Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 25, 2005
The Gospel: Matthew 21 :28-32
Sermon: "We are All leaders before God"

The Rev. William D. Oldland

The Gospel:

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

Matthew 21 :28-32

We are all leaders before God

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 25, 2005

In 1989 two people, a man and a woman, showed up at Moultrie Middle School in Mt. Pleasant, SC. They claimed to be Red Cross workers sent to help organize the shelter at the school in the aftermath of the storm. They told people where to store water, food, clothing, toilet paper, batteries, radios and other necessities. On the morning of the fourth day after they arrived, they disappeared. They were not Red Cross workers at all. They loaded their van full of various supplies and took off. The couple were not who they said they were. 

In Wednesday’s paper an article stated that hundreds of sites have appeared on the internet claiming to help victims in the wake of Katrina. They want people to send funds to them and they claim they are helping the families reunite or aiding the children. The article was written not to encourage people to send money to these places. The article was written to warn us that 95 percent of these sites were fraudulent. Here again, the sites are not doing what they say they do. 

It seems that there are always people who claim to be something they are not. Some people are just looking for ways to help people lighten their load, particularly the money in their purse or wallet. They work diligently at trying to make us believe they are helping others. They want us to believe the words they are saying. In fact, they know they are not telling us the truth. They have no intention of doing what they say they will do. 

Now, these types of individuals are dangerous in our world. They cause a great deal of damage to unsuspecting people. I wish I could say the church was free of such people, but we are not. We are all aware of the people who use all kinds of gimmicks to get funds from unsuspecting people. Many people do not trust religion of any kind due to these "religious con artists". We look at these people and say they do a great deal of damage. 

However, they are not the ones who cause religion to have the worst reputation. 

The ones who cause us to have the worst reputation are like the ones in the Gospel story from Matthew. Here we have two sons. The father goes to each one and asks them to go and work. One says no, but goes and does what he is asked. The other says yes, but does not go. People see them both and wonder. They forgive the one who says no and goes, but they don't like the one who says one thing and does another. 

In this story, Jesus is not talking to the average person. Jesus is talking to the religious leaders of the day, the chief priests and the elders. Jesus is comparing them to the people they claim are unlovable and destined to suffer in this world and the next. These leaders claim to be righteous. That word means that they are trying to live their life in the manner in which God directs them. The problem is that they have now used their authority and their position to put people down. They do not try to help the poor or the hurting as they were directed by God. They say they will when they said yes to God as a leader, but they walk by the poor in the street. They do not help the invalid carry their burdens. They will not talk to the drunk or the prostitute. Instead, they turn and walk away. They feel God has turned their back on the poor and they are justified, righteous, by walking away and leaving them to their fate. 

In this parable, Jesus tells these religious leaders that they are the second son. They pay lip service to God, but by walking away do not live into the Gospel. Yet, the poor, the prostitutes, the down trodden, the rejected, will find eternal life with God because they will help one another. They will reach out and care for one another. They will do what the religious leaders will not. They will love the unlovable. 

Is anyone in here just a little uncomfortable right now? If we are not, then we ought to be. The church today is a lot like the chief priests and the elders of the past. Many churches have very strict rules for membership. They expect that their members will live perfect lives or as close to perfect as they can. If someone is a known sinner according to their rules, then they are not welcome in that church. Some churches don't have the strict membership rules. These churches act like they are open. They claim to be open to all, but in reality they are not. They don't welcome all into their midst because they have an unwritten code. Sinners, blatant sinners, are not allowed into their midst. In both cases, the prostitute would not be welcome. 

Yet, we are called to be God's witnesses to the world. Our faith, the Christian faith, calls us to an absolute rule of compassion and love. We are called to be Christ's representatives to the world. Unlike the parable where the leaders were the chief priests and the elders, we are all leaders in the church in one way or another. In our prayer book, we have a section called The Outline of the Faith. In this section, there are a series of topics with questions. Each question is answered by the church. I would like to share with you two questions and their answers.
The first question is: What is the ministry of the laity? The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.

The second question is: What is the duty of all Christians? The answer is: The duty of all Christians is to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God. 

These two questions teach us that we, all of us, are the leaders of the Church today. We might have slightly different duties. We definitely have different gifts. However, we are all called to bear witness to Christ in our daily lives to everyone. We are called to come together each week for encouragement, refreshment and challenge. Most of all, we called as leaders to say yes to God and then go. Lip service is not allowed. Choosing who is to be saved is not our call. We are simply called to go. To say yes and not go is unacceptable. Oh, we might get into heaven anyway, but we might be very surprised as to who is there before us. 

We are the leaders of the Church today. I pray we will take a moment this day, this week, to reflect on what God has called us to do. I pray we will take a moment to pray for encouragement. I pray we will then accept the challenge to be Christ's witnesses in the world. And all of God's people say, AMEN.

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