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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion April 2, 2023 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Pentecost 23 Proper 27A November 8, 2020

Joshua 24:1-3A,14-25
Psalm 78:1-7
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

Today we have the opportunity to be present at a crucial moment in the history of God’s people. Joshua calls all the people together and reviews their history. He reminds them of how God called their ancestor Abraham to go from Ur of the Chaldeans into the land of Canaan. and how God gave Abraham many descendants, just as God had promised. He reminds them of how God led the people out of Egypt and protected them every step of the way on their journey from slavery into freedom.

Now the people have left behind their time of suffering and slavery in Egypt. They are ready to settle in the land God has promised them. And Joshua calls them to do a very important thing. As they leave their life as a nomadic people and settle down, their leader is calling them to think carefully about their values. How will they conduct their life together? How will they treat each other? Whom will they serve?

Joshua is calling them to let go of all the gods they met in the land beyond the great river Euphrates, the gods they met when they were in Egypt, the gods of the Amorites, all of those other gods. And Joshua is calling them to serve the one, holy, and living God. And, like all good leaders, Joshua is setting an example, He tells the people, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

We are already settled here in Vermont, and in Florida and New York and Virginia, but we are in the middle of another kind of journey, our journey with Covid-19. And we are dealing with our recent election. And our economy, which has been deeply affected by the pandemic. And how to help the people who are suffering because they have lost their jobs and their unemployment insurance has run out, and the people who  have lost loved ones to Covid, and the issues of injustice in our society. 

Whom will we serve? Will we serve God? If we do, we have a clear path defined in the summary of the law—“Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” If we follow that path we will follow the Way of Love and our path will be relatively clear. It begins and ends with God’s gifts of faith, hope, and  love. It bears the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. If we follow those other gods, fear, despair, hate, violence, division, ruthlessness, selfishness, greed, those will lead us down quite a different path. Here, in the midst of our Covid journey, we can renew our promise to serve God and walk the Way of Love. And I know you are doing that.

Our epistle and our gospel both address the question, “How do we deal with times of uncertainty?” In our epistle, the Thessalonians are asking what has happened to those who have died. And Paul tells them that, when our Lord comes to bring in his shalom, his kingdom, the dead will be raised. and the living will follow them into paradise.

There are many new people coming into the congregation, and Paul is giving them strong teaching in the center of hope in the Christian faith—that, as John Donne wrote, “Death has no more dominion.” Christ has risen from the dead and has conquered death forever, and Paul is letting the Thessalonians know that they will be together with their loved ones who have gone before them in the communion of saints.

Paul is giving the gift of hope to these people who are wondering what will happen to their loved ones. Will they ever see them again? Yes, they will. Hope is such an important gift from God in these times. With hope, we can go on. We can take the next step. And the next.

In our gospel, we have the familiar parable of the ten wise bridesmaids and the ten not so wise bridesmaids. Everyone in those days knew what the bridesmaids were supposed to do. They were supposed to have their lamps lighted to escort the bridegroom into the feast. If you were a bridesmaid, there was one thing to remember— take a good supply of oil. Some of our young women did that; some did not. The bridegroom is delayed. Jesus was here 2,000 years ago. He said he would return. What do we do until then? Carl R. Holladay, Professor of New Testament at Candler School of Theology, Emory University in Atlanta, has a very interesting point about this parable. He writes, “The issue is preparedness in the face of uncertainty.” Holladay, Preaching through the Christian Year A, p. 507. The gospel is really about what we will do when our Lord comes to complete the work of creation and bring in his Shalom of peace, harmony and wholeness. Will we be prepared?

Will we be prepared to meet him even in this time of Covid, which is filled with uncertainty? Can we, with God’s grace, keep our faith in this time when there are so many questions and very few answers? Are we ready to meet him? Are we ready to help him complete his kingdom? Do we love God? Do we love our neighbors? 

Someone recently said, maybe instead of having what we call the ASA, Average Sunday Attendance, which, for us, has been ranging between 11 and 17,  we should write in our register how many people we meet in a week. If we did that, our food shelf volunteers could put down all those numbers of people who receive good food to keep them going. We do that because our Lord called us to feed those who are hungry.

