|I hope you paid special
attention to the last sentence of the second reading today where Paul says
to the church at Philippi and to all of us, “Try then to change your lives
according to the gospel, the gospel of Christ Jesus.”
Try then to change your
Now, if we really had
been listening to the gospel lessons of last Sunday and today, I’m sure
we have a sense that changing our lives according to the gospel of
Jesus is not something we do very easily. Remember last Sunday when Peter
asked Jesus, “How many times do I forgive, seven times?” And Jesus said,
“No, seventy-seven times.”
There is no limit to
how many times you forgive.
And then Jesus told the
parable about forgiveness that we heard last Sunday; a very powerful parable
where the man came to the master to whom he owed a great debt and said,
“Give me a chance and I will pay it back, everything.” And the one who
was owed the debt said, “No, it’s all over, you are forgiven.” But that
same person did not realize that the way God had acted toward him had to
be the way he acts toward others. So the man went on his way and
someone who owed him a very paltry debt said, “I’ll pay you back, just
give me time.” But the one who had been forgiven everything was still
living according to his old ways -- demand what you have coming to you.
Even though he had been forgiven everything, he didn’t understand what
Jesus was saying through the parable, “You have to be totally different.”
He still wanted to live according to the old ways, “You owe me so much,
you pay me back so much.” Whereas God’s way was, “I just forgive everything.”
Isaiah proclaimed to
us today, “God’s ways are not our ways. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.”
And it really is hard for us to change our ways and our thoughts, to make
them according to God’s ways and God’s thoughts as proclaimed to us by
Jesus. “Change your lives according to the Gospel.”
Today, we hear another
parable that’s even more challenging. I’m sure there’s probably hardly
any one of us in this church who doesn’t feel some sense of maybe anger
or at least that it’s unfair. How can a person who only worked one
hour be paid as much as someone who worked all day long? You call
You see, what Jesus is
trying to tell us is that God moves way beyond fairness and justice. God’s
ways are not our ways. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. God is a God
of unlimited love.
One of the things that
I think any one of us, if we’d been in that crowd who’d been hired that
day, would have thought about the other people who got hired. “They’re
just too lazy to come and work all day long and yet they get everything
that we get.” But if you listen to the parable carefully, that wasn’t
In the parable, the master,
who represents God, Jesus being God for us, goes and discovers that these
people hadn’t been able to find work. Sure they wanted to work, but they
couldn’t find it, so they were going to be left without the compensation
that they needed to live on. So the master in the parable just says,
“I’ll give them as much as I give anybody.” They need what is just, they
need what is necessary to live on. And so God gives it. God’s ways are
not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.
And I think we’re living
at a time where this message has to be heard by us more clearly and accepted
by us with more conviction and with more courage than ever before. You
can’t live in this country, right now with what is going on with our government,
and not be challenged to think, “Are we following God’s ways?”
You know this past Friday
our president submitted to the Congress as he must do by law what is called
the Strategy of National Security for the United States. And when you read
that document and you see what our president is proposing for us as a nation
and if you can say we are following God’s ways then you haven’t heard anything
Jesus has been teaching us.
Among other things, in
that parable today, Jesus takes the time to go and find out about each
of those persons who couldn’t find work. He wants to know what their
circumstances are. He gets to know them as individuals. He reaches
out to them, he loves them, pours forth his love upon them.
One of the ways that
we avoid following God’s ways is by depersonalizing people that we want
to hate, that we want to kill and destroy, instead of getting to know them
and trying to find out if people hate us, why do they hate us. We need
to find out what has happened in their lives. What have we done to them
perhaps? If we never find out about the individual people, if we
paint everybody with the same brush, we’ll never know.
With regard to Iraq,
we don’t even think of the people of Iraq. We personify the whole nation
with one person and then we demonize that one person, instead of saying
these are individual people in that country of Iraq and that every one
of them is a child of God. Every one of them has a personal life,
a personal history. Every one of them is part of the human family.
Every one of them is brother and sister to us.
God’s ways would compel
us, if we followed Gods ways, to think of people in Iraq or anyone part
of the world as individual persons, each one made in the image and likeness
of God. But we don’t do that. We depersonalize them.
We make them, as President Bush says, into an Axis of Evil. They’re just
And so then we prepare,
according to this strategy statement for our national security, to increase
our military forces. The president proclaims, “We are leading the world
in armaments, in weapons of even massive destruction, and we will never
relinquish that lead.” That’s what he says in this document. We’re going
to dominate the world and we’re going to do it by military force.
That’s not the way of
Jesus, is it? It’s not the way of Jesus and, yet, if we’re going
to act against that, we’re going to have to act against what is popular
opinion. It seems that our country simply doesn’t understand or want
to understand that there might be another way to bring peace to the world
than through military violence enforced through killing; through bringing
about extreme suffering for hundreds of thousands if not millions of people.
Another way, God’s way.
But God’s ways are not
our ways unless we, as Paul urges us, adjust our lives and change our lives
according to the gospel of Jesus.
Today, I suggest that
every one of us has to think deeply about how closely my thinking is in
accord with the thinking of Jesus. How closely do I want to follow
the way of Jesus? How much effort I will make to try to change public
opinion, try to change government policy so that we can work to bring God’s
peace to our world?
As I was reflecting on
these scriptures and the challenge that they present to us, I had to think
about how often during the history of the chosen people in the Old Testament,
how often the people failed to heed what the prophets were saying. And
it always ended up in their destruction.
In the first lesson today,
the people had been in exile for 70 years because they had refused to give
up armaments as the prophets had pleaded with them to do and they brought
about their own destruction.
And so I ask myself,
“Are we repeating the same pattern? Are we refusing to listen to God’s
voice, to God’s ways? And will it lead to our own destruction?”
We can pretend we’re
going to dominate the world through military force, military power, but
it won’t happen. It will only ultimately, I’m convinced, bring about self-destruction
in some way. Only now, as all of us must know, the stakes are so much higher
because of the kinds of weapons that are present in the world. With the
kinds of weapons we have now, everything could be over in a half hour.
It’s that stark of a reality.
Somehow I pray and I
hope that all of us will pray that we can listen to this gospel of Jesus
and again as Paul says, “Change our lives according to his gospel.”
Change our lives, change our thinking, change our ways. Only if we
do that, will we ultimately find peace in the world.
Jesus told us the parable
today to give us a sense of what the reign of God is like. The reign of
God is a time when there’s overflowing love; the way the master in the
parable was to everyone; overflowing love, mercy and forgiveness -- that’s
the reign of God. But it will only happen if you and I listen to
the gospel of Jesus and try to live it.
And if we can do that,
listen, change our lives, live the gospel of Jesus, perhaps we can be as
we are called to be as a community of disciples, a voice that will bring
about change in our nation and will help our nation to lead the way toward
peace and not towards ultimate destruction.
Change our lives according
to the way of the gospel.
I hope everyone will
go home determined to do that.
In the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.