Readings for the day:
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
In the Gospel reading today, Jesus has entered Jerusalem riding a donkey (but we won’t actually hear that story until Palm Sunday). And after his triumphant entry into the holy city, Jesus turns over the tables of the money changers in the temple. And after that is where our story picks up today; the chief priests and the elders question Jesus by what authority does he have to do such things as turning over the tables of the money changers. Jesus leaves them confused, so he tells them a parable.
In this parable, Jesus compares the words and actions of two sons. The father says to his two sons, “Go and work in the vineyard today.” The first son tells his father “No”, but then later does go. The second son tells his father “I will go sir”, but never actually goes to the vineyard. Jesus tells this parable as a way to tell the chief priests and the Pharisees that they are all like the second son – people who say that they believe, but never actually do God’s will. Jesus says that the tax collectors, prostitutes and all other sinners are like the first son – people who may say that they don’t believe at first, but eventually do believe and do God’s will.
Now for those of us gathered here this morning, it is very easy for us to say that we fall into the description of the first son – those who actually do God’s will (even though sometimes we say no). I can’t remember how many times I said no to following this calling to be a pastor. Or can you remember how many times you have said no I really don’t feel like going to church today, but yet you still go? We are the ones here today after all. I would say that we here meet the criteria for the first son rather than the second son and so why don’t I just end the sermon here?
But now are you one to make sure that other people know that you are the first son and certainly not the second son? We may not do it out loud, but we think it don’t we? When we see other people at the grocery store, or at the ball game, or just driving around town, a thought comes to mind, “At least I’m going to church more than that person.” “I’m a better Christian than they are.”
But don’t get me wrong, we certainly want others to be coming to church, don’t we? We just want them coming for the wrong reasons – we want them to come so that there are more butts in the pews. So that there’s more money in the offering plate; which means more money for the budget. We want more people coming so that we look like a “successful” church, rather than a dying one. Aren’t these some of the reasons why we truly want these people coming to church on Sunday mornings? For us, it’s not about Jesus or their faith or even their spiritual well-being. No, we want more people coming so that WE feel good and so that we don’t have to do as much work around here. But you know, if this honestly describes your thinking, then you probably fit the description of the second son better than the first son. And you are no better than the chief priests and the Pharisees that Jesus talks about in this parable.
As the church, our success is not determined based on how many people we have attending worship, or how many children we have in our church. Our success is determined by if the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, the reality that Jesus died for your sins…if that Gospel news is proclaimed and told in and around this church. If we are doing that, we are a successful church.
Money should never be the reason why we want more people coming to this church. If we trust that God provides for his children’s needs, then we can trust that God will provide for this church’s needs (including money for the budget).
Getting more butts in the pews is also not a good reason for wanting more people coming to our church. Hearing God’s Word and receiving Christ’s body and blood at the sacrament should be the only reason why we want more people coming to our church.
You see, the reason why you indeed are like the first son that Jesus talks about, is because you come into this place week after week to hear God’s Word…this word of forgiveness, hope, and promised eternal life. And you come here believing that what you hear is indeed true. This is why you come, this is why you are the first son who might say no occasionally, but in the end does indeed do the will of the Father; you believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, that he died on the cross in order to save you from your sin, and he was raised from the dead so that you too might believe that one day you will have a resurrection like his.
You indeed are the first son, the one that Jesus says is going into the kingdom of God, but it’s not because of what you have done. It’s because of whose you are and what you believe. You are God’s children and you believe that all of this church stuff actually matters. After all, this church stuff is a matter of life and death; it is serious stuff. Jesus has promised us that all of those who are baptized and believe that Jesus in fact did die on the cross to forgive all of our sins, that those who believe will have a resurrection like his and we will be with God in paradise. Believing in God and having faith in Jesus Christ is an urgent matter that is a real life or death reality for all of us. But you are the first son, the one who Jesus says is going into the kingdom of God. Jesus is the reason why we gather each week. Jesus is the reason why we put money in the offering plate. And Jesus is the reason why we want more people coming to our church (because it truly is a matter of life and death for everyone). Jesus has promised you life. Amen.
© 2014 Anthony Christoffels. Used with permission.