When, not if, but when, Summer Music at Grace resumes, the people who attend may not realize it but they are coming into a place that is filled with the presence of God. In a secular society they talk about Grace’s amazing acoustics and how there is a special feel abut the place. I believe they are encountering God’s love and the love of God expressed through the joy of music.

Whom will we serve? Are we prepared? Are we ready to help Jesus build his shalom of peace and love? Are we now building his shalom by sharing his love with others?  Or, on a lighter note—Sign seen in  church office. Jesus is coming: look busy.

Thank you, loving God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, for your gifts of faith, hope, and love. Thank you, God, for creating us. Thank you, Our Good Shepherd, Jesus, for leading us and guiding us. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for energizing us to walk the Way of Love. May we walk in that Way, every day of our lives, and may we be prepared for your coming again. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pentecost 17 Proper 21A September 27, 2020

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

In our opening reading, we join the people of God on their long journey in the wilderness. Like us in our journey with Covid-19, they are filled with uncertainty. They seem to confront one problem after another. Last week they had no food. This week, they are thirsty.

They ask Moses for water. He asks them why they are quarreling with him and why they are testing God. They complain more loudly. “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, 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?” God is right there to help. He tells Moses to take the staff which he used to part the waters of the Red Sea. And God does something very wise. God instructs Moses to take some of the elders with him. Moses is carrying a heavy burden of responsibility, and God wants Moses to share that burden and responsibility of leadership with others. God goes before them and is waiting when they arrive. So often, on our journeys, God is there to help before we even realize we need help. God tells Moses to strike the rock of Horeb with the staff and water pours out. Moses calls the place Massah and Meribah, meaning “test,” the place where the people tested God, and “quarrel.” the place where the people quarreled with God and Moses.

God is always present with us. God gives the people and livestock the water they need to survive. The journey from slavery into freedom is not easy. Without God’s  help, the people might have turned back.

In our second reading, Paul is writing from prison to his beloved Philippians. This is not a new congregation. Paul has had a caring mutual relationship with them over several years. Scholars tell us that some conflicts have arisen within the congregation, and they are also facing challenges from outside. Just as with God’s people in the wilderness, there are challenges.

Paul calls the people to”be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”

He calls us to focus not on our own interests but on the interests of others. This is so contrary to the values we see in our world, where so many people think only of themselves and their needs. But we as Christians as called to love others as we love ourselves, and to treat others as we want to be treated.

Paul calls us to have the same mind as Jesus had. This reminds us of our diocesan mission statement which says that we are called to “Pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” We are called to be one with Christ. We are called to be as much like our Lord as we possibly can, with God’s help.

In our gospel for today, Jesus has come into Jerusalem and he has cleansed the temple. The religious authorities are asking him by whose authority he is teaching and preaching and healing people. The inability of these leaders to realize that our Lord was doing God’s work is tragic. They simply cannot recognize spiritual authority when they see it.  Jesus asks them a question, “Did the baptism of John come from heaven or was it of human origin?” The leaders are caught in a political bind. So they say they do not know.

Then Jesus tells the parable about the two sons. The father asks the first one to go and work in the vineyard. The son says he won’t do it  but then he changes his mind and goes to work.  The other son says “Yes, Sir, I’ll go,” but then he doesn’t go and work in the vineyard.

Jesus asks the leaders which one did the will of his father. They answer, the first. And Jesus says that the tax collectors and prostitutes will go into the kingdom of heaven before these leaders.

The tax collectors and prostitutes can see who Jesus really is. They are not the powerful or highly respected members of society, but they are following him. They are trying to lead lives of compassion.

Jesus has such a powerful message to share. He talks about the last being first and the first being last. The religious leaders do not recognize who he is. They have no understanding of what he is about. But the folks whom people despise and look down on have no problem seeing that Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. And his message makes so much sense to them that they follow wherever he leads and they try to model their lives on his teaching.

What are these readings telling us? The journey to freedom and wholeness is not easy. Sometimes it is all we can do to put one foot in front of the other. This is definitely true during this Covid journey. God is with us, God hears us, and God takes care of us.

Our reading from Paul is calling us to be one in Christ, to be on the journey of growing more and more into the likeness of Christ, both individually and corporately, so that his love and forgiveness and healing are with us always, leading us to be a community of hope and reconciliation. 

