In the parable Jesus tells, one son says the right thing but doesn’t do it. The other says the wrong thing but does what is right. Which is better, words or actions? Apparently, what you end up doing counts more than whether or not you say the right thing.
But this really isn’t a parable about “doing the right thing.” It’s a parable about having a change of heart. The son Jesus lifts up started out having no intention to help out in the vineyard at all. But he had a change of heart and went anyway. It’s that process–having a change of heart–that Jesus is saying is important.
That’s why he tells this parable to the religious people, the chief priests and the elders. Their whole agenda concerns Jesus’ authority. Does your authority come from God or from humans? They are obsessing about it because Jesus’ teaching doesn’t match their understanding. They’re trying to find out where they can get a foothold against him. Jesus won’t get into it with, and instead, he invites them to consider a change of heart.
Have you ever met someone who is convinced they are right even though all evidence contradicts their view? That’s who Jesus is dealing with, so he tells them a parable. One son has a change of heart and does what the father wants. The other uses empty words. One son is like the tax collectors and prostitutes who have a change of heart and reveal God’s love. The other son is like the religious leaders who use good words, but end up withholding God’s love. What Jesus is after is a change of heart, not merely right words or correct actions.
So I’m wondering when the last time was that any of us had a change of heart? When have any of us been convinced we were right, that we were saying or doing what God wanted, and then changed? When have we seen things in a new light, saw God in a new way, or recognized that following Jesus meant going the opposite direction?
I think many of us get to that point in our own lives, and I also think this is the point we are at right now as a congregation. I absolutely believe Jesus is telling us that it no longer matters what time or style our worship is. It no longer matters how big or small our budget is, or how many people are on our membership list. I’m more and more convinced that Jesus is showing us a new way to be church together that requires a change of heart. Less about programs and more about supporting one another. It’s less about doing things correctly and more about forgiving each other. It is no longer about the church meeting our individual needs, but rather as church, we be concerned about others’ needs. It can no longer be about making sure we are taken care of, but must be about making sure the world is taken care of.
We will soon be working on the 2015 congregational budget. How much of it will be about taking care of ourselves, and how much of it will be about taking care of others? Watch that, and hold our council responsible to that! Since we base our budget on how much we expect to receive through your offerings, we can say the same thing about our individual giving. We say the church is important, and we’re right. Our “Sharing Our LIfe Together” emphasis certainly reveals that. Will we share even more of God’s love in 2015 or maintain programs? Will we make forgiveness, grace, and compassion an even higher priority in 2015, or will we simply try to do things correctly? Will we be saying nice religious words in 2015, or will there be an even deeper change of heart?
This congregation is already vibrant, rich in love and care. We’ve shown that yet again, just a couple of day ago, as this time we surrounded the Buffington family with God’s love and compassion. Ask them if that makes a difference. Ask the staff and families at Molholm Elementary or Green Mountain Elementary if this congregation makes a difference in their world. We heard from Karl Feth in a few minutes we’ll hear from Joyce Buscher about how God’s grace and love have come to them through this congregation, embracing them and bringing about a change of heart. God has a hold on this place and refuses to let go. One by one, our hearts are continuing to change. Slowly but surely, our hearts are turning more and more toward the ways of Jesus. Year by year, we are letting go of things that matter less, and turning toward things that matter more.
It doesn’t matter whether we say the right words or not. It doesn’t matter whether all our actions are in accordance with God’s will or not. What matters is that our hearts are continuing to change. Our hearts continue to be turned more and more toward God. As a congregation, our hearts are changing, our minds are changing and we are believing more and more in Christ. That does matter. We won’t be right all the time, but our hearts will continue to be turned more and more to Jesus. That makes all the difference.