You belong to God in the love of Christ and the Spirit will join your heart and mind to that of Christ for the healing of all things.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 26 A
Texts: Matthew 21:23-32; Philippians 2:1-13
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
We did not have a vineyard to tend. But we had a big yard.
It had a lot of sticks and twigs. Our trees shed them like a dog sheds hair. And Saturdays, before I was old enough to have a paying job of my own, I knew the command was coming: go pick up sticks. That meant hours, often on hands and knees, picking up every single twig.
See, my father had a manual mower, the kind with a reel of blades. It constantly jammed if there were sticks. The job needed doing.
I definitely recognized my father’s authority to order me out of the house on a Saturday morning. I didn’t ever question that or stay inside. And there was no mystery what was expected, what the job was.
Both those things center Jesus’ parable today.
At least one son acknowledged his father’s authority.
The non-working son clearly didn’t recognize his father’s right to command him. He said the right things but didn’t do them.
The chief priests and elders don’t want to recognize John’s authority or Jesus’ authority, but they’re too cowardly to admit it. Jesus exposes that they claim to acknowledge the authority of the God of Israel, but they’re not doing God’s will or recognizing those who do it, even with their vast knowledge of Scripture
Like their ancestors before them whom the prophets challenged, they say yes to God, but act as if their answer is no.
Those who say no but act yes already live in God’s reign, Jesus says.
The tax collectors and prostitutes Jesus mentions were seen as unrighteous because they broke God’s law. But they’re in God’s dominion before the religious leaders because they came to recognize God’s authority to direct their lives.
In the utter love and welcome and grace and forgiveness that Jesus, God-with-us, offered them in his person, they found a home when they had belonged nowhere. They found life when the world and their faith leaders offered death. So they’re living in God’s reign already, followers and obeyers of God’s Son, workers in the vineyard with Christ.
So which way of this divergence are you? The one where you know God has asked you to go into the vineyard, and you say the right God things, but you’d rather do your own thing, be the boss of your own life? Or the one where you are so overwhelmed by God’s love and grace and welcome that is yours in Christ, that you willingly answer Christ’s call to the vineyard to the best of your ability?
The problem isn’t not knowing what the job is, either.
There was no doubt for the sonswhat the vineyard work entailed. Or my yard work for me. Or the work Christ needs done in the vineyard of the world. The need is abundantly clear throughout Scripture. For today, just see Matthew, our Gospel partner this year.
God doesn’t want to lose anyone, we hear. So here’s the job: Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Rejoice in the abundant forgiveness God has given you by offering abundant forgiveness to others. Delight that God’s forgiveness and grace are going to all. Be light in a world where the shadows of evil abound. See Christ’s face in everyone who is hungry and naked, and ensure all can eat and be clothed and sheltered. Care about those in prison, and about the injustice of our prison system while you’re at it. Be good stewards of the gift we’ve been given, including the gift of the creation which we’ve damaged so badly and be a part of that healing. Welcome the strangers among us with open arms, don’t cage them or threaten them or send them back to be killed.
We could go on, but we don’t need to. The work of the vineyard has always been clear, even what you can do specifically. The call to work has always been clear. So – if you recognize God’s authority to ask such things of you in your life – are you going to go out into the vineyard or not?
Here’s good news: Paul says it’s not only a question of your will to work in the vineyard.
He urges this life in Christ in his letters, but today he shows how. Have the same mind in you that is in Christ Jesus. Be joined with Christ so Christ’s will is your will, Christ’s hopes are your hopes, Christ’s urgency is your urgency.
Yes, Paul says Jesus gave up his divine nature to become human. We can’t do that. But the love God poured out on the cross is the true relinquishing for Paul. And that love is the love that claimed you in the first place.
And with the gift of the Holy Spirit living in you, as Paul says so often, that love, that mind of Christ, changes you. Infuses you. So you become Christ’s love. And so it is God who is at work in you, Paul says today, enabling you to both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.
So of course you’re going into the vineyard to work. You share Christ’s mind and heart.
So much of our walk with the Triune God is on the edge of mystery.
We don’t have clear answers to lots of things. Today’s readings are not one of those mysteries. Today God’s love for you is clear and God’s call to you is clear. There’s no mystery to what God wants to happen in the creation and how God sees you involved in that.
Because God is at work in you, and you share God’s heart and mind, you can even see the vineyard for yourself and see how much work is needed for the healing of all. And your heart, bound with Christ, wants that healing. In that clarity, let’s go out together into the vineyard to do what we can do as Christ for the good of all.
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen