“Stick With It” John 8:31-36 Reformation


“Stick with it, you’ll get it.”  That was the encouragement from my fourth grade teacher when it came to my times tables.

Mathematics and I were never close friends, and the movement from the world of addition to the concept of multiplication baffled me.   I would try to simply “add faster”… dots on the numbers, — work harder, count faster…. and she would encourage me to instead memorize the tables.

Now we acknowledge that there are a variety of ways to teach multiplication, and not everyone learns in the same way.

But in those heady days of the 1960’s memorization of the times tables ruled the day, and so rather than trying a variety of approaches, the one trusted approach was urged and hammered.

“Stick with it.”  She would say.  “You’ll get it.”

I don’t begrudge Ms Ellis for not having other tricks up her sleeve.

I won’t deny that her urgings eventually served me well, particularly the ones induced by having a student who had to catch the bus stay after class to “work harder on it.”    That did indeed put enough fear and pressure on me to do what I otherwise always found a way to push aside or delay.

In all, the encouragement (even under duress) served me well.   I learned my times tables.

But was it an uncomfortable time?   You bet.

Did it feel like she was demanding “works” from me?    It sure did, and as a good Lutheran I knew (even in the fourth grade) that I was not saved by my works, but by grace.

I carry the image of my fourth-grade self all hunkered down and desperately trying to get something all these years later.

5×7 is……

6×7 is……

7×7 is……

“If I keep this up, I’ll get it.  Ms. Ellis told me I would.”

But in that moment of being urged by her to stay after school and study, there was nothing but pressure and resentment, and my wondering whether I would make the bus or not.

“If you continue in my word…  “Jesus says.   I hear Jesus’ urgings to those who believed in him, and I find myself right back there in my desk in fourth grade trying desperately to drill these things in my head.

I wonder if that was what it was like for those to whom Jesus was speaking?   We are told they believed in him, but there was however something that eluded them as well.   This talk of freedom, and of truth.

“Knowing the truth,” that is what continuing in the Word is supposed to make possible.

I have to admit that in this day and age I am as perplexed about the truth anymore as anyone else.

We can search a thousand databases with the swipe of a finger now.   We can gather information from a world wide web.

When I searched for a Cherry Pie recipe yesterday “Google” fetched me Four Million responses in 0.64 seconds!

But what Google could not reveal to me was which one was the best!

Which one was the recipe which seemed most “true” to my memory of what a Cherry Pie made by Nancy Haberstich, ought to be? (She always made the best Cherry pie and I was once scolded in no uncertain terms for trying to figure out just what she put into it.)

We have always treated truth as simply a matter of getting the right information, and we can thank Martin Luther for that in many ways.  The events of the Reformation which we celebrate now these 500 years later were kicked off by his questioning about truth.

Truth was found in the 95 theses, or teased as he raised questions of authority.

Truth was found in asserting the rights of the individual, the giftedness of each person.  The “priesthood of all believers” which asserted that all people had equal worth or value by virtue of being children of God.

Truth was found by those who inquired of it, and who sought it out by translating the bible into the common tongue.

If we could but ask the right questions, and have access to the right information, read the scriptures for ourselves in the right way we could understand, we could figure things out for ourselves.

This was the belief of the modern world kicked off by Luther’s 95 Theses and the Renaissance.

Truth was knowable.

Truth was attainable.

Truth was just a matter of asking the right question, and getting to the single, essential answer.

There was a “truth” to be found and we could get to it – and the unspoken addition we’d usually add is “if we work at it hard enough.”

But today that seems elusive.

Today we are more likely to find ourselves voicing Pilate’s comment.  “What is truth?”

It does not appear to be found in information.   We can’t discern between real news and fake news.

Truth does not appear to be found in analysis, for one can no longer discern what sources are reliable, and surveys reveal only what the clever crafter of the questions wants to affirm in their own bias, and statistics can be massaged and altered to prove any point, and contradicting viewpoints can be suppressed by taking down the information with which you do not agree… or so it is now on government web sites.

Yes, we are more likely than at any time in history right now to agree with Pilate’s assessment.   “What is truth?”

