|Text: Matthew 21:28-30
There was once a man who had two sons. He went to the older one and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” “I don’t want to,” he answered, but later changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. “Yes sir,” he answered, but he did not go.
A father tells this story. “When my oldest son was about three years old, I was outside doing some work in the garden one afternoon. I took Kevin outside to play while I trimmed the hedges. Holding his hand, I knelt down beside him so that we could look at each other face to face. Slowly and carefully
I said, “Now, Kevin, you can play here in our front yard. You can go next door and play in your friend’s front yard. You can ride your bike up and down the driveway. You can go in the backyard and play with the dog or play on your swing. You can go back inside and watch television. You can stay here and watch me trim the hedges. You can do all those things but you are not go out into the street. It is very dangerous there. You cannot play in the street. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
And Kevin solemnly nodded his head. “Yes, Daddy,” he said. I let go of his hand and he ran straight to the curb, put one foot on the street, and then turned his head toward me and smiled, as if to say, “Silly daddy!”
Today’s gospel reading has a similar story. Jesus tells about a father who has two sons. The father asked them to go out and work in the field. One of the sons impudently answers, “No! I won’t go!”
A little later, the father looks up from what he is doing and notices that the boy has changed his mind and is now working out in the field.
His other son, when asked to work, politely said, “Yes, of course, father. Nothing would please me more than to work in the field for you.” Two hours later, the polite, seemingly obedient son is still lying on the sofa watching TV.
Now think hard, says Jesus, which son do you think pleased the father more? The one who said no, but then went into action or the one who politely said yes but then did nothing?
Those with children can identify with this scene immediately. It seems children come with the word “no” pre-programmed in them. You know how it goes.
Clean your room. No.
Do your homework. No.
Comb your hair. No.
Where does this come from? It comes from Adam and Eve, the ones who first said “no” to God and “yes” to themselves and the devil who lied to them. That “no” is passed on like a genetic disease from parent to child, from one generation to the next.
As children get older, the “no” turns into “Do I have to?” usually spoken in a whining tone that makes it doubly irritating.
“Help your mother with the dishes.” “Do I have to?”
This can turn into a more defiant “Why should I?”
“Be home at 11:00.” “Why should I?”
We are also familiar with the seemingly obedient child.
“Clean your room”. “Okay, Mum.” And when mum comes back nothing has changed. We also know that this kind of behaviour is not restricted to children. We say “yes”, perhaps with a good deal of enthusiasm but never get around to doing anything about it.
The Bible is full of stories about people who said “yes” but when it came to carrying out what they had said “yes” to that ended with a loud “no”.
A couple of examples. At the foot of Mt Sinai the people of Israel said, “Yes, we will do all the things the Lord has commanded us.” Not long after they said “no” to God in the loudest and most defiant way possible. They made a golden calf, and worshipped it.
The disciple Peter promised “Yes Lord, you can count on me, I will never deny you even if it costs me my life.” Not long after, he said “no” three times as he denied any connection with Jesus.
The church leaders of Jesus’ time said “yes” to God but “no” to the one whom God had sent.
In all honesty we have to confess that we get out yeses and nos all mixed up. We have sinned against God our Father by what we have done and by what we have left undone, by our rebellious “no” and by our religious “yes.”
We say “yes” to following Jesus, but when discipleship involves putting God and others first, being committed to joining in mission and ministry with my fellow disciples, the people of our church, putting aside everything else as less important to doing the work that Jesus has given us to do, we end up saying “No, this is just too hard”.
We have said “yes” to the love of God, we enjoy God’s grace as we see it in Jesus; we like knowing that God’s love for us is so certain and unchangeable but we have said a firm “no” to offering a hand of friendship to the person who really gets us angry; we have said a firm “no” to forgiving a person who seems to delight in saying things that really gets us stirred up.
We have said a firm “yes” to the new life that we received from God’s Spirit at our baptism, but the way we live our lives declares a loud “no” as we say “yes” to jealousy, anger, impatience, unkindness, sexual immorality, being nasty and uncaring.
We have said “yes” to the whole idea of spreading the good news about Jesus and God’s love for people in every kind of situation, but when we look at how little we have done and what little enthusiasm we have for getting involved we realise that our “yes” has been nothing but a pious good intention. We have reserved the right to say “no” if too much is asked from us.
We have shouted, “Yes, God is so good. Look at what he has done for us; how he gave his Son’s life because of his extreme love for us. Look at how he cares for us and our loved ones every day. Yes, I will give God praise and worship.” But after that initial wave of excitement we end up saying “no” to committing time to gather with our fellow Christians in worship; we say “no” to joining with others to thank and praise God.
In Jesus’ parable the second son is an example of religious hypocrisy. Did you know that the word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek word for “actor”? Actors hid behind masks; they appeared to be something they were not. The second son appeared to be the good, obedient, perfect son. He pretended to be someone he wasn’t. He was an actor, a hypocrite.
Jesus saw the empty, hypocritical “yes” of the religious people of Israel. “They preach but they do not practice what they preach,” Jesus said. They say the right things but they do the opposite.
Those who were listening to Jesus as he told this parable got it right when he asked them, “Which one of the two sons did what his father wanted?” Not the son who said, “yes, yes, yes” and did nothing, not the son who heard exactly what his father wanted him to do, but instead had his own agenda listing what he would and would not do.
How many times have our good and noble “yes” to Christ in our lives, and our “yes” to doing something because of our faith turned out to be fizzers?
How many times have we heard a stirring sermon, heard an exciting talk and presentation, been to an inspiring seminar and enthusiastically said “yes” and went home and did nothing about it?
Notice that I haven’t excluded myself from any of this and it upsets me to see this kind of thing happening in me – saying “yes” like the second son in the parable and doing nothing. It upsets me when I see this in a congregation – full of good intentions, enthusiastically passing resolutions at meetings and then waiting for someone else to carry them out. “Yes what a good idea, but no, I don’t want to get involved”. Seeing this side of ourselves is not a pleasant experience. We cringe, we deny it, we repent of it.
We are thankful that the “yes” of Jesus’ love for us was more than words or a pious feeling. We are ever so grateful that Jesus’ “yes” for us meant action. We are great sinners, this is true. But Jesus is an even greater Saviour from sin. We have a Saviour whose “yes” for us led to his cruel suffering and death on a cross.
His “yes” for us at our baptism meant that each of us, personally and individually through the water that was splashed on us, was graciously given freedom from all of our sin, and the love of God who has promised to go with us through all the ups and downs of this life. And then finally when our journey here is over to welcome us into eternal glory in heaven.
As we come forward to receive Holy Communion we again hear God’s “yes” for us as we eat and drink the body blood of our Saviour.
Yes, in spite of our sin we are loved.
Yes, in spite of our hypocritical ways when we say “yes” but we really mean “no” there is forgiveness.
Yes, even though we have so many good intentions to carry out God’s will in and through our lives, the perfect life, suffering, death and burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus has given us a fresh start and a fresh opportunity to say “yes” and to mean “yes”.
Through the power of God’s Spirit working in our lives may it happen that when we say “yes” to the love God shows us and exclaim “yes” to Jesus’ call to be disciples we will also say
“yes” to God making some big changes in our lives,
“yes” to following the guiding of the Spirit more closely,
“yes” to greater involvement in worship, prayer and the work of God’s church.
By the grace and power of God may our “yes” to Jesus be a “yes” to a new life inspired by the Spirit and enthused to do God’s work.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy