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I Will Go

Matthew 21:23-32

The Rev. Jon Roberts

27 September


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. 31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

I Will Go

The Parable of the Two Sons, by Andrey Mironov, c.2000

Someone else could take our place and do our job
And we may never know
How great God’s love and pleasure is
For those who say, “I will go.” [1]

Once upon a time, in a church, far, far away there was a beloved member who died and their name was, “Someone Else.” When they died the priest wrote the following parish obituary on their behalf:
“Our church was saddened to learn this week of the death of one of our most valued members, Someone Else. For many, many years as a part of this church Someone Else did far more than a normal person’s share of the work. Whenever there was a job to do, a class to teach, or a meeting to attend, everybody said, “Let Someone Else do it.” Whenever leadership was mentioned, this wonderful person was looked to for inspiration as well as results; “Someone Else can work with that group.” It was common knowledge that Someone Else was among the most generous givers. Whenever there was a financial need, everyone assumed Someone Else would make up the difference. Now Someone Else is gone! We wonder what we are going to do. Someone Else left a wonderful example to follow, but who is going to follow it? Who is going to do the things Someone Else did? When you are asked to help this year, remember — we can’t depend on Someone Else anymore.”

Maybe we know this person and the truth is, they are not that far away. How many times have we sat back and watched other people tarry and do the Father’s work in the vineyard of His Church, while we sat back and watched or walked away?

In the Old Testament lesson there is a good story of a man who was called by God to go and work in the vineyard.[2] The man was Moses and the vineyard was to free the slaves of Israel from the Egyptians. This story seems so far, far away, nearly 3500 years ago. He escaped death as an infant and he escaped death as an adult. If anyone deserved his own exodus out of harm’s way it was Moses. But God reached out to him, and called him to go and work in the vineyard. As the story goes, Moses said he would not, but eventually he did. It took a sign; a burning bush and the promise of helpers. Early on, maybe he thought the challenge was too hard, too dangerous and meant for somebody else.
We fast forward into the actual exodus when Moses led them into the wilderness, the people were walking all day, tired and thirsty. They wanted water but where God led them, where Moses led them, there was none. Oh how they cried and complained. Who would solve their problem? Moses would. He was somebody else. Recall God said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people and take some elders with you;” When Moses struck the rock with his staff as God commanded, water came gushing out and that place, he called “Massah” and “Meribah” which the root meaning of the Hebrew words is to “test” and to “quarrel.” Who would do that? Somebody else.

Probably the most important command God gives us is summarized in one short word: “Go.” When we get to the story of Jesus, after his resurrection, he tells his disciples to “Go and make disciples.” Did they? We suspect they did based on the various letters and writings of historians. Mostly from their stories of martyrdom, reading their obituaries, if you will. When you follow their storyline, being called by Jesus to follow him, to feed people, to care for the outcast, they only did so out of obligation as his students. In their formal training, theological understandings were happening left and right. When he asked them to follow him and obey his teachings, did they really understand what he was saying. Maybe we can see some of them nodding their heads in affirmation, like a version of someone else who just wants to kiss up and be the teacher’s pet; the one who will be given a promotion; the one who will be favored?

Jesus was indeed, very invested in their development. He wanted them to be authentic, regarding others better than themselves;[3] being the same mind, and emptying themselves in order to work in God’s vineyard. All the while he is teaching under great pressure from those set on testing and quarreling with him. This is nothing new for Jesus, so being the expert rhetorician that he is, he redirects them with a question of his own. They ask him, “By what authority do you do these things?”[4] He agrees to answer this, if they can answer his question, “Did the baptism of John come from heaven or earth?” Will you go? Jesus, in his parable of the father asking the two sons to go and work the field, is placing before them the same question. The religious authorities said, “Of course we will” but never do, while the poor, the destitute, the lowly and those who thirst for the Holy Spirit may be reluctant, but eventually will go. Who will inherit the kingdom of God?

When God asks you to go and work what does that look like? Is there a job to do in the church that you could possibly do? Is there a Bible class or a daily office you could teach? Is there a meeting you could attend to organize, plan and execute for necessary program involvement? Do you have the financial means to keep the Church operational? How many say, “Of course,” but never do? How many are reluctant, but eventually come around? Let us be of one mind in Christ Jesus and go and work the field together.

Someone else could take your place and do your job
And you may never know
How great God’s love and pleasure is
For those who say, “I will go.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] Exodus 17:1-17
[3] Philippians 2:1-13
[4] Matthew 21:23-32

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