Sermon for September 27

“Going Out Into the Vineyard”

Matthew 21:23-32



    I think it probably has happened to every pastor. At times I have gone to visit the home of a perspective member or some one who is already a member of the church; however they long had stopped attending church regularly, and they will tell me how important church had been to them in the past, and that they know that they need to start going again, and even that they intend to do their best to be at church this coming Sunday. I leave thinking that they start coming back to church, and then Sunday comes around. I look over the congregation and as you might expect, I don’t see them anywhere. Not that Sunday or the Sunday to follow. Now maybe they mean well, or maybe they just want to get rid of the question, but we all know, sometimes, there is a difference between what people say they are going to do, and what they actually do.


In today’s scripture Jesus is calling upon those who knew the right words to do the right things. We read that he was talking with the chief priest and elders. These were the leaders of his nation, and he told the parable about a man who had two sons. The Father told them both to go out into the vineyard to work. The first said, “I will not,” but later having second thoughts he went. The second son said, “Sir, I will go immediately.” But he did not go. And then Jesus asked them a question. Which of the two sons do you think did the will of his father?


Of course, it was the one who went out into the vineyard even though he at first said he would not go. As the old saying goes actions speak louder then words, or as Jesus put it in other parts of the scripture, “Not everyone who says Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Or even as it is written in the book of James 2:17, “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”


What this parable is teaching us is that outside appearance of faith and using religious language are not enough, in a sense we need to go out and work in the vineyard. We need to adhere to what the direction for life that God has given us.


So today let’s think about these two different ways people respond to God as described in today’s parable. First there are the ones who know how to say the right things. Have you ever wondered that when politicians being using religious language if it is sincere or just a show of convenience? The leaders that Jesus was speaking to had all the right words. They could quote scriptures and rules that probably a majority of the population had never really heard. Being in positions of power was a way of life for them; however, they were missing the point of what God wanted for their lives. Like the second son, they had all the right words, and the populace probably deemed them fair, but they were failing to truly obey God’s will.


They were not responding in faith to the call of John the Baptist to repent, and they were not believing in the one to whom John the Baptist had pointing to, namely Jesus. It is interesting to note that they would not answer Jesus question because if they had said John the Baptist word was a word from God, that was setting them up as having to affirm Jesus as the one John had testified as being the Christ. If they affirmed such a truth, then they would not have to ask Jesus by whose authority was he acting when he cleared the moneychangers out of the temple. AS the Messiah Jesus was within his rights and divine calling to cleanse the temple for the genuine worship of God. None of this the religious leaders would accept, and so neither would they affirm John’s word about Jesus.


On the other hand, neither did they want to deny who John was, because, well, it just wasn’t politically responsible. To deny John would make a lot of people angry who fully believed that John was a prophet of God. In the end we really do not know what the religious leaders really felt about John the Baptist. All we know is that they were not going to credit Jesus with any God given authority, and they were not going to have the integrity of denying the word given about him either.


For them religious faith was about politics, but they were not the ones going out into the vineyard.


What about us? If this confrontation between Jesus and religious leaders of the temple tells us anything it is that one can be religious minded and yet fail to believe in the one whom God sent, or hear God’s calling upon their lives. We can come to church and yet yet not come to Christ. A person can use religious language and not have a Godly heart. We can go through the motions and not truly make an inward commitment.


The difference is being in church will not save you, but being in Christ and being the church will. It is quite possible to have confidence in a religious facade, and yet miss out on what God truly wants of you, and miss encountering the new person that God wants to make of you. For church to make a real difference we must turn to Christ and believe in him for our salvation, and then begin witnessing about what is in our hearts. Yes being a Christian means that we have work to do. It means that we have a message to share.


True religion is about living a changed life. As I studied this parable it occurred to me that there is also a lesson here for how we can do the right things. Think about the first Son, who at first told his Father, “No I will not go,” but then later changed his mind and obeyed his father’s will. What was the nature of that Son like?