And yet, Jesus stands above us like Ms Ellis did above me encouraging and urging even those who do not understand and who argue with him.   “Continue in my Word….”

Keep at it, you’ll get it!

And so, I wonder how it is that I am supposed to “continue” in Jesus’ word?

I used to think it had to do with memorizing things.   Get the right Bible verses down, remember the Catechism if you are a good Lutheran.  “We are to fear and love God so that..”  Work at it harder, you’ll get it.

And, there is nothing wrong with rote memorization.

There is nothing wrong with remembering as Luther did the passages from Romans and Hebrews and Habakkuk that remind us “the just shall live by faith,”

There is nothing wrong with seeking the truth, and asking the right questions, and earnestly inquiring.

But what Jesus is pointing to is something much deeper than just memorizing or giving intellectual ascent to something, or “working harder.”

Jesus is urging us to take this following thing into our very being.   To truly be his disciples is not just to know what to say, or when to say, or parroting back the right phrases or ideas, “doing” the right things.

Rather, it has to do with continuing, abiding….living it.

This is what I didn’t get right with what Ms. Ellis was trying to encourage me to do.   Not just knowing the tables, living them, taking them into my consciousness in such a way that I could not look at 5×7 without seeing 35 in my mind. Living a whole new understanding of things.   Not “faster addition” but a very different way of seeing the world.

The “Continue in my word” is not about knowing Jesus’ words. It is about living your life in such a way that you become a visible sign of those words, such that one cannot help but see Jesus in your actions.

This is the “I don’t get it” that is being voiced in this gospel today by those who believed in Jesus but are not yet living as if they are Christ in the midst of this world.

“We’ve never been slaves to anyone!”   They protest.   Our Ancestors were slaves in Egypt, yes, but look here, no one is pulling our strings!  We are free!

“Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  Jesus says to them. Committing sin is always a matter of living, not just theory.   It has to do with what you do, and how you act, and what you say, and what you leave unsaid, — all those “doing” things that trip us up.

Sin is always about action, in one way or another.

So, when Jesus urges “Continuing in my word” he is also talking about a different kind of action, not just intellectual ascent, or knowing.

Continuing in the Word has to be about taking Jesus into your life choices, into your decision making, and into how you choose to model your own actions, and the words you choose to use on a day to day basis.

If you do that, you will be free.

That is the promise.

And now I get it, because it makes sense.

When it is no longer I who does things, but the Christ within me acting, I cannot see myself doing anything other than what Jesus would have me do.

I am free.

Free from the questioning of my own motivations.

Free from the wondering if this is right or not.

And that freedom then spills over into my ability to discern the truth in others, and in other things.

If I can see Christ at work in their actions, then they are of the truth, and I can support them.

If those actions are not consistent with what Jesus came to proclaim as being the living Word, and the bringing about of the Kingdom?   Then they are actions the are the marks of slavery, and they will lead only to suffering.  My own perhaps, but surely others.

“Stick with it.”   Ms Ellis said.   She knew that if I made these tables a part of my life I would see the world in a different way.

“Continue in my Word.”   Jesus urges us.  Not just so that we will know some nice things and can repeat them, but so we will be set free to live.

Not sure what is true anymore?   Continue in Jesus’ word. Live into it, and you will begin to see what is of God, and what is not.   You will begin to live the truth, and the truth will set you free indeed.

Taxes are the Easy Part. Matthew 22:15-22

“Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”


Huh, who’d have thought that the tax question would be the easy one to answer?

We’re pretty much conditioned to think of tax questions as complex, difficult, and “high emotional energy investment” questions to answer.   Just witness the kind of contortions our lawmakers go through to try to address them!

Whether it is asking politicians to disclose their own tax returns, or debating the finer points of the tax code and their practical effect on people’s daily lives, tax questions almost always elicit no small amount of discussion and heat!

I suppose that is why the Pharisees and Herodians thought this was the perfect kind of trap to lay for Jesus.

No matter what Jesus says about the matter of taxes, someone will no doubt find fault with his approach, and he will end up making someone angry amongst his followers, or get himself into enough hot water with the Roman officials to get himself censored, imprisoned or killed.

