Posted on Mon, Sep 29, 2014
Gospel Text: Matthew 21:23-32
September 28, 2014
16th Sunday after Pentecost
“Jesus Does it Pono”
Gospel Text: Matthew 21:23-32
The Authority of Jesus Questioned
23 When he 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?’ 24 Jesus said to them, ‘I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” 26 But if we say, “Of human origin”, we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’ 27 So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
The Parable of the Two Sons
28 ‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” 29 He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. 31 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. 32 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.
On Wednesday night the theme of our confirmation class was the “Birth of Jesus,” and early Christmas. Our kids are great, they ask great questions, most of the time, and definitely want straightforward answers; Therefore, I keep my teaching method very simple and straightforward. We use a curriculum from Augsburg Fortress called, “Here We Stand,” and they provide a PowerPoint, teaching prep and all kinds of ideas I I couldn't possibly use in one class… Along with our Student Study Bible, NRSV of course, we then use the ”Lutheran Handbook,” which contains our Small Catechism and all kinds of fun facts like how to burn a heretic at the stake, keeping awake in a non-airconditioned sanctuary and the grossest Bible verses… perfect for middle schoolers. On the serious side, all of our lessons are connected to our Baptismal Promise. Our classes are lively and our kids are not afraid to speak up, even if it is very off topic. Last year we focused on many of the Old Testament stories of kings, queens, prophets, wars, betrayals, promises kept and promises broken, a Promised Land that Moses was able to lead Israel to and he could see it, but in the end wasn't able to enter it. There was a great deal of bloodshed, begetting, and some really violent stuff. Not unlike the world we live in today if you think about it. When you are only barely familiar with “Jesus Loves Me,” and then you read about the armies of Israel slaughtering Philistines, Moabites, Trilobites and other groups of people studying the Bible can become a rather traumatic experience.
But we didn't back down from the topics, and we let the scriptures teach us what God was doing, God’s purpose for all those ‘events’ and even how the central message of the Old Testament is “God is Faithful,” and “God is the loving Creator, and we are God’s beloved created.”
I say that because the majority of big box churches don’t let the scripture have the authority to teach them, they only “use” the bits and pieces of the Bible to justify their own social, rather than spiritual, agenda. They are quick to turn the Bible into a heavenly “Self-help” book, but they won’t give it the authority that pushes us out of our comfort zones and force us to confess our sins so that we can hear the words of forgiveness. For example, John 3:16-17: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
God saw that we needed a SAVIOR, but do we see ourselves as a people that need saving? If not, we are deaf, dumb and blind. As the WORD OF GOD, these scripture passages must be taken seriously, even when a cultural perspective wants to judge, ignore, or even want to ‘remove’ certain groups of people from their field of view. Think of all the millions of people over history that have been persecuted, displaced or even exterminated for whatever justification written and taken out of context from the Bible.
What does this have to do with our confirmation lesson on the Birth of Jesus and today’s Gospel? Of course the kids knew what Christmas means, in a modern way, but they had never read and really studied the Christmas Story, or more correctly the Story about the Birth of Jesus. We began to read Luke 2:1-20. They were amazed that Joseph and Mary were poor and had to travel to a distant town to be registered essentially so that the king could tax them. They learned that Palestine was not necessarily a safe place to travel, then or now. They understood that whoever had the sword, spear and money, had the “social” power, like King Herod; but not “real” power born of faith like young Mary. They quickly learned that above the power of force and money, the power of God’s Faithfulness was far greater, and when the baby in Elizabeth’s womb jumped with joy when Mary came for a visit, they could see the connection between God’s promise to save the world, and God’s humble entry into the world through the baby Jesus. And from past lessons they knew that only the very faithful yet very poor Mary, Joseph and Elizabeth were really the only ones who knew what God was up to. It was clear that through this little faithful couple expecting a baby, yet out of wedlock, far from their home, God would fulfill God’s promise to save us from our darkness, rebelliousness and sin.
If we let the Bible teach us, we quickly learn the way God thinks and expects us to act according to the faith God gives us. The main characters are a 14-year-old girl, and her much older fiancé, Joseph. And the place where the world would encounter God, FACE TO FACE, was a small village just seven miles or so from the Holy city of Jerusalem.
No Trump Tower, no news reporters, only a small group of animals were the first to welcome our Savior.
Then, what seemed to interest my class the most, was the group that God had chosen to first tell the world about the Good News of the birth of their Messiah! The first people to hear about Jesus’ birth were shepherds who were, yes, ‘watching their flocks by night.’
But who were these shepherds? We may think we know the shepherds through all the pretty Christmas cards, and children’s bibles, they are always in nice cleans robes watching snow white sheep on turf like grass, and obviously from Scandinavia because they are always pasty white/Caucasian.
No, the shepherds of Jesus day, were not highly respected because they lived in the fields, were always on the go, they were dirty and if a shepherd and his flock came through your village and the next day you learned that your surfboard was missing, guess who was instantaneously blamed? They guys without houses living in the fields. But these “social outcasts” were the first people God sent the messengers, the angels to hear the Good News! What does the scripture tell us about God’s priorities?
Jesus was sent to heal the sick, comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable, teach us the truth about our need to let go of our own little gods and return to the God of Hope, Mercy, Joy and Love.
And how did the shepherds react to this ‘multitude’ of angels? THEY WERE TERRIFIED! The Truth, and a massive group of singing angels suddenly appearing in the sky would do that to us. We are sinful and selfish, this is the Truth, but do we have the courage to face this, or are we terrified that someone may learn about your deepest secrets? Guess what? God already knows your deepest secrets, and you are still judged as loveable and “savable!”
The wonderful thing about the shepherds was that THEY LISTENED AND BELIEVED! Then, as they listened to the angels with “ears of faith,” they ran to Bethlehem to see their King, a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes… we will talk about those ‘swaddling clothes’ another time.
In today’s Gospel, when Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Jesus as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ After all Jesus had done and taught, do you really think these leaders of the people were interested in hearing an answer that would enlighten them to the ways of God? No matter how Jesus would have answered them, they would have just vilified Jesus to impress the masses. They did not have ears or a humble heart and weren’t even remotely interested in listening, let alone believing Jesus. They just saw Jesus as a social threat and a threat to their power and status in their world. According to Jesus, rather than the rich religious leaders, it was the social outcasts who had ears to hear. Maybe because they were persecuted, rejected and marginalized by society, the tax collectors and prostitutes who saw that their only hope in life was found in Jesus preaching a new message of forgiveness and mercy through the love of their God. Jesus had become their Good Shepherd, and they knew that that they were loved, and no longer lost. The Chief Priests and other religious leaders were condemned to live in darkness until their hearts would melt, or they would finally realize that even they needed to be saved from the things that kept them in emotional, spiritual and social shackles.
This is a message a Middle Schooler takes to one’s heart seriously. We gave the scripture the true authority it deserves, and by remembering our baptism, we were blessed Children of God and our lesson time WAS VERY GOOD!
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