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Matthew 21_23-32

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TITLE:   Saying "Yes" but Doing "No"          SCRIPTURE:    Matthew 21:23-32


Jesus told a story about a man with two sons. 

-- The father asked the first son to go to work in the vineyard, and the son said that he would -- but he didn't. 

-- The father asked the second son to go to work in the vineyard, and the second son said that he wouldn't -- but he did.

Jesus told this story to religious men -- the best men of his day -- men who prided themselves in doing what God wanted them to do -- except that, in fact, they often failed to do what God wanted them to do.

So Jesus told them about two sons -- one who said "No" but did "Yes" -- and the other who said "Yes" but did "No".

"Which of the two did the will of his father?" Jesus asked.  If you were paying attention during the reading of the scripture this morning, you know the answer to that question.  Even if you weren't paying attention, you can probably figure it out.

One of the sons said no but did yes.  The other son said yes but did no.  "Which of the two did the will of his father?"  Before I tell you how they answered Jesus, which one would you guess?  The one who said "No" but did "Yes" -- or the one who said "Yes" but did "No"?  Which is the more obedient son?

Lets make it personal. If it were your son or daughter, which would you prefer?  Would you prefer that your son or daughter say "No!" but then do what you asked?  Or would you prefer that your son or daughter say "Yes!" and then fail to do what you asked?

There are other possibilities, you know.  It is possible for a son or daughter to say "Yes" and then to do "Yes."  That's what we would all prefer, but it doesn't always happen. 

Jesus didn't tell us about the fully obedient son -- the one who said "Yes" and did "Yes."  He told us only about one son who said "No" but then did what the father asked -- and a second son who said "Yes" but failed to do what the father asked. 

When Jesus asked the religious men, they said that the better son was the one who said "No" but then did what the father asked.  You parents probably agree that you would prefer that -- the son or daughter who finally does what you asked.  It isn't perfect, but it is better than the son or daughter who never does what you ask.

Jesus told about these two sons to illustrate a point.  His point was that, in Israel, there were two kinds of people.  One group was sinners -- tax collectors and prostitutes -- lowlifes all.  God was not happy about the way they lived.  Tax collectors in that day cheated people.  Prostitutes -- well, I won't explain about prostitutes.

But these tax collectors and sinners knew that they were in the wrong.  When John the Baptist came preaching, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near" (Matt. 3:2), his preaching touched their hearts and they repented.  The tax collectors quit cheating and the prostitutes quit consorting.  The tax collectors and prostitutes responded to John's preaching because they knew they were in the wrong -- knew that they needed to live differently -- knew that they needed to repent and change the direction of their lives.  So they did!  They repented!  They changed the direction of their lives.

The great religious men went to hear John too -- priests and elders -- scribes and Pharisees.  They heard John say, "Repent!" but thought he was just talking to tax collectors and prostitutes.  My guess is that they were in John's cheering section -- thinking, "That's the way to tell them, John!  Say it again!"

And so they failed to repent.  They failed to repent, because they didn't think that they needed repentance.  They thought of themselves as God's faithful sons.  They thought that they were doing everything that they needed to be doing.  But they weren't.  They made a great show of religion, but their hearts were far from God.  John called them a "brood of vipers" (Matt. 3:7).  Jesus called them hypocrites. 

So Jesus told this story of the two sons to drive home the point that the tax collectors and sinners who repented were way ahead of the great religious men who failed to repent. 

Jesus told this story to let the great religious men know that they needed to repent too -- that they had failed God too -- that their obedience was seriously flawed too. 

Jesus told this story to let us know that WE need to repent too -- that WE have failed God too -- that OUR obedience is seriously flawed too.

That can be tough to see.  As I look out at this congregation, I see many people who are in church every Sunday.  You are faithful to your husband or wife.  You pay your taxes and do your good citizen duties.  You are admirable people, and I admire you.

But if I were to suggest that you are perfect in every way, the best among you would be quick to protest.  The best among you know better.  The best among you know that you walk on feet of clay.  You might not have committed terrible crimes, but you have dark moments when your heart is full of anger or hatred -- when you do things of which you are ashamed. 

If you feel that you are far from the kingdom, God bless you!  That means that your heart is open to repentance -- open to seeking God's forgiveness -- open to seeking God's help.  There is great hope for you -- because you are like the tax collectors and prostitutes.

