The Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost - Proper 21
Still Time to Change
“And even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”
I don’t know if this will be a shared experience or not, but one of the most anticipated and important events for everyone during my high school years was not the prom, or the senior prank, but it was the opportunity to select a quotation that would go under each person’s name in their senior year book. It was choosing the quote that would be eternally tied to your name in the high school year book which would of course undoubtedly sit as a permanent and unmovable fixture on the book shelves of every member of your graduating class forever. Well, ok, so probably not, but still, you get the idea. It was a big deal. For some reason, as I was preparing for this sermon, the quotation that I selected my Senior year was brought back to mind when I read this morning's Gospel.
“Yes, there are two paths that you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”
Now, before I continue, let me just pause and say that yes, that is a quote from the greatest band in history, Led Zeppelin, and if you recognized that, well then you are forever considered cool in my book! For our youth in attendance this morning, if you didn’t recognize that quote, well shame on you, and google it!
You see, at that time in my life that quote meant a lot to me, because at that time I found myself in a similar situation. I too, was in the middle of choosing between two paths. The path that I had been on had resulted in my becoming distant from God, developing potentially bad habits, and becoming consumed with myself. While the path that I was contemplating taking, though I didn’t really know where it led, offered the chance to change. As it turns out, I chose the path that provided change. Though it took a long time, that path eventually led me here. It led me back to a working relationship with God, it led me to change, to repentance, to seek the mercy and grace of God, and to all of you. As I look back on that now, it is impossible for me to miss the unending love and incredible forgiveness that God offered me in that time, the unending love and incredible forgiveness that God offers each of us always. That is what I hear Jesus saying to us in this morning’s Gospel, and that is what reminded me of my Senior high quote. It’s ok. You can still change.
We find Jesus this morning, as we often do, artfully transcending the challenges of the Pharisees and shifting the conversation to focus on their own faith or lack thereof. Jesus aptly points out to the Pharisees that though they are recognized by members of their society as the religious elite, they are not doing the work that God has sent them out to do. In other words, the Pharisees were extremely good at following the law, they were good at fulfilling God's requirements, at checking certain tasks off the list, but they had somehow managed to close their hearts to God's love and true message. Typically, I think that this is what most of us hear when we read this piece of Scripture as well. This morning, at least in part, Jesus is reminding and warning both the Pharisees and each of us of the constant temptation we face of letting ourselves become merely casual believers.
It seems to me that this is an important reminder or warning for us to hear occasionally as Christians. I mean if we are honest, how often do we look much more like the Pharisees in the Gospels than the disciples or followers of Christ? How easily do we become so spoiled by the overflowing love and grace of God that we too fail to recognize its constant presence all around us? When was the last time we came to church out of a true desire to thank and worship God, and not simply to check it off our list like a an errand of mid-level importance? It occurs to me then, that all of a sudden the growing anti-Christian movement and our greatest critics may actually have some valid points against us these days.
Could it be, that at our worst, we are nothing more than a social club? Is there truth in the accusation that we do not practice the very challenging and difficult life that we preach? Just like the Pharisees of His day, this is the very thing, the very attitude that Jesus warns us against in this morning's Gospel. Today, Jesus puts us in check, and reminds us not to be like that second son, to not be the one who takes promises, who enters into a covenant with God, and then never even tries to follow through. So, this being a Baptism Sunday, part of what I want to do this morning is to encourage us all to be intentional today and pay special attention to the vows that we will each renew in just a few moments as we welcome and support two individuals who will enter into that same sacred covenant with God for the first time. Let us use Jesus' message today to truly take a good look at the promises we have made, and the promises we have made on behalf of our children, and reevaluate where we do or perhaps do not honor those promises.
Let us confront our failures, because, though perhaps ironic, I believe that that is precisely where we find our good news this morning. Therein lies what I feel is the so often missed or unheard good news in Christ's words to us today. It's ok. There is still time to change the road you are on. You see, Jesus is in a sense putting us in check along with the Pharisees in this Gospel today, but just as He did for me as I stood at those crossroads, He is also telling each of us this morning that it is never too late to change, that He has not given up on us. Jesus is assuring us that it really is ok. I mean look, for as arrogant and smug as they may have been portrayed, Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees. He simply told them that all the people who they thought were below them were actually favored by God. Jesus didn't condemn the first son in his story today for initially failing or disobeying. He lifted him up as an example of one who had been welcomed home when he found his way, as one who changed the road he was on. That is the Good News that we can all take home with us.
So if you are sitting out there this morning and know you are on the wrong path, or you are standing at a crossroads wondering which way to go, hear Jesus' words to you today. It is ok. You can change. Or if you are at a point in your spiritual life where you feel numb, or empty, and you realize that you have just simply been going through the motions as a Christian and haven't really been living into your faith covenant with God, hear Jesus' words to you today. It really is ok. You can still change. This, Brothers and Sisters, is the Good News of Christ, not only today but always. This is precisely what the current critics of Christianity just don't get. Everything they say about us is pretty much true and we already know it, and not only do we know it, but that is actually the whole point. We are fallen, broken. We do mess up. We fall short of the mark, over, and over, and over again. We are forever having to pick ourselves back up and find ourselves standing at a crossroads, faced with two paths, faced with change, and wondering which way to go. And yet, it is there, in that crucial and oddly familiar moment, where we find Jesus, patiently waiting, constantly watching for each of us with arms wide open, as if to say, it really is ok, there is still time to change.
“And even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”