Here we are at week 9 of 10 in our study of parables. I chose today’s scripture as our second last parable to encourage us to look back on some of the things we explored this summer. Together, we dug deep as we thought about what Jesus might be trying to teach us. These messages were not always easy and sometimes challenged the way that we have thought about these stories in the past.
Everything that we need to know about the Kingdom of God and how to live towards the reality of “on earth as it is in heaven” is right in front of us. As he told his disciples, Jesus tells us what we need to do. He appears a bit frustrated in this parable and seems to say, “For God’s sake guys, stop asking me what to do, I’ve told you already… so, go do it!”
In the last eight weeks, I think our digging deep was like preparing a sturdy foundation. All of you that have taken the time each week to show up to worship, listen and learn (and/or read these sermons online) have begun the work of building that firm foundation Jesus talked about in today’s parable. We pray that we have explored well and used good theology to lay this groundwork. Let’s have a look at the lessons we have dug into and see what Jesus may be calling us to do:
That first week we began with a Canada day celebration and my sermon honoured a local activist named Phil Pacey. In appreciation of his life, a memorial gift made in his name was given by his wife Betty to the work of restoring the windows in this church. The line “good and faithful servant” had been used by Reverend Trent to describe Phil, so I began with the Parable of the Talents from which that phrase comes. There, we thought about how we become a good and faithful servant of the Kingdom of God instead of good and faithful servants to the Kingdoms of the World? We learned that the cost of being a Good and Faithful servant of God means that those whose measure success on the values of the world might see us as fanatics and troublemakers. If we choose to follow Jesus’ teaching we might find ourselves viewed as disrespecting traditional values, as serious threats to the ways things have always been done or even as political enemies! We could lose our jobs, our freedom, and even our lives, like Jesus did. This was a good place to start and these lessons set our hearts and minds to thinking about what makes the Kingdom of God different than the Kingdom of Heaven. We were called to do what we know is right.
During the second Sunday we told The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Here we heard the importance of prayers of confession and supplication. We learned that EVERYONE is worthy of God’s love and mercy; even those that we think never deserve forgiveness. We learned that it is not up to us to decide who is worthy. This parable taught us that all who come before God with a humble heart in prayer are forgiven every time they do. God is mysteriously unconditionally merciful. This parable taught us that God’s merciful forgiveness is not earned by acting like “a good Christian” or by just going through the motions of worship. God doesn’t see us for what we do in this way, no – God sees us for who we are. God’s blessing and forgiveness is for all who swallow their pride and come before God with a humble and contrite heart and ask for help. We were called to be accountable to who we are before God and humble enough to know we need God’s help.
Week three saw The Parable of the Labourer’s in the Vineyard. This parable spoke to the subversive nature of Jesus’ teachings. It touches on socioeconomic justice, but it doesn’t get there as expected… it is not a parable about wage disparity. Instead, it is about how to ensure that people do not become marginalized in the first place. This parable also calls to question why we do things… it made us question: do we do them for reward or because they are the right thing to do?
When our actions come from a place of living as though every human being is worthy of love and respect, then we can no longer turn our backs when we see things in this world that demonstrate anything less! The work of justice on earth flows from a belief that the Kingdom of God is now, that the Grace of God is already here. It is a call to live abundantly, trusting that God is taking care of everything you need, so you can take care of others in kind. We were called to do God’s work in the world.
During the fourth week we read The Parable of the Mustard Seed. This was a fun one to prepare and I think it challenged the traditional way of looking at that parable. Instead of seeing this parable as a lesson about the Kingdom of Heaven, we read it as a warning against buying into the Kingdom of Earth. This lesson was also about recognizing our abundance. This was a lesson in letting go of things that don’t really serve God, but may only serve greed and fuel jealousy. We spent some time thinking about what we already have in our lives that help keep us grounded in God. We were called to practice gratitude.
At our halfway point, we talked about “Bad Apples” as an analogy for The Parable of the Leaven. We did some serious thinking about how quickly hate and fear spread and recognized that it takes real effort and intention to be different. This is exactly what we are called to do – to be different – to do better.
Where there is gossip we were called to spread the truth. Where there is fear we were called to spread joy. Where there is injustice, we were called to spread compassion. Where there is scarcity, we were called to spread abundance. Where there is hate, we were called to spread love.
We found our lesson in Sunday six in The Parable of the Great Dinner. It recalled earlier lessons: We were called to be good to others without the expectation of return, but more importantly, I think we learned that we were called to go look for those who are not usually invited to be a part of our communities and invite them to come be with us. That also means that we must make them feel welcome and not expect them to fit into our ways of doing things. We may need to adjust how we do things to make room for others. We don’t do this expecting praise for our efforts to serve the “less fortunate”, or receive acknowledgement for our charity. We should not do these things just to improve our reputations or for media attention. If we are being as awesome as Jesus would have us be, we won’t have to worry about getting noticed! We were called to invite the uninvited because everyone is welcome in the eyes of God.
