Pentecost 17, Year A – Elizabeth Heimbach

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Last Pentecost – Christ the King, Year A November 22, 2020 Christ the King Sunday, Year A Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46
Pentecost 24 – Diocesan Convention (Rt. Rev. Phoebe Roaf, Bishop of the Diocese of West Tennessee) November 15, 2020 Pentecost 24, Proper 28 Matthew 25:14-30
Pentecost 23, Year A November 8, 2020 Pentecost 23, Proper 27, Year A Matthew 25:1-13
All Saints, Year A November 1, 2020 All Saints' Sunday, Year A 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12
Pentecost 21, Year A October 25, 2020 Pentecost 21, Proper 25, Year A Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; Psalm 1; Matthew 22:34-46
Pentecost 20, Year A October 18, 2020 Pentecost 20, Proper 24, Year A I Thessalonians 1:1-10, Psalm 96
Pentecost 19, Year A October 11, 2020 Pentecost 19, Proper 23, Year A Philippians 4:1-9
Pentecost 18, Year A October 4, 2020 Pentecost 18, Year A Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:7-14, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46
Pentecost 17, Year A – Elizabeth Heimbach September 27, 2020 Pentecost 17, Proper 21 Year A Matthew 21:23-32
Pentecost 16, Year A September 20, 2020 Pentecost 16, Proper 20, Year A 2020 The Season of Creation Matthew 20:1-16
Pentecost 15, Year A September 13, 2020 Pentecost 15, Proper 19 Genesis 50:15-21, Matthew 18:21-35
Pentecost 14, Year A September 6, 2020 Pentecost 14, Proper 18, Year A Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20
Pentecost 13, Year A August 30, 2020 Pentecost, 13, Proper 17, Year A Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28
Pentecost 12, Year A August 23, 2020 Pentecost 12, , Proper 16, Year A Isaiah 51:1-6, Ps 138, Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20
Pentecost 11, Year A August 16, 2020 Pentecost 11, Proper 15, Year A Isaiah 56:1, 6-8; Matthew 15:10-28

 

Pentecost 17, Year A – Elizabeth Heimbach

Sermon Date:September 27, 2020

Scripture: Matthew 21:23-32

Liturgy Calendar: Pentecost 17, Proper 21 Year A


“Jesus meets John the Baptist” – (anonymous, 15th century)


I was thinking the other day that in these unsettling times, we Episcopalians are lucky to have one constant in our lives: our Lectionary: we don’t read the whole Bible but in 3 years we read a substantial portion, wherever we are in the world: Europe, Africa, Asia, inside St. Peter’s in Port Royal, outside on the river bank, or on Zoom, each week we are all listening to the same readings.

Earlier this week, when I first read today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew, I was really puzzled: I wasn’t sure where this passage belonged in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ ministry.  I could not see how the priests and elders in the first line of the reading were related to the tax collectors and prostitutes in the last line. So, of course, I read it again, and I realized that, as so often, one reading is really not enough! And I thought it might be a good idea to talk about the passage this morning right now just after we have all heard Johnny read it.

So, here goes: the first paragraph gives us account of an exchange between the elders high priests and Jesus. It takes place in Jerusalem, in the Temple. It is like a scene in a courtroom drama! It resembles and seems to foreshadow Jesus’ trial which will soon lead to the crucifixion.

The priests and elders are aggressively questioning Jesus’ authority. They are the most powerful,the richest, the most prestigious in Jewish society. In this scene they are playing the role of prosecuting attorneys!

Clearly these powerful men have followed the growth of Jesus’ ministry. They are not stupid. They are obviously aware of the importance of John the Baptist’s message of Christ’s divinity. John has been executed, but these elders have just witnessed the huge crowd that celebrated Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem with an outpouring of welcome with palm branches and hosannas. Following Jesus’ triumphal arrival in Jerusalem, they must also have seen Jesus cleansing the Temple when he evicted the money changers and merchants who were accustomed to doing business in the Temple itself. Here, in this scene, when the elders are faced with Jesus ’questions about His authority, they can only answer with a feeble, “We do not know.”

And Jesus replies with a parable. This parable has many of the elements we have seen in other parables:

the setting: a vineyard where work is needed (I grew up in the country, and my dad planted a half acre in vines at one point. It required so much work that eventually he ploughed up the vines and planted trees)

the characters: a father = owner of the vineyard + two brothers (how often have we seen brothers in Genesis  Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers! Most famous recently, of course, the brothers in the story of the Prodigal Son). Note: looking for an image on Google I kept finding the Prodigal Son! 

But this time, the familiar elements are woven together in a new way. The parable dramatically reinforces the difference between the temporal world of human beings where the priests and elders have the power and prestige and wealth and the Kingdom of God where the despised, the poor, the downtrodden are welcome. In this parable, the father commands his sons to go to work. The first brother agrees to follow orders but actually completely fails to do what he was told. The other brother initially refuses to do his father’s will, but then changes his mind and does the right thing. 

Jesus asks which brother did his father’s will, and this time the elders do answer the question, but they get it wrong, and Jesus corrects them: the brother who hesitated but eventually did his father’s will is on the right path, not the one who said he would do his father’s command but failed to do it. Jesus makes it clear that the brother who hesitated and then changed his mind is welcome in the Kingdom of God just as the despised members of Jewish society, the prostitutes and tax collectors will be. For the elders this message completely turns their world view upside down: the Kingdom of God is completely unlike the Kingdom of men! The Kingdom of God welcomes the disinherited, the completely powerless!  

Discussion:     

Did either brother really do his father’s will? How does the parable relate to our lives today?