Sep 28, 2014
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.
- Matt 21:23-32
Starting in September, ministers who are members of our church have been gathering for a lectionary Bible Study on Tuesday mornings in the parlor. As I began planning worship for the fall, when I got to October I found myself overwhelmed by the parables that showed up each week in the Gospel texts. So, I had the great idea to gather all those with an Masters of Divinity in one place to try and make sense of these abrupt, challenging, not so feel-goody parables. Which is to say that if you have a problem with my sermons for the next few weeks, you can blame the Reverends Jim & Petie McLean, Dann Masden, Richard James & Debby Neal. I will be happy to share their contact information if you need it.
The heart of the Rockies Christian Church in Fort Collins, Colorado hosted a confession booth last weekend at a public festival & these were among some of the comments made by passerby.
· "You know what? I straight up thought this was a fortune teller booth."
· "It's good to have an alternative Christian voice out here."
· "Are there puppets behind the curtain?"
· "Do you know how sacred the confession booth is for Catholics? I get your message but I don't like the booth"
· "You know why I don't go to church? Same reason I don't go unicorn hunting!"
· From a member of another church: "Very cool. Just wanted to see what your message was. Good job."
The church hosted this booth at a local festival that would see over 100,000 people. But it was not your traditional Confession Booth. It was the opposite.
Pastor Jeff Wright explains, The idea was taken from the book, Blue Like Jazz. Where a group of students had created a booth with the intention of not receiving the confessions of their fellow students, but rather offering their confession as Christians to the community-at-large.
Our use of the "confessional booth", Wright says, had the same purpose: to share our trust in a God of unconditional love in a unique way. Instead of expecting festival attendees to confess to us, we were quick to let passers-by know that we were confessing how the church has often failed the culture and how, as Christians, too often we have not reflected the humility and compassion of Jesus. In their own words, each booth attendant was able to explain the booth and express their sorrow over the ways the Church has often stirred division and judgmentalism in a community instead of healing and reconciliation.
One woman passing by shouted to the group, “I’m a lesbian.” To which Pastor Wright explained to her, "I just want you to know that we're not asking people to confess to us. We're Christians who know we have enough to confess ourselves. Our booth is about seeking the forgiveness of others."He said, "My guess: you guys have been hurt by the church." One of the women said, "I was raised in a Christian school. I've been hurt by the church. Many times." He said, "I didn't personally hurt you. But I'm part of the community of faith that did. I'm sorry." She said, "Thanks for telling us what you're doing. I appreciate it. I like your shirt, too. Can I buy one?" The shirts read, As a Christian, I am sorry for the actions that have hurt others, in the name of God.
The Parable Speaking Jesus of the next several Sundays would surely be proud of this church and their courage to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
This Sunday’s lectionary text is a parable about two sons, one who says he is going to work and doesn’t. The other says he isn’t and does. It teaches us that our authority is lodged in our actions and not just in our words. It challenges us to change our minds. And it disturbs us into wondering about the moments when we, like the religious authorities to whom Jesus speaks, miss the mark.
In this story, Jesus encounters religious leadership and gives them the what for. It is kind of like, they are coming up to Jesus after he has cleansed the temple and saying, “Who do you think you are?” and Jesus gets really frustrated. I explained to the ministers group my concern with this “cranky Jesus” to which Jim replied, “Jesus has entered Jerusalem and he has six chapters until he is dead. Of course he is cranky.” That put things in perspective for me.
In the parables that we will explore over the next several weeks, there is a sense of urgency. I can feel the tone of the stories bring out my southern sensibilities because, simply stated, they aren’t nice. They are direct. To the point. And they describe Jesus’ frustration with hypocritical religious authorities. He calls them out and therefore he calls us out too.
It causes us to think, what is it that we need to confess about the ways we have talked about our faith, but failed to live it?
You know, we show up to church each Sunday maybe because our parents taught us to. Or maybe because it is a part of a routine. Or maybe because we think it is the right example for our children. But our scripture today reminds us that if we want to take the Gospel seriously, it requires us to constantly examine all of who we are day in and day out as people who claim to be followers of Christ.
It brings up the issue of authority which I can’t help but think of all the things we give authority. Like our credit cards or the endless commercials we consume while watching our favorite TV shows. Like our professions where we fool ourselves into thinking that if we work hard enough we will give our lives worth.
The truth is that we often place more trust and more authority in the stuff we have and in the work we do, and we miss the urgency of the calling of our faith to wake up and know that we are valuable because we are children of God and we have work to do because life isn’t about all of that other stuff.
In the end, according to all the pastors anyways, it doesn’t matter if you are a tax collector or a prostitute or a religious authority we are all going through the same doors just in a different order, but maybe there is something that we are missing and Jesus is desperately trying to shake us out of our slumber.
This is the purpose of a parable. It shocks us, disturbs us, and challenges us into examining how our lives need to be realigned with our faith. In what are we putting our trust? Are we living out our faith or merely paying it lip service? To whom do we belong?
Get ready because this is just one of many parables we will encounter in the weeks ahead. But here’s to hoping that we might do something a little bit different and a little more faithful because of this outrageous story.