Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sermon for Sunday September 25th, 2011- Pentecost 15

Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning, we read from the 21st chapter of St. Matthew. The setting was Holy Week. Jesus was a day or two removed from Palm Sunday, where He triumphantly rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and everyone seemed to love Him. He was also a few days away from Good Friday where He would be arrested, falsely accused, sentenced, tortured, crucified, buried and finally resurrected. In our text, He was in the temple, once again, challenging the authority of the religious establishment, as He often did.
But, in addition to what we heard, I want to read a parable that goes with it, verse 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.' And he answered, 'I will not,' but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, 'I go, sir,' but did not go. 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 prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 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 when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”
The movie, “Star Wars” has a multitude of them: situations where characters are faced with tough choices. There doesn’t seem to be a right answer or a clear path. The main character has to choose between two options neither of which seem to be the right way at the time. They are caught between a rock and a hard place. No matter which way they go, someone is not going to like it or someone is going to get hurt. One particular scene involves Luke Skywalker who has to choose whether to follow the emperor, give in to his anger and the dark side or not follow him and die. All hope seemed to be lost until Darth Vader has a change of heart and intervenes. Sadly, Luke is saved, but at the cost of losing his father.
Our lives are different than what goes on in a movie in general or in Star Wars in particular, but life has its share of tough choices. We often find ourselves facing moral dilemmas and we have to make some pretty tough decisions at times. It started even when we were children: what friends were we going to hang out with or would we listen to our friends when they did things we knew were wrong? These tough decisions continued in High School. Did we get involved with the immorality that we saw around us? Did we do what we saw our friends doing? Could we avoid the pressures of drugs, alcohol and pre-marital relations or did we join in to be popular and to be accepted?
Life continued to involve tough choices as we got married, got a job, settled into our middle ages and even as we approached retirement age. Would we follow the world, sell out our principles and do whatever we could to get ahead? Would we listen to the world and be unfaithful to God? Would we let our material possessions get the better of us? These and in so many other ways, life on this side of eternity involves many tough choices and moral dilemmas. Sometimes, there doesn’t seem to be a right answer. Sometimes we have the best of intentions, but we say the wrong thing. We do the wrong thing. We go down the wrong path, but our text for this morning is of great encouragement; because, as God’s children, the Father always welcomes us back to Himself.
A father once tried to talk to his son about how college was going: The father said, "How are things going?" The son said, "Good." The father said, "And the dormitory?" He said, "Good." The father said, "How are your studies going?" He said, "Good." “How’s the food?” “Good.” The father finally said, "Have you decided on a major yet?" He said, "Yes." "Well, what is it?" asked the father. The son said, "Communication." So it goes as parents and children try to talk to each other. It isn’t always easy and often is fractured. So it was for the two sons in Jesus’ story.
The story is a parable, but certainly rings true to real life in the family. The Father loved his sons dearly. He wanted what was best for them. He tried to teach them right from wrong. He sacrificed whenever He could so that they could have what they needed. But, the Father had high expectations for his sons. He expected them to do what was right. He tried to get them ready for life outside of the family. He wanted them to be contributing members of society. He wanted them to take responsibility for their actions. When they did something right, He complimented them, patted them on the back, and told them how much he loved them. But, when they did the wrong thing, he was also there to let them know, to admonish and correct them, again telling them how much He loved them. Parenting itself is not easy and it, too, involves difficult choices.
But, as children age, we realize that we can only do such much. Our children are all different. We try to treat them the same way, but in the end, they have to do what they feel is right. Each child has to take responsibility for their actions. They have to follow their own path. We can make suggestions, but in the end, they have to decide what they are going to do. Sometimes, our children do the right thing and at our times, they don’t.
In the parable, the father is making a simple request. We don’t know exactly what the request was, but it doesn’t matter. The children had the responsibility of doing what the father wanted. Initially, the first son rebelled. He told the father that he was not going to do what the Father asked; while the second Son told the Father that he would do exactly what he had asked. At first glance, the second son seemed to be the faithful son. But, as we know appearances aren’t always what they seem.
After awhile, the rebellious son thought about it and told himself, “What am I doing? What right do I have to tell my father no? He has done so much for me. He loves me. He isn’t asking me to do that much. Boy I sure messed up. You know what: I am going to do what He wants me to do. It is the right thing to do.” And, so the rebellious son became the obedient and faithful son.
Meanwhile, the outwardly obedient son also thought to himself, “I really don’t feel like doing what my father wants me to do. He won’t really know if I do it or not. My friends want me to go with them. I’m too tired to do what He wants. I am sick of tired of always listening to my father. I’ve got better things to do than what He wants me to do.” And, so the second son became the disobedient and unfaithful son. Again, appearances aren’t what they seem.
In the parable, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were the outwardly obedient sons. By all appearances, they were doing the right thing, but when it came down to do, they were the disobedient son at heart. They refused to see a need for repentance. They didn’t think that they needed any help. They had it all figured out. While, the tax collectors, the sinners, the prostitutes, the outcast, the lowly, those who were in desperate need came to John the Baptist, repented of their sin and then cling to Jesus for refuge, for comfort, and for salvation. They were the first son who was the obedient son.
This story is a beautiful description of the Christian life. At times, we are the outwardly disobedient son who refuses to do what our Father asks. But, as we are confronted by the Law, we repent of our sins, cling to the Gospel of Jesus, and do what our Father asks. And, at other times, we are outwardly obedient Son who mouths the words, say the right things, gives the appearances that we are following our Father, but when push comes to shove, when the heat is on, when we are facing with the decision, we can’t go through with it. Our actions don’t follow our words and we go our own way and do our own thing.
In our lives, we usually are one of the two sons; either we outwardly reject and in the end, we came around or we outwardly accept and in the end, we go our own way. But, there is also a third way, a third son. The Father had one task for this Son and one task only. Leave the comforts of heaven and become man, take on flesh and dwell among sinful humanity. St. Paul, beautifully describes that perfectly obedient Son, in the intervening verses of Philippians 2, “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Throughout, His life, our Lord had many tough choices, but things be to God, He always made the right ones. He always did what His Father wanted. He was the obedient Son who always said yes to the Father and who, as a result, brought forgiveness, life and salvation to all who believe in Him.
As I said before, the Parable of the two sons is an amazing description of the Christian life. We find ourselves playing the part of both sons; but, in the end, we pray we resemble the son who turns from his evil ways, repents of his sins, and does the will of His Father. Because we know we have a welcoming and forgiving Father, we pray we are the obedient and faithful son.
As we have said, life on this side of eternity involves tough decisions. Maybe, you are faced with one at this very moment. I pray God gives you the insight and wisdom to make the right choice. Whatever difficult decisions you may be faced with, may God give you the courage to do what is right and help you realize that if you mess up, He is there to forgive you!
Our epistle reading from Philippians also presents some challenges for us. Here are a few of those challenges that I pray you think about: Will I have the mind of Christ or the mind of man? Will I work for the unity of the church or will I bring disunity and disintegration? Will I operate out of conceit or will I be humble? Will I grumble and complain or will I have a thankful heart? Will I make excuses for my actions or will I take personal responsibility and be accountable? Will I be fearful and afraid or will I trust in God to help me? Will I sell out or stand tall? Will I let go of God when times are tough or hold firmly to His Word? Live involves tough choices, but with God all things are possible. In Jesus name, Amen.