It Makes No Sense at All, sermon 9/28/14

Matthew 21:23-32.
28 September, 2014

Audio link here.

It Makes No Sense at All

It makes no sense at all! None. Nadda. Zip.

Jesus comes into town ridding on the back of a donkey. At first he is mocked and ridiculed by the powerful elite – both the temple leaders and the roman empire. This backwater teacher who has been riling people up up north has made his way to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, and he tries to make a scene, but he is on a donkey. He is ridiculous looking. They have seen him on the outskirts of town beginning the ride, but as he makes his way to the city walls something in their passive perception shifts and they notice that instead of jeering and mocking crowds gathered – people are waving palm branches. An act intended for royalty. They are shouting ‘Hosannah in the Highest!’ they seem to be welcoming their messiah. Their warrior king riding victorious on his steed. They are seeing something the leaders can not see. Their future is opened before them.

It makes no sense at all!

The rabbi makes his way into the city, through the heart of the city. The chief priests and elders ware watching form their perch at the pinnacle of the temple. The legion of Pilate in town for the festivities anxiously watch as the what could be the roots of rebellion begin to stir. Jesus makes his way to the temple.

The noon day sun was shinning and illuminating the golden edifice of the Holy Mount. The smoke form the altar was rising above the temple giving up an odor pleasing to the lord and looking like the cloud that lead their forbears through the wilderness into this – their promised land. The cacophonous jazz of animals, ceremonial music, thousands of people in many languages, sang to the power of the God who was being remembered this week as preparations were being made for Pesach.

Followed by the multitudes, Jesus stepped off the donkey and made his way up the stairs – the same stairs his parents found him on all those years ago when they had come to celebrate this very feast of remembrance. He walked with the stride of a man coming home after a much too long absence. He walked like a son returning home to his Father, as he ascended the stairs with each step the pace quickened. Longing to be in the Holy Place, he began sprinting through the Hulldah Gate into the Court of the Gentiles. There he was greeted by the familiar scene of booths and tents selling animals for sacrifice.

This was a common and long held tradition, but what had happened over time was that instead of providing goods at a fair price – theses salespeople knew they had a monopoly and began to gouge their prices. What was intended as a way for the poor to buy necessary sacrifice had become a money making scheme and the chief priests and elders were of course getting their cut. The poor were being denied their sacrifice because of the love of money. This scene drove the peaceful rabbi, Jesus, to begin to turn over the tables. To release the birds in the cages, and give the animal to the people. This scene of oppression could not be tolerated in the Temple. If they had been selling at a fair price and not scamming, I am sure Jesus would not have been upset – for by being fair all would be able to worship God.

Of course the tearing apart of the temple was witnessed by the chief priests and elders. And they made their way to the to the court of the gentiles. They found the man from Galilee and began to scream at him as he was healing those who came to him. The hurting. The sick. The broken. The oppressed. They saw him and saw the future was wide open.

It makes no sense at all.

After all who needed were healed, Jesus got up and left the temple. Knowing there were daggers being stared into his back as he left. That night he went to Bethany. Slept like a son come home. The future was wide open.

The next day, he and the twelve – followed by those who left the temple with him – made their way back to Jerusalem. He passed a fig tree and cursed it and it withered and died. The disciples were astounded. He had the power to control nature, they knew, but now he had authority. They knew that there was a meaning to this. But it wasn’t clear – but Jesus knew that he those who carry themselves with grander and elegance can just as easily be dead and withered on the inside. Their future was stunted.

Into the temple they went again, this time they made it no further than the gates when who appeared but the chief priest and his friends. They saw the scene yesterday and were not about to let him agitate the people again. Pilate had heard about the shenanigans at the temple yesterday and had sent an envoy to let them know in no uncertain terms that he could easily put an end to this festive, and thusly, put an end to their profits.

The chief priests and elders began to question Jesus about the authority under which he acted, and he, in good rabbinic tradition answered with a question. Knowing that John was acting under the authority of God, he wondered if they would admit it – he knew they knew. But fearing loosing their own authority, and handing it over to Jesus, and fearing that if they said that John was acting on his own there would be a riot – they answered with an assured, “We don’t know.”

“Then I am not going to tell you by whose authority I act,” Jesus said. “But hear this parable and tell me what you think. There was a man with two boys. To the first one he said ‘Go work in the vineyard for me.’ ‘Dad, No,’ said the first one, but later he went and did his work. The dad said to the second son, ‘Please go do some work in the vineyard.’ And this son said, ‘I go, Lord.’ But he did not go. Now, which one of the boys did the work of their father?”

Looking at him like he was an idiot, they said, “Duh! The first one.”

With his sideways smirk that told the disciples that he knew they did not get it, “Amen, you are right. And so it is in the Kingdom of God, the tax collectors and prostitutes will be there before you. If you didn’t listen to John who came in justice and holiness – and you didn’t believe him (and you know whose authority he was under) – and the tax collectors and prostitutes did listen and believe and their lives were changed; you saw all of this and you still didn’t believe.”

They all looked at each other and the leaders grumbled, “It makes no sense at all.”

