The Reverend Tom Mumford, Curate
May I speak in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Who here is good at doing what they’re told? Judging by the amount of times I remember being grounded as a child, or being sent out of class when I was at school, I know I’ve not always been good at it… though I hope I’ve got better. Judging by the blame-game we see unfolding in the media on why COVID19 cases have risen, there aren’t many people who think ‘other people’ are very good at doing what they’re told. And so, with all this bubbling away, I find myself wondering what ‘doing what you’re told’ depends on? Does it depend on who’s doing the asking? Are you more likely to do what you’re told, for example, if you trust or respect the person doing the asking? Was this was the assumption made by the government this week, when sending the chief scientists, Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Valance, onto the front line first... Or is doing what we’re told, dependent more on what we think the outcome will be? Are you more likely to do what you’re told, for example, if you think doing so will keep others safe, or if not doing so will cost you in some way? I was on public transport the other week and there were a couple of lads not wearing masks, despite it being the law for some time now. They certainly weren’t worried about the health of other people on the train, or about getting fined. I wonder if this will change following the news of tougher measures this week. Will the cost of fines, or the realisation of the health risk, hit home?
If doing what you’re told does depend on whose asking, and what the outcome will be, then I wonder what our response is when it’s God doing the asking? What happens when it’s Jesus laying out the choice before us? What do we do? In our gospel reading this morning, it’s clear what Jesus thought the chief priests and elders of the people did. Here, after an exchange of questioning and dodged answers, resembling something more like the Andrew Marr show or Newsnight, Jesus decides to demonstrate his point by using a parable. Here, he hopes to make a straight answer more forthcoming:
‘A man has two sons,’ Jesus says, ‘the man goes to one son and says ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today’ but the son replies that he will not…only later-on, to change his mind, and to go do what he was told. In the meantime, the man goes to the second son and says the same. ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And the second son responds positively, and eloquently: ‘I go, sir’ But this second son does not go. Not now, or later. ‘Which son did the will of his father?’ Jesus asks the crowd, this time hoping they won’t fudge or dodge. ‘The first son,’ they say. They answer correctly. ‘Finally!’ Jesus thinks. And then says, in an around about way: So when will you? …When will you, you who think you’re right with God, who think you’re in good standing with your maker…when will you wake up? When will you do as you say? When will you change your ways and do what you should? When will you begin to reflect the way of God, shown through me as testified by John the
When will you be more like these people, these tax collectors, these prostitutes? These who you say are outsiders, sinners, unclean, not living under the law of God? Because from where I’m sitting, says Jesus, it’s them that are getting it. It’s them that know their need. It’s them that are doing what they should, what they’re called to. It’s them who are turning around, changing their lives, following me, walking the way they must.
If you want a good example, the Church celebrated St Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist on Monday. He was a tax collector, but someone who turned to Christ, and walked the walk. He may not have got it from the off. He may have, as it were, turned down the work in the vineyard initially but he got it in the end. Just as we all can. The point Jesus is making in all this, to the Chief priests and elders about the Law, for sure, but also to us and how we live our Christian faith, is that: It’s not enough just to say, like the second son, ‘sir, I go’. It’s not enough just to assent to or accept with our words in church on a Sunday, to give it large in our preaching, to virtue signal on our social media posts. It’s not enough just to get it intellectually, to think we understand various doctrines, or
know bible stories back to front. It’s not enough, in short, to just say you agree, or say you are a follower of Christ, or to think you are. As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. What really matters is how we follow Christ, that we turn to God, that his will is realised in our lives.
Now I’m not saying this is what affects our salvation; however, you might understand that. That’s not a matter for us, but for God, and he has made that clear for us in Christ. But what I am saying, and what Jesus demonstrates for us in our gospel reading, in this parable, is that those who don’t seek the will of God to be realised in their lives, those who say ‘sir, I go’, yet do not…are really missing the point. And not only are they missing the point, but they’re missing out. Missing out on a life full, full of truth, of love, of justice, and of peace. They’re missing out on being who they are called to be, missing out on being the fullest version of themselves, missing out on being them.
So being means more than saying. But being what? Well, as Paul says in our first reading: be like Christ. Be like Christ. Be of the same mind, have the same love. Pray. Do nothing for selfish ambition or conceit, look not to the interests of yourselves, but look to the interests of others. Follow Christ, take up your cross, be obedient as he was obedient. Love one another. And when we do, when we live lives more aligned to Christ, when we walk more in step with him (and I mean walking the walk, not just talking the talk), we will be doing the will of God.
And through this, not only will we become more truly ourselves, but we will become lamps of hope and love to our friends, our family, to one another and, as it goes through the next
six months, to our parish and town. We will get through all trials together in love, and we will go on to change and transform our world, sharing in the building of the Kingdom of God. That is our future. This is our call. Let’s go.