Two sons, two ways to worship Matthew 21:23-32 – a sermon for early morning Holy Communion

The Parable of the Two Sons
28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 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.

Two sons. Both asked to go to work in the vineyard by their father.

One refuses. The other agrees to go.

But the one who refuses subsequently ‘changes his mind’ and does what his father asked whereas the one who said he would go doesn’t.

The little story that Jesus tells us about the two sons turns everything upside down, as he was prone to do.

You see you would think that the people that Jesus would praise would be the religious ones…the ones who had always said the right things; always gone to church and always said and sung the right things; who had apparently lived according to the rules of their society. But no:

Jesus says that the religious people of his time just didn’t get, didn’t recognise, what God wanted.  They were like the son who had said that he would go and work in the vineyard, but actually did not go.

No Jesus commends the people who had behaved really badly by the standards of the time – the prostitutes and the tax collectors.

In Jesus time, the tax collectors were working for the occupying Romans.  They collected taxes with a bit on the top for themselves.  They were cooperating with the enemy.  They were traitors.  The lowest of the low.  Lower than the prostitutes.

But Jesus says that the tax collectors and the prostitutes had seen what Jesus was doing  (and John the Baptist before him) and had ‘changed their minds’ and had decided to follow him to actually do what he asked…and their lives had been transformed and, according to Jesus, ‘they were getting into the kingdom of God’ ahead of the religious people.

There is a great danger with being a religious person. We can see our religion as a weekly task to be fulfilled like any other:

Make the lunch – tick
Sweep the leaves – tick
Pay the bills – tick
Go to Communion – tick

But in fact, everything that we say and do in this service of Holy Communion is like a promise to God about what we believe and how we plan to live our lives.  It is, or should be, a sharing of our hearts with Christ.

It’s no good just saying the words: like the first son “I will work in the vineyard’ and then not bothering to do so.

Its no good promising to work in the vineyard and then carrying on with life as if you hadn’t promised anything.  Words used in worship need to be followed up by action in our lives. We worship a 24/7 God and we need to be a 24/7 Christians.  If we won’t try to do so then it is best not to say the words at all.  It’s best just to go and work in the vineyard even though you never said that you would.

Now of course God does not expect us to be perfect, we are bound to fail because we are all sinners, but the question God is asking is ‘where is your heart?’ ‘is it for me, or against me?’ because it is one or the other.

It’s so easy to say the liturgy with which we are so familiar and which we love, as if it is some sort of magic incantation; a sort of Harry Potter hocus pocus and to have absolutely no intention of carrying the words out later or not meaning them as if the words we use
to God are of no significance. When we do this, we are like the son who says he will go to work in the vineyard but doesn’t.

So can I suggest that, as we work our way through this service, we only say the words that we actually believe or we have every intention of actually carrying out during the week.  So, for example, if we are not in ‘love and charity with our neighbours’, then we don’t take communion.  It’s fine because next week, having gone round and made peace with our neighbours we will be able to do so!

Or alternatively, If we don’t intend ‘to lead a new life following the commandments of God and walking from henceforth in his holy ways’, then lets not take communion…

Lets use taking communion as a sign to God that we are going to break that bad habit
of moaning or boasting; or dishonouring; or cursing or lying; or leering or hating…

But if we don’t intend to do so, then don’t come forward for communion or don’t say the words….

I don’t mind if you don’t as I will know that by next week you will have sorted the problem out!

But let our lives during the course of this week be our liturgy; our worship to God, not just in what we say, but in what we do!


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