Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 21

Track 1: Is the Lord among Us

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

Is God with me? Is he still on my side? Do we ever ask that? And if so, what would prompt us to ask it?

The children of Israel asked the same question. They had seen the miracles and the signs and wonders which God has performed on their behalf. Any yet they still doubted. It seems that when the least bit of uncertainty arises they immediately forget all that God has done in the past. It that us as well?

From today’s Old Testament reading:

The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”   (Exodus 17:2-3)

Moses did not have an easy job. Apostles, prophets, pastors, and teachers have followed suit. The ultimate questions that people ask can only be answered by God. God will surely answer them, yet he requires a level of faith on the part of the people who ask the questions.

Again we see that God is a God of miracles:

So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.   (Exodus 17:4-6)

God often puts us in places and situations where we, out of necessity, must call on him for help. Jesus put himself in that place for us. The Apostle Paul writes:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:1-13)

This is the example Jesus has set for us:

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.

Can we learn to humble ourselves and become obedient? We do not face the cruel cross that Jesus faced because he has done that for us. But we do have a cross to bear. Our cross is to follow through on believing the good news of the Gospel. Jesus told this parable:

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of 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 after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.   (Matthew 21:28-32)

Are we the son who, though lacking in faith at first, learned to believe and follow through on the word of God? Or, are we the nominal Christian, who talks the talk but does not walk the walk? All that God requires of us is to believe in him, under all circumstances. That is our cross to bear. The Apostle Paul writes:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 4:4-7)

 

 

Track 2: The Fairness of God

Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32
Psalm 25:1-8
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

The question of fairness is also a question of authority. Are we willing to give up our right to be right? The chief were not. Reading from today’s gospel:

When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”  (Matthew 21:23)

God has the authority to judge. But does he judge fairly? Jesus told this parable:

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of 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 after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.   (Matthew 21:28-32)

Those who are unwilling to keep God’s commandments from the heart are the ones who have the most questions about fairness. They go through the motions. They may even convince themselves that they are doing so, but what is their response when they are confronted by the authority of God?  God spoke through the Prophet Ezekiel:

Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?   (Ezekiel 1825-29)

God’s judgement of fairness is based on reality, the reality of the human heart. But he tempers that judgement with mercy and compassion. he psalmist wrote:

Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love,
for they are from everlasting.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.

Gracious and upright is the Lord;
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

He guides the humble in doing right
and teaches his way to the lowly.   (Psalm 25:5-8)

God has demonstrated his greatest compassion through the passion of his Son. All he requires is some humility from us. Will we give up our right to be right? Will we still try to justify ourselves before God? The priests and pharisees saw the miracle of Jesus, but they failed to believe in him. They held on to their own false teachings and their own false authority.

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Filed under Eucharist, Gospel, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon development, Year A

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