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Pentecost 15 Proper 21 September 25, 2011

Pentecost 15 Proper 21A RCL September 25, 2011

Exodus 17: 1-7
Psalm 78: 1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2: 1-13
Matthew 21: 23-32

In our first lesson, we rejoin the people Israel out in the wilderness. Once again, they are complaining. There is no water. “Why did you bring us out here, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” Moses cries out to God, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” Now Moses is complaining to God about the people. God tells Moses to take some of the elders and take the staff with which he struck the Nile to make it part. God will show him the rock. Moses will strike the rod with his staff, and water will gush out. God does provide the water, but Moses names the place Massah (“test”) and meribah (“quarrel.”)  The faith of the people is tested in the wilderness. And they have been lacking in faith. They have quarreled with Moses and with God. But God has been faithful in spite of all their doubts and complaining.

Our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is really a poem of praise to God and to Jesus. Paul calls the people to be of one mind, to be in complete harmony in their thinking and attitude because they have the same love,  that is the love that is rooted in God. He tells us to look to the well being of others, not to our own. And then he calls us to have the mind of Jesus, who, although he was fully divine, gave up all of that power to walk the earth as fully human. Therefore, he understands everything we go through each day and each moment of our lives. Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “He lived our human condition, as we have to live it, and, in the end, he accepted even death, as we must.” (The Word Today, p. 134.)

We are continuing on our spiritual journey, but he is living within us and helping us on our own journey of transformation.

Just before the part of Matthew’s gospel that we read today, Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He has cleansed the temple of the moneychangers.  He is now in the temple. The authorities see him as a threat. They ask him a question, but it is really an attack. “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answers with a question, “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” This poses a dilemma for the Chief priests and elders. John the Baptist is dead, but he had a huge following. They must handle this question carefully. They finally decide to answer, “We do not know.” And Jesus tells him that, since they have not answered his question, he will not tell them by what authority he does these things.

But he tells a parable. A man has two sons. He asks the first to go out and work in the vineyard. The son says he won’t do it, but later he does. The father goes to the other son and asks him to work, The son says, “Yes, Dad, I’ll get right on it,” but he doesn’t go to work in the vineyard at all. On the face of it, neither son does the father’s will entirely. Each is a mixture of obedience and disobedience. But, since the first son finally went out and worked, the temple authorities say he did the father’s will. And we could say the same.

But there is a deeper message here. Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “The men confronting Jesus represent the public life of Israel. Officially, Israel is a nation obedient to God. But, while many, such as these men, enjoy the privileges of the state religion, they do not always practice its principles. The society as a whole is like the second son—professing loyalty, duty, faithfulness, and obedience, but not living accordingly. By contrast, the outcasts of society, such as the prostitutes and tax gatherers, seem to have said No to God. But although they suffer the contempt of society, they live with decency and kindness, They, Jesus says, are like the first son—not professing holiness, but living according to the will of God, Jesus leaves no doubt as to whom he admires and identifies with.” In other words, it is the outcasts, the people at the margin, who really heard and followed John the Baptist’s message about conversion, repentance, transformation of our lives.

What are these readings saying to us today? There are some observations about authority in our gospel. Whenever we have a reading about the chief priests and the elders of the temple, we need to use that as an opportunity to ask about authority in the Church. Do our leaders live their faith? Do we, as Christians, live according to our Lord’s example? Obviously, we are not going to be totally like Jesus. But we need to be headed firmly in that direction. If we aren’t praying the prayer of Christ, learning the mind of Christ, and doing the deeds of Christ, there’s work to do.

If we look at God’s people complaining and quarreling in the wilderness, we know that every community complains from time to time. It isn’t easy to try to discern and follow God’s leading. But the point is that God is always faithful. And today’s reading from Philippians goes to the heart of it all. We are called to have the same mind, the same love, the same humility, as Christ. We are called to care for others in the same way that he did and does, putting others first. As we move in the direction of allowing our lives to become like his, we become more and more like him; we become one with him and one in him. And, to paraphrase what Paul says, it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us.

(Gal 2: 20.)

This is the goal of Christian life and life in community, that, we, as individuals and as a community,  show forth the love and caring and humility of our Lord.  A high calling, possible only through grace.

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity; Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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