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What we do matters

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on September 26, 2011 at 11:35 AM

Matthew 21:23-32


Sometimes it seems like Jesus and our parents have something in common when asking questions.  Did you catch it in the parable?  How Jesus sets the religious up by asking them a simple question- “What do YOU think?”  He asks them, “There’s two sons- when their father asks them to do something, one says no but then goes out and does what he’s told and the other one says yes but does nothing.  Which of the two did the will of his father?”  It’s one of those questions with an obvious answer. 

 

Have you ever gotten stuck in one of those questions by your parents?  Where they ask you a question with such an obvious answer that you’re forced to give them an answer you really don’t want to give, the one that makes you admit what you’ve done wrong.  Just like our parents do sometimes, this evening Jesus is confronting the religious leaders.  But instead of yelling at them, he tells them a story and makes them pass judgment on themselves, admitting that they have too often said good things but not done the work of the Father.  And I really don’t like that about this parable- because it also makes us squirm, it makes us pass judgment on the ways we’ve been living. 

 

But us good Christians know that the Christian life isn’t all about doing the right things- because we all mess up.  It’sabout trusting and believing in Jesus when we mess up, right?  It absolutely is, but too often we fall back on that assurance when we get irritated that someone is pointing out how we’re not living like we’re supposed to.  If you read the parable again, Jesus never says that either of the sons are unloved, he never says that either of them are disowned or thrown out by their father no matter what they do.  Jesus simply points out what we already know is true- one of the sons is following the will of the Father and the other is ignoring it. He’s holding up a mirror to how we live our lives.  He’s calling us all out for saying one thing and doing another.  For looking good withour words in public, yet not doing the will of the Father in our lives. 

 

And although we get angry when people pull this questioning trick on us, Jesus isn’t doing this to tick us off.  He’s calling the religious leaders out and he calls us out so that we can be changed.  So that we can look ourselves square in the face and admit what we did not want to admit.  That we often let other things get in the way of following Jesus and that we too often trust Jesus’ goodness and fool ourselves into believing that we don’t need to do anything in response.  We may be loved no matter what, but we are not always living out that love.

 

Whenever I hear this story, I picture the second son being one of those kids that always listens to his father and wants to do what’s right.  So, when his dad asks him to work, he says yes right away, but as the day wears on, he’s busy doing other things- good things, but not his father’s work- and somehow the day ends before he’s ever had a chance to go into the vineyard.

 

AndI picture the first son lazily sitting on the couch watching TV and when his dad comes in to give him some chores. And I hear him complaining that he didn’t really want to do any work and even if he did, he had homework and a project coming up.  And his dad doesn’t say a word, but he leaves the room disappointed.  And the son turns back to the TV, but the shows stink.  Andhe realizes he doesn’t have that much homework, so he changes his mind and thinks he’ll surprise his dad and do some work in the vineyard after all.     Maybe I have that picture, one with a little more sympathy to the second son, because I know too often who I am! 

 

That’sthe picture I always have in my head, but I’m not sure that it’s quite accurate.  You see, if you read other translations of this parable, it actually says that the second son “repented” after he said no.  And the usual word that the writers in the Bible use for repent means to change the activities of your mind- to change your thinking- as in the first son thinking that it might be a nice idea to help out his father. 

 

But the word used for “repent” in this parable is different.  It’s a word that means to change your priorities and to change what you care about. It’s not about making a logical calculation of what would be a wiser thing to do.  It’s about your heart being changed by your relationship with the one who asks you.  So maybe it’s a little more accurate to think of the first son thinking again not about the work, but about his father.  And while he’s thinking about his father, he feels such a deep respect and love for him and feels so deeply loved by this one that gave him life that he suddenly can’t think of anything more important than running into the vineyard.  He isnot a son who didn’t have anything better to do- he’s one who suddenly can’t imagine that there actually IS anything better to do.  His heart has been so completely overwhelmed by his father that he begins to care about different things and have different priorities. 

 

Jesus says that what matters is that your heart is changed by the one who asks you to work.  You can still start off being a stubborn person who often says the wrong things and isn’t quick to want to do work.  But what truly matters to the Father is that in the midst of your stubbornness, your heart becomes changed by the one who calls you.  That your priorities begin to be your Father’s priorities and that you begin to care about the same things that your Father does. 

 

It was during my second semester of college that I first felt called to be a pastor.  And as this call became real for me, I did something that still doesn’t make complete sense to me.  I didn’t seek out a Lutheran church to attend- in fact, I kept going to the evening mass at the Catholic church that I liked.  I didn’t call my pastor back home to talk it over and I didn’t start researching seminary.  But what I did do was suddenly feel completely compelled to start volunteering at a nursing home. 

 

I don’t have a really good explanation for what I was thinking at the time and what led me to this.  I just remember that when I thought about pastors, I thought about people who had different priorities.  They struck me as people who did good things for other people.  So if I was going to be a pastor, then I needed to start caring about people and doing good things for them, too.  And for me, that meant that I started taking the bus twice a week to the nursing home to help set up bowling pins for activity time. And I sat and listened to Rachel tell me the same story over and over every week.   Feeling called to be a pastor meant I started borrowing a school car and driving other students over every Sunday afternoon to visit with the residents.  And it even compelled me to volunteer at an adult day-care center when I studied abroad in Japan, where I could barely understand a word the older folks said to me.

 

I somehow had a sense that being a pastor- being a professional follower of Jesus- meant having different priorities than the rest of the world.  That it meant caring about different things. That didn’t mean I had to discard all the other things I liked, but it did mean that what was at my core was different.  What took precedence in my life was different.  And it meant for me, that from then on, the things that I was compelled to do would be different.  Because I was called to be a reflection of the One who had called me. 

 

And I did have part of it right back then. Following Jesus does mean changing what we care about and changing the things that we do.  But it didn’t have anything to do with me being a pastor. All of us are called by Jesus and asked to work in the vineyard- the world that needs us.  That is what gives us our need to serve, our need to change our priorities and our need to live differently.  I may be a really visible Christian, but we are all charged with doing the work that Jesus calls us to. 

 

Following Jesus means letting our entire lives be turned upside down by him- making his priorities our priorities and what he cares about what we care about.  It doesn’t mean being born into a Christian family, going to Tuesday night discussion, praying before meals, wearing a cross necklace, or belonging to a church. Doing the will of the Father means being changed by God’s call to us and God’s authority over our lives.  It means doing what Jesus calls us to do not because we want to, or because it’s fun, or even because it seems like the most productive thing to do at the time.  It means following Jesus in lives of service and worship, of prayer and study simply because we have been changed by the one who calls us in love.  

 

Justl ike you may choose to start studying more because you put a high priority ongetting into grad school, following Jesus means choosing things that strengthen your faith and help you be about Jesus’ work, simply because being loved by Jesus makes it that important to you.  It means things like choosing to pray before you go to class so you don’t forget about it later in the day.  Things like serving at a soup kitchen every week instead of having more free time.  Things like giving away your money before you get some of the things you want because there’s nothing more important than sharing with those who need it.  

 

We are children of the Father- loved and treasured no matter what we do.  But we are also called to work in the vineyard- to be about the work of the one who loves us.  To be a reflection of the one who calls us.  And going into the vineyard matters-to our God and to our brothers and sisters. 

 

 

Categories: sermon, Parables