Sermon Pentecost 15 – September 25, 2011

September 26, 2011 at 6:30 am Leave a comment

The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III, STS
Pentecost 15 (Lectionary 26), September 25, 2011
Messiah Lutheran Church, South Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sometimes it’s fun to watch someone dig a hole and try and get himself out.
Today you get the opportunity.
Because I’m going to make a provocative statement,
one that doesn’t seem to make any sense,
and then I’m going to have to explain it.
And you can judge just how well or how poorly I did.
Here it is.
“When you are asked to do something you know you should do
but you don’t want to do, it can be better sometimes to say no.”

Now this makes no sense for either a parent or a pastor to say.
And I’m a parent and a pastor.
Much of my life is spent asking people to do what they should do and don’t want to do.
But today I’m saying, sometimes it’s better to say no.
I’ve got good company, though.
Jesus himself told a parable in which the person who said ‘no’ was praised,
and the person who said ‘yes’ was not praised.

Jesus told this parable to the Chief priests and elders of the people,
after they had refused to answer a question he’d asked them about John the Baptist.
I really wish I had more time to go into this,
because it’s actually quite interesting,
but it’s enough to remind you that John the Baptist came before Jesus
and said, “Repent!”
which basically meant, “Turn around,” “Change your mind,”
“Start doing things God’s way and not your way.”
And the people who followed him were generally people
who hadn’t been doing things God’s way.
But the Chief priests and elders of the people, who said ‘yes’ all the time to God,
didn’t recognize John the Baptist’s authority
and didn’t recognize Jesus’ authority either.

So Jesus told the parable about the two sons –
the one who said ‘no’ to his father and refused to go work,
but later changed his mind and went,
and the one who said ‘yes,’ but didn’t go at all.
Obviously everyone can agree that the one who said ‘no’ but went
actually was the one who did what his father wanted.

But then Jesus said to the Chief priests and elders of the people
that people that had been saying ‘no’ to God
but listened to John the Baptist’s message
were the ones that would be in God’s kingdom,
and not the ones like them who were saying ‘yes’
and didn’t listen to John the Baptist.
This seems very strange.
But we’re going to try to work this out.

You see, no one wants to say ‘no’ to someone else,
whether it’s a parent, or a teacher, or a friend, or someone in government, or God.
Why not?
When you say, ‘no,’ you get in trouble –
even if you’re being honest.
But when you say, ‘yes,’ you don’t get in trouble –
and maybe, just maybe, you won’t actually have to do what you don’t want to do.
So often when people are confronted with something they really don’t want to do,
they say, “I’ll do it,” but then find some reason
why they can’t or shouldn’t or don’t have to.
The reason I know this is that I myself have done this a million times.
This is classic strategy.

One of my favorite stories to repeat
is the one about Anthony Bloom’s religious classic “Beginning to Pray,”
where he tells about preaching to a congregation
and afterwards a young girl approached him and said,
“You must be terribly wicked.”
“I am terribly wicked,” replied the priest,
“but how did you know this?”
“Because,” the young girl answered,
“You have described our sins in such detail
that you must have committed all of them yourself!”

The son who said ‘Yes,’ never really had any intention of going out into the field.
He just convinced himself that he did.
He was lying not only to his father but to himself as well..
And after he said, ‘yes,’ something came up –
some reason why he didn’t have to obey,
or shouldn’t have to go that day,
or someone else should have had to go in his place.
Whereas the son who said ‘No,’ he told the truth to his father.
He didn’t want to obey.
But he also told the truth to himself.
And when you tell the truth to yourself,
it can sometimes give God an opportunity to change your mind.

Perhaps the son who told the truth,
who said I will not go, it is not my will to go, I won’t go,
heard a voice saying to him,
Is it really for you to decide whether to work in the vineyard or not?
Do you not owe your father obedience and loyalty?
Are you not bound together with your family, for their well-being and their prosperity?
The son who deceived himself by saying ‘yes’ right away
heard none of these voices,
and thus deprived himself of the opportunity to change his mind.
But the one who said ‘no’ first, who was honest about his reluctance,
had the opportunity to be won over by God.
That was the experience of the prostitutes and tax collectors
that heard the message of John the Baptist.
They knew that they had said ‘no’ to God before,
but now they had been given another sign of God’s mercy and grace
and that he was still calling them to the obedience of faith.
And God changed their minds.
But the chief priests and elders,
secure in their ‘yes’s,’ – their minds could not be changed by God,
because they were keeping God at arm’s length,
where they could control him.

So it is when we are called to a task, or to obedience,
or to worship, or to give of our time, our talents, and our possessions to God.
Instead of saying ‘yes’ right away, and wondering later why we didn’t follow through,
maybe we ought to say ‘no,’ first,
not in order to avoid obedience forever,
but to explore why it is we are resisting God’s call.
‘No, this is my money, I worked hard for it,
and I won’t give it away, I’ll spend it on myself.’
‘No, this is my only day to sleep in, I won’t get up and come to church.’
‘No, I won’t forgive them, they’ve hurt me too badly
and they don’t deserve my forgiveness.’
‘No, I won’t share my gifts – they’re not good enough –
or they don’t deserve them.
‘I liked the old pastor better; I won’t like the new one as much –
I’ll take my ball and go somewhere else.’
‘No, I’m not worthy of God’s love and forgiveness;
I’m too ashamed to show myself before him.’
Perhaps we hear God’s voice replying to us,
‘Is it your money, or did I give you everything you have as a gift,
for your benefit and for the upbuilding of my kingdom?’
‘My Son gave his life for the sake of the world,
and you can’t give your Sunday mornings to hear him and receive him?’
‘I forgave all your sins, and you can’t forgive this petty insult?’
‘I created you good, and you are good,
and I desire a relationship with you.’

Paradoxically, it is at the moment where we honestly refuse God,
at the moment that we are no longer mouthing the words, “Yes, Lord,”
at the moment that we seem farthest from God,
that God may be closer to us than ever,
because he can always work with someone who is being honest with him.

Not to keep us static in our frustration and rebellion,
but to transform us into the image of Christ Jesus,
whose clear and honest and consistent yes to us and to his Father
won us back for his Father,
so that we too could share in adoption as sons and daughters.
To him, who never said ‘no’ to God,
but who gave himself so that we who have and do say ‘no’
may have our minds changed, may have our lives transformed,
to work with glad and willing hearts in his vineyard,
to him every knee shall bow,
to him be glory for ever and ever. Amen

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