Friday, October 3, 2014

Which of the Two? (Matthew 5:33-37; 21:28-32) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A gravely ill man was speaking with his doctor. His doctor told him, "You are very sick, but you'll pull through." However, the patient was scared for his life. "Please, doctor," he said, "do everything you can. If I get well, I'll donate $10,000 to the fund for the new hospital." Several months later the doctor met the patient on the street and asked him how he felt, the man told the doctor that he felt great. "Good!" the doctor said, "because I have been meaning to speak to you about that money for the new hospital." The man said, "What are you talking about?" The doctor replied, "You said that if you got well, you would donate $10,000 to the new hospital fund." The man shook his head. "If I said that, doctor, then I must have really been sick!"

Which leads us to our story from the Gospel of Matthew about a father who had two sons.  He went to one and said, “Son, go and work in my vineyard today.”  The boy said, “No, I'm not going, but later he changed his mind and went.”  The father went to the second son and made the same request and the son answered: “Yes Sir, I will father, but he didn't go.”  Jesus asks the crowd, which of the two did the will of the father?  The listeners reply, “the first.”

This is a parable that all of us, including children, can understand.  Hasn't every parent asked his child to do some household chores and has heard: “OK, I'll do it,” except that the child never does it.  I certainly remember my father telling me to mow the lawn or take out the trash or do the dishes and I readily said: “OK, just a minute,” but then got distracted and never got around to it.  After he badgered me, I finally did the chores, but without his badgering, it never world have happened.   I can remember my mother calling me to come in for dinner, and I would say, “OK, be right in,” but I didn't go, until she said, “OK no dinner for you tonight I'm throwing it out,” and that motivated me to break away from my friends and go in for dinner.  Stalling is a learned skill.  Right.  It's a skill we learn early in childhood.  Children can be masters at learning how to stall their parents when we don't want to do something.   Let's examine Jesus' parable a little more closely.

First, Jesus is speaking about how paramount integrity is in our relationships.  What we say should match what we do.  Is that ever an issue for you?  Jesus is appealing for integrity in our relations with others: in our friendships, in our families, with our neighbors, in our business, in our volunteer service, in the workplace, and yes, in the church. 

Jesus expects consistency between what we say and what we do.   What we say should match our actions and what we do should match our words.  Jesus expects us, as his followers, to be Christ-like examples to others, and to honor our word, our promises, our commitment, to follow through on what we say to someone. 

The price we pay for not following through is big.  We lose the respect, trust and confidence of others.  We are seen as persons whom you can’t count on or depend on.  The word people use today is flake.  He or she is a flake, you can't count on them, so don't even bother to ask.  Conversely, when we keep our word, you gain the respect and trust and confidence of others, who feel you can be counted on in the best of times as well as in the worst of times.  

In Matthew 5, Jesus was condemning a social problem where some Jews were making empty promises to one other in the legal, social, political and personal realms – and sealing these promises by swearing by heaven, or by the earth, by Jerusalem, or by one’s head and then breaking these vows as a matter of course.  In Matthew 21, Jesus was criticizing some of the Jewish leaders who claimed they loved God and were committed to fulfilling God’s will and yet they treated the poor unjustly, led unrighteous lives, used their offices for personal profit, and lorded their authority over others.   Their religion had become counterfeit.

Making a promise is easy; keeping a promise or honoring your word is another story.  It's essential to strive to be faithful to our word – our word to God and to one another, as a husband or wife, friend, mother or father, grandfather or grandmother. 

Someone wrote:  “Integrity is the ability to carry out a resolution long after the mood in which it was made has left you.”  Yes, it’s true that to err is human, to make promises that go unfulfilled is common.  But it is also true that Jesus, whose Spirit dwells in those who commit their lives to him and follow him, who call themselves Christian, expects more of believers.

Dr. William Glasser tells this story:  “Our family home included one of those big bathtubs, and we filled it one evening and asked our five-year-old son if he wouldn’t like to get in to splash and play.  He did want to, and we knew he wanted to, but as five-year olds sometimes do, he said, “No” and threw a giant sized fit, screaming and crying that he wanted his own little baby bathtub. 

During the howling, his seven-year old sister said she would like to get into the big tub and quickly hopped in and proceeded to have a delightful time.  At that point, the 5 year old changed his tune, demanding to go into the big tub also.  Dr. Glasser said he gently picked up his son, and put him in his infant tub.  When the boy’s crying subsided, Dr. Glasser said: “After this son,, don’t say no, when you mean yes, and don’t say yes, when you mean no.”  Dr. Glasser ended the story with the comment of how important it is to teach children this lesson.”

