“This is Proof”
October 01, 2017
By John Partridge*
Exodus 17:1-7 Philippians 2:1-13 Matthew 21:23-32
Have you ever know someone who was a big talker but not much of a do-er?
In Texas they joke about people who are “All hat, and no cattle.” They talk big, they wear cowboy boots and wear a big hat, but they couldn’t tell a dairy cow from a beef cow if their life depended on it. We respect people more, and their message is more effective, if they believe in what they are doing and prove it by investing their time, and their money, in their projects.
Although I’ve talked about him before, Elon Musk, the founder of Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, believed that a private company could build rockets, and launch satellites into orbit cheaper and more efficiently than the federal government and the existing system of government contractors. So strongly did he believe in this idea, that he invested more than half of the fortune he had made as an executive at PayPal when it was sold to EBay, over $100 million of his own money, and started SpaceX to prove it.
In an entirely different vein, I once watched a documentary about monks (I don’t recall if they were Catholic or Orthodox) who so firmly believed in alleviating the suffering of the desperately poor, that they didn’t just operate a mission to support such a neighborhood, they rented apartments in the same buildings as the poor did, and lived among them in the same crime stricken, gang plagued neighborhood. It’s one thing to ‘helicopter’ in help, and it’s something else entirely to prove it by becoming one with those who suffer.
These are the kinds of stories that I want you to have in mind as we begin our scripture reading from Exodus 17:1-7 where we find the people of Israel, still complaining, this time about water…
17:1The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”
Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”
3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
4 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
5 The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the place Massah [which means quarrelling] and Meribah [which means testing] because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Here we see two entirely different responses to the same experience. The people see the desert and they feel their thirst and they respond with frustration and fear. But Moses sees the world differently. He sees the same desert and he feels the same thirst, but his response is a quiet confidence that God sees, that God knows what they need, and that God intends to handle it. Moreover, when God’s solution of going out in front a thousands of people and smacking a rock with a stick, sounds almost totally ridiculous, Moses doesn’t hesitate. Instead of seeing the world and responding to it, out of fear and frustration, Moses sees the world through a lens of faith in the God that has already done so much. Even when God tells Moses that the solution to their problem is to collect the leaders of the nation, and go out and smack a rock with a stick, Moses answers not only with the faith and confidence that God will do it, he backs it up with action. Moses goes out, gathers up the leaders of Israel, and smacks a rock with a stick. And, in the middle of the desert, water comes flooding out of the rock so that all of the people, and their livestock, have enough to drink.
Moses had enough faith to risk looking ridiculous and smacks a rock with a stick in front of the leaders of Israel and thousands of people.
In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, he outlines ways that the church, and its people, can live out, and demonstrate their faith. (Philippians 2:1-13)
2:1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
First of all, Paul asks the church to be of the same mindset as Jesus Christ. Jesus was the Son of God, a member of the Trinity, and was a witness to the creation of the world, and yet, when God commanded him to give up his royal status, to clothe himself in frail and mortal humanity, Jesus responded out of humility and obedience. Jesus valued faithfulness and obedience as being greater considerations than position and power. Paul encourages the people to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” which means to treat Jesus Christ, and what he has done for us, with trust, faith, and with deep and abiding respect. Paul says that God works in you so that he can accomplish his goals.
And finally we come to Matthew 21:23-32 where Jesus exposes a key failing of the Pharisees.
23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”
24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.
The first part of this story illustrates the thinking of the Pharisees. They did not have the courage of their convictions. Their primary concern was not to get the question right, but to make sure that they didn’t look bad. They weren’t looking for spiritual answers; they were looking for political advantage. And once everyone sees them waffling, Jesus hits them with the parable in the second half of this story. Jesus compares the Pharisees with the son who said that he would obey, but who stayed home and didn’t do anything. Even worse, he compares tax collectors and prostitutes to the son who at first appeared to be disobedient, but later repented and did what his father had asked. That’s really where we feel the twist of the knife in the story. The Pharisees were the church leaders. They were the political leaders. They were the guys who led the people and told them what to do and how to live. They were the ones who had a strict moral code with hundred of rules to insure that they appeared to be godly. And they were the ones who held themselves up as examples of godliness that others should follow. And yet, Jesus smears them by saying that they are not righteous, that they are not doing what God has asked them to do, and that they did not repent and change their ways when John the Baptist showed them how disobedient they really were. Even worse, Jesus tells them that tax collectors and prostitutes, people who were some of the worse scum that the Pharisees could imagine, were entering the kingdom of God ahead of these men who believed themselves to be super saints, models of perfections, and paragons of virtue.
But this is a hard story for all of us. In Christianity, particularly in Protestant Christianity, we often say that we are saved by faith and not by works. And that’s true… but. Just as we saw last year when we studied the book of James, this parable of Jesus reminds us of an uncomfortable truth, and that is that genuine faith will be reflected in our actions and in our obedience to God. It was, after all the son who said “no” to his father, who turned out to be the faithful one. Although we are saved by faith, our salvation is revealed through our actions and through our obedience to God.
A Christian simply cannot be “all hat and no cattle.”
We, like Elon Musk, must put our money where our mouth is. We must, like those monks living in the inner city, live lives that reflect our true beliefs. We may not sell our homes and move into the inner city, but the way that we spend our money, the way that we spend our time, that way that we use our talents and abilities, and the way that we live, every day, should be a visible demonstration of our obedience to God.
Our actions are the proof of our salvation.
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.