The trap laid is meant to spring on Jesus in such a way that a satisfactory result will take place.   Both religious leaders and supporters of the current local regime can watch him fall and find themselves rid of the pesky demands he makes upon their lives.

But here’s the funny thing, the tax question ends up being the easy one to answer once Jesus reframes it.

“Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.  Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 

As soon as one of the religious leaders produces the coin, the jig is up, because something has been revealed.

First of all, we’re in the Temple here and the only money that should be found anywhere on the premises is the Shekel, the Jewish coin used for offerings and commerce on the temple grounds.

Why?   Because of what the denarius has inscribed on it.

The head of the Emperor is placed there and these words, “Tiberius, son of Augustus the Divine One” and on the back side, a figure of Pax, the goddess of peace.

If one remembers one’s ten commandments, the commandments one and two are “No other gods,” and “no graven images,” so to even have this coin on the Temple grounds is sacrilege.

But secondly, to have a coin it in the pocket of a religious leader and readily at hand is even more of an egregious breaking of the Temple law.   These coins (which were necessary for commerce outside the Temple) were to have been exchanged before one ever set foot here, and certainly not casually carried around where they might fall out upon holy ground!

The tax question is the easy one here.   “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, …”

The coin belongs to the one who struck it.

The coin only has value in as much as it is worth whatever one is willing to ascribe it.

In other words, the Emperor makes the coin’s worth, and it is worth something in the eyes of the Emperor and the Empire only.

Producing the coin from your pocket so readily begs therefore the question is “How do you see this coin as someone who is carrying it?  Do you say it has value, worth?”

You have revealed what you think of it, just by having in on your person!

If you are a Pharisee producing this coin, you have already acknowledged that your religious fervor is just a façade.  You are ready to offer tribute to Caesar on demand like anyone else in the Empire.

If you are a Herodian, a support of local governance, and producing this coin you are revealing that you don’t really believe that God is supporting Herod as King.   You’re hedging your bets with the stronger political ally, ready to give tribute to Rome, not to Herod, when asked.

The tax question is the easy one to answer.   Let the Emperor have what belongs to him!

But the harder question is the one that now hangs in the air of the person who is holding the coin.

…and give to God the things that are God’s.”

I can figure out pretty quickly what belongs to the Emperor.  I’ve got it right here in my hand, but what belongs to God?

In lip service I might profess that everything belongs to God.  I belong to God, but here I am holding this coin and it makes me wonder, do I belong to the Empire and this Emperor? Just by holding this coin and considering it to be of value, have I sold myself into the things it represents?

In trying to trap Jesus, have I revealed who I really belong to?

Have I revealed how my own self-interest so often trips me up?  My own desire to control, to have power, to delight in watching the fall of someone else with whom I disagree?

The person speaking, be he Pharisee or Herodian, has just described Jesus as being “Sincere,” “a teacher of truth” and “impartial?”

Were those just words spoken only to butter Jesus up, or did they have the ring of truth to them, are they really what the speaker believes about Jesus, and if so; they why is he participating in or laying this trap?

This is the harder question to answer, what have my own actions here revealed about to whom I (the speaker) belong?

And that, beloved, is the question that trips us up all the time as well.   What do our actions, our words reveal about to whom we truly belong?

That question trips us up whenever we start to get sanctimonious about our own “rightness” about something.    The more we drill down to prove our viewpoint is the right one the more we begin to sense that what we are really doing is revealing who we really belong to.

We belong to ourselves.

We have made ourselves out to be god, and have forgotten about the neighbor.

The neighbor has been dehumanized into the “other.”  They have simply become the “opponent”, not the beloved child of God whom Jesus sees.

This is the trap we set that we most often end up springing upon ourselves, for like the Pharisee or the Herodian, our actions end up betraying what we truly think about Jesus, no matter what our lip service might be.

Who would have thought and a question about taxes would be easier to answer than the question about what belongs to God?

Because you see, asking “what belongs to God?” opens us up to examining our own attitudes about things, and about people, and possessions and their importance to us, and about the myriad of decisions that we make every day about our resources, and our attitudes held, and …..

