“Words Need Actions” Matthew 21:22-32
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, September 27, 2020
“Who died and made you the boss?” That’s a question you may have heard or used when it comes to someone challenging your authority to do something. It’s never a positive question and usually one that gets a negative response or results in some kind of altercation. In these days when authority is being questioned in so many ways, we need help understanding who has legitimate authority.
Jesus does that, as we hear in our gospel text this morning. After occupying the temple, Jesus responded to the leaders who asked about his authority first by turning the question on them. He did so as he asked about someone in recent events, John the Baptist, and his prophesying in the desert as he called people to repentance and baptism. He asked them by whose authority did John do all of that. Was it from God or just John? He knew they didn’t like John’s approach, did not recognize his authority, and had not responded to his call to repentance. But they also knew that it wouldn’t be wise to answer since John was still popular with the people and believed to be a prophet from God. Just as they didn’t answer, so he wouldn’t answer their question. Instead, he told them a parable about two sons and their response to their father’s authority and direction to go work in their vineyard, with one who refused to obey him but later did so while the other saying he would but then did not. He asked them which one did the father’s will, to which they responded, “the first.” He used that as a teachable moment to point out that the people who had responded to God’s authority were the folks like the prostitutes and tax collectors who turned back to God’s will. The people who talked a lot about their righteousness and faithfulness were like the son who had words but no actions. Jesus wanted them to find themselves in the story as like that second son. He even tells them that’s who they are in case they still hadn’t gotten the point.
In this day and time with competing authorities and powers, it is more important than ever for us, as followers of Jesus, to be the kind of people who respond wisely to what authority we follow in this world. If we say we believe, do our actions everyday show it? Where do you find yourself in this story, as you recognize that God has given us directions to go out and work in and for God’s kingdom? If you are like me, you’ve probably been both sons. You’ve been the one who says “Not me, I’ve got other things to do,” only to later recognize how wrong you were and end up going where God needs you. Or, you’ve been the one who said, “Yes, God, of course I’ll go and work for you,” but then you never do. What Jesus is doing here is to make sure we are honest with ourselves and with God when it comes to whether our words to God match up with our actions. True righteousness in our lives is the result of our response to God’s authority in Jesus with a combination of our words and actions for God.
I can’t help but think about where we are as Christians today in the U.S. I saw recently in the news that people in other countries feel sorry for our nation and can’t believe we are in the condition we are in right now. I’m sure they also wonder how a country with so many people who profess to be Christians has such a problem with caring for the sick, confronting racism, rejecting corruption, sharing resources, protecting the planet, loving neighbor, and worshiping power. I think professor and author Drew Hart is correct when he states, “We should not conflate American rights with God’s righteousness, nor should we confuse American freedom for God’s deliverance.” It is evident that there are many Christians in our nation who have said yes to the Father but have yet to work for him.
What will it look like for us to match our actions with our words? For starters, our lives will reflect that we are works under construction. We won’t look perfect, but we will give evidence that we are working out our beliefs in such ways that we are making our confessions more consistent with our actions. For those who say they are pro-life, then they will show it by caring not just for the unborn but also for children in poverty, for people without health insurance, for refugees, for the hungry, and for the elderly. Your actions will soon match your words when you do things that give them life rather than execute them with neglect or with lethal force. If you say you believe in the Prince of Peace, your actions will produce peace rather than violence. If you say you love God then your neighbor will have experienced it. If you say you are against racism, you will have anti-racist actions. If you sing of God’s amazing grace, it will be evident in how you treat other people as well as what you think about yourself. If you and I say that we are all about the will of God and God’s authority for our lives and yet we have made our will for our lives more important, then our words and actions don’t match. If we are so connected to a political party or agenda that we forsake what Jesus was all about in this world, then our words and actions are not getting along. If you and I say yes we will work in your kingdom, O Lord, and yet we don’t ever do anything, then we are living a lie and will be replaced by people who will not just say yes to God but will work for God.
As we go into this week, may we be people who show that we are right with God by doing what is right with God.