In weeks 7 and 8, we finally came to the most famous of the parables. The first was The Parable of the Prodigal son. We learned that all three characters in this story teach us something different about how God would have us live. Like the tax collector in week two, the younger son taught us what it means to be remorseful. From him we learned that in our brokenness it is possible to swallow our pride and say we are sorry. He taught us what it means to seek reconciliation with those we have wronged by starting with an apology. From the father character we learned what unconditional love really looks like. He taught us that sometimes it is right to let go of what or who is lost because a situation is out of our control. He also taught us to let go of our anger, our shame, and our pain and forgive them when they return! The character of the older son taught us that holding onto resentment, jealousy, and anger will only keep us stuck in bitterness and it will steal our joy. We were called to love unconditionally, to forgive, and to celebrate when the lost return!
Finally, last week, The Parable of the Good Samaritan taught us a thing or two about social justice! I think the clearest call to action came, not from the voice of Jesus himself, but God speaking through the voice of the mother of the murdered woman who helped sum up our lesson for that day. To love our neighbour means that we are always seeking to make the world a better place. We are called to stand up for those that need our help standing up for themselves– every damned time and not just when it “feels” safe!
So, I wonder if the messages are right in front of us then why is putting them into action so hard? In the years following the death and resurrection of Jesus, his followers were struggling with the same issues as you and I with regards to how to follow in his way. The Letter of James in the intro speaks to this exact issue saying, “22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.”
Why do we continue to risk building our houses on shaky ground even if we have heard these lessons and even spent a bit of time thinking about them? I think it is because lessons like these are not truly learned until they are practiced. If someone simply told you how to do anything that you had never done before, like changing a tire, giving CPR, or making Pad Thai, but they never showed you how to do it, and you never, ever put into action what they told you, would remember it?
Chances are you would be unlikely to remember what you learned in the case of an emergency in the case of the first two at least. I have yet to have had a Pad Thai “emergency”. You might be able to bumble through it if you were really paying attention and have a learning style that allows you to process it that way. But, most people don’t have the confidence to try something new without at least having an example of what they want to do. This is why youtube and pinterest are so successful I think!
Thankfully, Jesus not only told us, but he showed us what he was trying to teach us by the life he led. Now, it is up to us to put those lessons into practice. What we practice daily becomes a part of who we are. For example, I learned to play the piano as a kid, and I practiced, not as much as I should have mind you, so I cannot sit down and pound out a tune, but I can still pick up a sheet of music and play it well enough to learn how to sing the song even though I haven’t had a lesson in almost 20 years.
Sometimes the biggest obstacle to putting our lessons into action is just getting started. Theologian William Barclay suggested in his book “The Parables of Jesus” that this comes from the habit of feeling emotions and not acting on them. We do this when we are entertained by things that shock us or make us cry – so much so that when real things happen that elicit emotion we are so used to not reacting that we just don’t.
We might overthink then to the point of talking ourselves out of what we really know is right. Acting on what we know is right is not instinctual anymore (if it ever was), it is a learned behaviour.
The first step towards this radical change is the hardest. And sometimes the second step is harder still if you trip up on the first. But you must keep taking the steps to move forward. The road to change is not smooth, for if it was then we wouldn’t be so afraid of it. But, it is a road that leads somewhere. As followers of Jesus, the road that we are called to walk is the road to realizing the Kingdom of Heaven to come and the Kingdom of Heaven that is with us now.
Every day we need to ask ourselves, as the mother in our story last week implored us to do, where can I make a difference today? We must understand that making a difference today changes the future. I know it sounds cliché these days, but asking yourself, “What would Jesus do?” and relying on what you have learned from these lessons will help you make good decisions in your life! Like the home builder that places his home on a sturdy foundation, when we practice doing what we know is right, being accountable for our actions, doing good for the sake of doing good, gratitude for our abundance, spreading truth, compassion and love in the face of evil, inviting the uninvited into our communities, letting go of what we cannot control, loving unconditionally, forgiving mercifully, celebrating freedom from resentment, and taking risks to stand up for those who need our help – helps us shore our walls against evil whenever it rears its ugly head. We will even recognize it when it is sneaky, subtle, and systemic! We will know what to do when we are called to fight against the forces of evil like hate, greed, fear, gossip, injustice, and oppression because doing what is right is in our bones. This is non-violent resistance. This is the way to justice. This is a daily proactive fight instead of once-in-awhile reactive one – this is the long road to real change and it starts with each of us taking one step out of the comfort of our thoughts and the discomfort of our emotions. After all, we know now that this is what Jesus calls us to do and be – people of compassionate action – people of positive change!
May we all pray for the courage and the strength to do as we have all been called to do! Amen.