In the audio podcast of this service, the Scripture reading begins at 24 minutes 30 seconds and the Sermon begins at 25 minutes 50 seconds.
Scripture: Matthew 21:28-32
Sermon: Secular Sam and Charlie Church
Which son did the will of his father? To Americans that seems like an easy answer. Well of course, the son who rebelled at first but eventually satisfied his father’s request by going into the vineyard. It’s clear to us because American culture values two things: honest rebellion and pragmatic action. Clear cut, hands down, Son #1 wins.
But in first century Jewish culture which son did his father’s will was a tougher question. I imagine that Jesus’ listeners might have hemmed and hawed, shifted their weight balancing the pros and cons, whispered to each other: how do we get around this one because he may be comparing his followers to Son #1 and us Jewish leaders to Son #2? We may see evidence for this in the footnote: Did these other manuscripts just get copied down wrong, or was there a debate about what Jesus really said? There could have been a debate because, on the one hand, it was an insult to a Jewish father/Heavenly Father to tell him no; on the other hand, it was a shame to yes dad and God and then not follow through. The real question Jesus posed was which son did the lesser of the two evils?
Think of it in this 21st century way. God has two children made in his image that handle faith and works oppositely. Secular Sam serves humanity and Charlie Church chats about it. Sam never darkens the door of a church. Charlie Church hardly leaves the door.
Son #1, Secular Sam serves but not through Christ’s body, the church. He doesn’t attend church, but he belongs to Ginny’s Save Our World club, or has joined Bono’s One Campaign to rid Africa of AIDs. Speaking of Bono, he’s a classic Secular Sam. Listen…
And then over here there is Son #2, Charlie Church. He attends church every Sunday, was confirmed at 14, sang in the choir from 21, baptized his children and raised them in Church School, and has stood up over 10,000 times in services to sing some song committing himself to service, like: Make me a servant… Yet, when his neighbor Jim lost his wife, he didn’t even stop over once to offer comfort, or promise prayers. And then there’s the African AIDS crisis, about which he shrugs his shoulders, it’s too bad, but what am I supposed to do about it?! Charlie talks the talk, but does not walk the walk.
Who is doing their Father’s will? Is either? On the one hand you have Secular Sam who needs to say, I Do to Jesus, not only, but to his church. Not that he should stop serving Jesus by serving the poor. On the other side you have Charlie Church that needs to stop saying to Jesus in church: I do. I do. I do. I do., but get out there and DO!
And so God is moving in Secular Sam who serves heart to believe and belong. Saying Yes to Jesus but No to the church is like severing Christ from his body. For scripture calls the church Christ’s body. God intends for Christians to be part of a community. Otherwise I can call myself a baseball team, right? So as God moves Sam to participate in the church Sam finds a community of difference makers that can transform the world more than any other organization anywhere. The church is the world’s best hope! Listen to God’s Spirit at work in Bono’s life…
God is moving Charlie Church to stop just chatting about changing God’s world and get out and do it. It’s not enough to stand in church and admire God through stained glass windows. As the Spirit moves Charlie to swing a hammer for Habitat for Humanity he becomes a sweaty reflection of The Carpenter—more real than stained glass. Ginny’s work for Haiti is a clear reflection of Christ’s compassion. You on the school board reflect the teaching Jesus. You who send cards to lonely folks through CCC are his comforting word. You who email your congressperson for justice exhibit Christ’s conscience.
God has surrounded us with Secular Sams who serve. To draw them to Christ’s body the church, we dare not be like Son #2, Charlie Church, who just chats. For when Charlie church changes the world to make it a better place by raising awareness of Haiti, and raising the hammer for Habitat, Secular Sam sits up and takes notice. So, identify your main mission, and do it. You don’t need to do more, just serve Jesus. This afternoon journal about how God is calling you to make your world a better place, and do it. Charlie Church, change our world and you’ll lead flocks of Secular Sams to the Savior. Amen.
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