Matthew 21:23-32 • October 1, 2017
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
An owner of a small manufacturing company was asked by one of her employees to write a letter of recommendation. The owner wanted to be honest but also wanted the employee to find a new job because of his poor work ethic. She was a little reluctant to write the letter at first but eventually agreed. In the letter that she finally wrote, this is how it concluded, “if you get John to work for you, you will be extremely fortunate. Yours truly…”
Today’s gospel reading is the second week in a series of three weeks where we find ourselves in the vineyard. I don’t know about you, but my only real experience with a vineyard was during a short vacation in Napa Valley California. And my time in the vineyards of Napa Valley had little to do with work or hard labor.
One of the reasons I hear from people who don’t read the Bible or study scripture as part of their faith journey is that they get stuck trying to relate to the story. Today might be one example of that if we are trying to relate to the story by relating it to our literal experiences of working in vineyards. I’m hoping we can move beyond that a little today.
In her book Stitches, Anne LaMott wrote, “If there is a God, and most days I do think there is, He or She does not need us to bring hope and new life back into our lives, but keeps letting us help.” (Stitches, p. 60-61)
Here’s the thing about God’s work. God really doesn’t need us in order for God to be able to do the things God wants to do. I believe God can get it done without our helper our getting in the way as is more often the case. But for some strange reason, reasons that we’re probably not going to figure out in this life, God keeps insisting that we do in fact get to help.
A man applied for a job as a handyman. The prospective employer asked. “Can you do carpentry?” The man answered “no.”
“How about bricklaying?” Again, the man answered, “No.”
The employer asked, “Well, what about electrical work?”
“No. I don’t know anything about that either.”
Finally, the frustrated employer said, “Well, tell me then, what is handy about you?”
The man replied with a beaming smile on his face and excitement in his voice, “I live just around the corner.” [Story from King Duncan, Time for Action]
Sometimes the greatest thing that we can do to help God in God’s work to bless and serve the world is to live just around the corner. To be available when God calls.
So, I want to ask you one simple question today.
And as I ask you this question, I invite you to be open enough to allow this question to rest on your heart in ways that you may never have let something do before in your faith life. I think it’s the same question that Jesus is asking us today. Ready? OK – here it is…here’s the question.
Are you available?
I believe that is the question Jesus is asking the chief priests and the elders of the people in today’s gospel reading. I believe that is the question Jesus is asking the money changers in the Temple as he overturns their tables just a day earlier. A day earlier or about a dozen verses of scripture earlier in Bible time. I believe that is the question Jesus is trying to illustrate in his parable about the father and 2 sons. And, most importantly, I believe that is the question Jesus is asking you and me today.
Are you available? Well, are you? Are you available?
Douglas Hare, in his commentary on today’s gospel reading, reminds us of our tendency to behave as the chief priest and elders did. “As religious leaders,” Hare writes, “they claim to be faithfully obedient to God, but they are blind to the fact that authentic obedience includes responding in faith to the new things God is doing.” (Interpretation series, Matthew, p. 247) The point Hare is trying to make is not only important to religious leaders – in Jesus day or in 2017. His point is for every human being who claims to be a follower of Jesus.
And that point, for followers of Jesus, is that responding with authentic obedience in faith to the new things God is doing is not something reserved for super holy pastors or priests or bishops or other professional church people. Responding with authentic obedience in faith to the new things God is doing is something that all children of God are invited to participate in each and every day.
Are you available?
Are you available to the new things God is doing?
Are you available to the new people and places and situations God is sending you into each day?
Are you available to new opportunities to share the love of the savior of the world with others in unlimited ways?
Or are you stuck in the past.
Please hear me when I say this today…no matter what you have done or what you think you have failed to do, God is doing new things in and through you. The future is wide open. Whatever hurt you may have experienced or thing you have done that you think has caused God to forget about you is…in the past.
no matter what you have done or what you think you have failed to do, God is doing new things in and through you. The future is wide open. Whatever hurt you may have experienced or thing you have done that you think has caused God to forget about you is…in the past.
Because of what God has done for us – and continues to do for us – through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we do not have to allow our past to determine or control our future. By the grace of God this is most certainly true.
But in order for you and me to realize this – to finally realize that our past does not hold back our future, we need to be available to the new things God is doing.
Theologian Brennan Manning says that “Christianity used to be risky business; it is no longer.” I think statements like that are true because we are no longer available to the new things God is doing.
Instead, we make ourselves available by working too much and forgetting about our family and friends. We make ourselves available trying to satisfy our loneliness with more and more material possessions. We make ourselves available by making as much money as we possibly can because we have some strange belief that the almighty money god will make us happy again. We make ourselves available by giving up our lives to the addiction pressures of sex or alcohol or drugs.
The gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world – for us today, is found within the opportunity we have to be available. Available for the work God has for us to do.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, are you available? I promise you, being available will involve risk on your part. And I also promise you that by being available you will be blessed and you will be a blessing to others in ways you can’t begin to imagine today. Make time every second of your day, with every breath that you take, to be available to the new things God is doing. Amen.