Our gospel reading echoes that old saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” We can hear people say flowery things which sound good, but, if the actions don’t match the words, we need to look at the actions, and they tell us the truth of the situation. And we are called to be congruent people. Our actions need to reflect our beliefs. As we know, this is possible only with the gift of God’s grace. 

All of our readings today call us to remember that God loves us and is with us. No matter how challenging our journey is, we can trust in God to lead us and help us, and we can have genuine hope that with God’s help, we can and will be God’s loving, faithful, hopeful people, sharing God’s caring and compassion with each other and with our neighbors.

O God, you declare your mighty power chiefly by 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.

Pentecost 23 Proper 27A RCL November 12, 2017

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Psalm 78:1-7
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

In our first reading, the people of God are moving into the promised land. Joshua gathers them together and reviews their history. God brought Abraham from beyond the Euphrates River and led him to Canaan and gave him descendants as numerous as the stars. And the people review a more recent part of their history, the journey from slavery in Egypt into freedom in this new land.

But Joshua is reminding them that they are called to choose to follow God. Scholars tell us that now that the people have crossed into this new land, they are probably hearing about the local gods. In those days, it was customary to pay respect to the gods of an area where you were moving in. And Joshua is making it clear that the people are called to follow one God. He says that his family is definitely gong to remain faithful to God. Then, as now, the commitment of a leader usually means a great deal to people. The people make their commitment to be faithful to God.

In our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, people in the congregation are dying. Many of the early Christians had expected that our Lord would return very quickly, but at the time this letter was written, about 20 years after our Lord’s death and resurrection, he still has not come to bring in his kingdom. Paul is assuring the people that  all will rise to new life.

Our gospel for today also addresses the issue of the coming of Christ. Matthew’s gospel was written about 90 A.D., sixty years after the end of our Lord’s earthly ministry. People are wondering when Jesus will come again to bring in his shalom. And so Matthew shares our Lord’s parable of the ten wise bridesmaids and the ten foolish bridesmaids.

Herbert O’Driscoll reminds us that a wedding was a feast for the whole community. If someone in the village was getting married, everyone was invited to the celebration. As dusk gathered, the bridesmaids would light their lamps and the lamps would be flickering as the day disappeared. Everyone knew that if you were a bridesmaid, you needed to make sure to buy plenty of extra oil in advance so that you could bring it with you. You never knew quite when the bridegroom would appear. It was something you could not predict. So, you had to be prepared.

We all know the story. The less than wise bridesmaids run out of oil. As the sky darkens, five of those lamps flicker out. The bridesmaids plead to their wiser companions to give then some oil. But they can’t. They have made their commitment to be prepared. The bridegroom arrives in a flurry of festivity. Five of the bridesmaids go in to the feast, and five are left at the door. Our Lord calls us to “Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

The call to keep awake is one of the major themes of Advent, which is only a short two weeks away. But this reminder to stay alert and to be ready is wise advice in every season.

Reflecting on this call to “Keep awake,” Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “I never know when God passes by in my experience, when eternity intersects with time, and spirit with flesh. I never know when a door between the worlds opens, and I am invited to a wedding. I may be invited to taste the sweetness of God in a moment of liturgy, in a moment of friendship…in a moment of beauty discovered in art or nature. But if such things are offered, then I must be ready when the offer is made. I must assume that any moment is the potential moment, any place is the potential place, any conversation or encounter is the encounter with God.” (The Word Today, Year A, Volume 3, P. 173.)

Any moment, every moment is a potential encounter with God. We never know when it is going to happen. That is why we need to be ready at all times. We need to be awake to the presence of God in every moment. O’Driscoll mentions Brother Lawrence, who wrote a book called The Practice of the Presence of God. He was a  monk who lived in the seventeenth century. He worked in the kitchen, and as he washed dishes, scrubbed floors, and peeled potatoes, he was deeply aware of God’s presence in all of these small and mundane things.

In our readings today, we are called to follow the example of Joshua and so many others and serve the Lord. We are called to have faith and hope because we believe that we are already in eternal life and that our ultimate destination is the heavenly banquet with our Lord and the saints and angels. And we are called to be awake, to be ready to meet Christ in every moment of life, whether we are scrubbing the floor, talking with a friend, or receiving the bread of heaven, the Body of Christ at the Eucharist.

