A woman in my congregation named Carolyn keeps a low profile. She has never held high office in the congregation, never been a volunteer lay preacher, never chaired a committee, and does not make impressive speeches at congregational meetings. Lots of regular church attenders would not know her.
But any parent of children in the church knows who Carolyn is. She has served as superintendent of the church school for decades. She has loved each generation of children, known them by name, and in turn been loved by them. Now a gray-haired grandma, she has been a key person in the faith of so many children.
I am reminded of Carolyn’s quiet but rich contribution to my congregation as I listen to Jesus’ sharply worded parable of the two sons, one who says he will go and serve but does not. The other, with much less fanfare and promise, actually shows up and does the job. Jesus is maybe giving a dig at the Pharisees who cut a wide swath in the community as religious people but have not welcomed Jesus. Jesus looks for consistency between word and deed.
We all may feel some discomfort with this parable’s challenges. How easy to sing the hymns with their glowing promises and commitments! As one who has preached countless sermons over the years, how easy to enjoy the praise of congregants! How easy to speak as if we were environmentalists or justice seekers or open and welcoming! How challenging to live the values of forgiveness and compassion! How difficult to be truly welcoming of the stranger, the refugee, and the person with special needs!
What areas of faithfulness are hard for us to live daily? Where do our words not quite match our actions? This parable calls us to confession and offers us new beginnings.
O challenging God, help us to meet you with honesty and humility. Amen.
The mercy of God is a theme that surfaces this week. In Exodus 17 Israel is not sure that God is faithful or reliable. By requesting water and voicing an urgent need, Israel appears to be testing God to discover God’s power and inclination. Psalm 78 praises Yahweh for grace in liberating the people from Egyptian bondage. Yahweh’s mercy sustained and supported them. Philippians 2 begins with a statement about the need for human kindness and compassion and then moves to the work of mercy that motivates human love—the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. In the reading from Matthew, the mercy of God, which is extended to those who normally receive no mercy, illustrates not only the inclusive nature of God’s grace but also how different the kingdom of heaven is from the kingdoms of this world.
• Read Exodus 17:1-7. When has your “speaking out” been met with negative response? Have you ever felt you were standing too “close to the cross”?
• Read Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16. Today, listen for God rather than speak of God.
• Read Philippians 2:1-13. When have you emptied yourself and become a servant?
• Read Matthew 21:23-32. How well do your actions match your words in terms of obedience to the commands of Christ?
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