Salem Lutheran Church

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Invited to Gather: To Live by His Authority

Do you remember that sitcom on the late '80s, Who’s the Boss? ? It was about a widower and former baseball player who had to give up his baseball career because of injury, so he decides to become a housekeeper for a high-powered divorced businesswoman. We had come a long way in the '80s, but the premise that a man would be a stay-at-home dad and housekeeper while a woman would be the major breadwinner and the high-powered business executive was a relatively new notion, hence the name Who’s the Boss?. Although a comedy, it was also was a show that challenged us to see the world just a little bit differently.

Our lessons for today are also a challenge to think a little differently about the authority we have in our lives and whose authority we seek to follow. In our Old Testament reading, Ezekiel challenged those who thought they couldn’t change because of what their parents had done. But God tells Ezekiel to tell the people that that was wrong. The people believed they had no choice, and that because they had learned evil ways from previous generations, they had to continue on that way. God squashes that notion and invites the people to turn, that is repent, and discover a whole new way of living. In other words, God challenged the people through Ezekiel to quit blaming their actions and their ways of living on the past and to begin to take responsibility for their actions, for they would be judged on their actions, not on the actions of their parents. It is as if God was saying to them, stop allowing your past to be your authority.

Fast forward about 600 years and we discover that people in Jesus’ day had similar ways of thinking about the authority of the past, as did the folks of Ezekiel’s time. How people lived their lives was often dictated by the teachings and interpretations of the past. The faith community had become beholden to one way of living. Now, in defense of these ways, the religious establishment believed it was being faithful to God’s Word, but it failed to see that it had turned God’s Word from a life-giving source to a life-taking source of authority. As long as one believed the right way and said the right things, all was well, regardless of how those ways hurt individuals and/or community. It is much like today in which many Christians profess with their lips that they believe Jesus is their Lord and, yet, they can ignore poverty, racism , and homelessness because it does not affect them directly.

As Jesus began his ministry, he challenged these notions and he literally turned these notions upside down. Our story today takes place the day after Jesus had triumphantly entered Jerusalem. On that day, Jesus not only entered Jerusalem to much fanfare as we always read on Palm Sunday, but he also went to the Temple, where he cleansed the Temple by driving out the moneychangers and other business being done there. So, the next day “When [Jesus] 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?' ” (21:23) The leaders of the religious community believed they were the authority of the day and they wanted to challenge Jesus. But Jesus responds with a question, and they refuse to answer because they are more interested in preserving their authority than in knowing the truth. And in so doing, they highlight the very heart of Jesus’ message not only back then, but today, as well.

All too often our words do not match our actions. The Church says we are to follow God’s commandments, yet, when it comes to the greatest of all commands, that is to love others as Christ loved, we can be very selective. If the “other” doesn’t believe the right way, have the correct look, or the proper sexuality, then it's OK to exclude them from our love. If the “other” is of a different social class or of a different race, it is OK to ignore the issues of their community, regardless of how unjust it is, because it doesn’t affect us. The moneychangers and merchants were in the Temple because they professed they needed to be there to help others prepare for their offerings and sacrifices that were necessary. But the truth of the matter was, that system had become a profit-making system, and the real reason the religious leaders allowed it, in fact demanded it, was because they became wealthy in that system. It was no longer about following God’s life-giving ways for the faith community, but instead it was about how the few powerful men could keep their power and grow their wealth, and in doing so, the masses would be overlooked and forgotten.

But if we are going to proclaim that the one true authority in our lives is God, then our words and actions need to be what God desires for the world. Or, said another way, our lives and the actions we take need to follow God’s will, not ours, and God’s will is always about what is best for the community and what the community needs, and not about individual wants.

In the parable of the two sons, the first son told his father no when his father told him to get to work, but the second said “I’ll go.” But, their actions did not follow their words. Although the first son said “no,” he actually does the work he was told to do. While the second son, although he looked really good to begin with by saying “yes,” didn’t go do the work.

Now before we go blasting either of these two sons, let’s be honest, haven’t we all been on both sides of this story? I can't tell you how many times, when asked to do something, I have said things like, “I don’t have time,” “I don’t want to get involved,” “I’m not sure I can make a difference,” or “I’m too busy,” and then later actually discovered that I needed to step up. I have most certainly done the opposite, and in fact, more often than not, I am like that first son. I intend to do something and then don’t, and then I find myself saying things like “I really meant to … make that call, send that note, visit that person, mend that relationship with my friend, ask for forgiveness…”

We are both of those sons who are challenged today to realize that our ultimate authority is in Christ and in no one else. Today we are reminded the astonishing fact that God sees more potential in us than we do in ourselves. We are reminded that daily God is looking at each one of us and saying that we have abilities and gifts to share. God wants us to work in the vineyard. Today Jesus reminds us that it is never too late to say yes to God.

There is a door sitting in our narthex that reminds us of another person that challenged the world to say yes to God’s authority, Martin Luther. Five hundred years ago this month, legend says that Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church. These were 95 statements that challenged the church and eventually the world to change. Today, these challenges continue. So, are you ready? Are you ready to not only say yes to God with our lips, but to let out actions say yes, too? We’ve been commanded to work in God’s vineyard to grow and bear fruit. The authority that calls us is Christ himself, are you ready to say yes? I am! Amen.


Tags: Sermons