The list goes on.

Taxes are easy.  Someone sets the tables, gives you the chart, imposes the demand, tells you what to pay, and sets the penalty if you do not.

But asking the question about what belongs to God?   That sets you up to an unending set of self-evaluations and decisions.

What do I say about what belongs to God in my personal sharing of the blessings given to me by God?

If I open my checkbook and look at the expenditures there, what do they say about how much I value God?  About what I say is important, the work of God for my neighbor or my own creature comfort and enjoyment?

What do my words spoken this past week say about what belongs to God?   Did my words to the people I encountered speak of how much I (and God) values them?

Or did my words demean “others?”

Did I lay traps for people to fall into?   Did I participate in dehumanizing my neighbor.  Speaking of “those people” or “people like that” instead of using their names and treating them as individuals of value and worth?

Did I build up those who are of great value in the eyes of God and perhaps lesser value in the eyes of Empire, or did I participate in Empire, simply joining in the taunts and phrases that further devalued and defaced “the other.”

Once you start asking “what belongs to God?” you begin to struggle with how your own words and actions proclaim what you believe.

Once you start asking “what belongs to God?”  you too are standing there with the coin in your own hand, and you have to face what might be your own malice perceived now by others, and mostly painfully, recognized by Jesus!

The gracious moment in this story comes in that last line. “When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.”

I like to think that that this was truly a “grace moment”, when Jesus made them simply stop in their tracks and think.  That’s usually what Jesus does best after all.   He makes us think and re-examine our own actions and words, and gives us an opportunity to change directions.

Maybe these folks in this story came back again and were a part of the crowd who joined in crying “Crucify Him!” in Holy Week.

Or maybe, having been shown their own malice and actions by that coin, these were some of the bystanders gathered at the foot of the cross to watch and to wait with the women.   These were the ones Matthew tells us seems to have an awareness of how God’s grace had transformed them, from people intent on trapping Jesus into people intent on following, even to the Cross.

We do not know what these Pharisee and Herodians did, but that’s not really the point.

The point is turning and walking away from laying traps is always an option.

Repenting of the setting of traps for others, is possible.

Seeing that Jesus comes to reveal Empire’s pernicious hold upon us is possible.

Who would have thought the tax question would be the easy one to answer?

Who among us is not now wondering what it is that we will say about Jesus with our own words and actions in the coming week, each and every time we see a coin which says, “In God We Trust” in our own hand?

What Do We Do With Our Invitations? Matthew 22:1-14

Parables of the Kingdom and supposed to shake things up.  They are intended to make one think about things, about assumptions that are made by the listener, about the nature of the King who both brings in this promised Kingdom and that same King who rules over it.

If that’s the goal, then this parable exceeds all expectations.

It is a head scratcher on so many levels, but let me see if I can give you an illustration that makes its meaning a bit clearer.

On an almost weekly basis I get an invitation like this.   It is from a financial planner who has noted my age and is offering me a “banquet” meal at a local restaurant, which will be followed by a presentation on estate planning.   It’s all “free”.. except I will have to sit through the presentation.

I know of folks who go to every one of these they get just for the free meal.   They have no interest at all in what is actually offered there.

But, it’s an invitation, so what do you do with it?

Keep that in mind as we look at the parable, for that’s the question this parable explores.  What does one do with an invitation?

Which is it?   Does the King offer a blanket invitation to everyone, really want to gather in all, or is there some “catch” to who is welcome at the banquet of the Kingdom?

What kind of a King is this, who upon being rebuffed in his first invitations sacks and burns his own city and puts to death his own subjects?

What kind of subjects are these, we wonder, who upon receiving a great and gracious invitation from their King, blow it off in preference for their own mundane tasks of going to their farm or opening their shops?

We pour and puzzle over this parable, and mostly what we want to figure out is that last line.  “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

That’s the line that jumps out at us, the memorable line even when we don’t remember the rest of the parable that precedes us.

“Many are called, but few are chosen.”   We repeat as a kind of mantra for all kinds of circumstances.

We choose up teams on the playground as kids, “I’ll take _____”   You can have _____.  Well you know, many are called but few are chosen.

