“Speaking Louder than Words”
Matthew 21:23-32, 28 September 2014
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches
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?” 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. 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?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 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.
“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.
Throughout the land
In both Protestant and Catholic churches alike
There are stained glass windows
Created by talented artisans
That depicts Jesus as a lily white, good shepherd
Standing with a crook
By a stream
Surrounded by fluffy white cotton donors
Grazing idly by.
Today’s Gospel is not that scene.
Today’s Gospel is one of confrontation, danger, and warning.
Fight or flight neurotransmitters
Were flooding the brains of the chief priests and elders of the people
As they marched lock step across the Temple square
Attracting a crowd as they progressed
In an aggressive approach to the traveling, teaching Rabbi,
Who we’ve come to know as Jesus.
Along with the gathering crowd,
The Roman guard would have spilled out of their fortress
Dressed in armor and adorned with sword
To head off any breach of the peace.
Just the day before
Jesus had made his triumphal entry into the city to start Passover
Walked right up the Temple stairs
And overturned the tables of the money changers in a fit of rage.
Today, the chief priests and elders of the people had a score to settle
And the Roman muscle was going to be front and center
To support the established order
And crush any dissidents.
Like Survivor in our present age,
Jesus out wits, out smarts, and out plays the authorities.
He deflects their question with a question of his own,
One who’s only possible answers
Would certainly label each and every one of them as professional failures
And incite a riot.
“I don’t know,” is their humble acquiescence.
Jesus out smarts the authorities
With a parable.
The point of the parable is obvious:
Actions speak louder than words.
The religious authorities are full of words;
Actions? Not so much.
Sadly, their actions reflect a desire for personal gain
And a disregard for those in desperate need.
He stands them up with a forward leaning finger to the chest ,
"the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you."
“Jesus, this is not a way to win friends and influence people!”
Can you hear weapons being drawn from their sheaths?
Jesus out plays the chief priests and elders.
He drives home his conviction:
Even after you saw the way of righteousness,
“you did not change your minds and believe him.”
(Matthew 21: 32)
Few things are worse than a closed mind.
Thankfully, Jesus was playing to the crowd.
The crowd was open to change,
Longed for change.
As Jesus spoke
The crowd listened and took to heart the Truth Jesus communicated.
Crowd support swung from the organized religious authorities
Who was standing up and speaking out in defense of the common man, woman, and family.
Sin and dysfunction was the common denominator in ever family,
In every person,
And, wow, it must have stirred the passions
When Jesus publically served the holier-than-thou
A hot cup of “shut your yapping trap”.
I love it when Jesus turns the world upside down.
(I think I’ve said that before!)
Three take away insights from today’s energy loaded confrontation:
1. Actions speak louder than words.
Okay. Let’s apply this.
Stop telling me you’ll invite people to worship
And start bringing people to worship.
Enough bellyaching about declining numbers,
Or justifying decline due to previous administrations or transgressions.
It’s time to start leading people by the hand,
Introducing people to Jesus Christ,
And welcoming one and all to this church.
Haven’t seen someone in a while?
Call them up.
Don’t know if your acquaintance has a faith community?
Offer to pick them up and take them to lunch afterward.
Someone new on the block?
Beat a path to their doorstep
And welcome them to the finest local church in all the land!
Just as the hounds of hell are in relentless pursuit of our souls,
So, too, should we show such tenacity
In our pursuit of those waiting to be found.
2. Faithful living requires both action and words.
Okay, let’s apply this.
If we’re going to talk the talk, we’ve got to walk the walk.
“If you aren’t going to put up, shut up,” we used to say as kids.
People gauge us on our authenticity,
On our integrity,
On our honesty.
If we are going to talk about helping and loving our neighbors
We better do it.
Stop complaining about all that’s wrong with our world and our community
And let’s start making it right.
The transformation of the world
In the name of Jesus Christ
Begins with us.
God has sent us a gift!
We have the perfect partners and friends,
And they are inviting us to join them.
Let us join together to open our doors,
Serve those in need,
And allow the love of Jesus Christ
And the grace of the Holy Spirit
Souls to Christ and to his kingdom.
3. Being faithful requires an open mind.
There is a bumper sticker which reads,
“The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.”
It’s been around for a while;
I suspect the chief priests and elders of the people
Had it plastered all over their chariots!
Few things are as ugly and unappealing as a closed mind.
John the Baptist brought a new way of righteousness
That was opposed to the way of organized religion of the day.
The new path of righteousness leveled mountains,
And made a beeline straight to the feet of Jesus.
The chief priests and elders of the people saw it,
But were unable to be open to God doing a new thing,
The Spirit blowing in a different direction,
Jesus leading a new way.
Same is true for us today.
A disciple of Jesus with a closed, made up mind
Is cold turn off to people searching for the Light.
Let us open our minds and our hearts
To the presence and movement of God in our lives.
Closed minds are focused backwards,
Set in history,
Unable to respond to the whisper of God.
Open minds are focused forwards,
Anticipating the new creation that
God is working all around us.
I’m waiting for that perfect stained glass window of an angry Jesus.
Amidst a Tiffany sea of milk toast bland pastoral Jesus,
It is really hard to find an angry Jesus.
Yet, I cannot help but think
Of actions and attitudes that must make him whip cracking mad:
Violence in the name of loving God,
Contempt for neighbors, near and far,
Insincere, hypocritical behavior,
And closed hearts.
Never give up.
Be Christ’s Church of both today