In all of these moments, in every moment, Christ is present. Christ is alive and is among us at this moment. Amen.

Pentecost 17 Proper 21 A RCL October 1, 2017

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

In our opening reading for today, the people have no water to drink. They complain to Moses, who brings the problem to God. Immediately, God provides water for the people. This reading reminds us that God provides for our needs. I know that we are all praying that food and water and essential supplies will reach our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico as soon as possible.

Our passage from Paul’s letter to his beloved congregation in Philippi gives us a powerful description of the way to be a Christ-centered community of faith. Paul calls us to “be of the same mind.” In our diocesan Mission Statement, we say that we are called to “pray the prayer of Christ, seek the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” We are called to be of one mind, and that mind is the mind of Christ.

This means that we are daily seeking in prayer to know the will of our Lord and to do his will. We are of one mind, his mind, because we are one Body, his body.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” What a striking difference from the arrogance and narcissism rampant in our culture. If we defer to each other, if we are not competing with each other, what a difference that makes in a community.

“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” This would mean that we are not focused on ourselves but on others. We are not trying to climb the ladder of success or make all the money we can. We are thinking of the needs of others.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness.” Our Lord came among us as a servant of all. He called us to be servants. Because our Lord poured himself out in love for us, we worship him and we follow him. We try to be like him.

Paul then calls us to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in [us], enabling [us] both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Paul is calling us to continue our journey with Christ, knowing that we will never be perfect as he is, but nonetheless knowing that the Holy Spirit is at work in us, energizing us to be people of love and compassion, people who reach out to those in need, servant people who care about others.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem.  The chief priests and elders, the very people who should be seeing the truth of who Jesus is, come to challenge him, asking him by whose authority he is teaching and ministering. It is such a shame to see tyranny pretending to be true authority, and this reminds us of David Brown’s distinction between authority, auctoritas, authorship, creativity, and imperium, tyranny, control beating down the creativity of the people.

Jesus stumps them with his answer, and they are caught between a rock and a hard place. They try to come up with an answer and they realize they should simply say they do not know.

Then Jesus tells the parable about the two sons. The father asks the first son to go out and work in the vineyard. The son says he won’t do it, but later he changes his mind and goes to work. The second says “Yes, Sir,” but he never goes out into the vineyard.

One thing this parable tells us is that it is our actions that count. We can say all kinds of wonderful and flowery things, but, if our actions are not in harmony with what we say, it’s all just flowery words. If we want to find out where someone truly stands, we have to watch that person’s actions. Do they do what they say they are going to do?

The first son said No, but then that No turned to Yes. He went out into the vineyard and worked. The second son politely said, Yes, Sir,” but his actions were the opposite of his words.

Are we congruent? Do we have integrity? Do our actions match with our words? Do our lives reflect our beliefs? Jesus tells these religious leaders that the tax collectors and prostitutes will be first in his kingdom. They are the ones who are living in harmony with his gospel of compassion and service. As Lisa Ransom says, Jesus is turning the world right side up. The last shall be first and the first last.

Jesus is our model for authority—auctoritas. He has true, authentic authority. He is among us as one who serves. He empowers people. He frees up their creativity. He helps people fly like eagles. He does not hold them down and imprison them.

Last Sunday, Kim Erno talked about Paulo Freire and his Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Paulo Freire says that teaching and learning do not go just one way—from the teacher to the learner. He says that we learn from each other.  That is what Jesus did. He let the oppressed teach him. He learned from a Canaanite woman that his ministry was to all people. He called a tax collector to be one of his apostles.

When our Lord calls us to go out into his vineyard, that is the world, and do his work, I think we are going to say Yes and then we are going to match our actions with that Yes. We are going to go out into his vineyard and work for his kingdom, his shalom. May we follow him wherever he leads. Amen.

Pentecost 22 Proper 27A RCL November 9, 2014

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Psalm 78:1-7
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

In our opening reading for today, God’s people have reached a moment of transition. They are going to settle down in the land of Canaan and they are going to stop being nomads. Joshua also calls them to an important choice. They must renew their covenant with God. They must choose to be loyal to God.