We hope for a promotion at work, get our paperwork in order, interview with high expectations and the list comes out and your name is not on it.  “Oh well, many are called but few are chosen.” We say in consolation to ourselves.

At other times may quote it to try to make someone else feel better who has been passed over in life.

“Well, you know, many are called but few are chosen.”

And we do firmly understand that is the way it is in this world.  People do get passed over.

People do get the short end of the stick, sometimes by no fault of their own.

We also recognize that in this world there are times where we see it as legitimate that judgment is passed.   We even take a little glee in watching someone “get their come-uppance” when they have flagrantly flaunted or violated the rules at work, in society, or in their social circles.

Who isn’t thinking, “It’s about time…” about Harvey Weinstein?

Who isn’t hoping for someone to come through the seats of power, (wherever they may be,) to sweep through and do a little sorting, cast into outer darkness those who embarrass, those who have held on to power and abused it, those who flaunt their own self-interest?

We fully expect and hope in this world that someone will eventually call to task some people who simply ought not be there.

But when it comes to the Kingdom of God, is that how it works too?  Is that what we want?

Does God call us all to the banquet feast and then wander the tables looking over the crowd to say, “Buddy, how did you get in here?”

Do people really get consigned to the outer darkness, and if so, by what criteria?

That’s really the burning question, because if we could answer that reliably, we’d know what we should do, and what we should refrain from doing.

Is it the clothing one wears?  Is that what attracts the attention?

Or, is it what one refuses to put on even when it is provided?

Those are the questions that swirl around this parable.  The question might well be “many are called, but WHO is chosen?”  For, that’s what provokes and prods at us.   Who ends up getting chosen to be consigned to outer darkness?   Could that happen to me?

I think the answer to that is “yes”, but not for the reason you might think.

It is not the case that the King (God) is vindictive, looking for folks to consign to the outer darkness on a whim.

It’s not that there is any “unknown” thing that was done in this parable that raised the King’s ire and caused the rebuke.

No, what appears to be the case is the King saw behavior that was consistent with what had frustrated him in the first place, which is to say, a person having no regard for his son or the event, and that gets us back to this…. the original invitation.

Read that opening line of the parable again.   “The Kingdom of heaven may be compared to a King who gave a wedding banquet for his son.”

What follows then, is the King’s reaction to how his son is being treated, neglected, and disregarded.

The first round of invitations is simply rejected. They refuse to come to the banquet, which in this culture dishonors the son.

The second round of invitations brings home the insistence of the King’s offer.  “Hey, look the party’s ready, the food’s prepared, come!

“But they made light of it and went away….”  This is sending the message that the son just isn’t important enough to disturb the daily routine!

More than that, the invitation to the banquet was such an inconvenience in the daily routine that they “killed the messenger” so to speak to keep from coming.

I think we intuitively know how this works.

If I invite you to a party and you can’t come, that’s not really a big deal to me. Sure, folks get busy, they have conflicts, things do come up…. I’d understand.

But if I invited to you my child’s party and you don’t show up, or refused to attend, or made light of the party so that my child (despite having high expectations) ends up being disappointed?    Now I’ve got something to be mad about!

I think that is what is operative in this parable, as you read it through, the King is vindicating his son.   He is a “big deal” in the eyes of the King, and paying no heed raises the King’s anger.

That’s the reason the city gets burned.   It is because of disregard for the son’s party, and all those who have labored to bring it about.  Slaves who have been killed rather than guests be inconvenienced with their attendance.

The King is insistent that this party is going to come off, one way or another.  If not with the original guest list, then with whoever can be brought in, and it’s all being done for the sake of the son.

And those who end up attending, they are receiving something they could never have imagined would ever be theirs.

And what is it that rekindles the king’s anger at the end of the parable when the room is full of guests?   It is seeing someone who could not be bothered to get dressed up for it.

Whether the garment was provided, or expected, doesn’t really matter.  The point is the King can see right away that this person has no regard for his child, or the reason for the banquet, and that is what elicits the response.

So, is God looking for people to throw out?   No.

