Sermons 2005
"Who will go?" Proper 21A, 25 September 2005, Matthew 21:28-32

Home | "The One who is coming after me", Advent 2B, 4 December 2005, Mark 1:1-8 | "Stay awake. Be alert" Advent 1B, 27 November 2005, Mark13:24-37 | "Black Hat vs White Hat" Proper 26A, 30 October 2005, Matthew 23:1-12 | "Sheep and Goats -- again!" Proper 29A, 20 November 2005, Matthew 25:31-46 | "The Greatest Commandment" Proper 25A, 23 October 2005 Matthew 22: 34-46 | God and Caesar, Proper 24A, 16 October 2005, Matthew 22:15-22 | The Wedding Banquet, Proper 23A, 9 October 2005, Matthew 22:1-14 | The Landlord and the Tenants, Proper 22A , 2 October 2005, Matthew 21:33-43 | "Who will go?" Proper 21A, 25 September 2005, Matthew 21:28-32 | "The Last shall be first", Proper 20A, 18 September 2005, Matthew 20:1-16 | "Forgiveness, grace, and mercy", Proper 19A, 11 September 2005, Matthew 18:21-35 | "But who do YOU say that I am?" Proper 16A, 21 August 2005, Matthew 16:13-20 | "O God, how can we sing to you...." Katrina Relief, 4 September 2005 | "The kingdom of heaven is like...." Proper 12A, 24 July 2005, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-49a | "The wheat and the tares", Proper 11A, 17 July 2005, Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43 | "Ears to listen", Proper 10A, 10 July 2005, Matthew 15:1-9, 18-23 | "A cup of cold water", Proper 8A, 26 June 2005, Matthew 10:34-42 | "Heseth: lovingkindness, not sacrifice", Proper 5A , 5 June 2005, Matthew 9:9-13; Hosea 6:6 | Trinity: A Theological Exploration, 22 May 2005, Matthew 28:16-20 | The Baptism of Parker Benjamin Throckmorton, Pentecost Sunday, 15 May 2005 | "Receive the Holy Spirit" Pentecost , 15 May 2005, John 20: 19-23 | "Unity or schism?" Easter 7A, 8 May 2005, John 17:1-11 | "Abide in me", Easter 6A, 1 May 2005, John 15:1-8 | "The Way, the Truth, and the Life", Easter 5A , 24 April 2005, John 14:1-14 | "Saint Thomas the Doubter", Easter 2A, 3 April 2005, John 20:19-31 | "The Lord is Risen Indeed!", Easter A , 27 March 2005, Matthew 28:1-10; John 20:1-18 | "The Shadow of the Cross", Passion Sunday A, 20 March 2005, Matthew 26:36-27:66 | Raising of Lazarus", Lent 5A, 13 March 2005, Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-44 | "Who are the blind?" Lent 4A, 6 March 2005, John 9:1-38 | "Water and Living Water", Lent 3A, 27 February 2005, John 4:5-42 | Baptized and Born Again", Lent 2A, 20 February 2005, John 3:1-17 | Temptation and the Kingdom of God, Lent 1A, 13 February 2005, Matthew 4:1-11 | "'Tis good to be here, " Epiphany Last A, 6 February 2005, Matthew 17:1-9 | "Follow me!" Epiphany 3A, 23 January 2005, Matthew 4:12-23 | "Come and See!" Epiphany 2A, 16 January 2005, John 1:29-41 | The Baptism of our Lord -- and Ours, Epiphany 1A, 9 January 2005, Matthew 3:13-17 | Christmas 2A: The Tsunami, God, and our Neighbor", Matthew 2, 2 January 2005 | Next Sunday to be posted soon

Proper 21A 2005 Matthew 21:28-32

Let me begin our examination of the parable of the two sons with a series of modern day parables that have just come to my attention.

Pablo Picasso, the great Spanish painter and sculptor, once said this about his ability: "My mother said to me, 'If you become a soldier, you'll be a general; if you become a monk, you'll end up as Pope.' Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Picasso."

Picasso would have agreed with Abraham Lincoln. "Whatever you are," said Lincoln, "be a good one." Lincoln demonstrated the wisdom of that advice with his own life. It helps to remember that excellence is not a place at which we arrive so much as a way of traveling. To do and be our best is a characteristic of those who understand what Lincoln meant.

Viennese-born composer Frederick Loewe, whom we remember for his music that includes "My Fair Lady," "Gigi" and "Camelot," was not always famous. He studied piano with the great masters of Europe and achieved huge success as a musician and composer in his early years in Europe. But when he immigrated to the United States, he failed as a piano virtuoso. For a while he tried other types of work including prospecting for gold and boxing. But he never gave up his dream and continued to play the piano and write music.

