One day God was looking down at earth and saw all of the rascally behavior that was going on. So God called one of his angels and sent the angel to earth for a brief time.
When he returned, he told God, “Yes, it’s bad on earth; 95% are misbehaving and only 5% are not.”
God thought for a moment and said, “Maybe I had better send down a second angel to get another opinion.”
So God called another angel and sent him to earth for a time. When the angel returned he went to God and said, “Yes, it's true. The earth is in decline; 95% are misbehaving, but 5% are being good.”
God was not pleased. So He decided to e-mail the 5% who were good, because he wanted to encourage them, and give them a little something to help them keep going.
Do you know what the e-mail said? No? I was kind of hoping someone could tell me, because I didn’t get one either.
Most of you know that I love to tell a good story. I like to work stories into my preaching. You know, just like Jesus. I don’t know if Jesus ever told bad jokes, like the one I just told, but he did tell stories. And he told stories in order to get his message across. And that’s why I like to tell stories. Everyone loves a good story – especially if they tend to be memorable.
The story that we have from Jesus today is the story of the father who had two sons. And let me tell you. I suspect it’s a story that some of us can relate to. And I know for certain that it is a story that the people of Jesus’ day could relate to as well.
And the story goes like this: Once upon a time, there was a man who had two sons. He went to the older of the two, and said, “Son, I need you to go to work in the vineyard today.” But this older son, said, “No way, not today.”
Sound familiar to anyone? If you have children, did any of them ever say something like that to you? “No way. Not today. I’d rather go outside and play.” However, this older son later repented, and went out and worked in his father’s vineyard.
In the meantime, the father also went to the younger son, and he said the same thing to him. “Go and work in the vineyard today.” And the younger son said, “Sure thing Pop! I’d be happy to.” But the day passed, and the younger son never made it into the vineyard.
After telling that story, Jesus asks, “Which of the two did the will of the father?” And of course the obvious answer is the one who said no, but who ultimately repented and later on went to work in the vineyard.
Listen! When Jesus tells a story, he almost always leaves it open-ended. That’s just another way of saying that you and I are invited to step into the story in order to see where we fit in it. So when Jesus asks, “Who did the will of the Father,” the teaching moment then becomes, “Are you like the older son? Or are you like the younger son?”
But you see, here’s the challenge. Neither one of these sons is the ideal picture of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Neither one of them!
Now, when Jesus originally tells this story, he’s directing it to the chief priests and elders – the religious leaders of his day. Among them would be those who were known as Pharisees. And the thing about the Pharisees is that they were known to think highly of themselves because they thought that they kept God’s Law almost perfectly, if not perfectly. Most of them just thought that they were better than everyone else.
But Jesus – when he tells this story – is comparing these religious leaders to the son who said, “I go father,” but then, did not go. You see, Jesus knew that for all of their religious trappings – they otherwise neglected one very important part of their faith practice. In other words – they were more concerned about keeping manmade rules and rituals than the things that God is really interested in. Things like loving one’s neighbor. That part is what they missed entirely.
The tax collectors and prostitutes, on the other hand – those that repented of their sinful ways – Jesus said were like the son who said, “I will not go,” but who later repented, and went into the vineyard.
Now – fast forward some 2000 years or so. It’s [Saturday, September 30] [Sunday, October 1] 2017. And here we are – gathered here in this place. Where are we – where are you – going to step into this story? Because – both boys show reluctance to go to work in their father’s vineyard. And I gotta say – that there are times – when all of us – and I include myself in this – when all of us have acted like one son or the other. When the Lord calls us to do something – to make a difference in the lives of others for the sake of Jesus Christ – it’s quite possible that we have been like one son or the other.
Now – having said all that. I would also say that much more often – as I have known so many of you for so many years – I would say that we can also be like the third son that Jesus doesn’t mention here. Yes – I’m adding one more son into the story. And that is the son who says, “Yes,” to the father’s request to work in the vineyard, and actually does what the father in this parable asks.
