Sun, Oct 01, 2023

To Work or Not to Work

Matthew 21:23-32 by Doug Gunkelman
Matthew 21:23-32
Duration:10 mins

When LeBron James quit Cleveland to go to Miami, he knew he could win championships there. He won 2 championships in 4 years. When he quit Miami to come back to Cleveland, he believed he could help win a championship here and did.

All through history, winners have quit one thing and moved on to another. Matthew tells us that Jesus “left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea” where he began his ministry.

Simon Peter and Andrew quit fishing and followed Jesus.

Saul quit “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” and became an apostle.

And the quitting has continued right up to the present day. Abraham Lincoln quit being an owner of a general store and entered politics. Harrison Ford quit being a carpenter when he was offered a part in a little movie called Star Wars. Pastor Brad quit being the pastor of two small churches to bring his talents to Divinity.

Clearly, quitters sometimes win! In the parable of the two sons, Jesus tells a story to the chief priests and the elders of the people – a tale of a man with a couple of sons who are needed in his vineyards.

This father goes to the first and says, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today”. The son doesn’t want to alter his plans, so he answers, “I will not”. But later he changes his mind, quits what he is doing and goes out to work.

The father goes to the second son, makes the same request, and the second son answers, “Sure!” In his enthusiastic response, he seems like a real winner. But he fails to go out and work in the vineyard. To work or not to work?

So, Jesus asks, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” Which one is the real winner? The one who says he won’t go to the vineyard and then quits what he’s doing to go or the one who says he’ll go to the vineyard but then doesn’t show up? Who is the real winner?

“The first,” answer the chief priests and the elders. They grasp that the son who quits what he is doing and goes to work in the vineyard is the real winner.

“Truly, I tell you,” says Jesus to the religious leaders, “the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of heaven ahead of you”.

“What?” snort the priests and the elders. “People like that can’t be winners”.

“For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him,” explains Jesus, “but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him.” These folks saw the truth of what John was saying and they discovered exactly what they needed to do.

But the chief priests and the elders? “Even after you saw it,” says Jesus, “you did not change your minds and believe him.” The priests and elders were so sure they were winners that they did not see the need to quit what they were doing, change their minds, and believe him.

Often it is the quitters, the ones willing to change, who lead the way into the Kingdom of God. So, what can we learn from this text about knowing when it is time to quit and change direction?

It might be time to quit when you cannot see the path forward.

In the first verse of our text when Jesus enters the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the temple come to him as he is teaching and say to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

Jesus senses they are trying to trap him, so he answers their question with a question, “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”

The priests and elders argue with one another and discover they are trapped. “If we say, ‘from heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.”

So, they answered Jesus, “We do not know”.

These religious leaders cannot see a good path forward, knowing they will get in trouble if they attribute the baptism of John to divine or human origin. Being stuck, they should rethink their direction; they should consider a different path forward and consider the truth of what Jesus is teaching.

But they do not. Instead of giving up and changing course, they remain stuck on the path they are on, one that will lead them to plot the death of Jesus. As for Jesus, he refuses to answer their question about authority because they do not answer his question about authority. They have to quit what they are doing in order to discover that Jesus does have authority – authority to teach, to heal, and to forgive sins.

It might be time to quit when you cannot see the path forward and when you’ve been avoiding what God wants you to do. The first son in the parable declines his Father’s request to work in the vineyard saying , “I will not”. He is avoiding what God wants him to do. But then he drops his resistance, changes his mind, and goes out to work in the vineyard.

We face the very same challenge, but our choice is not always so clear about how and when to work in God’s vineyard.

Fortunately, Christians throughout history have wrestled with the question of what God wants them to do and a number of “techniques” have been developed that can help us discern God’s will. I think some of the best come from a 16th century spiritual director named St. Ignatius Loyola.

First, Ignatius asks us, “to clarify the goal of our life; to have a loving relationship with God”. With this goal in mind, we can make a number of choices about how we will achieve this goal, and every choice should move us a little closer to God. We might start a business, go back to school, change jobs, get married, teach confirmation class, volunteer at the Redeemer Crisis Center, or go in whatever new direction that we believe is following Christ into an even deeper and more loving relationship with God.

When Rockland Rothacker and Clayton Nurnberg are baptized, their parents, Kevin and Melissa and Dan and Kaylie are promising to raise and nurture their boys to have a loving relationship with God. With the birth of a child, they are going in a new direction that can lead into a deeper and more loving relationship with God.

Once this goal to have a loving relationship with God is clarified, Ignatius believed we are ready to tackle the complexities of decision-making. This is when we figure out how to stop avoiding what God wants us to do and how to start working in God’s vineyard.

If you’re trying to decide between two different paths, I tell people to list the pros and cons, side by side, on a sheet of paper. Ask some trusted family members or friends what they think.

Set aside some time for prayer, talk to God about your decision, and see if you are given greater clarity about your choice. Ignatius wrote, “We can discern the right choice by attending to the inner movements of our spirit”.

Sometimes we have to live with a sense of restlessness as God pushes us in a new direction. Other times, we feel peaceful about a decision but then discover that our serenity is really laziness in disguise.

Ignatius wants us to continue examining our decisions and make choices that increase the feelings of faith, hope, and love within ourselves.

To work or not to work? If we feel we are avoiding what God wants us to do, we need to stop what we’re doing, clarify goals, and define what it means to have a loving relationship with God. We should figure out what changes need to be made in order to start using our time and talents as workers in God’s vineyard.

We ought to find a place and time where we can pay attention to the inner movements of our spirit, and make choices that will increase our faith, hope, and love.

The good news is that by quitting and changing directions, we might be winners. Certainly, it’s a win-win when we choose to follow Jesus and move into a more loving relationship with God. God blesses us to be a blessing to others.