Matthew 21: 28-32
Jim from B.C
Here's what one senior citizen said: "We are senior citizens. "We were here
before the "pill" and the population explosion. We were here before penicillin,
polio shots, antibiotics and Frisbees. Before frozen food, nylon, Dacron, Xerox, ...
radar, flourescent lights, credit cards and ballpoint pens.
For us, time- sharing meant
togetherness, not an apartment in Mexico. A chip meant a piece of wood, hardware meant
hardware and software wasn't even a word. . . . "We were here before pantyhose and
drip-dry clothes, before icemakers and dishwashers, freezers and electric blankets. . . .
(This is a long list, so I'll skip down.) "We were here before Batman, Rudolph the
Red-nosed Reindeer and Snoopy. Before DDT, vitamin pills, disposable diapers, and Jeeps.
Before pizza, Cheerios, instant coffee and decaffeinated anything. Even before McDonald's.
. . . Before FM radios, CD players, and TV. . . . "In our day, cigarette smoking was
fashionable, and grass was for mowing.
Coke was a drink and pot was something you cooked
in. We are Senior Citizens: a hardy bunch when you think of what we've been through and
the changes we've had to cope with. Don't tell us we're set in our ways! We've had to
change more than any generation in history!" Change is hard, but the ability to
change and adapt to change is what many experts say is the key to a long life. Business
consultants say it's the key to running a successful company. It's certainly necessary for
being a Christian! God is in the business of change. God is changing nature constantly,
from summer into fall, fall into winter, winter into spring, and so on, every year. The
world has certainly changed, and we have changed.
"Panta rei", said the ancient
Greek philosopher Heraclitus, "everything changes", and God wants to change us
too, into better people. In theology, we call it conversion. That's when you become a
Christian. For some of us it's sudden and dramatic; for some of us it's gradual, like
osmosis. And since God is in the business of change, our conversion never stops. There is
what we call "continuing conversion". St. Paul in his letters, talks about how
we are in the process of BEING saved. In the letter to the Ephesians he talks about
maturing as a Christian, and that our goal is to "grow up into the fullness of the
stature of Jesus Christ". Theologian Nels Ferre said, "I have been converted
three times: the first to traditional Christianity; the second time to honesty; and the
third time to love of God and Man.
The third was the real conversion (he says); the other
two were preliminary." Martin Luther once said that one of the marks of the Christian
is daily repentance, that is, daily confession of your sins, daily putting the past behind
you, daily trying to change and grow into a better person. Luther said that we are not
just born again, but born again and again and again! Perhaps you've heard this famous
quote from Luther: "This life is not righteousness but growth in righteousness; not
health but healing; not being but becoming; not rest but exercise.
We are not yet what we
shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going
on. This is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is
being purified." The parable in today's Gospel Lesson is about the willingness to
change, and the refusal to change. Jesus spoke this parable to convict the Pharisees. He
said, there were two sons. The first son said he would NOT go into the field to work as
his father asked him to. But then he changed his mind and went. The second son said he
WOULD go into the field and work, but then, did not go. Jesus asked the Pharisees:
"Which of the two sons did the will of his father?" They said, "The first
son." Then Jesus said: "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and prostitutes are
going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.
For 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." This is one of the many times Jesus met with stubbornness and bull-headedness,
with adamant refusal to change, even though the living God was requiring it. Now of
course, in the Bible, steadfastness is a virtue. There are over 150 passages where the
writers praise the steadfast love of God. Also, St. Paul, in his letters praises the
steadfast faith of his fellow Christians. He exhorts the Philippians, for instance, to
"stand firm in one spirit", "hold fast to the word of life", hold fast
to the Gospel that you have already heard from me, hold fast to what you have already
attained in your faith.
Yet in the same letter, Paul encourages them to be more like him
(and here I'm quoting from NEXT Sunday's Second Lesson): "Forgetting what lies behind
and straining forward to what lies ahead, . . . I press on toward the goal for the prize
of the heavenly call of God. . . ." Our conversion to Christ is never finished. Our
growth in the Holy Spirit and in the love of God, is never finished it won't be
finished until we are converted into angels (or whatever it is that we're converted into
after we die and go to heaven).
There are so many Scripture passages that assert this, but
I'd like to quote you one of my favourites: 2nd Corinthians 4:16-17: "So we do not
lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being
renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal
weight of glory beyond all measure. . . ." So God is calling us onward and upward,
calling us to change and grow, calling us (as the song says) "to move when the Spirit
says move". On the one hand, God is calling us to accept things as they are, to
accept REALITY. And often that is very difficult. But God is also calling us toward our
potential, toward the church's potential and toward the world's potential. God is calling
us to accept things as they are, but always work for change, especially within ourselves.
God is calling us not to stay with the status quo, but to MOVE ON, in whatever direction
he tells us to go.
The Pharisees' problem was that they refused to change. They thought
they were fine as they were. Of course, one of the most important Gospel truths is that
God loves just as we are. In the famous hymn "Just As I Am," we sing about God's
acceptance of us just as we are. Yet God does not want us to STAY just as we are! And God
will pick on us, and prod us, and bug us, to move forward, to make needed changes, each
and every day of our lives. Remember how God picked on St. Paul? God finally had to strike
him down on the road to Damascus. And in the middle of the blinding light he heard Jesus
say to him, "Saul, why do you kick against the goads?" Well, at that moment Saul
finally stopped kicking. He let himself be led blindly, and be taught by less educated
people, until he learned who it was who had struck him down. He became open to whatever
plans this Jesus had in store for him.
Another way of saying all this is that we must be
willing to be FLEXIBLE. I've heard marriage experts say that the key to a lasting marriage
is flexibility. If either husband or wife are inflexible, unwilling to give in when
there's a conflict, then the marriage will soon fall apart. All it takes is one inflexible
party to ruin a marriage. So we Christians must learn to "let go and let God".
In my reading and investigation of Queen Elizabeth the First, of England, I discovered
that she was very wise, especially in knowing when to steam ahead and when to change
course, when to listen to her advisers and when to disregard their advice. Elizabeth knew
when to be ruthless and when to be soft, when to stand firm and when to give in. And so
this "Virgin Queen", so-called because she never married, was married to her
country for a very, very long time. We as a church must also be flexible, and willing to
change according to God's leading.
After all, we are a Reformation Church, and one of the
Reformation slogans was, "Ecclesia semper reformanda est," which is Latin
for "The Church must always be reformed." Again, some things must NOT EVER be
changed: the Scriptures and the eternal principles based on the Scriptures.
These are what we will be professing in the creed, with our new members, a
little bit later in the service. In this sense we must be like the Reformers of
1530: Hold fast to the eternal verities. Pray for the serenity to accept the
things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom
to know the difference. Let us constantly strive to improve upon the way we do
worship, do evangelism and social ministry, and all the other things we do
together for the Lord. Personally also, let us be willing to change in whatever
way God wants.
Let us heed the Biblical call to turn, turn, turn. And as we
do, let us die and rise daily with Christ. Let us walk with him that freedom
road, until we reach our Promised Land. Amen. HYMN 495 "LEAD ON, O KING ETERNAL"