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Calvary Episcopal Church
667 Mount Road
Aston, PA       19014

610-459-2013
OFFICE




mail@calvaryepiscopalrockdale.org
SERMON
20 Pentecost - Proper 21
September 28, 2008
The Rev. Kristine Hill
667 Mount Road, Aston, PA   19014                                                 610-459-2013
Small Parish - Big Heart
The little church you've been looking for!
All are welcome!
Our Mission:

To worship
the Lord

To serve the
community

To grow the
church
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32
The Rev. Kristine Hill, Interim Rector
We  preachers  have  always  been  warned  not  to  tell  stories  about  our  own  families  
when  preaching,  or  at  least,  not  often.  The  reason  is  so  that  your  family  will  
continue  to  like  you,  instead  of  being  perturbed  with  you  for  telling  on  them  --  
talking  publicly  about  private  moments, embarrassing  incidents,  or  situations  where  
“significant  learning”  took  place – usually  someone  else’s  significant  learning,  like  
when  ‘this  child’  got  into  trouble  and  learned,  or  the  spouse  had  a  right  to  be  
angry  yet  saw  things  in  a  different  light  and  forgave.   No  one  wants  to  hear  about  
her  own  life  week  after  week  from  the  pulpit,  especially  not  if  her  life  is  being  
used  as  “an  example”  for  others.  A  preacher  who  tells  too  many  stories  about  his  
own  family  might  become  ‘persona  non  grata’ --  rather  unwelcome  --   in  his  own  
house.    It  may  be  a  good  thing  Jesus  didn’t  have  a  wife  and  children  because  
when  he  preached  he  used  family  examples  an  awful  lot  to  illustrate  our  
relationship  to  each  other  and  to  God.

Let’s  imagine,  for  a  moment,  that  Jesus  came to  our  area  to  teach,  and  began  
talking  about  someone  we  knew  --  say  the  owner  of  a  local  hardware  store - and  
everyone  knew  him,  if  not  personally,  then  by  reputation.    Jesus  said,  “tell  me  
what  you  think.   The  owner  of  the  hardware  store  had  two  sons.   He  said  to  the  
elder  son,  “go  work  for  me  at  the  store  today,”  but  the  son  said  “no,  I  don’t  
want  to.”  Later  on,  however,  he  changed  his  mind,  went  to  the  store  and  worked.  
The  hardware-store-owner  went  to  his  second  son  and  said  “go  work  for  me  at  
the  store  today,”  and  his  second  son  said,  “yes  sir,  I  will.”   But  he  did  not  go  
and  work.    What  do  you  think  of  those  two  kids?   Which  one  did  what  his  father  
wanted  him  to  do?

It’s  not  really  a  hard  question;  obviously  the  first  son  did  what  the  father  asked.   
Even  so,  something  about  the  first  son  doesn’t  quite  sit  well  with  us.  He  did  what  
his  father  wanted  but  he  was  pretty  unpleasant  about  it.   Then  there’s  the  second  
son.  He  answered  his  father  politely,  using  “sir”  and  sounding  so  respectful,  but  
that  doesn’t  add  up  to  much  if  the  father  cannot  count  on  him  to  do  what  he  
says  he  will  do.  The  second  son  sounded  good,  but  he  let  his  father  down.     That’
s  the  thing  about  this  story,  even  though  the  answer  is  clear:  the  first  son  did  
what  his  father  asked,  you  never  feel  quite  good    giving  that  response.    

If  we  think  back  to  our  catechism  classes,  our  confirmation,  we  might  remember  
something  in  the  10  commandments  about  “Honor  your  Father  and  Mother.”  That  
might  be  what  is  bothersome  about  this  story.  Neither  son  showed  his  father  the  
proper  respect.  The  one  was  disrespectful  in  his  speech,  the  other  in  his  actions.  
Both  sons  have  room  to  grow;  both  need  to  change   Each  was  partially  right  -  the  
first  son,  in  actually  going  to  the  store  and  working,  and  the  second  son  in   how  
he  addressed  his  father;  and  each  of  them  was  partially  wrong  -  son  number  one  
in  answering  his  father  poorly,  son  number  two  in  being  unreliable.        There  is,  
finally,  one  more  thing  for  us  to  recognize  in  this  story  before  we  move  on   --   at  
the  end  of  the  day,  both  of  them  remained  sons.   Neither  was  perfect;  each  son  
needed  to  change,  but  there  is  no  question  that  each  was  still  a  son  of  the  
father.