But not everyone feels that way.  You might feel that you have nothing for which to apologize -- nothing for which to repent -- nothing for which to seek God's forgiveness. 

If you feel that way, God help you!  Your self-righteousness is killing you -- and it isn't doing your family any good either -- or anyone else.

Paul said that we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).  That means that there are two kinds of sinners -- those who know that they are sinners and those who don't.  There is irony here -- in this sense.  There is great hope for those of us who know we are sinners, because our hearts are open to repentance.  There is little hope for those of us who think that we are righteous, because we are unlikely ever to change.

The point is that God wants us to put him first in our lives -- to allow him to be in charge of our lives.  God isn't just trying to be controlling.  God created us.  God knows our frame.  God can show us how to avoid misery -- can show us the road to life and true happiness.  But it takes a certain amount of humility to appreciate that.  That was the problem with the chief priests and elders.  They thought that they knew it all, and so they couldn't learn anything from Jesus.

It takes humility to learn, doesn't it!  You have probably heard of Coach John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach.  Coach Wooden is in the Basketball Hall of Fame. He won more championships than anyone.

At the beginning of every season, Wooden put his new freshmen through a little drill.  He had them take off their shoes and socks, and proceeded to teach them how to put them on the right way -- the Coach Wooden way.

Now keep in mind that these new freshmen players were the cream of the crop.  They had been high school basketball stars.  People told them how wonderful they were.  Girls fawned over them.  Businessmen did whatever they could to help them.  Colleges all around the country wooed them.  The reason was simple.  These guys were great basketball players.  They won games -- and everybody loves a winner!

But when they got to UCLA, Coach Wooden had them take off their shoes and socks so he could teach them how to put them on right.  That little drill had three purposes. 

-- For one thing, it reminded them that little wrinkles in their socks could cause blisters that would hamper their performance on the court. 

-- For another thing, it reminded them that to win the big games requires attention to little details. 

-- But most important, it reminded them who was in charge -- and that they had a lot to learn -- that they could forget high school -- and that from now on they would play Coach Wooden's game.

Some of them resented having someone tell them how to put on their shoes and socks.  Some of them groused that they could teach Coach Wooden a thing or two.  A few decided to go elsewhere.  But the ones who stayed -- and most stayed -- became members of a great team.  They won championships.

So also Jesus comes to the holiest of the holy -- to the preacher and the elders and the deacons -- to the Sunday school teachers and the youth group leaders and the choir members -- and he says, "You could learn a thing or two from the tax collectors and prostitutes.  Their hearts are open to repentance -- is yours?"

And he comes to us as we sit in our pews today -- and he says, "You could learn a thing or two from felons -- from drug addicts -- from alcoholics -- from lowlifes of every stripe.  They know that they are not what they should be.  They know that they need to repent.  Do you?"

That is the question for you today.  Do you know that you aren't all that you should be?  Do you acknowledge that you are a sinner?  Do you realize that you need Jesus?

If so, Jesus is there to make you a champion -- to make you a member of his team. Come to him in humility to learn what you can.  Commit your life to doing what he wants you to do.  Become God's obedient son or daughter -- and let Jesus teach you how to win the game of life. 

May the God of salvation go with you as you journey in humility, obedience, and love.    Amen!

Softly and Tenderly (UMH #348) #303 FHP

Trust and Obey (UMH #467)  #365 FHP

Victory in Jesus (UMH #370) 

CHILDREN'S SERMON:  What Do You Think?
Objects suggested:  Some chore to do.

Suppose your mother asked you to wash the dishes and you said, "No," but later decided to do it.  Now suppose that your mother asked your brother or sister to wash the dishes and they said, "Yes," but didn't do the work.

What do you think?  Which child did what the mother asked?  Yes, the first child eventually did the dishes.

Which child most pleased the mother?  Neither one of them did because they were both disobedient.

Jesus uses a similar story, in the Bible, to make us think about obedience.  There are people who say, "No" and choose not to accept God's love and there are those who say, "Yes" and then don't put God first and live the life God intended for them.

When Jesus was telling this story he said, "What do you think?"  We need to think about how we can be obedient to God.  We need to think about what is the best way to do God's work and share his love with others. The answers to these questions are different for each one of us. We all must think about these important questions and about what we can do that would be most pleasing to God. 

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