“It’s been a busy week,” not in Lake Wobegon, as Garrison Keillor would say, but in Jerusalem. Let’s step back and set the stage a bit. On Sunday Jesus rides into town on a donkey. The crowds hail him Messiah and that sets the clergy on edge. Later he has an episode in the Temple, upturns cash registers, cleans house and gets in big trouble. Chief priests and elders show up for his lecture today, not to listen and learn, but to question his “religious cred.” And they should. It’s their business. They are the guardians of faith. He’s an unauthorized street preacher, stepping onto their turf with an unauthorized version of God. Tricky – whose truth will they trust?
Have you ever been challenged by someone who already knows the answer to their question? No matter what you say, your answer is wrong, even if you’re right. Today we call this Congress. Jesus tosses a curve ball to his critics: “Did John’s baptism originate from heaven or humans?” Trapped – and fearing public backlash for either answer, they pretend ignorance: “We can’t really say.” “Since you don’t know, I won’t answer.” Then Jesus launches a barbed missile wrapped in a parable.
“What do you think?” he asks them. A father tells his two sons to go work in his vineyard. One refuses, but later goes; the second says, “Be glad to, Pops,” and keeps playing video games all day. “Now,” Jesus asks, “Which one fulfills the father’s will?” And into the trap they fall: “Well, the first.” And Jesus replies: “Tax collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom ahead of you. John told you to repent. You didn’t. Tax collectors and prostitutes trusted him and did. Your minds were shut tight. And now you’d believe an answer I would give you? Right.” Jesus calls them to face his truth. They turn and leave, off to go plot his consequences.
What do you think? Or maybe Jesus could ask us, “Who do you trust?” Those who were outcasts and ne’er do wells placed their bets on John the Baptist. Religion had told them “No” so often, they had no use for God’s people. Yet they trust John, repent, get baptized and fulfill the Father’s will. God’s squad, who says Yes to God, says No to John and God’s gracious invitation to all. No turning in a new direction for them. They’re tight with God already they figure: keep oil in the Temple lamps, make sacrifices, collect offerings, and keep folks in line, and think that fulfills the Father’s will. Listen carefully – Jesus doesn’t bar them from the kingdom. They just won’t lead the parade. Outcasts will. And that burns them up. That’s the scandal of the gospel. That’s how grace works in God’s kingdom. Not all are happy that everyone falls under the judgment of grace. They want it for themselves. They’ve earned it – just not willing to extend it to others who haven’t.
I wonder if we, the church fail to fulfill the Father’s will. We don’t talk much about repentance anymore – and that’s the clergy’s fault. Do we really listen and then do the Father’s will? We hear what God asks, say yes, and somewhere we stop checking to see if we are doing as God asks.
What is the Father’s will? Believe Jesus – nothing more. Believe Jesus and trust Jesus is right when he says you and I are forgiven, reconciled to God, raised to new life – and renamed Beloved of God. We cannot earn, deserve, or lose it. We just say Yes – trust Jesus believe we are loved without deserving, and then do something with that love – like giving it away to everyone, even those who don’t deserve to be loved. Take God’s grace and do the grateful thing – like passing it along; love God enough to hang out with Him each day; when we call Jesus Lord, let him be. We can say yes here, and forget what we’ve said by the time we walk out the door.
But grace will sneak up on us. Here’s how it could happen. We’ve come to church, left our minds elsewhere – only to taste bread and wine, and miraculously experience divine love pouring through Jesus into us. Now we know where we are – in God’s presence. God’s gone missing in our thoughts during the day, until in the evening we see a full moon beaming across the lake, and we think “God” and smile. We see someone we won’t speak to, and suddenly realize loving someone as God loves us means we speak, even if we don’t want to. These are little gifts, grace notes, and moments sneak up on us, causing us to be grateful, and we think, “God” and smile. That’s Jesus raising us to new life.
God keeps calling us to go work his vineyard and we continually say yes. Now, what will we really do? Are we out working the vineyard of our friends, our neighborhoods, those in need – or playing video games? We do want to fulfill the Father’s will. That is why we are here, right? So let’s get on out to the vineyard – to reconcile all to God, to love, forgive and accept such grace freely given – and do the Father’s will. Spread the good news.