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Pentecost 17A Sept 27, 2020

Pentecost 17A   Matthew 21:22-32   Sunday, September 27, 2020   I don’t know about you, but I haven’t a clue as to what planet Jesus was on. His parable of the   two sons asked by their father to work in the vineyard--one refusing to go, but then changing his   mind and working, while the other son accepts the father’s request, only to fail to show up--would never happen in my family growing up. Everyone went to work! Period! I can’t even imagine either situation. While we certainly didn’t like to work, I can’t imagine any of my   siblings saying to my dad, “Ah, I’m not going to do that.” And what’s even more inconceivable   is to say that you would go to work in the fields and then blow it off. I get goosebumps just   thinking about what kind of response that would elicit from my dad. No. While Jesus makes a   point with his parable, he is bending reality beyond recognition! This just doesn’t happen! Which is, actually, the reason he uses the parable in the first plaee, and it is the outcome of his story: reality is transformed.   To begin with, Jesus’ encounter with the religious leaders in the Jerusalem temple shatters the foundation of their world. Jesus has just driven out the money changers from the temple the day before. The money changers were essential to doing the business of the Temple. Thus, Jesus threatens the revenue that the Temple generates for both the religious ruling class and the occupying Roman forces. He jeopardizes their livelihood. So you can see that the religious leaders’ question is apt and urgent, “Who gave you authority to do this?” It also is a question driven as much by anger as by fear. The world that these leaders enjoyed was on the verge of collapse if Jesus continues his activities. Their world, their reality is being transformed, just not in the way that they might have hoped.   Which, perhaps, should give us pause. If the work of God in Christ transforms our realities, is that something that we, necessarily, want? Particularly, if we enjoy the privilege of position-- similar to the religious leaders in Jesus’ day--might not the work of God challenge our comfort and contentment? The classic phrase for this is that God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. If we are the afflicted, this is good news. If we aren’t? Well, our world may be--or may about to be--transformed.   Bishop Scott Hayashi of Utah during a recent sermon reflected that, perhaps, the   phrase--WWJD--What Would Jesus Do is not quite the question we should ask. Rather, Hayashi noted that the better question is--WDJD--What Did Jesus Do? Asking this question forces us to consider the real world actions of Jesus, and, as today’s encounter underscores, the real world impact of his ministry. People were healed, people were fed, people were loved, AND at the same time people were threatened, people were disturbed, and people were challenged. Jesus’ ministry did not exist in a vacuum. It lived, breathed, and had consequences.   Thus, there are a range of expressions of faith, for there are innumerable ways that faith is embodied in those who believe. And hopefully we continually probe what it is that God calls us to in life and what the relationship between life and faith is. Regardless of where we find ourselves, the recognition of Jesus’ actions and their impact on the life of those around him underscore the incarnational reality of the Christian tradition. Our faith is not a cerebral exercise that remains esoteric. Our faith, ultimately, invites us to involve ourselves more and more fully in the world, in the ways that Jesus involved himself in this world, for the life of the world.   One concrete reality that we will be engaged in soon is the vote. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry recently preached a sermon to the house of bishops. In it he noted that being Christian doesn’t mean that you will vote one way. We remain neutral to partisanship. However, he then went on to clarify: ​What does voting have to do with the Gospel? What does voting have to do with being a Christian? An election for public office is not a popularity contest between two or more people. It’s a contest of ideas about how to shape the future of a community, nation and maybe even a world. It’s a contest, a debate, a discernment of moral values and their relationship to public policy. Voting is an act of moral agency. It is an act of moral discernment and decision. It is how a community or a nation decides how the moral values that it holds and shares shape public policy and the lives of people. The children of God. It is salutary to remember that partisan neutrality does not mean moral neutrality. Again, faith impacts life.   While Jesus’ actions transform the reality of the religious leaders around him, his actions also transform the reality of those implicated in the parable of the two sons. It is not that the religious leaders--symbolized by the son who says he’ll work but doesn’t--are kicked out of the kingdom of heaven. Rather, there is a reversal. Jesus notes, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” Not without you. Just ahead of you. The tax collectors and prostitutes--those symbolized by the son who refused to work but then goes and works anyway--are the first. Which is a recurring theme of God: the first being last and last being first. This may also give us pause in the judgments that we confer on those around us. Conventional wisdom is not always divine judiciousness. The preconceived notions of what is of value and what is not, who is prized and who is not, do not conform to image that God possesses of the world--and the people--that God loves. Remembering this may shift our way of seeing others and being with them.   Perhaps, Jesus was on another planet. His ministry and vision certainly upset our own. Yet, he did it in a way that keeps mercy and grace at the heart of the whole endeavor. He expresses that mercy and grace for each of us, and then he invites us to join him in the world in sharing the same. I end with a prayer of Thomas Merton that underscores the uncertainty of knowing because of our human limits, while also affirming the ongoing presence of God with us and for us.   I have no idea where I am going.   I do not see the road ahead of me.   I cannot know for certain where it will end.   nor do I really know myself,   and the fact that I think I am following your will   does not mean that I am actually doing so.   But I believe that the desire to please you   does in fact please you.   And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.   I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though   I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.   I will not fear, for you are ever with me,   and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.