This is the sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost. The sermon text is: Matthew 21:28-32. The sermon theme is: Christians Care. .
Change can be good. When you grow tired of all the weeks of summer heat, the change into fall can be good. If you eat one food day after day, it can be good to move onto a different food. Change can be good. But there are also times that change is necessary. It is necessary that children change. It is necessary that they grow up, move out on their own and start their own lives. This morning in this story that Jesus tells we see a change that happens. It is a good change. But it is also a necessary change. In Matthew 21 Jesus tells us: “28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.” (Matt 21:28-29 NIV)
Jesus tells us about a father who had two sons. He tells the first son to go out and to continue to work out in the vineyard.1 But the son, in the most belligerent and rebellious way, says, “I don’t want to.”2 The son doesn’t want to go out and work. And he boldly and bluntly tells his father, “No.” But then there’s a change that happens. It is a good change. And it’s a necessary change. The change that occurs is that he cares.3 First, of all, he cares about his dad. You see, in parables there is usually a twist. Usually there is something that is out of place-something that we would not expect to be there. But it is there. Here in these words what is unexpected is the Father. The father says, “go out into the vineyard today and work.” And when the son says “I don’t want to,” he gets away with it. The father lets him get away with it.
I was speaking to one of the members of our church earlier on in the week. And when he heard these words he said, “When I was young, if I said that to my dad, there would be consequences.” And it’s true, isn’t it? This first son did not care. And his Father let him get away with it. But that shocking and surprising behavior that the dad shows is the very thing that leads the son back. For he recognized that his Father wasn’t treating him like a slave. Instead he was treating him as a son. He wasn’t treating him like and enemy. Instead he was treating him like his beloved child.
And when he saw how much the father loved him there was a change inside of himself. And that change showed itself in action. What he earlier refused to do, he went out and did. And with that he showed that he cared about his father.
Jesus speaks these words not just to the Pharisees gathered around him. He also speaks these words to us. It isn’t just this son in this story that needed a real change, we too need a real change inside of us. We need to care too. For if the Father in the story did what was shocking in letting the son get away with his laziness, how much more shocking is how our Father treats us? He invites us every day to go out and do work in his vineyard. And there needs to be this change in us so that we see the value in the work our Father gives us and so that we see the great love our Father has in giving it to us. Because if we don’t, we can end up like this second son that Jesus tells us about: “”Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.” (Matt 21:30 NIV)
There needed to be a change in this second son. but there wasn’t. There needed to be a change so that he cared about his Father and his own soul. But as we see, there wasn’t. Look at how evil this second son was. He said such polite words. He called his Father, “sir.” He promised with all his heart. You can almost see that look of painted sincerity on his face. But it was a lie. Because he didn’t care. He didn’t care about his Father. And just as bad, he didn’t care about himself. What happens to children who don’t care about their fathers after they grow up? If they carry that same lying apathy with them when they grow up, they get punished. They lose one job after another until finally they die and are punished forever in hell.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is important for us to preach these words to ourselves. It is important for us to compare these two sons to see that we, just like these sons need change inside of ourselves. It was hard for me to read these words because I remember what I was like growing up. I remember how in the hot summer time it was my job to drag this huge hose down the hill and water all the trees on the border of our property. It was a job I hated because I thought it was stupid. And so, instead of watering each tree so that it had enough water I only watered it a little bit. And later on, when I was back home at an absurdly early time, dad asked, “did you water the trees?” And to his face I lied and told him that I did.
All of us in our lives have been this second son-all of us. We should care, but we don’t. We should care about the work our Heavenly Father sets before us, but we don’t. We should care about our Father, but we don’t. We should care about ourselves and where this apathy leads. But so often we don’t. And that leads us to the question: how can I care again? And my dear brothers and sisters in Christ is, “you can’t.” You can’t instantly and magically create this change inside of yourself so that you care. What needs to happen is that God needs to give you repentance.
Well, what is repentance? There are wrong answers to that question, aren’t there? In Luther’s day he was taught that God forgave some of his sins. But out of love for God he had to do the rest of the work. He was the one who had to go out and with his own work and effort earn the Father’s approval. And that lie almost destroyed him. For he knew the only thing he had to offer God was his own sin.
Today there’s another wrong answer to that question. There are churches out there who teach that repentance is some sort of romantic feeling that somehow you have to produce. There’s a church in our area. And on its church sign it said, “Be an organ donor; give your heart to Jesus.” That, my friends, is not how the bible speaks about repentance. Repentance is not me trying to win over Jesus like a boy asking a girl to the prom. “Falling in love with Jesus” is not something the bible ever said.
Well, if then these are the wrong views, then what is the right view? What then is repentance. Repentance boils down to two words: First, repentance is terror. There was terror in that first son’s heart as he saw how horribly he was treating his father who only cared and loved him. There should have been terror in the second son’s heart when he saw that his apathy was paving the path to hell for him. And this terror is what God brings to us. It’s not an emotion that we produce from ourselves. God comes to us in our word and he shakes us up and shows us how evil it is to say, “yes” and then show with our actions that we really mean, “no.”
So repentance is terror. But there is another part to repentance. And that’s trust. Through his word, Our Father gives us trust in him. We trust that Jesus came and lived a perfect life in our place. If his father wanted it, the Son delivered it. And he did so willingly and joyfully. Through God’s word we trust that Jesus obeyed his Father perfectly in our place. And we trust that Jesus earned heaven for us by enduring the hell we deserved in our place. And then the heaven that he won for us he delivered to us in those saving waters of baptism. It is trust in final words that Jesus speaks to us in this section: “31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” (Matt 21:31-32 NIV)
Notice what Jesus says to the Pharisees. He doesn’t say that the prostitutes and tax collectors are getting into heaven instead of them. He says that they are getting in ahead of them. There still is room for a sinner like me. There still is a place for a son like me who says “yes” but really means “no.” Through God’s word he gives us faith to trust what Jesus invites here.
We need a change, don’t we? We need a change so that we care once again about our Father in heaven and about ourselves. And through God’s word that is exactly what Our Father has given us. He has given us repentance. And now we care-both about our Father and about ourselves. Amen.
Image courtesy of Stock Xchnge.