I Go…Or, I Want To…

A Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Philippians 2:1-13; St. Matthew 21:23-32

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the truly obedient Son. Amen.

In my mind, I am amazing. No, really, I’m studious, disciplined, innovative, and generous. In my imagination, I wake up every morning at 5:30 to pray, exercise, and study. I stick to a mostly-vegetarian diet. I’m quick to give away money to anyone in need, ready to stand out on the street protesting for justice, and then I spend my evenings quietly reading while drinking tea.

Or at least, I will. Starting just after this next episode. Or tomorrow. Ok, when we get to Advent and start the new liturgical year: consider it a resolution.

The truth is, despite my best intentions, I stay up too late re-watching the same tv shows I’ve already seen five times, which means I’m definitely not up at 5:30. Despite the large number of prayer books on my shelf, the only times I’m able to really stick with the Daily Office are when I’m on retreat. And I never happen to have that spare single dollar bill on me to give to those in need.

The gulf between who I want to be – the disciplined and faithful saint, conscientious about stewardship of my time and resources – and who I am – a sinner who never gets it quite right but instead sticks to the path of least resistance (which so often leads to the couch and the television) – is so large that I will never cross it on my own. Indeed, it’s so large that when I try to picture what faithful living should look like, I’m more likely to imagine an Anglican priest from a PBS drama than a disciple living out the Beatitudes, Matthew 25, or the Great Commission.

Like the second son in today’s parable, I’m quick to say, “I go, sir,” and even quicker to waste away the rest of the day while patting myself on the head for imagined obedience that never comes to fruition.

If this is how we see ourselves – always on the verge of a dramatic breakthrough, about to take that first step towards redeeming ourselves, ready to justify ourselves by that good deeds we’re fixin’ to do – then no wonder we complain that the ways of the Lord are unfair!

Suddenly, God becomes an angry tyrant, punishing us unjustly and delighting in our suffering. Doesn’t God know that we’re doing our best? Just give us a little more time and we’ll get it right, honest we will.

Like the workers in the vineyard last week, we wait for our wages and complain when others are treated with grace – but we ignore this reality: that all we have is because of God’s grace. We ignore that the ways of the Lord are not concerned with what’s fair but with what’s gracious.

If, instead of attempting to justify ourselves and to earn what’s fair, we instead rely on the grace given to us through Jesus Christ and allow the work of the Holy Spirit to transform us, then – and only then – will we find true repentance.

Hear some good news that sounds like bad news: it’s not up to you. Your best laid plans will go awry, your best intentions will fall short.

But hear some even better news: God is not angrily seeking out punishment or retribution. The Lord takes “no pleasure in the death of anyone” but rather wills that we “turn, and live.”

Christ Jesus has been exalted, and all things have been given over to him. At the last day, he will set all things – yes, even our own best intentions – to right. And he is the very same one who is at work in you, “enabling you both to [desire] and to work for his good pleasure.”

You can’t do it on your own, but you don’t have to do it on your own. All that is required of us is to say yes to God and let the transforming grace of our Lord work through us.

In Christ, God has given us all that we need to be set free from the powers of sin and death. And through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Lord has given us all that we need to be set free for the Kingdom of God. By God’s grace, we have received the strength to turn away from our slavery to sin and to begin the long walk home.

Turn, then, and find new life in Christ.


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