Does God notice when someone acts cavalierly toward Jesus?   You Bet!

Does that give you pause to think, to consider your own actions?    It’s supposed to!

Welcome to the power of this parable.   It’s supposed to make you think about how you, on a daily basis, respond to the invitation of God to come into the Kingdom of Heaven.

But it is not intended to drive you out of fear.

It’s not supposed to make you afraid, wonder if you’ll be cast out.

Rather, it is intended to help you drill down and ask a deeper question… the “Many are called, but few are chosen” question.   It’s meant to make you ask about the invitation!

What on earth would make me choose to ignore God’s invitation?  Ignore his Son, Jesus?

What on earth would make me choose to refuse an invitation from the King to the Heavenly Banquet?

If there is condemnation in this parable, It is not where we at first think it is!

It’s not the case that the King is prowling the banquet looking for offenders.

It’s that the King can spot a mile away someone who has chosen something other than honoring his son!

This realization flip-flops the parable on us.

We do not need to fear a prowling king, we need to fear our own indifference.

That wedding garment symbolizes involvement, and the question the parable wants us to ask is “what am I choosing?”

What am I choosing with my actions toward God’s gracious invitation to come to him?

What am I choosing to put in front of the response to gather at the Banquet?   Is it my job?  My possessions?  My busy schedule?

Do I find the invitation to God’s Kingdom, freely offered, so inconvenient that I’ll do things to try to “kill” it?   Withhold a pledge because I don’t’ agree with something my church does?   Work to undermine a decision by leadership?   Sow seeds of discontent within the community with my words?  Actions?

Many are called, you know.

All were called in this story.

Some were called repeatedly.

But then choices were made about the invitation.   Rather than responding out of gratitude, attending, and honoring the King and his Son with your attention and presence, another choice was made.

Some, even when they found themselves in the midst of the banquet, did not put on the garment of honor.   He preferred to not be inconvenienced, not to conform, not to fully participate, and it is that choice that ends up catching the attention of the king and causing the consignment to the darkness.

The parable is meant to make us think, what do we do with our invitations?

“Radical Patriotism”

On September 11th I committed an act of radical patriotism.   What, you may ask, was my act of radical patriotism?

Well, it was not criticizing the Football players who take a knee.  I consider them true heroes and patriots for engaging in their 1st Amendment rights to protest the injustice and inequality that the see and experience on a daily basis in their own communities.  It is not for me to question their experience, it is for me to inquire of it, ask of its validity, learn from it and then change my own behaviors.

My act of radical patriotism was also not hugging a flag, or standing with my hand over my heart, as pretty of a photo-op as that may be.

No, what I did that I consider to be radically patriotic these days was I paid my taxes.   Quarterly Taxes to Federal and State Revenue departments were due on the 15th, and so on September 11th my wife and I dutifully completed our checks, put an American Flag Postage Stamp on them, and mailed them off.

I paid my taxes with a full heart and a without a lick of resentment, because I love my country and I am proud of what it does, despite not always agreeing with everything it does.

I did this because I believe that the Federal and State Government are the best vehicles for protecting the rights of citizens and are also the best institutional way to respond to disaster and provide for the common good.   I paid my taxes because I enjoy the benefits of good roads, relatively stable government, social systems and safety nets that help me care for my neighbor.

I paid my taxes to show my support for those in uniform, both servicemen and law enforcement.

I paid my taxes to honor my garbage collector, my DMV employee, my Federal worker and all the State employees who in a myriad of ways make my life more manageable.

I do all of this even when I don’t agree with everything a particular administration puts forth as its agenda.  I paid them because I know that the institution of good government tends to endure and to self-correct when it is adequately supported.

According to a CNN/Money Magazine article in 2016, Oxfam estimated that in 2014 the top 50 U.S. companies held 1.4 Trillion dollars in cash offshore.   They did so to hold profitability for themselves, their shareholders, their executives, and to some degree for their employees.   But make no mistake, they did so to avoid paying U.S. taxes, and therefore to avoid doing their patriotic duty as U.S. Companies.

