Sunday, September 21, 2008

Words that Mean Something

Matthew 21:23-32 (September 28, 2008)

I don't know that I've ever preached on this text before. As it so happens, because I'm doing a special series right now based on my congregation's mission statement, I won't be preaching on it this year. However, some time ago I said "yes" when asked if I would prepare some comments for this week, and I've learned that it's important to honor one's commitments....

Two sons were told by their father that there was work to be done. One refuses to work, but later changes his mind. The other says "OK, I'll do it," but then does not go.

In looking through various online commentaries and sermons, I find that many preachers ignore the original context. The son who says he'll go but then changes his mind represents the religious leaders of Jesus' day. They said they'd follow, but their actions have not backed up their words.

I think I've skipped preaching on this for two reasons: one, I didn't want to risk making it sound as if Jesus' harsh words toward the religious leaders should be directed at all Jews. It would take some work to explain this in a way that adequately portrays the context as well as being appropriate to the gospel. And second, the basic idea of the parable--that words are meaningless if they're inconsistent with one's actions--seems so simple, like something a parent tells a young child, that it would be insulting to preach this to a congregation.

And yet, people do often say one thing and then do another. "Who will help out at the church workday?" Fifteen hands go up, but when the work day arrives, only three are present. What happened to the other twelve? They said they'd be there. Where are they?

Words are important. Or at least, they should be. And yes, it is a lesson that parents teach their children. I tell my own sons to do something. I tell them repeatedly. "OK, Dad!" But it doesn't get done. They call each other names, and when upset, will even yell, "I hate you!" Do they mean it? Not really. Yet they need to realize that words have power. In this case, the power to hurt.

But it's not just children who need that message. I admit, I was tempted to send in a note saying, "I'm taking a brief break from the lectionary and so am unable to post on the blog this week." Wouldn't that have been ironic?

"Yes, I'll go do the work." "Yes, Jesus, I'll follow you." Those are powerful words. But they become meaningless if they are inconsistent with one's actions.

More on this theme can be found in a previous post by Dan Mayes here.


revsharkie said...

When I was growing up my dad owned a restaurant. One summer I was working there, and so was a friend of mine, Raymond. He was a dishwasher, and I usually worked on the serving line or at the cash register.

There came a Saturday when Raymond was scheduled to work the pot sink, but he had to go out of town for a family function. So I told him I'd take his place.

My dad asked me, "Are you sure you want to do that? It's hard work." I assured him I could, and would.

Saturday came. My parents were out of town, and I'd been up late the night before. The pot sink shift started at 7:30 in the morning. I woke up at 7 and thought, "I really don't want to work today," so I went back to sleep.

At 7:45 the fellow who was supervising the kitchen called me. "Are you coming in?" I told him no.

Monday afternoon when I appeared for work on the line, my dad called me into his office. He said, "Johnny told me you didn't come in Saturday, after you said you would. It left him in a real bind. I was just sure no daughter of mine would do that." But I had.

fester said...

I think that we need to be careful with this text comming up at this time of the year. as many of our churces are in the beginning of our stewardship campains i think it can be so easy to simply take this as a way to enter into stewardhsip. we promise to make a pledge we should follow through, but this is too simple. i think that we need to take this to the further extent:

after comming out of the batismal waters, did we immediatly join into the ministry of the churhc. After dying with Christ and rising again did we join into Christ's ministry with him.

a large majority of the people need to be reminded that thier promise is not just to go to church and give money, and this text is more than just a promise to do waht we say. we need to live the life that our baptism calls us all to.

Danny Bradfield said...


Your comments are true, and relate to some thoughts that have been floating around in my mind for some time. Specifically, what are the expectations of membership in the church?

I believe that last month's DisciplesWorld had an article about a church which have very specific expectations for its members, and that each year, members needed to re-commit to being members and fulfilling those expectations.

I don't think my congregation (or most Disciples congregations) would go for the idea of being presented a list of expectations for membership. On the other hand, I am thinking about asking various members what they feel are expectations for members, and possibly compiling a list and printing it in the newsletter.

Dan Mayes said...


That's a good idea.
I think I might borrow that one from you.


The Transformer said...

We have some very clear expectations for members of the church I serve. It has been my experience that people live up or down to whatever the expectations are.