Jesus says: “I tell you, on the day of judgment, you will render account for every careless word you utter.”   There is nothing more damaging to our Christian witness, to our credibility as followers of Jesus, than when we lack integrity in our lives.    

The second lesson I believe Jesus is teaching deals with motivation.  Anyone ever face this in your life?  If only I could get motivated.  I just need a little inspiration.  I just need something to charge me up.  Knowledge isn't the issue.  You know what's right, you know what should be done, you know what you should do, but for some reason you don't do it.   Inaction, passivity, procrastination wins out.  We make excuses.  We justify our in-action. 

Yes, I am all too familiar with this problem in my own life.   Why do it today when you can put it off until tomorrow.  Why do the right thing when you know its going to be uncomfortable or unpleasant?  “Yes, I know I said I would, but”...The problem is not one of commission but omission.  We have good intentions, our intentions are admirable, the problem is implementing our intentions, putting them into action. 

I think of unchurched couples over the years whom I have married who will say: “Thank you, pastor, we loved your church, we liked you, you really helped us, we are going to start worshipping here, see you Sunday, and unfortunately, you never see them again.”  

Oh, those beautiful things - good intentions.  You intend to spend more time with your children, but don't do it because you're too busy at the intend to do some volunteer work in the church or community, but don't because things just seem to keep piling intend to spend more time reading the Bible or going to a Bible study, but don't because you're just too busy… we all, including myself, are aware of how good intentions can be a bridge to nowhere. 

Does this mean that we are bad people?  No.  Is the truth that we are liars?  No.  It is that age-old battle with motivation, with the self-discipline of actualizing what you really intend to do. 
The right thing begins with an idea, a thought, a desire, a goal.   God is pleased with our desire to do the right things, in fact, God expects it.  But there is more.  God has high expectations of us, not low expectations.  God wants you to have high expectations.  God is not satisfied with intentions only, because God knows that by his grace working in us, we are capable of so much more. 

And that's the key, to pray for God's power, to pray for God's grace, to pray for God's Spirit to hold us accountable and to work in us, when we are wrestling with something we know is the right thing to do, but we are just not doing it.  For by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we can lead lives of integrity and we can find that motivation we need.  

Jesus is saying – “My followers I want the best in you and in your relationships and I will give you my Spirit to help you reach those standards.”  God’s purpose for the Christian life is that it be filled with energy, enthusiasm, love and integrity.

What moves you from good intentions to taking action?   I read an article about a man who regained his focus thanks to his love for his daughter.  Anyone who's ever tried to lose weight knows what a frustrating, nearly impossible battle it can be.  It is hard to find the motivation to lose weight and keep it off.

Randy Leamer found the motivation.  He knew if he didn't lose weight, he might lose his daughter.   At only 18 months, Meagan Leamer was diagnosed with severe kidney disease.  No matter what treatment the doctors tried with her, the toddler just kept getting worse.  By age 5, Meagan desperately needed a kidney transplant.

Megan's parents were more that willing to donate an organ to their daughter and both were found to be good matches.  But her mother's family had a long history of kidney problems so an organ donation would be risky on her part.  That left Meagan's dad as the only possible donor.  There was only one problem, he weighed well over 300 pounds.  Doctors were afraid that in his condition, he wouldn't survive the surgery to harvest his kidney.  So Randy determined to lose at least a 100 pounds in order to prepare for surgery. 

He began exercising and eating a low-fat diet.  Friends at work cheered him  on, and even brought in their clothes when his clothes became too big for him.  Within eight months, he had dropped over 100 pounds.  Megan's kidney transplant surgery was successfully performed and both father and daughter made a full recovery.

Love for his daughter was his motivation, not to mention that losing weight gave him a longer and healthier life.  It is amazing how love, our love for God and our love for others, incuding  ourselves, can be a poweful motivator in life.

Right now, think about a relationship in your life.  Is there someone whom God is calling you to follow through with on a promise which you made?   Is there someone whom God is motivating you to serve or help or share with or honor in some way.  Is there something you know you need to do?

Jesus said go out into the world, make disciples, serve others, love your neighbor, witness to people in my name.  Christians are those who have said “Yes, Father I will go.”   Christians are those who have made a commitment and said, “Yes, Jesus I will go.”  Christians are those who have made a promise and have said “Yes, Holy Spirit I will go.” 

Praise God for a faith filled with integrity and motivation.  Praise God for his power, grace and call upon our lives.  Praise God when no matter what our words may be, we like the first son, go.  Amen!

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