One of my seminary professors once said that the people in the parishes where we will be serving try so hard to do their best. And I would agree. We do try so very hard to be disciples of Jesus Christ. And when it comes to being a disciple, I think the best we can say – at the end of the day – “I tried my best to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
Not because we want brownie points for being disciples – not because we want to earn God’s favor because we can’t. Not in order to prove ourselves worthy. Can’t do that either. But simply because we are grateful for all that Christ has done for us. He’s forgiven us – given us new life both now and in eternity – and blessed us in so many different ways.
You see, being a Christian is more than just believing certain things about God. Being a Christian is more than just going to church on [Saturday] [Sunday]. It is a way of life. It’s a way of living.
And because it is a way of life and living – when the Father – when God our Father – calls us to go and work in his vineyard – it is in order to make a difference. And when Jesus talks about God’s vineyard, you know he’s not talking about a place that grows grapes. No. He’s talking about those places where we find ourselves every day.
Now – let me be clear. You might not always be successful. In fact, the seeds of faith that you plant might not take root for years or even decades. But what I hear in this parable that Jesus tells today is that God loves it when we take the Good News of Jesus Christ with us wherever we go. That we represent Christ to others wherever we go. Sometimes we will see results. Sometimes we might not know just what kind of impact we are making.
That’s the point a man by the name of William Tarbell was making years ago when he was explaining about “light traveling 186,000 miles per second. He said that if that is too hard to imagine, think of it another way: the starlight shining in your window left the star about the time Shakespeare was writing his plays. The light has been traveling all that time to reach you and provide its light.”
Well, it’s obvious to me that Mr. Tarbell was not a scientist. The light from those stars were generated not hundreds of years ago, but millions, maybe even billions of years ago. But the point he was making is still valid, and that is that:
“The work of the 1st Century disciples still influences you. Centuries ago, men and women were commissioned to make disciples of all nations. Although they have been dead for almost two thousand years, the effect of their work has traveled through history and touched us. It is felt in our lives and in our churches today.”
And that’s why it’s so important for us to say “yes” to work in God’s vineyard. Because you just never know who it is on whom you will have a lasting impact.
Someone once did a study of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford to determine what it was about these two men that had made them the great men that they were. These two men through their inventions left a lasting mark on the world. Word like “genius” and “brilliance” have often been used to describe the secret behind their success. But the man who made the study determined that neither genius nor brilliance were the secrets behind their success. Rather it was tenacity – persistence – determination. You know, they didn’t give up. When they failed, they started over again. These were the things that caused Ford and Edison – and others like them – to make a difference.
You know what this tells me? You don’t have to be a genius – you don’t have to be a super saint – to make a difference. You just have to say yes, and then be persistent.
A handful of people 2,000 years ago turned the world upside down. Why? Because they were brilliant? Hardly. Those 1st Century disciples of Jesus were simple fishermen. One was a tax collector. Someone once called them “hillbillies form Galilee.” Well. Whatever.
Whether reluctantly at first – or whether they said yes, and went immediately – when the Lord called them to go and work in the vineyard – they went. And they showed persistence and determination. These folks turned the world upside down – and made a difference for Jesus Christ. And we can too!
Our heavenly Father is calling us to go and work in his vineyard. To love our neighbor even as we love ourselves. To reach. To teach. To comfort. To share our goods with those in need. But I think most of all – to share the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Here in this place – and in the world out there – beyond these four walls. Not to draw attention to ourselves – but to go and make a difference for Jesus Christ.
Let’s go back to the parable for a minute, because I just want to remind you that neither of the sons in this parable represents the ideal disciple. So why don’t we agree – right here – right now – to be a different kind of son – a different kind of daughter. When the Lord call us to go somewhere or to do something – let’s let our yes be yes.
And then, once we say yes, to be persistent. Touching hearts – changing lives – making a difference in the name of Jesus.