As the conversation about the tax rate takes place what I find missing in the debate is the call to all of those U.S. Companies to do their patriotic duty.   Work for reform laws, by all means.   (It’s not like they don’t have influence on policy anyway.)  Adjust things to make the tax codes better reflect global realities, but let us not neglect to hold them accountable to what belief in America calls us all to do.

Talking about reforming tax code only on the basis of “what’s in it for me” is not a good way to run a democratic government.  It is, however, an excellent thing to do if you want to run a mafia or an oligarchy.

So, here’s my invitation to you.  Whether you are Tech 30 or Trump, join me in doing something radically patriotic this year.

Pay your taxes, thankfully.

“What Do You Think?” Matthew 21:23-32

“Well, just what do you think????”

Oh, how I hated to hear my parents say that when I was growing up.

The “What do you think???” question was always followed by some other phrase which was meant to make me think about my request, my actions, or my assumptions, and ultimately to drive home what should have been obvious to me.

We would ask for instance, for something outrageous while shopping with our parents.  “Dad, can we please get a new color T.V.?”  And here would come that phrase…

“Well, what do you think?    You think money grows on trees?”

We would ask if we really had to go out and do the chores, and back would come that phrase.

“Well what do you think?  You think that the chores are going to do themselves???”

So, given my experience with that phrase, “What do you think?”- (And, probably you experience with it as well)  … it really can’t be good news that Jesus uses it as a preface to the parable he tells.

“What do you think?”   A man had two sons.   The Father asks them both to get busy in the vineyard.   One says he won’t go, but goes ahead and does it.  The other says he will go, and then blows it off.  Which one does the will of his father?

Well, Duh!  There is nothing particularly subtle about this parable.  Nothing too difficult to figure out. You either do what you are expected to do, or you don’t it!

And, if you don’t do what you’re expected to do, there isn’t much point in trying to make excuses for yourself.

Come on, what do you think?????  When it comes to the call of Jesus upon your own life, what do you really think?

That’s what this Gospel lesson begs us to wrestle with today, and it is another uncomfortable Gospel.   When Jesus enters Jerusalem as he does here, there is no question that he is a powerful teacher.

There is no question about what he can do.  He heals, he casts out demons, he teaches with authority.

No, the question raised by the religious leaders that prompts this parable, is “By what authority are you doing these things?”   — and implied in their question is… “doing these things here!”

It’s fine Jesus, if you want to do that stuff out in the sticks of Galilee, but here you’re in our back yard and you ought to be checking with us first!  You ought to be playing by our rules!

That’s what the Chief Priests and the Elders are saying.  They are simply pointing out that Jesus is on their home court and so therefore ought to be subject to their rules, their permission giving, their interpretation of things.   It is a question of who holds “authority” here.

And, there is a good reason for them to ask this question.  They have carefully crafted arrangements with the Roman occupying forces, and with various factions within Judaism, and with local officials to keep the peace and keep things on an even keel.

Jesus’ presence now disrupts all of that.   When he goes around just “doing” things on the Sabbath, or teaching in the Temple, or telling parables that bring into question the motives of the Empire, he is upsetting the balance which politically minded, diplomatic people have worked so hard to put in place and maintain.

Jesus turns that question about authority back on the officials in Jerusalem.  “What do you think?”  When John was preaching, did you join in on what you saw him doing as the work of God in your midst, or did sit on the sidelines?   They mumble among themselves a bit, weighing their answer every bit like a modern politician would, and then lamely say, “We do not know.”

Well, if you couldn’t figure that one out, then there’s not much point in me telling you where I get my authority from ….Jesus replies.

Since they won’t commit, neither will he, and he won’t because the answer to their own question is obvious.

Now I’ve got a question for you. —- (Walk to the Font, splash the water…)

Did this stuff hit your forehead?

Was it combined with some words like, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?”

Yes or no?

If you’re showing up here this morning, it is a good bet that you consider yourself a child of God, a sinner of God’s own redeeming, a disciple who is called to take up your cross and follow, right?

And why do you call yourself a disciple?   Not so much because of what you have done, but rather because what God has first done to you with this… (Splashes Water.)

God made you a disciple with God’s own first promise to you.  Your name was uttered, you were called child of God, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever.