Congregations  are  much  the  same  way.   They  operate  a  lot  like  families.   People  in  
a  congregation  gravitate  toward  their  natural  role  in  relation  to  others;  we  fall  into  
a  pattern  of  how  we  interact  with  each  other.  You  may  have  noticed  that  if  
“Maybelle”  gets  anxious,  “Charlie”  will  run  to  the  Wardens  and  complain  about  
something:  the  children  are  too  loud,  or  a  word  was  mis-spelled  in  the  bulletin,  or  
the  Rector  doesn’t  face  the  correct  way  when  she  says  the  Collect.   That’s  just  
how  Charlie  responds  to  Maybelle’s  anxiety.     And  if  a  certain  kind  of  project  
needs  to  be  undertaken,  everyone  assumes  “Marshall”  will  do  it  because  Marshall  
has  always  done  that  sort  of  thing.   Maybe  no  one  thinks  to ask  Marshall,  but  we  
all  known  it  will  get  done…  and  most  likely  by  Marshall.      If  a  conflict  arises  
among  us  and  “Donnie”  is  on  one  side  of  the  issue,  “Tina”  will  be  on  the  other;  
we  know  that  because  they  never  see  eye-to-eye  on  anything.       We’re  like  family;  
there  is  a  pattern  to  how  we  interact  with  one  another.  We  do  things  by  habit,  
without   conscious  thought.

And  we  have  people  (several,  I’m  sure)  who,  more-or-less,  fit  the  roles  of  the  two  
sons  -  every  congregation  does.  There’s  “Jenny”  who  gets  involved  with  so  many  
things.  She’s  cheerful  and  has  a  ‘go-getter’  type  of  personality.   Jenny  loves   the  
church  and  has  a  wonderful,  positive  spirit.  Last  spring  she  said  she  would  
gather  three  bids  from  roofing  companies  so  the  congregation  could  begin  the  
task  of  fixing  its  old,  old  roof.  Jenny  can  do  this  sort  of  thing;  she’s  worked  with  
contractors  before.  Summer  came  and  she  didn’t  have  the  bids  yet.  The  Vestry  
asked  her  to  have  them  by  July  so  a  vote  could  be  taken  in  August  and  work  
could  begin  promptly.  But  no  bids  came  in  July;  the  leaks  got  worse  and  by  
August  there  was  only  one  written  bid  and  Jenny’s  promise  that she  would  have  
the  other  two  in  a  matter  of  days.  Now  it’s  nearly  October  and  a  roofing  company  
has  yet  to  be  chosen.  

Then  there’s   ol’  “Stan”  who  grumbles  and  complains  about  everything,  opposes  
any  new  plan  that  comes  up  saying  ‘it  won’t  work’  or  ‘we’ve  tried  that  before’,  
talks  about  how  the  parish  is  going  downhill,  thinks  it  won’t  be  too  long  before  
we’ll  just  have  to  shut  the  doors…  and  yet,  he’s  the  first  one  here  every  time  
people  gather  to  clean  and  fix  up  the  Rectory.  When  that  new  program  the  Vestry  
agreed  on  is  finally  kicked  off,  Stan’s  in  the  kitchen  making  coffee,  greeting  
guests  with  a  smile  and  a  kind  word,  being  as  helpful  as  he  can  be.   Any  time  a  
financial  need  arises  and  the  parish  has  to  raise  funds,  Stan  gives  as  readily  and  
generously  as  anyone,  and  he  does  so  without  uttering  a  critical  word.      Whadda  
ya  know?    We’re  just  like  the  sons  in  that  story;  we  have  known,  and  have  
been,    those  two  young  men  all  our  lives.

The  point  of  Jesus’  story  about  the  two  sons  is  that  both  sons  need  to  change.   
Neither  is  completely  wrong,  but  both  need  to  do  some  changing.       Easy  for  
Jesus  to  say,  but  who  is  going  to  tell  the-people-in-our-congregation-who-are-like-
those-sons  –  “hey,  you  really  have  to  change?”  --  and  tell  them  in  a  way  they  can  
hear  and  be  blessed,  instead  of  simply  being  offended?     As  a  community,  there  
are  times  when  we  have  to  address  such  issues  together,  or  trust  our  leaders  to  
address  them  --  not  go  and  tell  someone  he  or  she  has  to  change,  but  work  to  
re-shape  how  we  interact  with  each  other,  make  significant  adjustments  in  how  we  
respond  to  one  another,  so  that  we  work  with  each  other  better  and,  as  a  
church,  we  function  better.   That  task  falls  to  us  as  members  of  a  congregation,  
and  to  the  leaders  in  their  positions  of  trust  and  guidance.        Today,  however,  
we  will  listen  to  Jesus  and  Paul,  the  Apostle,  for  instruction  on  how  all  of  us  can  
seek  “change”  so  that  we  can  more  fully  embody  God’s  will  in  our  lives.

