O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 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?” 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. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
1 Hear my teaching, O my people; *
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth in a parable; *
I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.
3 That which we have heard and known,
and what our forefathers have told us, *
we will not hide from their children.
4 We will recount to generations to come
the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord, *
and the wonderful works he has done.
12 He worked marvels in the sight of their forefathers, *
in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.
13 He split open the sea and let them pass through; *
he made the waters stand up like walls.
14 He led them with a cloud by day, *
and all the night through with a glow of fire.
15 He split the hard rocks in the wilderness *
and gave them drink as from the great deep.
16 He brought streams out of the cliff, *
and the waters gushed out like rivers.
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 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.
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
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?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
“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.
Didn’t you hear me? That’s what most have heard one time or another when we were growing up, right?
We grew up in a world in which it was assumed that children would do what their parents and teachers told them, without grumbling, hesitation or backtalk. Since they could not imagine a child NOT doing as he or she was told, the only excuse they could think of for such failure was not hearing the command, thus, “Didn’t you hear me?”
I have a question: when you heard the question “Didn’t you hear me?”
Did you have the brass to respond with something really clever like; “Oh, you meant me?” or “Oh, you meant take out THAT trash can.”
No one was ever fooled by that, of course.
One of the distressing things about growing up is that we do indeed become our parents. This has led me to a peculiar and I think unique theory of genetics: I believe that we inherit traits from our parents through our children. I know I didn’t become my father until I had two children I developed a more modern, ironic, sarcastic approach, as in “exactly what part of “unload the dishwasher” did you not understand?” but the point is the same: to hear is to obey.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus has a conversation with the usual suspects, the “Chief Priests and Elders.” They have questions about Jesus’ authority to teach. They are trying to set a trap for him, hoping he will claim divine authority in such a way that they came accuse him of the crime of blasphemy.
Jesus does two things. First, he shows up their lack of honesty and integrity by asking them about John the Baptist. He shows that they are so afraid of public opinion that they will not dare speak an unpopular word. He then lays out for them a parable about obedience:
He tells a simple tale of two brothers. They were both told by their father to go to the vineyard to work. One says Yes Father, but does not go. The other says no, but later changes his mind and goes. Jesus poses the question: Which of the two did the will of the father?
In this story, Jesus makes it clear that the tax collectors and prostitutes and other sinners may have turned their backs on God at first, but they later repented and turned their lives around.
Meanwhile, the Chief Priests and Elders have spent their lives professing obedience to God’s will, saying yes to God; but have never done any of the works of love and mercy to which God calls them.
This, Jesus says, makes it clear that the sinners will get into the Kingdom first. They do so because a way of repentance has been offered to them and they lived into it. More about that when we hear about what Christ has done for the rest of the sinners of the world, us.
But for now consider this: many of us in the church are like the Chief Priests and Elders; we are guilty of saying yes and living no.
We say yes to the belief that God is the creator of all things, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth,” and yet how do we treat that which God has made
We say yes to the truth that we are all called to love our neighbors as our selves
We say yes, the Gospel calls us to serve the poor and needy of the world, we say yes to the truth that “if we do it for the least of these,” we have done it for Jesus. We say yes, Christ calls us to die to self and take up the cross. And almost at the same time we also tend to say:
OH, did you mean you meant that scruffy Bum, that homeless family, the refugee in our midst. The people desperately crying out to us about the injustices done to them. And we turn away because it is inconvenient to our status in society, our comfort, or our deeply entrenched secular beliefs in how the world is supposed to be ordered.
Christ calls us love and we may say yes, but find a way to live no.
Soren Kierkegaard created a parable about this. It went something like this:
Suppose a King issued an order to his Kingdom to be obeyed by all. But instead of obeying it the people created Schools to teach people to teach this order to the people. And these new Teachers then went out and held weekly study groups so people could study the King’s order and then they also had weekly Celebrations to sing praises to the King for giving the order. And, in the Universities, those who wrote the most interesting interpretations of the King’s order won
prizes and important titles. What if they did all this, but throughout the whole Kingdom, no one actually bothered to obey the order? “How,” Kirkegaard asks, “Do you think the King would react?”
I think the King would thunder, “Didn’t you hear me?”
This story is about us, the church, and our tendency to say yes while living no.
And, you know what? If we were left only with words, directives, orders, from Jesus, I think we would be stuck in this cycle of self-deception and failure forever.
Fortunately for us, the Creator not only invited us to go into the vineyard to work, the Creator also sent us a Savior to show us the way.
This is the point of our Second Lesson, the reading from Philippians.
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 confess,
that Jesus Christ is LORD.
Jesus came to the Vineyard to work, fulfilling the will of the Creator. He obeyed, and this obedience led to his death, his death upon a cross.
But Christ’s obedience did not end there; the cross was not the end but the beginning of life, both for Jesus and for us. God’s yes at Easter led Jesus and us out the other side of the tomb.
We are the new and risen Body of Christ in the world, called to obedience, called to shout out and live out a resounding yes to God’s call and promise.
The Gospel is this, we are incomplete until our yes to God leads us to solidarity with those who suffer. That is to say with the poor and powerless. We are incomplete in our yes to God until our yes leads us to suffer with those who suffer. We are incomplete until our yes to God leads us to suffer with Christ for the salvation of the world.
Then, we can rest assured that when our days here on earth are over, God will look at us and say “Well done, good and faithful servant. I see that you heard me.”