At the very end of Matthew’s Gospel, the ones who are called disciples?  Those folks get these marching orders from Jesus.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”

At the end of Luke’s Gospel, those identified as disciples are told that they are the witnesses who will receive what the Father has promised, that the Holy Spirit would empower them to go out and to boldly proclaim the good news.   Luke finishes up that story in the book of Acts, showing how those who were called disciples did indeed go forth to Judea, and to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth just as Jesus had promised they would.

At the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus appears to those whom he called disciples and reclaimed them.   He gave them a charge, to feed his sheep and to care for his lambs.   “Follow me”, he says.   Even into places where you would not willingly or normally go on your own.  And there are so many stories, John says at the end of his Gospel, about Jesus and what he has done through his disciples that if all of them were written down in books, the world could not contain them all…but these ARE written so that you may believe.

So, all of you who have been hit with this…..(water) …..when it comes to the matter of doing what the Father has invited us, EMPOWERED us with the Holy Spirit to do as disciples of Jesus in this world, what do you think?

Who is it, that is going to have to be intentional about the daily task of inviting and making disciples?  Will it just be the job of your pastor, or is that a task given to you, with all of your daily social contacts in this world?  All of your interactions with other people where you have the opportunity to “be Christ” to the neighbor and so give them a glimpse of a better way to live?

“What do you think?”

Who is it who is going to have to dig deep into the pockets of the resources God has provided to them to advance the Kingdom?   Just a few folks, or those folks over there, or some folks of the folks who you consider richer than you?  Or is support of the ministry really a  part of what you are called to do because you are Disciple?

“What do you think?”

Who is it that is going to have to take seriously the implications of this stuff hitting them?   Just a few people?  Maybe her, because she looks like a person of faith?.  Or maybe him because of what you’ve seen him do for the congregation?

Come on, when it comes to following Jesus, who is getting hit with the Water and Word going to effect?   Only some?   “What do you think?”

Dang, I always hated when my parents would ask that question.  I hated it, because I knew all along what the answer was…and I suspect so do you.

Now on one level, the “What do you think?” question always struck me has harsh and a bit scolding, and I suppose it could be.  But looking back I can see that what my parents were really trying to convey genuine love.

They weren’t going to indulge us with things we didn’t need, and would point out when we were caught up in the allure of the new and the shiny, consumerism gone mad.

They, (and God) provided bountifully all that was truly needed from day to day, and the question was really a call for us to examine what gifts we had already within our grasp.

They were prompting us to take stock of the values and qualities they held to be important and that they hoped they had passed on to us as a gift.

Being called a Disciple entitles one to walk faithfully with the Lord, to see the gifts given in the high call, and that is done in the two arenas.

It involves this arena of church life, where yes much is often asked of you for the sake of this community.  We are called here to nurture and support for the sake of one another.

And, it also involves the arena where you spend most of your time.  The arena of the daily work that you do, the family that you with, the world that you interact with, where your actions and words are meant to be ones that bear witness to the name that you are called… Christian, disciple of Jesus.

Your words and actions there are to be ones that shine forth the light of Christ that has been placed within you by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Being hit with this stuff (water) does not entitle one to a life of privileged membership it in loose knit club of one’s own choosing.

Being hit with this stuff and the Word of God, empowers one to claim the authority to bring in the Kingdom of God to those whom you meet.

Being hit with this stuff entitles you to a cross, and it charges you with a call to go and make disciples.

Being hit with this stuff and the Word means forsaking some of the authority that we would like to hold on to and claim as our own, in order that the power and authority of the Holy Spirit might flow freely through our community, our church, and through our very veins…..

So, what do you think?

Dang, I do hate that question phrased like that!   Because in the end we know the answer, and we know what it is going to demand of us.

Jesus is after nothing short of us recognizing the power and authority of God which has been given to us as a gift.

Those who see the gift and entering the Kingdom.

In water and Word God has graciously shared the authority to be Christ to our neighbor and God now invites us to partner with Jesus in that work.

Baptism makes you a disciple, and what does God expect of a disciple?   Well, — What, do you think?