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The Rev. Michele H. Morgan
September 27, 2020
When Jesus entered the temple, the leaders came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus asked them, “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” Jesus said, “Then neither will I answer your question.
“Tell me what you think of this story: A man had two sons. He went up to the first and said, ‘Son, go out for the day and work in the vineyard.’ The son answered, ‘I don’t want to.’ Later on he thought better of it and went. The father gave the same command to the second son. He answered, ‘Sure, glad to.’ But he never went.
“Which of the two sons did what the father asked?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change and believe him.'”
As my friend Caleb Nelson Amaker has said, we have a visit from sassy Jesus today. Demonstrating what is meant when he said a little earlier in Matthew’s gospel about being serpents wise and doves harmless. The leaders are trying to trick him into saying things a little too early, get him to tip his hand and say something that Jesus is not ready to live into, yet.
He does not want to announce where his authority comes from so he asks them a question that they are not ready to answer either. He is being wily and not forthcoming; he is being serpent-wise, not willing to give up too much and he does it in such a mild way the crowd does not react and the leaders realize that they are being invited to say the quiet part out loud.
The quiet part for the leaders is that they did not care where John’s Baptism came from. They did not consider it. They where doing the politically expedient thing. They wanted to keep their power; they wanted John dead, gone, and out of the way. Now they wanted Jesus to say something about Authority that would give the Roman Authorities or give the crowd enough will/power/resolve to kill Jesus. And he said no, without saying no in an overt manner.
So he says nope, not answering the question. AND let me tell you another story of the vineyard. The story is about sons, and who is doing the will of the father. It is complicated because we will always hear the story through our own family lines. We will immediately identify with one brother or the other, and we will always come out thinking that we were the good children doing the right thing. It is our human nature.
But let us skip the family dynamics this week; let’s look at this as a story of what we say we will do and what actually happens. Let us think of this as a lesson in deeds and authority. We make all sorts of promises big and little during the day, during our work and our rest, over our lifetime. Some of us make vows to our vocation, to our beloveds, and we HOPEFULLY spend our lives living into them.
What is our commitment to God in this?
Are we doing what God asks of us, what we ask of ourselves in our vows?
Eventually we have to say the quiet part out loud.
WE HAVE to say it for us to do God’s will.
Let me give you an example. For some of us, we been saying for years that racism is not my problem, I am not a racist person. I dismantle it by not doing it.
Others of us say it is a terrible thing and it should change and I will denounce it when I see it.
Yet systemic racism is what was happening when Breonna Taylor was murdered asleep in her bed. She was in her home, asleep, and she was killed. Months passed and there was little to no accountability for her death.
The grand jury charged one police officer with wanton endangerment to people in neighboring apartments.
We have to say the thing out loud that will be scary to us, that will get us into trouble.
Sometimes we have to say that by ourselves, make a stand and stand out.
Sometimes in the midst of a movement.
Are we going to say, yes, what happened to Breonna Taylor was terrible and walk away? Is that what we do? Will that help us live into the will of God?
Are we going to say, yes, what happened to George Floyd was terrible and walk away? Is that what we do? Will that help us live into the will of God?
Are we going to say, yes, what happened to Ahmaud Arbery was terrible and walk away? Is that what we do? Will that help us live into the will of God?
All terrible and walk away? Is that what we do? Will that help us live into the will of God?
Jesus is very clear that we are called to change. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw [them change], you did not change your minds and believe him.
I am taking a class at Episcopal Divinity School, and the book we are reading is Black Theology and Black Power by Dr. James Cone. Dr. Cone, who is the father of Black Liberation, wrote this book in 1969, and what Dr. Cone was writing then could today have the phrase Black Lives Matter replace Black Power. It is shocking how nothing has changed in 51 years. We heard that it is impossible to place whiteness and our white sensibilities in the way of moving toward a life in Jesus.
We are called to change. We are called to hear John and called to embrace the transformational love of Christ, to see all and to not walk away. I am reading a book from over 50 years ago and we have changed little.
What and how do we change? How do we bring the love of God to everyone? How might we give up and convince ourselves that our comfort isn’t worth the terror of our siblings.
We need to say the quiet part out loud. Police kill black people and are not held accountable in this country.
And we need to work to change policing, to change and dismantle systemic racism in this country. It’s not just us being nice to people of color. It’s not us saying that’s bad, and we don’t agree with it. It’s us calling for change. It is us moving toward the love of God for everyone that will change this world. And that is what we’re called to, today.