Sermon – Lectionary 26
Who has the authority to tell you what to do?
One of the things I remember best about being a child is that lots of people had the authority to tell me what to do. I knew what the rules were and accepted them as fact, even if I didn’t like them.
Children were to be seen and not heard. Children were never to interrupt adults. Back talk was strictly forbidden.
Children were responsible for entertaining themselves. In other words, go outside and play and come home in time for supper. Children must never beg for something in the store. Children were to obey their parents and teachers at all times without argument.
Adults had different rules. Children looked forward to the days when they were adults. They mistakenly believed nobody told adults what to do.
The family system in New Testament times gave the father the authority to tell everybody in the household what to do. If a father asked a son to do something, the son must do it. It didn’t matter if the son was a child or an adult. The father ruled. Everyone in the house must obey him or risk punishment.
The father could disinherit a disobedient son. There were few options for a person outside of this family system. A disinherited son could sign on as an indentured slave to another household, but slaves led lives of very poor quality. This was an option of last resort.
In today’s gospel, Jesus is asked a question about his authority. He tells a story as part of his response. A father wants both his sons to do some work for him. In the parable, the first son was mouthy and refused to do what his father asked. He just plain said, “I’m not going to do it.”. Then, he thought better of it, changed his mind, and went and did the work his father asked. The second son said he was going to do it, but then he didn’t. He forgot, or he just never intended to obey, and only said yes to get his father off his back.
Neither of these guys is a good example of obedience. You wouldn’t want your kids to behave like either one of them. Yet, Jesus tells us that both enter the Kingdom of God, although the one who actually does the work gets ahead in the line.
Jesus is always talking about the Kingdom of God. He starts many of the parables with the phrase, “the kingdom of God is like…” or “the kingdom of heaven is like…”. He teaches us to pray, Thy kingdom come. We know from his many stories that God’s kingdom isn’t like our ordinary life on earth.
It is easy to assume that when he talks about God’s kingdom, Jesus means life in heaven, in the sweet bye and bye, when the roll is called up yonder, Jerusalem my happy home, and all that. But Jesus is talking about something more. He is not just talking about the future. He is talking about the present too.
When we pray for God’s kingdom to come, we know that it comes with or without our prayer, as Luther teaches us in the catechism. But we ask that it may come also to us. Luther tells us that the kingdom comes about “whenever our heavenly Father gives us the Holy Spirit, so that through the Holy Spirit’s grace, we believe God’s holy word and lead godly lives, here in time and hereafter in eternity.”
Leading godly lives is work. Leading godly lives is what the father is asking the sons to do in Jesus’ parable.
God asks us to lead godly lives. Sometimes we act like the son who flat out says he won’t even try. But then we think about it and realize we really can and should try. Sometimes we act like the second son. We have good intentions and say we are going to obey. But, life happens and we just don’t get around to doing the job we promised to do.
A perfect example of the way we godly lives is this weekends junk jaunt. We are thankful for everyone who helped prepare for it, baked and cooked, donated items, bought things, and served in any capacity in the past few weeks. Like the first son, I am sure there were people who initially said no when they were asked to help with this, but showed up anyway and ended up helping. Likewise, I am sure there were those who said they would help and later found themselves unable to.
Regardless, the Kingdom of God is here at St. Marks Lutheran Church. People were able to purchase things they needed at affordable prices. Money was raised to be used for missions and to help the needy.
Leading godly lives is also what St Paul is talking about in today’s second lesson when he tells us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling.
Don’t worry, Paul isn’t changing what he says about being saved by grace through faith. Paul has a much larger idea of salvation and the kingdom of God. The salvation we are to work out is not our personal eternal destination, but, the quality of our life, as a Christian community here on earth. Jesus has already assured our eternal salvation.
So what does working out our salvation look like? What does leading a godly life look like?
Paul says that the Holy Spirit works in us, granting us faith, so that we can live here and now as people who believe God’s promises are true.
That’s the way Christ lived. Now, he calls us to live as people who believe the promises of the gospel are true.
Paul tells us how to do this in his message to the Philippians:
Find encouragement in the message of Christ.
Find consolation in love.
Share with one another in the Spirit.
Show compassion and sympathy.
Agree with each other in love.
Don’t be selfish or conceited.
Know your place and treat others well.
Put the interests of others ahead of your own interests.
Don’t argue or grumble about things.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
That’s how to live when you believe the promises of the gospel are true.
So, who has the authority to tell you what to do? If you answer Jesus, you are right. Jesus speaks with the authority of God.
Jesus wants us to lead godly lives. He wants us to live together as people who trust the promises of the gospel are true. He knows that we can’t do this alone. We are doomed to fail. So he has not left us alone.
The Holy Spirit gives us the grace to believe and trust, to work out our salvation and lead godly lives.
I am looking forward to seeing how the Holy Spirit continues to work in you in the next few months.
Almighty God, who has given you the will to do these things, graciously give you the strength and compassion to perform them. Amen.