ST. AUGUSTINE’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH, MORROW, GEORGIA
THE REV. BARRY GRIFFIN, RECTOR
So this man had two sons. One day he told the first one to get up off the couch and get a job. “Be productive, son. Earn your keep. Make something of yourself. You’re thirty years old!”
The son answered, “Dude, get real! Get a job? I don’t think so!”
But later he changed his mind and found a job after all.
The man went to his second son and said the same thing. “Hey, you! Get off the couch. Go to work. Be productive. Earn your keep. Son, it’s time you made something of yourself.”
And the second son said, “Sure thing, Dad. I’ll find a job.” But he didn’t look for a job. He went to the movies instead.
So, which of the sons did what his dad wanted? Clearly, the first son. It took him a while, but he came around. He was the faithful son. He got it right after all.
You’ve just heard a present day version of the parable Jesus told in today’s gospel. At first glance, the meaning of this parable is obvious. It’s about making commitments (or not making them) and following through with commitments (or not following through). Ultimately, what matters is following through, even if you said no in the first place.
In church we make lots of commitments. For example, we make marriage vows. We make financial pledges. At baptisms we commit ourselves to raise children in the faith. We make commitments to sing in the choir or serve as a minister of worship or teach Sunday School or cut the grass or serve on the vestry, just to name a few.
From time to time we renew our own baptismal vows. We re-commit ourselves to continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers; to persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, to repent and return to the Lord; to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; to seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbors as ourselves; to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.
Our commitments matter. When we follow through with our commitments, life is better. It’s not easier, but it’s better. It’s sweeter. Life has more meaning.
I’m convinced that is true, but there’s another aspect of today’s gospel that is more basic. Jesus uses this parable to point out the failure of religious leaders who question his authority.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the Kingdom of God ahead of you. For John (the Baptist) came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”
There it is again: you did not change your minds. Even after you saw it with your own eyes, you did not change your minds. Through the ministry of John the Baptist so-called un-Godly people believed, but you guys did not change your minds. For you, seeing was not believing. You were stubborn. You would not change your minds.
Last Sunday God changed his mind. When the people of Ninevah heard Jonah’s preaching they repented, and the scriptures tell us that God changed his mind. God did not destroy the city.
Jonah was the one who suffered. He could not accept that God was merciful. He was too stubborn. He had to be right. He would not change his mind.
Years ago a book came out entitled How I Changed My Mind. It was a collection of essays by well-known church leaders and religious authors. All had changed their minds about something very important.
What impressed me most about these people was their humility. They were brilliant people, but they were not proud. They knew they didn’t know it all. They were open to change. Consequently, they grew in understanding and maturity, and they were willing to say so. In short, they changed their minds.
Today Jesus challenges each of us to be humble enough to change our minds, to admit we don’t know it all, to forsake ego.
Will you do that? I hope so, because the Kingdom of God is most accessible to those who are most flexible; not to those who know it all, but to those who know they have a lot to learn.
As priest and author Andrew Greeley wrote: “If one wishes to eliminate uncertainty, tension, confusion, and disorder from one’s life, there is no point in getting mixed up with… Jesus of Nazareth.”
The Kingdom of God is most accessible to those who are humble. If you know you need God, you’re on the right track. If you think you’ve got it all figured out, well, you’re in trouble, and you don’t even know it.
In Friday’s Forward Day By Day entry, the author suggested that each reader write a letter to his or her 40-year-old self. For those under forty, the letter would be addressed to a future version of yourself. For those over forty, the letter would be written to a past version of yourself.
So what would you write? In case you’re wondering, I happen to be in the latter group. My letter to my forty year-old self would include a list of ways I have changed my mind. I would share some of the things I’ve learned over the years. I doubt my forty year-old self would heed my advice, because I knew a lot more back when I was forty. At least I thought I did.
We live, and if we’re flexible and open to change we learn. If not, we remain stuck where we are. Like the chief priests. And the elders.
It’s never too late to invite the Holy Spirit to lead us. And the Spirit will. If we are humble. If we are willing to change our minds.
If you would like to respond to this sermon or receive future sermons by email, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org