Running on Empty

“He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…” (Philippians 2:7)

Matthew 21:23-32
When he 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?” 24Jesus 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. 25Did 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?’ 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27So 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.

28“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31Which 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. 32For 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.

Pent15 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 9-25-11

Dear friends in Christ: Grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Some days it seems there’s always someone who  has something to prove. That’s the danger I see in talking about today’s parable: is that we make it all about us…

Peter was like that, says noted author and preacher, Anna Carter Florence.  She reminds us that: Whenever Peter shows up he changes the subject and makes it about himself. Walking on water? “I can do that!” Transfiguration on the mountaintop? “I’ll get the tents, Jesus! One for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah.” Jesus gets arrested in the garden? “I’ll cut off your ear with this sword!” It’s as if he has something to prove – as if Jesus doesn’t really love him unless he’s the best at all aspects of being a disciple.

This, I think, was the sin of those religious leaders. They were trying so hard to be successful that they had forgotten to go work in the vineyard. This is why Jesus said tax collectors and prostitutes were going into the kingdom before them!

We have to “walk the talk.” Don’t just say one thing and do another. Take care that our actions match our words. But God doesn’t need to be taken care of.

The image of an arrow always comes down… is what has stuck with me over the years…  It reminds that we don’t do anything to earn our way into heaven.  God always comes down and meets us where we are.  God’s grace is for all: for those who say ‘yes’ and don’t go to work… and for those who say ‘no’ and do.

What if there is no light. I must have a dead battery. What am I doing wrong?

God’s grace is for all!

A pastor-friend of mine, Bonnie Wilcox, once described to me what she called “the tsk factor.” Have you ever had someone give you that look (tsk!) and then say to yourself, “I’ll never go there again.”? It takes 10 welcomes to overcome one ‘tsk.’

Humility – comes from the word – humus – dirt – human beings were formed from the dust, as depicted in Michaelangelo’s Creation of Adam.

It is as such a humble servant that God chose to enter this world.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, 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.” (Philippians 2:7)

Back to the gospel lesson: The question the religious leaders ask Jesus is: “By what authority do you do these things?” They want to know if he got it right – not so much about living faithfully.

Tony Campolo once described something like this by lifting up those in the Bible who had a “title” vs. “testimony”

Pharaoh had a title – Moses had a testimony / Jezebel had a title – Elijah had a testimony / King Darius had a title – Daniel had a testimony.

What’s your testimony? Have you ever felt like there just wasn’t anything going on between you and God? Maybe you’ve been away from church for some time, and then when something bad happens you feel guilty. Like, the very last place you’d find a welcome – or deserve to go to – is YOUR CHURCH! How could this happen?

When you feel like Giving up?
Burning out?
Winding down?
The church is HERE FOR YOU!

I’ve doing this pastor thing for years. And I must admit, there are days where I wonder: Does what I have to offer matter? Does it change anything? Does what I have to say matter? That’s when I remember that deeply religious song by BB King: “You might be old, about ninety years, but you ain’t to old to shift them gears! You can shake it up and go!”  That’s how the Lord animates us by the power of the Holy Spirit, reaching out to lift us up daily.

I know in my heart that I am merely a conduit – a conductor between God and people. So let the love flow between us. Grab on, hold on, don’t let go.

And yet, that current must flow between you and I, God. Yes, between us both.
What if I let go? Which I’m bound to do sooner or later?

Will you still come like at Christmas? And join the cold, shivering peasant girl, giving birth in a stable? What about the woman who has found cancer in her body and is full of anger and fear? What of the young person hurt by the “tsk factor”? What of the tired, middle-aged man who doesn’t know who he is anymore? What of the older person whose eyesight has become clouded over the years?

When Jesus told the Pharisees that tax collectors & prostitutes are entering the kingdom before you, he didn’t mean to exclude the Pharisees – just to show them that God’s grace is for EVERYONE – every. Last. One.

Praise be to God, who frees us from having to “get it right” and reconnects us in the faith each day!


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