Rt. Rev. Dr. Frank Lyons
Ezekiel 18:1–4, 25–32, Psalm 25, Philippians 2:1–13, Matthew 21:28–32
Praise the Lord. It’s good to be with you today. Our Old Testament lesson speaks of judgment. Jesus is saying here today, put in context. It’s just after he’s come into Jerusalem. Remember Palm Sunday? So this teaching is just after he’s come in to Jerusalem and in Matthew, Jesus then cleanses the temple and then curses the fig tree. And then the authority of Jesus is challenged, and this parable follows that challenge.
The Pharisees want to know, who gave you this authority to do all these things, to cleanse the temple, curse the fig tree and those kinds of things. Jesus kind of redirects, but it’s not a real redirect. He says, well, what about John? Where do you think John’s authority came from? You’re asking me about authority. Where did John’s authority come from? Because both John’s authority and Jesus’ authority comes from heaven. Now the Pharisees are not expecting Jesus to talk like that. They want to know, what school, Rabbi, did you attend? Did you go to Harvard? Did you go to Yale? Did you go to here? That’s what they’re looking for.
Jesus is saying, my authority comes from heaven. Well, that’s a shocker. They discuss, “Well, how should we answer Jesus?” “We’re on the losing end of this discussion. If we say, we don’t know where John came from. We didn’t obey him.” Jesus is saying, well, that’s the problem.
That’s the problem because John came to you in righteousness, and you did not believe him, but others did. Jesus uses a parable to point that out. Even though the Pharisees did not believe John, others did, and others were going into the kingdom because they believe that John was a prophet of righteousness, that John was sent from God, that John, as a sign, calling people to God, to repent and to return to God out in the wilderness was an important sign for the people of Israel.
Jesus said, “Well, I’m not going to tell you. If you can’t tell me where John’s authority came from, then I won’t tell you where my authority came from.” Then he gives them this parable today. Now, what’s interesting is, Matthew typically uses, when he’s talking about the kingdom of God, he talks about the kingdom of heaven because he doesn’t mention the divine name. Okay? And so Matthew being the good Jew that he is, does not want to mention the divine name. The divine name has a little fence around it. We don’t want to mistreat the divine name. So when he talks about the kingdom of God, he talks about the kingdom of heaven. He’s talked about the kingdom of heaven through his entire gospel, but here he doesn’t mention the kingdom of heaven in the words of Jesus there in verse, what versus that right there, 31, truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. Can you tell that Jesus is a little upset with the Pharisees who are on the temple, who are abusing the temple, who are taking good care of the temple.
They’re taking good care of their tithes. They tithed mint. If they have 10 leaves of mint, they send one in. They tithed dill. They’re tithing mustard seeds, little teeny, tiny things, but they’re not putting into practice the weightier demands of the law. Jesus is saying, quit dusting the furniture and go help your neighbor.
Our country right now is under judgment. The same things that Ezekiel talks about in chapter 18 can be compared with us in this parable, which acts like a mirror. The one son who says, Oh, sure, I’ll take care of all that. But then he doesn’t do it. This son is not going into the kingdom. Amen.
Now, it’s interesting that in the time of Jesus, the kingdom was thought to be a feast. Praise the Lord, amen? Which is why we have coffee and cupcakes. It’s why we have coffee hour. Not just to attract you, but so that we can continue to share what’s going on and what’s happening. The best way to do that is with something in our hands, amen?
The sign of the end of times was in Isaiah chapter 25. It is the feast on the mountain, on Mount Zion. On this mountain, the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine. Anglicans will be there: Rich food full of marrow and aged wine well-refined. Now see, I believe that this is obviously talking about chocolate.
Because you can’t have a feast without chocolate, amen? Praise the Lord, but I have to get chocolate in my sermons wherever I can. But it’s interesting. You heard that it was for who? Who’s this feast for? All peoples. But in the time of Jesus, the Pharisees were saying, this is really only for the righteous, this feast at the end of time, where God will call the righteous in. And so we’re going to try to be more righteous than the other people. Make sure that when he calls, he calls Bishop Frank in, amen? Amen.
