First Congregational Church
October 1, 2017
World Communion Sunday
Matthew 21:23-32 & Philippians 2:1-13
“What’s Our (Your) Mindset?”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Lena and a Katrina have a ranch and they have just lost their bull. The women need to buy another, but only have $500. Katrina tells the Lena, “I’ll go to the market and see if I can find one for under that amount. If I can, I’ll send you a telegram." She goes to the market and finds one for $499. Having only one dollar left, she goes to the telegraph office and finds out that it costs one dollar per word. She’s stumped on how to tell Lena to bring the truck and trailer. Finally, she tells the telegraph operator to send the word "comfortable." Skeptical, the operator asks, "How will she know to come with the trailer from just that word?" Katrina replies, “Lena will read it slowly: 'Come for ta bull.’”
There is a Jewish witticism in which someone asks their rabbi, “Why do rabbis always answer a question with another question?” to which the rabbi replies, “Why shouldn’t a rabbi answer a question with another question?” This morning’s gospel passage opens with such a question answered by another question, followed by a parable and then a hymn, from the book of Philippians. Although any number of us have heard one or both passages often enough, there are still words that are not necessarily easy or “comfortable.”
23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”
24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
The Parable of the Two Sons
28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. 31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.
1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! 9
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Do Everything Without Grumbling
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
To be honest, I think that the first part of the gospel passage for this morning is sort “squishy.” Granted, the chief priests and elders “started the cuffule” by challenging Jesus’ authority. And it would have been so much more neat and tidy if Jesus had simply said, “God.” All he would have had to say was one little word, and the confrontation may well have been over. Instead of not giving the challengers a clear answer, Jesus leaves them hanging in embarrassment, and at least some of us, in perplexity and/or discomfort.
I don’t know about anyone else, but the parable part of the Matthew passage seems frustrating, because there is no clear “winner.” I am fairly certain, however, that had I any children, I’d probably have had two sons, like the two who were asked to go work in the field - no doubt devilishly handsome and capable, but lazier than a blood hound on a front porch on a sunny afternoon.
The longer you look at those two segments, the more you see the correlation that the chief priests, elders and sons “didn’t get” that we naturally act out what we believe and hold dear. One doesn’t need the volume turned up on a college football game to know what some folks hold dear. Whether it’s a newspaper, tv or internet, you can find oodles and oodles of people acting out their beliefs of respect and rights and as a culture, we’re actually pretty good about acting out what we believe - at least in some areas.
William H. Willimon, Methodist pastor and Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at Duke Divinity School, recalls the Easter when he preached as skillfully as he knew how on the resurrection, a sermon about how (as today’s scripture says):
God highly honored him and gave him a name above all names, so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
After the sermon, a departing worshipper said, “Good sermon, preacher. But don’t you think that on a Sunday like Easter, music is more to the point?” Willimon said, “I thought she was exactly right. There is some truth so deep, so glorious, mysterious and wonderful, that only singing can do it justice.” (And while that anecdote speaks to the heart of this morning’s message, it just happens to be a shameless plug for the study that begins this week on Music and Worship and Why They Are Important.)
While the volume of our “behaviors” can, at times, be higher than others, our passages, the Word that God inspired, needs it’s volume turned up, too. And lest we get to chest bumping and high-fiving our devotion to God and how well we follow Christ, we need the anthem from Philippians 2.
The great Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians to give them concrete ways for the believers to demonstrate their devotion to God and Christ and the Holy Spirit. Philippi was a commercial, ethnic and religious hub that attracted all sorts of people from all around the known world, and one could probably see any and all kinds of forms of worship to gods as vast as the stars in the sky. To help those early Christians in acting out their faith, Paul gave them - and us - the patterns and clarity to demonstrate our devotion to God.
Even within any given faith community, there are differences of understanding and interpretation. But there are unifying aspects that strengthen the faith of each person, and today, we celebrate one of those aspects - the sacrament of The Lord’s Supper.
All around the world today, despite our differences and opinions and experiences, those who follow Christ are gathering around the bread and cup to remember the gift that has been given us in Christ’s son, that we may re-devote ourselves to the mindset of following Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit and to the glory of God. So let us prepare our hearts and minds for this great and precious meal.
Let us pray. Gracious and loving God, we thank you for never giving up on your people, even to the point of sending that which is most precious to you - to us - that we might find ourselves closer to you. Help us to recapture your mindset, that we may be able to live to our fullest selves in passing on your precious love and life and light. For these and all your blessings, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.