What  the  gospel  text  is  seeking  from  us,  what  Jesus  is  urging  upon  all  who  hear  
him,  is  that  we  be  opened  up   so  God’s  will  may  become  our  preference,  our  
desire,  in  daily  life.  The  reading  from  Matthew  ends  with  Jesus  scolding  the  
religious  leaders,  because  John  the  Baptist  came  in  righteousness  and  they  
rejected  him.  Even  after  prostitutes  and  tax  collectors  listened  to  John  and  
believed  him,  the  religious  leaders  still  did  not  change  their  minds  and  believe  
him.    But  the  translation  “change  your  minds”  is  not  quite  accurate.  The  Greek  
word  expresses  something  more  like  changing  what  is  first in  your  heart.  What  
was  not  changed  and  needed  changing,  was  what  the  religious  people  truly  cared  
about  most.  Was  it  their  standing  in  the  community?  Was  it  having  authority  so  
that  people  looked  up  to  them,  admired  and  maybe  feared  them?   Was  it  keeping  
their  understanding  of  God  safe  so  they  didn’t  have  to  consider  God  in  ways  that  
might  be  upsetting,  that  might  challenge  their  picture  of  who  God  is?   What  does  
come  first  with  us?  What  do  we  hold  most  closely  in  our  hearts?   That  is  where  
God  wants  to  be – right  in  the  center  of  our  hearts,  so  that  loving  and  trusting  
God  first  will  be  our  natural  response.    This,  of  course,  is  not  something  we  can  
do  for  ourselves;  but  we  can   pray  that  God  will  renew  our  hearts  so  that  we  
love  God  and  God’s  purposes  first  and  best.  Then  we  wait  in  confidence  for  God  
to  give  us  what  we  need.  

Paul  is  thinking  along  the  same  line  in  his  letter  to  the  Philippians  when  he  
encourages  Christian  communities   to   have  “the  same  love  for  one  another,  the  
same  turn  of  mind,  and  a  common  care  for  unity.   Do  nothing  from  selfish  
ambition  or  conceit,  but  in  humility  regard  others  as  better  than  yourselves.    Do  
not  look  to  your  own  interests  but  to  those  of  others. Let  the  same  mind  be  in  
you  that  was  in  Christ  Jesus”  who,  though  he  was  God’s  son,  did  not  cling  to  
this  prerogative  but  emptied  himself  taking  the  form  of  a  slave…    Paul’s  concern  
is  to  show  us  how  to  embody  Jesus,  how  to  live  together  well,  how  to  get  along  
in  a  Christ-like  way  so  that  our  manner  of  living,  our  well-worn  patterns  and  
habits  of  interacting  with  each  other  –  as  well  as  our  words  and  our planned  
programs  –  will  witness  to  the  one  who  loves  us.  

The  old  hardware  store  owner  had  two  sons,  and  neither  of  them  was  perfect,  
but  both  of  them  were  pretty  good.  Regardless  of  how  they  worked  on  any  given  
day  --  sometimes  well,  sometimes  not  as  well  --  they  were  his  sons.   We  are  God’
s  sons  and  daughters.   Living  together,  worshipping  together,  engaging  in  ministry  
together  over  the  years,  we  become  like  family.  Sometimes  we  work  together  well,  
sometimes  not  as  well.   Individually  there  are  things  each  of  us  does  effectively  
for  the  parish  and  other  things  perhaps  don’t  get  accomplished  quite  as  
efficiently,  but  throughout,  we  remain  sons  and  daughters – of  God  and  of  this  
congregation.   

Our  model  is  Jesus,  who  has  done  all  things  well.  Our  inspiration  is  Jesus,  whose  
love  surrounds  us,  lifts  us  up,  encourages  us,  corrects  us  when  we  need  
correction,  but  never  stops  being  love  -- deep  and  genuine.   Our  hope  is  in  
Jesus,  who  gives  us  mercy  and,  we  pray,  makes  us  merciful.  Our  guide  is  Jesus,  
who  although  he  was  God,  put  aside  his  divinity  and  became  a  lowly  servant,  who  
was  born  a  human  being, who  humbled  himself  and  became  obedient  to  death,  to  
the  awful  death  of  crucifixion --  all  of  it  for  our  sake  and  the  sake  of  all  people.  
None  of  it  for  himself.   This  is  our  Lord;  this  is  his  love.   We  seek  to  embody  this  
model  in  our  relationships,  our  congregation,  so  we  can  be  a  proper  witness  to  
our  Savior,  Jesus  Christ  sharing  his  love  with  the  world.