Back in those days, when you moved into a new land, you encountered gods different from your own. There were the gods from beyond the river, that is, the Euphrates, and there were also the local gods of the land of Canaan, most notably fertility gods. Joshua calls the people to renew their vows to God. He leads by example, He tells the people that he and his family will worship Yahweh. The people follow his example.

In our secular age, we are surrounded by other gods—or we might say, idols. Many folks worship power and wealth. Some people strive for their fifteen minutes of fame. We are called to worship God.

In our epistle for today, the situation is that folks in the early church thought that Jesus would return quickly. But now it’s about twenty years after the death and resurrection of our Lord, and someone in the congregation has died. People are wondering what will happen to this person. Paul is telling them that because our Lord has been raised from the dead, we will be raised. Now it has been two thousand years since our Lord was here on earth. We can still be a people of hope because we know that death has no dominion over us. We are in eternal life now and we will be with our Lord and all the saints and angels in heaven.

Our gospel is dealing with a wedding banquet, but scholars tell us that Matthew’s congregation was also dealing with the question of Christ’s coming again. When will he come? Why has he not come already? Matthew was writing about 90 AD, some sixty years after our Lord’s death. Everyone hearing this parable knew how weddings went. If you are a bridesmaid, the first thing you do is to make sure that you have plenty of oil in reserve. It’s going to get dark and you will want to have your lamp lighted, and you will want to be sure that you have enough oil so that, at the crucial moment when the bridegroom arrives, you will be able to welcome him with you lamp burning.

The wise bridesmaids may seem to be selfish when they refuse to share their oil, but everyone knew what the priorities were when it all began, and they are focussing on the important thing: when the bridegroom arrives, I want to have my lamp lighted, with plenty of oil to spare. The foolish bridesmaids have to go off to buy oil and the bridegroom arrives when they are gone. They miss the feast.

This parable is almost a foreshadowing of Advent themes. It has been two thousand years, but our Lord will come and he will bring in his shalom. Our job is to be ready. We don’t want to miss the feast.

How do we go about being ready? Charles Cousar writes,”Watching means seizing the day, loving God and neighbors in each moment….” Texts for Preaching, Year A, p. 561.) Jesus calls us to be ready for his return. He cautions us not to speculate on when he will come, not to engage in theories or hypotheses, not to search the scriptures for signs. Rather, we are to accept God’s love, be ready in each moment of our lives, be people of hope looking forward to the time when he will come to us and establish his kingdom of peace, love, harmony, and wholeness. We are called to be ready for the moment when he will restore the creation to be as he created it to be.

Now we are in a time of transition, We are moving from ordinary tine, the season after Pentecost, into Advent time, beginning to prepare for his coming again.

It is not easy to live in a secular society. We can understand the situation of God’s people settling in Canaan. At times we might be tempted to put our trust in some of those other gods. Maybe the accumulation of lots of things or just the right clothes can make us happy. Maybe retail therapy is the way to a life of joy. That’s what the advertisers are telling us. Maybe clawing our way up the ladder of worldly success isn’t that bad after all. As the saying goes, it’s a dog eat dog world. Did you ever see that TV program called “Monk”?

The theme song has a lot of truth in it. “It’s a jungle out there.”

But the whole point is that, if we love God with everything we have and if we love our neighbors, and if all of us do that, the world will be a peaceable kingdom, not a jungle. That is God’s vision for the creation. Everyone getting along. In fact, everyone helping each other. Everyone having enough—enough food, clothing, shelter, good work to do, love. and caring and peace and healing.

That is the kingdom, the shalom that we are called to be ready to welcome. That’s the feast we are called to attend. That is the vision we are called to bring to fruition. That is why we love God and believe in God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. That is why we are people of hope, because we know that God loves us and all people and that God calls us to life in a different and richer dimension, eternal life, fullness of life. And that is why was are going to be sure to have more than enough oil so that we can keep our lamps lighted into the dusk and into the darkness, and, when he comes, we will be ready to welcome him and the whole creation will be filled with light.

May we love God in every moment, May we love our neighbors in every moment. May we be ready to welcome our Lord. Amen.

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.