First Lesson: Exodus 17: 1-7
Responsive Reading: Psalm 78: 1-4, 12-16
Second Lesson: Philippians 2: 1-13
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 21: 23-32
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The Reverend Henry Maxwell tells the following story. Once upon a time, as soon as Dr.Maxwell finished his sermon. A man stood up from the very back pews of the church. The man proclaimed “I have something to say.” No one in Dr.Maxwell’s congregation knew the man. Some had seen him sitting in the back row pews a few times during the last several months. The man proceeds to get up then walk to the very front of the church. He begins his speech by saying “I want you all to know that I’m not crazy, nor am I drunk. I’m perfectly harmless.” “I just want to say my what I need to say before a crowd such as this one.” People were too stunned to respond really; not even Dr.Maxwell tried to stop him.
Everyone was expecting some sort of personal testimony; instead what they got was much different. The man started telling how he had lost his job as a printer about ten months ago. He explained how technology had made the only job that he had ever known obsolete. He had spent the last ten months, trying to find work, only to have door after door shut in his face. The man began telling how there are more people out there than anyone here can imagine. The man began to explain how he was by no means the best Christian there ever was, his list of sins was long and predictable. There was something that he was trying to figure out about Christianity. He always heard Christians talk about following in “Jesus’ steps.” He couldn’t figure out what exactly this means?
You see the man described his job search throughout the city, his Sunday morning visits to the church, and how in all this time people were constantly looking to get away from him, rather than offer any sympathy. The man described how many of these people had no doubt read their scriptures, prayed their prayers, and yet deep down something was missing. The man described he wasn’t angry, just merely stating facts.
The man understood everyone had bigger problems in their life than his job search, yet he couldn’t quite figure out what Christians meant when they sang the song “What a Friend We Have In Jesus.” What does it mean “To do what Jesus would do to those most in need?”
At that moment, the man passed out. He was taken to the congregation’s parsonage and then died a couple of days later. The man from the back pew had heard plenty of religious talks but seen from his Christian neighbors very little religious action.
Now as you picture the man from the back pew of the Church, we come to Today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 21. In our lesson for Today, Jesus tells a parable. Jesus tells a tale of a man who had two sons. The man owned a vineyard. The man asked the first of the two sons, to go work in the vineyard. The son decides to insult his father by declaring “He won’t do so.” Anyone that has ever had a rebellious child can probably picture the attitude of this son. You had a young man with whom the Father had given everything, declaring that he didn’t care about any of this “I will not work in your vineyard.” Something interesting happened though with the first of these two sons. Hours later minus any big scene, he actually went and worked in the vineyard.
Now Jesus tells of a second son. The second son was quite a bit different from the first. The second son seemed to have a better attitude “He declared that he would cheerfully and joyfully go work in the vineyard.” He told his father, “I will jump however high you want me to.” The second son would appear to be perfect. The straight a-student, who never got in any trouble whatsoever at home or school. While the second son talked a great game, he proceeded to talk a good game only to do nothing in return. Certain other matters were more pressing than working in the vineyard.
So after Jesus tells this story, he gets to the point “Which of the two (sons) did the will of his father?” Everyone agreed that it was the first son who did the will of the father? The first son’s actions mattered ultimately more than his words.
Jesus’ point was the following the first son represents the sinful, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and all those who would at first glance appear to be enemies of his kingdom. As bad as they had been in the past, they possessed the ability to acknowledge their need to change their ways and seek a savior.
The second son represents the religious authorities of Jesus’ day. They had money; they had political power, they could quote scripture way better than the first sons ever could.” Something was missing. Just like in the case of the congregation who encountered the man from the back row pews.
Jesus’ point is it doesn’t matter how good a game a person talks in comparison to their neighbor if it doesn’t advance God’s kingdom.
One of the big news stories in the past week involved President Trump, NFL QB Colin Kaepernick, and the debate whether kneeling before the National Anthem is an act of peaceful protest or a sign of egregious disrespect to our country. People shouted their convictions loudly. The extremely passionate called for boycotts. Everyone wanted to say their piece like the man from the back of the church to let others know how right and virtuous that they truly are in the debate. Like in the story I told earlier of the man from the back row pew, we often tend to miss what’s truly important.
