Revised Common Lectionary for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year Four
October 1, 2017
Lessons: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32, Psalm 25:1-9, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people believe and trust that it is God’s nature to want good for all creation and to be at work even in tumultuous times.
Key Scripture: For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord GOD. Turn, then, and live. Ezekiel 18:32
The prophet Ezekiel was proclaiming to a people who were in the middle of a catastrophe; Israel’s land had been invaded by the Babylonians, and they had been taken into captivity. Surely, they believed, God was against them because of something a previous generation had done. In short, there was a whole lot of hand-wringing and denial going on.
Sound familiar? We may not have been invaded by a foreign army, but there’s certainly a sense of catastrophe tinged with despair at the prospect of the world (as we think we know it) falling apart. The long, bony fingers of blame are busy pointing, and a lot of folks are floating up a creek called “denial” without a paddle. Yes, there’s plenty of blame and shame and angst swirling about and not much fessin’ up and conversing about how to do better. We can’t even seem to agree about what issues are truly worth our focus, energy, and resources.
God, through the prophet Ezekiel, states it plainly: All people belong to God. Each person is accountable for his or her sin. No more of this blaming others. No more grumbling and claiming God is not fair. Denial, despair, and avoidance do not work well in the divine economy and reign. Truthfully, God is not fair according to our human standards, and that is a very good thing! We do not get what we deserve because God is merciful and just.
The message God delivers through the prophet is to “repent and turn from all your transgressions … and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!” God does not want us to wallow in our sin and its consequences, BUT there may be consequences, and they may not be pretty.
As people called to love God and neighbor, we find that our sinfulness and poor choices often affect others. We are called to be faithful and good stewards of everything—our time, talent, and resources, even of one another. Choices we make that pollute the earth usually have a direct effect on the most marginalized and vulnerable people. Human trafficking devalues lives for the sake of abusive power, convenience, and profit. Racism enslaves and impoverishes our sisters and brothers of color. The list of corporate sins and their far-reaching effects can easily be expanded, and cannot be relegated to past generations or somebody else. We all bear responsibility and are accountable for our role in the stewardship of all of life.
In this week’s gospel lesson, the “righteous” religious leaders question by what authority Jesus teaches so boldly. Of course, the Son of Man does not play into their hand, and we have yet one more parable, that of the two sons asked to work in their father’s vineyard. Which son does what is right? Is it the one who says yes and then does not go to work, or the one who initially refuses but then does what his father asks? The answer we would probably agree upon is the one who ends up doing the work. But is the answer really that easy? Could it be that we are both of those sons at one point or another? Are we people of words only, or are we people whose actions speak more loudly than words?
Finally, and ultimately, these lessons call us to acknowledge the true source of authority—God. Even though we humans battle and chafe at that authority, the truth is that Jesus Christ is Lord, and every atom and molecule of creation is subject to and under that authority. This is truly good news, for God desires to transform this world into all that it, and we, are meant to be.
Invite worshipers to consider today the call to “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). In Christ we are freed to consider others’ needs before our own, trusting that God will care for us and that there is enough for all. Give each worshiper an index card and invite them to list one or two concerns or interests that are weighing on their mind. Then ask them to take those concerns or interests and consider the implications to others. If they place priority on how those concerns will affect others, how might this shift their focus or importance? Remind them of the words of the psalmist in this week’s psalm (25:1-9) “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. My God, I put my trust in you.”
How about weaving in some literature this week? Consider sharing Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Revelation” with your youth group. Invite them to consider what the story has to say about our assumptions of who is worthy and who is deserving of the Kingdom of Heaven (See Matthew 21:31). Explore William Butler Yeat’s poem “The Second Coming” in a discussion of the lesson from Ezekiel.
Talk with children about actions versus words. Would you rather have someone tell you they love you, or show you they love you by being kind? Would you rather have someone tell you they bought you a present and then not give it to you, or have someone surprise you with a present you didn’t expect? In the parable of the two sons, one son said he wouldn’t go work in his father’s vineyard, but he thought about it and decided to honor his father’s request and get to work. The other son told his father he would work but did not. Our actions speak much louder than our words. Be sure to act on your words, and act for the good of others. Finish with a simple prayer.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” These words from our epistle lesson are good for us to remember when we consider our stewardship of time, talent, and resources. When we look outward and seek the good of our neighbor, we tend to see a bigger, better, and brighter world. The more we give and help others, the better our own situations can seem.
Stewardship at Home
Take careful stock this week of your words and actions. Do you say things or make promises that you are unable to follow through or commit to doing? Conversely, do you sometimes do kind and helpful things for others without a lot of words or fanfare? Try this week to send a thank you note to someone you know who gives generously, unselfishly, and quietly to others. Maybe it’s the person who always plants fresh flowers at church. Perhaps it’s the neighbor who shares produce or baked goods. Remember these quiet stewards in your prayers this week.
Photos: Highersights, Nate Steiner, and Wonderlane. Creative Commons. Thanks!