PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Most of the time,
most of us don’t even know we are thirsty.
We don’t know the deep dehydration
that scours our bones and parches our hearts.
Sometimes, when our thirst pangs emerge,
We draw from the enticing wells
of the world’s offering of power and profit,
which leave us even more empty.
Still us, God,
so we might listen to You speaking to us,
knowing us, seeing us, loving us.
Fill us with your Living Water
that will transform our spirits and soul
into springs that burst forth
with life and love
for your people, for ourselves, and for our world.
CALL TO WORSHIP
We lift up our souls to you, Holy God.
We trust the Lord with our past, present, and future.
Teach us, Lord, that we may know your ways.
Guide our every move, Holy One,
that we may walk in your paths of love and mercy.
Let us worship the One who leads us in what is right.
Together, let us worship God!
CALL TO RECONCILIATION
All too often, we tell God we will do better, and be better, and then just go on living the same way we always have. Let this be the moment when we tell our God of our failures and faithlessness, so we can go forth to work in that kingdom of grace and hope. Join me as we pray,
PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS
We would want to be fountains of hope for others, God of glory, but people find only hardened hearts. We would like to be transformed people, but our stubborn pride prevents us from bending a knee to you. We long to stand with those who are in need, but our selfishness keeps our backs rigid with judgment.
Forgive us, God who came down to us. Humble us, that we might be true servants to the broken and lost. Split open our frozen hearts, that compassion might flow freely to those who are hurting. Fill our minds with the presence of your Spirit, that we might learn how to follow Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, into that kingdom of grace and hope.
Silence is observed
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
This is the good news: in Christ, God’s plan for salvation was accomplished. You are forgiven, you are made new.
We will complete God’s joy, by sharing compassion, forgiveness, hope, with everyone we meet. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen, amen.
PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST
The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
And also with you.
(all children will remain in the sanctuary)
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
O God, the Three in One,
you draw us into your community of love
with people across the ages and around the world.
By the same Spirit that binds us together
speak to us that what we read and ponder
may enliven us and stretch us to trust and follow you;
through Christ our Savior. Amen.
SCRIPTURE Matthew 21:23-32
23When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
28“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John 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.
SERMON “Called to Change?”
When Christian Herter was governor of Massachusetts in the late 1950s, he was running hard for a second term in office. One day, after a busy morning chasing votes (and no lunch) he arrived at a church barbecue. It was late afternoon and Herter was famished. As Herter moved down the serving line, he held out his plate to the woman serving chicken. She put a piece on his plate and turned to the next person in line.
“Excuse me,” Governor Herter said, “do you mind if I have another piece of chicken?”
“Sorry,” the woman told him. “I’m supposed to give one piece of chicken to each person.”
“But I’m starved,” the governor said.
“Sorry,” the woman said again. “Only one to a customer.”
Governor Herter was a modest and unassuming man, but he decided that this time he would throw a little weight around.
“Do you know who I am?” he said. “I am the governor of this state.”
“Do you know who I am?” the woman said. “I’m the lady in charge of the chicken. Move along, mister.”
Herter was governor, would later serve in the House of Representative from Massachusetts 10th district and as Secretary of State for President Eisenhower. This did not give him authority to demand an extra piece of chicken from that faithful church serving lady. Authority is a strange thing!!
So, when the Temple leadership, the chief priests and the elders, come up and ask Jesus about authority, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”, we can understand their point of view. They just spent the last night picking up the Temple, sweeping up the turtle dove “offerings” that were left after their cages were broken open and they nested in the rafters.
They had just spent the last night dealing with the angry money-changers who wanted restitution, after Jesus threw their money all over the place, while the crowds scrambled around, picking up loose shekels. “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
We can understand their frustration. If someone came in here and did something similar, you can be sure the Trustees and the Session would want to know who gave them permission to walk in here, move the pews, and leave a big mess!
But their questions are bigger than that. Because they consider themselves to be the authority. And they certainly didn’t invite this itinerant rabbi from Nazareth into their midst. They also probably recognize their position as the “first” and they keep hearing his comments about the first being last and the last being first.
Just who do you think you are, mister?
Interestingly, their questions remind us of the questions Jesus asks his disciples. “Who do you say that I am?”
Identity. Authority. Place in the Kingdom.
The questions of the religious leaders are dangerous though. If Jesus answers, “God has given me all authority”, then they can get him on blasphemy charges. If he says, “I am my own authority”, then they can dismiss him. Both of those answers would be true, of course, but they wouldn’t see that. Because they continue to order their world, their understanding of authority, power, and God in a different way than Jesus does.
And his continuing conflict with the Temple leadership will lead him straight to the cross. They will kill him before they will change their minds.
Because that is what he’s asking them to do. Change their minds, reconsider what they thought to be true, and believe that God is working for the repentance, the renewal, of the world, in new ways.
His answer to their question is another question. “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”
At first glance, it seems an odd question. John was killed chapters ago, after all. But John had preached a message of repentance, proclaiming “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
And remember that John was very popular. Betting people in that day would have guessed that in 2,000 years people would still be talking about John, not Jesus.
So, when Jesus asks, “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?,” he puts the authorities in a tricky situation. Do they anger the fans of John the Baptist? Or do they acknowledge he was speaking for God and they killed him anyway and now want to kill the person he spoke about?