During those lean years, he sometimes didn’t make enough money to keep up the payments on his piano. One day, bent over the keyboard, he was focused on the music that he was playing and heard nothing else. When he finally finished and looked up, he was startled to find that he had an audience. There were three moving men who were seated on the floor. They had come to repossess his piano.

But instead they didn’t say a word or move toward the piano. What they did was reach into their pockets, pool together enough money for the delinquent payment, place it on the piano and walk out, empty handed. (1)

Who will go? Who will step forward? I think this parable of the two sons raises an important question for us as we consider our long-term response to Katrina relief – and now Rita. Some of those refugees must think they are being punished! Already I’ve heard some of the radical fundamentalist religious people proclaim that such natural disasters as Katrina are divine punishment for the victims – they’ll have a field day with Rita.

It does strike me that my fundamentalist friends – and I might have one or two left – will have trouble with this parable of the two sons. What seems to be the point of it as the parable unfolds is suddenly turned on its head by the conclusion. Such terrible sinners as prostitutes and tax collectors go into heaven ahead of them? It’s even a little unsettling to us – they might be able to go into the kingdom of God ahead of us, too. How could that be? Surely not ahead of us. Especially not tax collectors.

This parable of the two sons might not make much sense to us as it could unless we settle it in its sitz im leben – German technical theological term for context. The context is this:

As Jesus continued on his journey to Jerusalem and the Cross, he encountered increasing opposition from the conservative religious establishment. After all, once he reached the outskirts of the city, there was the Triumphal entry, the first Palm Sunday, so to speak. And once in there, he had disrupted the finances of the Temple by driving out the moneychangers and calling the whole lot of them a den of thieves. Not calculated to win friends. For some reason the established religious authorities were upset at this.

So just before he told the parable of the two sons, the authority of Jesus to teach and heal was questioned by the chief priests and elders: ”By what authority are you doing these things,” they asked, “and who gave you this authority?”

The conservative literalist religious establishment of the day, Jesus’ opponents, hoped to discredit and trap him into declaring that his authority came from God, which would make him vulnerable to a charge of blasphemy. But as was his style, Jesus replied with another question: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” After all John had just been executed after having raised a large following for his baptisms in the Jordan – as you recall, John even baptized Jesus.

At his challenging and questioning reply the priests and elders found themselves arguing with each other. If they answered that John’s baptism was from God, then they would need to explain why they had not acknowledged and affirmed John. However, if they replied that John’s baptism was “of human origin” they were afraid of crowds, who revered John as a prophet.

Jesus’ question had put the literalists in a box. They had to admit, “We do not know”. Or perhaps more realistically that they didn’t want to answer the question asked. To which Jesus responds, as he dismissed the authority of the religious leaders to question him: “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things”

Jesus then began to tell a series of parables, beginning with this story of a man and his two sons. The man asked his first son to go and work in the vineyard, but the son refused. However, he later changed his mind and went to work after all. The father went to his second son and
requested the same thing. This son answered, “I go, sir” but actually did nothing.

Jesus asked, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” The priests and elders replied that it was the first son who obeyed his father.

The standard commentary interpretation is that the answer of the conservative religious leaders was correct. That deeds were more important than words. That what you did was more important than what you said. And that the first son was an analogue of tax collectors and prostitutes, the outcasts and designated sinners of proper conventional society. Because it was these outcasts who eventually heard and believed in John’s message and the Good News of Jesus Christ these so-called sinners would enter the Kingdom of heaven first ahead of the religious establishment that rejected both John and Jesus. (2)

The religious conservatives were like the second son, who professed to be righteous, but didn’t live it out. Even after they saw the changed lives of the tax collectors and prostitutes, they still refused to understand. They refused to do good and be good.

Who will go? Who will step forward? The message of the parable is that what matters is what we actually do in response to God’s call to be about the work we have been given to do. The religious respectability of only affirming the right thing, but not doing it, makes us seem too much like the second son, who did not go.

Tuesday night the vestry approved a concept plan for a task force to support or work with Katrina refugees – and that may include some from Rita as well. The vestry also committed the parish to the task. You can read the details in the Newsletter when it comes out. We need the help of us all.

Who will go? Who will step forward? Now is the time to live out our faith in a new and meaningful way. Now is the time to go. Now is the time to step forward.


1. Adapted from Steve Goodier, “Be a Good One,” at
2. Adapted from Synthesis for Proper 21A 2005

Wicomico Parish Church, Wicomico Church, Virginia 22579