Time After Pentecost – Lectionary 26 (A) Matthew 21:23-32 September 28, 2008
Just eleven verses earlier in this Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, is the story of Jesus “Cleansing the Temple.” You may remember or be quite familiar with this story. It has Jesus doing basically three things:
First, Jesus entered the temple and “drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple;” he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves, saying, “My house is to be a house of prayer…”
Then, (and we usually miss this part because we’re so shocked about the tables being turned over) the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, “and he cured them.”
Finally, after leaving the temple for a night and returning, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him “as he was teaching…”
So you have Jesus, coming into the Temple, “cleansing,” which includes straightening out (or rearranging furniture, if you will), curing or healing people, and now… teaching.
Well, I don’t know about you, but as the Pastor of a Church (sort of like a temple), this story kind of catches my attention. Although I’ve heard it before, this week I was kind of interested in these Chief priests and elders of the people who confronted Jesus, saying “by whose authority are you doing these things.” I mean, when I think about it, it seems natural that if someone barged in here to Pella Lutheran Church doing some of these things—tipping over the proverbial tables and such.
The pastors (or the scribes, if you will) and some of you long time members and representatives from the council (the elders of the people), we would have to confront the intruder, wouldn’t we?
We would not relish it, but it would certainly be our place to go and ask “What gives you the right, Sir, to come in here and do these things?”
And this is precisely what happens. The scribes and the Elders of the people come to Jesus and ask him, “By what authority do you come in here doing these things?”
It is with this in mind, with some begrudged empathy for the temple authorities, that I begin to suspect that Jesus’ remarks may be pertinent not only to them (back then) but to us (right here and right now).
In response to their inquiry, Jesus tells them a parable about 2 sons who are asked by their father to go to work in the vineyard. The first son said he would not, but then he turned around and did go to work. The Second son, at first said he would, but then he did not.
Jesus then compares the Scribes and the Elders to this second son—the one who started out full of promise, but has become complacent and irrelevant.
This is the theme: Starting out full of promise, but becoming complacent and then, irrelevant. A scary thought, isn’t it? What if the church were like this? Starting with such promise, but getting complacent and then… irrelevant for our community and our world?
And so, my Brothers and sisters in Christ, what better time for us, as our Church has turned 100 years old this year, to consider… which son are we? To ask ourselves: At 100, are we young and full of promise? Or have we become complacent and therefore irrelevant to our town and our community?
As Jesus points out that the sinners, such as tax collectors and prostitutes, are entering ahead of the old guard, he is also pointing out simple truths. John the Baptist’s ministry was causing new people to take up their work in the vineyard. And can you imagine the enthusiasm of a new convert? New believers listen with fresher ears and exercise their faith with more “fire.”
What about us? Is there fire in our faith? Where is the passion for living out Christ’s calling? “Where,” you may be asking yourself, “is the fire that I felt in the past?” Where is our thirst for righteousness?
Sometimes we can begin to feel tired and unenthused (yes, even at Church). Usually we try to point a finger of blame out there somewhere. It was the sermon, the music, the old liturgy. But I’m here to tell you that there may be a much deeper issue at stake. If you’re tempted to point at something external, you are likely avoiding something internal; something at the heart of the matter. It is spiritual.
Sometimes, as Christians it is tempting to think of ourselves as having “made it.” Christians often say things like “saved,” or “forgiven.” And herein lies the problem.
We come to Church (to this temple) not because we’ve made it, not because we are saved, not because we are righteous. We come because Jesus Christ is righteous. And we want him, no we need him to come into our hearts and turn over the tables, and heal, and teach us.
He comes into this story and points us to John the Baptist and his waters of repentance.
He tells these (even the chief priests and the elders) to return to the Lord through repentance. Return to the Lord! No matter how long you’ve been a Christian, you still need to return. Again, and again and again.
And this is the powerful promise that God gives… God has the power to exchange an old, worn out faith…with one that is bran new! Resurrection!
The past is gone—so we must stop living on credit.
God is not a God of the past who lives on his reputation.
God is alive – Giving you life today! Pumping blood through your veins…today!
Stand up… let’s sing an old hymn together,
But the spirit is fresh—for it is straight from the living presence of our God who wants us to experience life to the fullest.
God is alive – Giving you life today!
Pastor Joshua Magyar
418 W. Main St.
Sidney, MT 59270