“Is God Here With Us or Not?” Oct. 1, 2023

Posted by on Oct 9, 2023 in Sermon archives

Is God Here with Us or Not? Living the Yes”

Exodus 17:1-7

Philippians 2:1-13

Matthew 21:23-32

Alright, two things: First, have you ever noticed that the only thing that Jesus could not tolerate; the only thing that was able to rattle his usual sunny disposition, was religious leaders that betrayed their position by being hypocrites to the nth degree? And second, have you ever noticed that whenever these phony baloneys  tried to trip him up to make him look bad, they always failed miserably? Jesus had a knack for, as we used to say, sending them down the road talking to themselves. Well, today’s gospel lesson from Matthew is a classic example of both. This little test of wills took place, evidently, soon after Jesus had stormed the temple courtyard and flipped over the tables of the money changers. (vs 23) ‘When he had returned to the Temple and was teaching, the chief priests and other Jewish leaders came up to him and demanded to know by whose authority he had thrown out the merchants the day before.’  They demanded to know by whose authority. Now, this had to have been somewhat of a tense situation, don’t you think? “By whose authority,’ indeed, when we know that the only reason they asked such a question was in the hopes that Jesus would say the authority by God or from God or something similar that they could report to the Romans and maybe start the process to get rid of this troublemaker for good. But Jesus, as usual, was not flustered in the least. Instead, he answered their question with a baited  question of his own.

(Vs  24) “I’ll tell you if you answer one question first,” Jesus replied. 25 “Was John the Baptist sent from God or not?”  By this time, it’s safe to say that Jesus had gained quite an audience and the members of this audience were firm in their belief that John the Baptist was sent by God himself. So the pressure was on. The Jewish leaders could have simply shined him on with any number of platitudes and excuses, but they didn’t. Instead, they rose to the bait gathering together to plan their strategy. In vs 25) Matthew writes, “They talked it over among themselves. “If we say, ‘From God,’” they said, “then he will ask why we didn’t believe what John said. 26 And if we deny that God sent him, we’ll be mobbed, for the crowd all think he was a prophet.” 27 So they finally replied, “We don’t know!”

And Jesus said, “Then I won’t answer your question either.” And at this point, rather than busting a gut laughing, Jesus tells a story; a parable about two brothers whose father had sent to go to work at his vineyard. One agreed but never showed up. The other refused, but later changed his mind and went out to work as he was told. Jesus then posed the question, “which of the two brothers did his father’s will?” And the answer, of course, was the one who had changed his mind and did the work. Now here’s where it gets good, and bears repeating starting at verse 31 as Jesus turned to the Jewish leaders, we read,  “Then Jesus explained his meaning: “Surely evil men and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom before you do. 32 For John the Baptist told you to repent and turn to God, and you wouldn’t, while very evil men and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to repent, and so you couldn’t believe.” ‘even when you saw this happening, you refused to repent,’



This, from Delmer Chilton who writes, “In commenting on our Gospel Lesson, retired Preaching Professor Fred Craddock says,

“The parable says that responses to God are of two kinds: that of the person who has said no but who repents and whose life says yes; and that of the person who says yes but whose life says no.”  The parable of the two brothers is perhaps a perfect example of a person whose lips say yes but whose life says no, Likewise,  at the opening scene in the temple, it is the Chief Priests and Elders who are accused by Jesus of saying yes while living no. These are the same Jewish leaders who had spent their lives professing their love for and obedience to God – but who have also never done any of the works of love and mercy which God asked them to perform. Their lips said yes but their life said no.

So, where are we at here? The story that Matthew tells of Jesus in the temple Is rich without a doubt. Remember that just recently Jesus had made quite a scene in the courtyard by flipping over the tables of the money lenders. I’m sure there was still quite a bit of open hostility burning in the church leaders of the time. But when they demanded that he tell them by whose authority he did these things, Jesus turned the tables once more by asking them if John the Baptist was indeed from God. or just another wild man who knows how to work a crowd. At first glance, we might think that this line of questioning was designed to put the Pharisees on the defensive, which it did.

But more importantly, by mentioning John the Baptist Jesus sought to draw attention to the one thing that John preached upon the most, and that was repentance; so let’s talk about that a bit. I mean, how do we define this thing called repentance today, here, and now. Is it something that has changed over the centuries? Is repentance nothing more than regret on steroids, Or is it more of a conscious decision to change our behavior or to write a wrong.  The Google dictionary defines biblical repentance this way : “As seen in the story of Joseph and his brothers, the biblical concept of repentance is more than saying sorry. To repent means to rearrange your entire way of thinking, feeling and being in order to forsake that which is wrong. Judah and his brothers showed remorse, but more importantly, they showed transformation.”   Bruce Wilkinson tells us that      “Repentance means you change your mind so deeply that it changes you.”

Most of us, I’m sure, can remember as a kid being ordered to apologize for something that we did. Chances are that we muttered a half- hearted “I’m sorry” while staring at our feet,  figuring that would get us off the hook. But then came the big whammy: “No, young man, you’d better tell them you are sorry and this time you better mean it!” And this, perhaps, might be our first lesson in the difficulties of repentance; difficult at any age because true repentance requires a change of heart. It’s a tough lesson to learn that when we say “yes” we had better live the “yes” also.

In today’s passage from Exodus, we find the nation of Israel was in a foul mood. Their water supply was all but gone and so they turned against Moses and against God, looking for someone to blame.  (vs 3)

(vs 3)  But the people were thirsty for water there. They complained to Moses, “Why did you take us from Egypt and drag us out here with our children and animals to die of thirst?” With God’s help, of course, they did find water but the stain of their grumblings and doubt remained. (vs 7) and Moses named the place Massah (Testing-Place) and Meribah (Quarreling) because of the quarreling of the Israelites and because of their testing of God when they said, “Is God here with us, or not?”  But here’s the thing: every time the Jewish people were in dire straits, every time that things looked grim, the God of Abraham always came through. Every time. And yet the same people who continually said “yes” when times were good never seemed to miss a chance to live the “no” of their complaints, saying. “Is God here with us or not.”  But let’s face it, living the yes is not always easy. Living with Christ means that we live for Christ. It means that we take to heart his teachings and examples of love and compassion. It means that we say yes To the practice of loving those who probably won’t be loving us back. It means that we say yes to the church, yes to our faith communities, and today on world communion Sunday, it means did we say yes to the power of the spirit embodied in Jesus Christ; that there are millions upon millions of souls in this world who said yes to Christ as they share the body and the blood and the love of Christ. What does it mean to be a follower of Christ?  It means repentance, it means devotion. Simply put, it means that we say yes and then go and live that yes.

Amen and Shalom



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