Monday, October 2, 2017

Just Do It!

October 1st, 2017       “Just do it!”          Rev. Heather Jepsen

Matthew 21:23-32 and Philippians 2:1-13

          We will begin with our gospel reading and we can’t really jump into it this morning without going back a bit.  At this point in Matthew’s narrative Jesus is preparing for his death.  He has ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey and has been busy in the temple square.  He has overturned the tables of the money changers and has preached against the temple system.  He has been healing folks inside the grounds of the temple and has aroused cries of “Hosanna!” from among the people.  Basically, in the eyes of the temple authorities Jesus is causing some real trouble so when he enters the grounds for yet another day of holy mayhem they try to stop him with a question.

          “By what authority are you doing these things?” they ask.  How come you are making such a ruckus and who are you to be attracting so much attention?  Well, one should know better than to try to question Jesus.  There is no one more skilled at controlling a conversation and upending our line of thought than him.  Jesus refuses to answer their question, and in true rabbinical fashion he asks a question of his own.  “Did the baptism of John come from heaven or of human origin?”

          Ah, the trap is sprung and there is no escape now.  If the chief priests say John’s baptism was from heaven then they say John is legitimate and by proxy so is Jesus.  If they say it was from man they will surely lose the respect of the crowds who have grown quite fond of both the ministry of Jesus and John.  There is no winning, there is no way out, they are done for.  “We don’t know” they mumble under their breath.

          Now that he has secured the upper hand, Jesus uses this opportunity to needle them a bit further by telling a parable.  He takes us back to the metaphor of working in the vineyard by telling a story of a man with two sons.  He asks both to work in the vineyard for the day.  One says he will work but doesn’t go and work, by contrast the other says he won’t work but then in the end he does go and work.  I will forever think of this as the “Pig Will” and “Pig Won’t” parable.

          Jesus asks which one does the will of the Father and of course it was the one who went to work, rather than the one who simply said he would go and work.  Jesus teaches that when it comes to serving the Lord, what matters is not what you say but what you do.  Jesus then says that the tax collectors and prostitutes are headed into heaven before the religious leaders because they are the ones who believed the preaching of John and who also then believe in Jesus as the Messiah.  The temple authorities are stunned.  Prostitutes in heaven before them, that hurts!

          Jesus’ encounter with these guys reminds us that our faith is not about what we say; it is about what we do.  Our faith is not about reciting the proper creeds or having the proper belief system.  It’s not about who reads the Bible right or how exactly our church polity works.  No, our faith is only ever about how we live our lives, not just on Sunday mornings but all the other days of the week. 

          If we are followers of Christ, it will be shown by our actions, not by our professions of faith.  The temple authorities spent days on end professing the correct faith, but their actions showed that they didn’t really believe in what they were saying.  In the end, it is not what we say that matters, it is what we do.  Which makes me think of that old Nike slogan: when it comes to our faith don’t just say it, “Just do it!”

          So what should we do, what does Christian living look like?  Let’s turn to Paul.  Here we are jumping into Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi.  This is widely considered to be Paul’s most affectionate letter.  He is writing it as an expression of friendship to a church he truly loves.  And yet, like any church then or now, there is a bit of conflict in the ranks and it is this that Paul seeks to address.

          The “if” in verse one can also be translated as “since” which might make this a better reading.  “Since there is encouragement in Christ, consolation from love, sharing in the Spirit, compassion and sympathy” since there are all these forms of love and unity “then make my joy complete by being of one mind in Christ.” 

          Paul encourages the Philippians to be of one mind as a church.  Coming to a common mind is about letting go of the importance of our own opinions as an act of selflessness for the sake of unity in Christ.  They should let go of selfish ambition and conceit, and instead regard others as better than themselves.  He asks them to look not to their own individual interests, but to look to the interests of others.  Don’t do what’s best for you or what you think is right, he says, instead do what is best for the group. It’s not what you say that matters, it’s what you do, and what you should do is work toward the building up of others.

          Where did Paul get such a kooky idea?  From Christ of course!  “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” he tells them.  He then launches into what appears to be a long poem but which scholars actually think was a hymn.  In fact, it is commonly thought that Paul is quoting one of the favorite hymns of the Philippian church.  This is a great tool to get the Philippians’ attention and make his point.  It would be as if I started quoted the words from “Amazing Grace” in a sermon of mine.  That would certainly stir the song in your heart and wake you up to my message.  Paul wants to wake the people of Philippi up to the message that they should be imitators of Christ, who though he was in the form of God, emptied himself and became a slave. 

          As believers, we understand who God is from God’s self-revelation to us.  Throughout the scriptures we read of God’s acts on behalf of others.  From the days of creation to bringing the exiles out of Egypt, from sending the prophets to sending John to baptize in the Jordan, from Christ’s work of healing to his death on a cross, all of God’s acts are done on behalf of others.  If the same mind is to be in us that was in Christ Jesus, than that should be a mind of servitude, a mind of self-sacrifice, a mind that is focused on the good of the other rather than the self. 

          This is World Communion Sunday, one of my favorite Sunday’s in the life of the church.  Today we remember that while we physically gather as Christians in Warrensburg Missouri, we spiritually gather with Christians all over the world.  As our country continues to struggle over issues of patriotism and nationalism, as well as our promise of liberty and justice for all, it is good to be reminded that at this table, in this church, our focus shouldn’t be on being American.  Rather, our focus should be on our status as citizens of the world, part of God’s big family of humanity. 

          As Christians we are called to work for peace in our world, recognizing that all God’s children have a right to peace and safety.  This call necessitates the self-emptying love of Christ.  We cannot be a people of peace, and we cannot be a nation of peace, if we are constantly pushing our own beliefs and desires ahead of the basic needs of other people.  We cannot be a people of peace if we are a nation that threatens violence to those who disagree with us.

          When we gather at the table we remember that Christ is our model.  Christ, though in the form of God, emptied himself and was born into human likeness.  Christ humbled himself to the point of death on a cross.  God lifted Christ high in exaltation through the resurrection.  And God promises that one day all will confess that this one, this suffering servant, this Jesus Christ, is Lord. 

          As you move out from this worship service today and into the world around you I want to encourage you to think about these lessons from Jesus and Paul.  In a nation that is struggling to find the balance between nationalism and justice, how can we act in ways that promote the shared dignity of all people as children of God?  In a nation that continues to threaten violence, how can we act in ways that promote peace in our community and in our world?  Instead of just professing our faith, how can we live out our faith by lifting up the needs of others above our own?  Jesus tells us that it in the end it is not what we say that matters, it is what we do.  My prayer for us this week is that we would live lives worthy of his name and “just do it!”  Amen.

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