First that Son had a spirit of repentance, and humility. He had a change of heart and chose to obey his father, instead of disobeying him even though he at first said that he would not go. Somewhere along the way the son must have felt sorry for the way he responded to his dad, and decided that he should go out into the vineyard and work. He was willing to admit to himself that he had previously done the wrong thing.


I think every Christian needs to live with such a spirit of humility and repentance as well. Repentance, changing one’s mind about what is right and acting accordingly is the first step toward knowing what the Christian life is about. It is also a must for farther growth in our walk with the Lord, because we always must be willing to accept the fact that their is room for growth within our spiritual lives, and to do that we must have a spirit that can say Lord it has occurred to me that I am not being everything that you want me to be. I am mistaken and I want to change. Take this area of my life and make it yours.


The second thing I like about the first son that should be of help to us in making our way into the vineyard and doing the will of God is that he chose to believe in the commandment given to him. The Father said go, and he, after giving it some thought, repented with a humble spirit to believe that he should go.


We need to be believers of the word as well. What was the difference between the tax collectors and sinners that Jesus said were more likely to enter the kingdom of God rather than the religious leaders of his time? It was that the tax collectors and sinners believed in faith the word that was given to them concerning who Jesus was and what God wanted of them.


God works in different ways in this life. If you read the Bible and your live is changed, it is not because there is power in a book. If you hear a word given and it changes your life it is not because the person who spoke that word is any greater than you, but God uses the Bible and people (and not just ordained clergy), and often events to touch lives and make a difference.


As you go through this world if your life is touched in such a way then you do well to listen and believe in the message you have received. To ignore that inner urging in your heart and Spirit maybe to ignore what God is trying to tell you. Like the First son we too need to hear the message and not forget it. Go out into the vineyard and work for me today, and we need to allow ourselves to be persuaded to do just that.


Thirdly the first Son most of all was moved according to his love for his Father. What else would have made him change his mind? There is no reference to any threats on the father’s part. He didn’t say go or else I will disinherit you, or have you beaten. The Son had the freedom to say no, and he did say no, but I think most of all he was moved according to his love for his father, and so he did as his father asked of him and went to work in the vineyard.


That is what God wants of us as well. We are to be a people engage in Christian service out of love for God and for all those around us. It does not profit us to come to church out of a sense of duty or some kind of self-gain. The Pharisees were probably doing that and it did not help them. We should be coming because there is something here that we have grown to love. As the psalmist wrote, “I was glad when they said let us go into the house of the Lord.” We should allow our service to our church to spring forth from a heart of love for God that desires to share with one another the gifts that God has given.


Become involved in your church, because there is joy in the service of sharing the gifts that God has given to each of us, whether it is in music, education, worship, finances, stewardship, or the maintenance of our church building. What is your gift that God has given to you to exercise –That gift that allows you to express the self-giving love of God within you?


You should be motivated in everything you do according to love for God, remembering that we love, because God first loved us. First comes the Repentant and humble spirit, and a belief in the word given then you may know the love of God, and then being moved by it. Are you in your place of service –the place God is calling you to?


Finally one more quick thought about going into the vineyard.


The vineyard is full of work to be done, and people in need. Maybe that is why the first son did not want to go. He knew how much work needed to be done, and so he thought he would be better off staying at home, but I am willing to bet that when he got to the vineyard he probably found his dad already hard at work in the heat of the day.


Where do you suppose God is for us today? I will tell you. He is in the vineyard, hard at work, and waiting for our presence. That is where we need to go in order to be blessed as individuals and as a church. We need to be about the work of believing, growing, and serving.


So today with a Spirit of repentance, and humbleness, with a willingness to hear the word of God and believe in it; according to the love of God, which is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord, go out and work in the vineyard. Live out the faith that we proclaim. Amen.

Published by Rev. Russell

Pastor at the Lake City United Methodist Church in Lake City, Michigan.

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