So, they bravely answer, mumbling under their breath, “we don’t know.”
Jesus is offering them a chance to change their minds. He is giving them a way to say, “John came from God and, hey look—he was talking about you! Oh, we get it now!” But they won’t do it.
So Jesus tells them a parable about two brothers, a very Biblical way to tell a story. Wonder what their names were. Cain and Abel? Jacob and Esau? Alden and Elliott?
In any case, we have this parable about two brothers. One of them tells his father he won’t go work in the vineyard, but then he does. And the other one says he will do it, but then he doesn’t. And he asks the religious authorities, “which son did the right thing?” And even these politicians who wouldn’t make a stand unless it had been focus-grouped, say, “the one who did the will of his father.”
But parables don’t usually have such an easy and obvious answer, which gives me pause. Even though Jesus has now twice trapped the religious leaders, leaving them with only wrong answers, he is not done. He makes sure they understand that they said the right things but did all of the wrong things. And the people they don’t invite to church—the tax collectors and the prostitutes—have responded to God’s call more faithfully than have God’s own servants.
And all because the religious leaders wouldn’t change their minds. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? To change your mind. But think how hard that really is to do. Especially on the big things. The great minds of the world were convinced the earth was flat. Until it was proven to be a sphere. The sun revolved around the earth. Until it was proven that the earth revolves around the sun.
It isn’t just in science where we have trouble changing our minds. The Presbyterian Church has been ordaining women to ministry for over 50 years, which sounds like a long time. But I know there are people here in this room who were among the first women ordained to the office of Elder. For this faith community, 50 plus years down the road, women in ministry is no big deal, and I am thankful to serve a church that see the gifts of all people.
But I still encounter people who question my church’s decision to “disobey God’s rules” and ordain women or LGBTQ folks or those who haven’t had a full emersion baptism. We are still in the midst of watching people change their minds about different issues in the church and society.
That is just one illustration of the social and societal changes we have seen. The way we view slavery, evolution, geology, colonialism, divorce, and homosexuality have all changed, or are in the process of changing, and major fights are still being waged over many of these issues.
Jesus criticizes the religious leaders for not changing their minds when presented with the message of John the Baptist and when presented with the person of Jesus, himself. And, looking back on it with the advantage of History, we realize they were wrong. They thought they were being faithful Jews. They thought they were upholding tradition.
They knew that not all change is good. One of the classic examples of new not necessarily being good comes from my teen years, and the Coca-Cola Company released New Coke. Back in the 80’s. It was horrible. That was not change to believe in, and Coca Cola went back to the “classic coke” formula less than 3 months after the introduction of the new formula.
We aren’t called to follow every new thing that is out there. We are called to change our minds when God sends his prophets to lead us on the path of righteousness. We are called to change our minds when God sends his own Son to live among us and teach us what true, sacrificial love looks like.
Like the two brothers in the parable, we are given new information—go help in the vineyard, women can be officers,LGBTQ folks can be ministers, white folks can support Black Lives Matter, we can welcome all people into the church, Jesus Christ is God’s own son, etc—and our job is to respond to that new information.
We all respond to the news, for good or bad. The brothers walk away from their father and both of them change their minds, after all. Even the religious authorities respond by choosing not to believe it.
But this week, as your life unfolds around you, ask if there are places where you are being called to change your mind.
Is God asking you to do a new thing? To see the world differently?
Or, is God calling you to reconsider something you’ve faithfully believed like the scribes and Pharisees were called to do?
All I know is that when there is a parable where the answer seems too easy, it means we should spend some time with it, searching for the place where God is speaking to us today. May our hearts and minds be open to change. Amen.
Commentary provided by Stanley Saunders, Karoline Lewis, Emerson Powery, Ira Brent Driggers, Louise Westfall & Marci Glass.
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH The Apostles’ Creed
I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
THE PRAYER’S OF THE PEOPLE & THE LORD’S PRAYER
God, like the Israelites in the wilderness,
we too have known Your love,
and experienced Your care and provision.
You invite us to extend that love to the world around us—
to care for others as deeply as we care for ourselves.
And so we bring the needs of our world before You now.
In Your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for the many who do not have enough:
enough food to eat, or shelter to keep warm;
enough employment, or money to pay their bills;
enough medicine or medical care.
Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
We also pray for those who have more than enough,
but who still struggle to find meaning and purpose in life;
who indulge in dangerous or self-serving activities
to dull their pain or loneliness.
Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
God, Your grace reaches out to all of us.
You call us to live as citizens of heaven,
working together with one heart and mind.
Strengthen us to live in a manner worthy
of the Good News we have received,
offering our lives in service of Your kingdom,
where the last are first, and the first are last,
and there is grace enough for all.
Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
In the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who taught us to pray saying…
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
Sanctuary flowers are given in the glory and honor of God by Kristen Connell-Franchetti and Family in loving memory of Bruce Connell and by Beth Kaighn, Happy Birthday Mary Bunker and Wendy Kunz.
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
DOXOLOGY, HYMN No. 609, Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.
Praise God, all creatures high and low.
Praise God, in Jesus fully known: Creator, Word, and Spirit one.
Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Great God, your liberating power opened a way through the waters and guided your people through the wilderness. Guide the use of these gifts by that same power. Free us from the need to determine and control your grace, and turn us into servants of your boundless love, poured out for us in Jesus Christ.