotten into expressing his opinion surrounding the ‘evils’ of smoking cigarettes. I can still hear his words clearly in my mind, though I have a much more vivid picture of what I was and was not seeing in that moment. I could not see this old fellow’s face and the fifteen or so younger guys that were standing around him were not blocking my view. It was the dense thick cloud of smoke that was surrounding his entire head that was coming from the cigar he was smoking. He was not walking like he was talking. His talk did not alter my view of smoking one bit, nor did I see any change in any of my fellow works around me in this regard.
Moving us back into our present time and society, we have been asked in the past and we shall be asked in the future to do things. Some of us will say yes and some of us will say no. Our verbal response is important, and let me say to you: let us not lessen the value of our words by the story that Jesus is quoted as telling: regarding the two sons and their ensuing conversation with their father. Rather, let us reaffirm that being true to our word is important in any relationship. Even so, let me stress this as it is quite obvious, that it is even more essential that we follow through and do what we are asked to do and have committed to do. Likewise, if we declined from accepting the invitation to do something, then, if we have a change of heart later on it is a true sign of character and will be greatly respected admired and appreciated if we go ahead and complete the task as first asked!
In conclusion: Let us raise-up, let us strive to live up to, what Jesus the Only Son of God expects of us! We are expected to repent; yes we are, if we have sinned. Further we are expected to carry our share of the load when responsibilities and work assignments are handed out; or volunteers are called for. And lastly we must remember that “what you do, is what matters;” it matters far more than simply what you say you will do!
Matthew 21: 28-32
28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he repented and went. 30 And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.