And in fact, not only would he call the righteous in, but he would not call in just normal, everyday Jewish folks that didn’t have time to make sure they were tithing the dill and the mint and everything else. At the time of Jesus, there’s this merit-based Judaism where they believe that only the perfect people would be called to come in and sit with God and have this feast on Mount Zion. This mountain, which is interesting because there’s still a role to play for this mountain, Zion. And there are signs of the age that are dealing with Israel right now. So signs like the fig tree, signs like John the Baptist. Jesus is also saying pay attention to the signs that are written.
Don’t worry about fussing. Don’t be so fussy about your ritualistic stuff, because that ritualistic stuff is there for a greater purpose. The things that we read here today are to lead us to a greater purpose. As Jesus shares himself with us, we’re supposed to share ourselves with others, amen? We’re supposed to invite other people to come and join the feast. Not the guy with the mower though. Don’t invite, he’s leaving. Praise the Lord. Don’t invite him in. Don’t make a lot of noise.
That’s the way we are sometimes, are we not? Praise the Lord. You know, we love to have the grandkids come. We love to have the family come, but you know, uncle Bobby, he’s a little strange and the grandkids make lots of noise and it’s hard to corral them all the time.
Little Rar was sitting in the sink in the bathroom Friday. For a while, there was no noise. Then there was a lot of discussion in the bathroom. I knew Shar had gone into the bathroom to go to the bathroom, but Rar had gone in to see what else was going on. Rar is 20 months old. And he decided to climb up onto the toilet and then into the sink and then turn on the water. So of course, Bishop Frank lost it a little bit there. This was not normal kind of stuff. The issue is that when we invite people in, it gets a little messy. We can’t always be worried about some of the ritualistic things because not everybody is tuned in to what’s going on.
“I can tell you’re not Anglican. You’ve never been here before, have you? Don’t sit over there. That’s Mrs. Smith’s seat. And she has had that pew for 50 years. Sit over here.” We get fussy and that’s not why we’re supposed to be here, amen? We’re to be here together today to be strengthened by the Lord, to be able to follow what the Lord has for us to do this week. As we go out, he wants to use us as blessings to other people, just in the same way that Jesus, as we read in Philippians, Paul relates that hymn. That’s a hymn that he’s relating to us today about the life of Jesus who didn’t think it to be equal but came as a servant.
Not only Jesus comes as a servant though, the servant heart of God is seen in chapter 46 and 47 of Isaiah as well, where God pleased with the people. He says, I’ve always carried you, Israel. But now you’ve resorted to other gods. Wooden things can’t speak. Golden things can’t see. But I have taken care of you, lo, these many years. We see God’s heart as the servant there. He says, I want to lift you up. I want to carry you along, but you wouldn’t let me do that. So he sends Jesus to do the same. He sends Jesus to be a servant. And I think God is just saying, look, if we belong to God, we need to have that same servant heart. We need to be ready to include other folks. We need to be ready to share with other folks, share what we have and not worry about the fussy stuff all the time, amen?
This is the sign of the times. John is part of that sign. John has come. Now God is doing something. Jesus has just come into this city. Jesus has just crossed the Kidron valley, to come up onto the temple mount. God has come to his city, but few understand what’s going on. Let’s not get so mired in stuff that we miss when God comes into the room, amen? God is constantly directing us, but we need to be ready to listen and obey. We need to be like the son who goes to the vineyard and does the work that the Lord has asked us to do. Amen?
John is that sign. We need to be aware, something’s happening greater than just us. God is moving. Are we going to pay attention to that? John came in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds. This is radical. People are hearing the Word and they’re responding to the Word. Let us be like John; let us take the Word where we go. As we serve people, let’s make clear to them why we’re doing this, who we love, who we serve. Let’s not be secret agents. Okay. Let’s share what we know about Jesus and what he’s asking us to do. Amen? In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.