Sermons That Work

We Encounter a Couple of…, Proper 21 (A) – 1996

September 22, 1996

We encounter a couple of real charmers in today’s Gospel! The kind of boys I’d rather not have around my house.

The second son reminds me of the Auto Mechanic who “promises” to have your car ready in four hours and when you go back to pick it up, he hasn’t even looked at it, much less touched it.

The first son is just the opposite. When we bring him the latest task, he says: “There’s no way I am going to do that for you! I don’t have the time and it’s not going to happen!” Then you go elsewhere to get it done and when you come back home – he’s completed the task anyway.

Two real charmers in today’s Gospel!

The second one says, “Sure Dad, I’ll take care of it,” and then doesn’t do it.

The first one says, “No way Dad.” And then later on regrets his decision and does what he was originally asked.

Both sons are disobedient. They just work out their disobedience in different ways.

Two real Charmers!

I know the boys!
I’ve met them before! And so have you!

The sad truth is that sometimes they’re both me.
And sometimes they’re are both you.
Or as the cartoon philosopher Pogo used to say, “We has met the enemy and he is us!”

In the Gospel story, Jesus equates the second son with the scribes and Pharisees. This son says “Yes father, I’ll take care of it.” And then doesn’t do the work. He talks a great story; however there’s little or no action.

Jesus equates the first son with tax collectors, prostitutes, and known sinners. The first son says, “No father, I’m doing it.” Later on he regrets it and goes to work. He’s a definite No, but with regret and repentance he’s later moved to action. Just as the tax collectors, prostitutes, and known sinners had repented at the River Jordan with John the Baptist.

And what of you and me? Sometimes we talk a great story like the second son and yet there’s little or no action.

At other times we are just as disobedient as the first son, yet through repentance we return to the Lord and get on about His work. Another way to consider this parable is to ask the question, “Is what I profess on Sunday carried out on Monday?”

We say Yes to God on Sunday Morning:

  • Then end up blowing our temper before we even get home; or

    We end up talking negatively or unflatteringly about our neighbor having just worshipped with him or her in the sanctuary.

We say Yes to God on Sunday Morning:

  • Then a friend tells a joke ridiculing someone that really isn’t funny, but because they laugh, we laugh; or

    We see someone act in a way which we know to be wrong, but we silently look on, too timid to intervene.

We are not always what we appear to be, nor were the scribes and Pharisees of the gospel.

Our YES to God is often like the response given by the second son.

I remember my own youthful disillusionment, when as a teenager, I worked one Summer for a man I admired greatly. He appeared to be an exemplary Christian a man of honor, a man of Christian virtues, at church every Sunday. Unfortunately, when I worked in his place of business that summer, I learned an important and painful lesson. His employees were put down, often harassed, and any justice dispensed was his as Christian virtues were not practiced.

All too often many of us fail to embody in our lives what we say we believe with our lips.

  • The Yes of Sunday morning doesn’t make it to Monday morning and sometimes it doesn’t even make it our of the Church parking lot.

The second Son says YES to God, but for many reasons, can’t carry through with the YES.

We’ve been there….
We’ve been there when we fail to commend the faith within us,
When we fail to love ourselves,
When we fail to love our neighbors,
When the sins of pride, judgment, gossip, and anger come between us and our neighbor,
We’ve been there—the second son isn’t much different than many of us.

And, like the first son, there have been times when we’ve said “No” to God and to each other and then have regretted and repented. Thankfully, in our repentance, our actions have spoken much louder than our original words.

It might be that this parable is attempting to tell us that God is more interested in what we do, than in what we say.

And the best news of all is that whether or not we identify with the first or the second son’ whether we initially say Yes and end up with a No, or we say No and end up with a Yes.

The good news is that God loves us anyway. God loves us and emptied himself for us as we hear in today’s reading from Philippians.

Yet, because we often tend to be like the second son, we do not always receive and experience this love freely given.

I don’t like to think of myself as a scribe or a Pharisee, much less a tax collector, a prostitute, or a known sinner. I also don’t like thinking of myself as one of the two sons in today’s gospel. But I am, and quite possibly, so are you. I wish I could always say yes and mean yes and then follow through. But I don’t. Thus, I can see myself at various stages of my life slipping into each role. Sometimes I can even see myself as each of these people all in the course of a single day.

My pharisee/scribe/tax collector/prostitute hat comes on:

  • When I know I’m right and you’re wrong
    When it has to be my way and my rules
    When I won’t budge from my position
    When I only look out for myself
    When I seek to succeed at the expense of others
    When hurtful things are said and not retracted
    When I do what I want instead of what God wants

Chances are you have a pharisee/scribe/tax collector/prostitute that you occasionally wear as well. When we put it on, we are like the second son. When we take it off and offer ourselves to Christ through repentance, our No becomes a Yes like the first son and God’s forgiveness and love filter thrugh the darkness like rays of sunlight after a thunder storm.

It is then that we experience God’s grace, love, and forgiveness.

They are there for each of us and are constant and everlasting. God is always reaching out to us, inviting us into relationship with Him, even when we act like the two sons in today’s Gospel.

The ultimate sign of God’s love is the outstretched arms of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the wood of the cross, for you and for me.

Today’s Gospel parable tell us that God is more interested in what we do rather than what we say. And because His Arms are out stretched for us in a posture of love and forgiveness; we can each be about Our Father’s business by doing His will; and sharing His love on Sunday and Monday and each day thereafter with our own arms stretched out in love one to another; And when we fail, may we know that he loves us and forgives us as we start over again…Doing His Will and Sharing His Love.

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Christopher Sikkema


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