Perhaps what Jesus is getting at this morning can be illustrated by the story of another back pew type in Daryl Davis. Daryl Davis is a jazz musician who has spent countless nights playing in seedy clubs where many a good Christian person dare not venture. Daryl Davis is an African-American from Chicago.
Daryl Davis one night in 1983 was playing in a Country-Western bar. Davis was probably the only African-American in the bar that night. A patron was impressed not hearing piano-playing like Davis’ since Jerry Lee Lewis. The men strike up a conversation. The patron admitted it was the first drink he had shared in his life with a “black man.” Davis inquires further finding out that the man is a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
What did Daryl Davis do after this? He decided to become an expert in the Ku Klux Klan interviewing members all over the country. All this leads Daryl to appear on The Geraldo Rivera show. Daryl encounters a twelve-year-old girl named Erin Puig who brags about her parent’s involvement with the Klan and her desire to join when she gets older. So after the show, Davis finds out something interesting about Erin Puig. Her father is in prison for ten years. Daryl Davis proceeds to call Tina Puig (Erin’s mother), once he reveals himself, he is called every nasty name in the book. Daryl Davis though does not slam down the phone; he instead makes an offer. He is going to be in the area; he offers to drive Tina and Erin Puig to visit their Ku Klux Klan father in prison. The Puigs are shocked. No one from the Ku Klux Klan had ever offered such a thing. Five years later, Daryl Davis, Tina and Erin Puig would stand together on Martin Luther King Day speaking on the need for racial reconciliation.
Here’s what makes Daryl Davis’ approach so remarkable. He doesn’t condemn or shame his opponents. He is patient looking to win victories in the future rather than the present. Over 200 members of the Ku Klux Klan have handed their robes over to Daryl Davis in the last thirty plus years. The road hasn’t always been easy, Davis has had guns and knives and fists put up to his face. Daryl Davis, every day of this unique ministry, is guided by his faith.
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”-Romans 5:8.
Not every activist cares for Daryl Davis’ approach. He’s been called foolish for believing the supposed wrong people can change. Daryl Davis believes like in Today’s parables that one’s words or even one’s actions don’t necessarily tell their whole story.
Jesus tells us a parable Today with a similar message. The parable is about two sons. One son looks like he belongs in the back pew of the church (wanting to sneak in and out without much notice or fanfare for whatever reason), yet it is this son who ultimately does the will of his father. The other son walks around with his chest sticking out, yet his beautiful words don’t ultimately match his results.
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind, our sins sweep us away.”-Isaiah 64:6.
Jesus’ point doesn’t have to do with the nature of the sons, but rather the nature of the father. Both sons despite their outward appearances, despite their various sins, both needed Jesus to enter the Kingdom of God before them. Now both sons (the front-row pew sitters and back-row pew sitters) are being called to come together just like Daryl Davis to work in their Father’s vineyard.
 Zingale, Tim. “What Kind of Sinner Are You?” Sermon Central. 19.Sept.2005. Web. Sept.21.2017. Reverend Zingale found the story in Charles Monroe Sheldon’s In His Steps.
 Zingale, Tim. “What Kind of Sinner Are You?”
 Zingale, Tim. “What Kind of Sinner Are You?”
 Zingale, Tim. “What Kind of Sinner Are You?”
 Matthew 21:28-32
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. Print. P.445.
 Molin, Steve. “Trick Questions.” Sermon Writer. 2002. Web. Sept.21.2017.
 “Daryl Davis.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 19.Sept.2017. Web. Sept.21.2017
 Brown, Dwane. “How One Man Convinced 200 Ku Klux Klan Members To Give Up Their Robes.” NPR. All Things Considered program.. 20. Aug.2017. Web. Text Transcript. Sept.28.2017.
 Zahl, David. “Why I Invited Daryl Davis to Speak in DC.” MBird (Mockingbird Ministries). 1.Sept.2017. Web. Sept.21.2017.
 Zahl, David. “Why I Invited Daryl Davis to Speak in DC
 Zahl, David. “Why I Invited Daryl Davis to Speak in DC.”
 Chason, Rachel. “A black blues musician has a unique hobby: Befriending white supremacists.” Washingston Post. 30.Aug.2017. Web. Sept.2017.