***

Like the second son, the leaders, who from their perches of power showed all the outward signs of devotion; leaders who glowed with their polished piety; who knew all the verses by heart; who not only offered sacred scarifies, but were the ones to do the sacrifice – these leaders were always saying – I go, Lord. They would paint the proper image so all the people would know they were the ones whom the Lord favored.

But when it came time to actually do the work – the work on behalf of the father, and not necessarily work that would profit them, they had better things to do. If they had to get their hands dirty, the disappeared.

We don’t know where they went. We just know that the job was left undone. Perhaps, after being filled up at church on Sunday they got their dose of the Holy and didn’t need more. The weekly routine was complete and the ritual met. They were fed for the moment, and that is what was needed. We don’t know.

We do know that they couldn’t see what Jesus was seeing. That, like the prophets before him, God really wasn’t interested in all the polished piety or skillful sacrifice. God was seeking workers who could see what God sees. Their long term view is askew. They can not see the future God has set before them.

The first son, the one who says he won’t go and work, but later goes to the vineyard, begins doing the work of the Kingdom of God. Again, we don’t know why he said no initially.

Maybe he as angry at the father? Maybe the father had let him down one too many times. Maybe the father had take all of his friends and peers away from him. Maybe the son had his own family to take care of and was too busy trying to survive to acknowledge the work that the father has set before him. Maybe this son was trapped in a cycle of violence where if he showed allegiance to his father’s gang and rival gang would try to take him out. Maybe he was sick. Maybe he had been let down one too many times; maybe he had been working in the vineyard with of the father before only to have been beaten down and ignored – told that his methods were not the way it has been done in the past. Maybe this son wanted to work for the father but was scared off by other workers.

We don’t know why he chose tell the father no. But we do know that he ended up working, and I want to believe it is because he could see the long story. He saw the future that working in the vineyard would give. A future that was wide open, and the father’s blessing – his inheritance.

I know many times I have found myself on either side of this story. Saying yes, and not doing; saying no, and going to work. This is the beauty of this passage. This is one of the main points of Matthew’s gospel. We are called to work in the vineyard. The future is open and the future is ours. Through Christ, God has given us the opportunity to be co-workers in the vineyard.

And the future is ours. The future is open – and that makes no sense at all.

Jesus comes to town on a donkey and the people see the future that God is bringing to Jerusalem. The future where the powerful are laid low and the low are lifted high. The king comes on a donkey. The powerful see what is – the poor see what could be – what will be. The future is open – for the powerful and the poor.

Jesus turns the tables in the temple and the people see the release of the captives; the shame of debt and inequality are abolished. This is the future in which all debts are paid and no one is held in bondage by anyone else. This is the future of liberation. And yet the powerful see their profits disappearing. They see their corporation crumbling. They see their own power being knocked over. They see the world as something the need to fight to hold on to; and the poor see the world as God intends – an upsides down empire. The future is ope to the powerful and the poor.

Jesus heals the untouchable. Kisses the lame. Hugs the leper. Embraces the elderly. Blesses the children, there in the presence of the Holy of Holies. Jesus reaches out the outcast and brings them into the Kingdom of God. But what the world sees, what the powerful see is a man who is humanizing the immigrant; they see a man who is giving voice to the voiceless telling them they are something when the powerful demand they are nothing. What they see is people beginning to see themselves as the image of the Divine that they are. They are seeing their world crumble and God’s world rise. The future is open to the powerful and the poor.

Jesus curses the fig tree – showing the world how the majestic, in the blink of an eye, can fall and crumble – how the institutions of power and oppression will eventually rot from the inside out. How a government that reaps profits from prisons – prisons that are guaranteed an 80% fill rate; will crumble from the inside because hope is extinguished. Families are destroyed. People are thrown in jail because they can’t afford their parole officer; profits determine law and people are ignored. The future is open for the powerful and the poor.

Jesus acts on the authority of the one who is the planter of the vineyard and has called us all to be workers. To be workers for equality. To be workers for justice. To be workers for the Reign of God. Jesus acts on the authority of the one who waters the vineyard in the life-giving waters of baptism and is giving a place for each of us to work. The future is open to the powerful and the poor.

God’s vision of the future is not one one either/ors, but both/ands. God’s vision of the future makes no sense at all because God calls us all to the table. God calls us, and we may go willingly right away; we may say no and show up later. God calls us all – even those who say yes and don’t show up. The call to work is not taken away. The future is open to us. God’s future is open.

A future that makes its mark on the present. Jesus shows what the future looks like. Jesus paints the picture. Our job is to continue with the work. Showing the world that in God’s future radical hospitality is the way – that at God’s table all are welcome. It doesn’t matter if you are here without documentation; it doesn’t matter if you are gravely ill; it doesn’t matter if you are the CEO or if you are struggling to find a place to live; it doesn’t matter if the world tells you are what we aspire to be; it doesn’t matter if the world keeps beating you down; it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor; it doesn’t matter because God’s vision of the future is the future that welcomes all to the table. And it makes no sense at all.

God’s future welcomes all to be workers in the vineyard. It says come to work when you are ready, because this is yours. This is your inheritance. This life is a gift that is yours and I will keep inviting you to work. Because in God’s vineyard there is grace. There is peace. There is love. And it makes no sense at all.

Thanks be to God

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