Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Working in the fields of the Kingdom

Will you go and work in the fields of the Kingdom?

My parents have had this scene happen to them many times. I remember such instances with my brothers... they would ask one to make dinner and he would immediately say, No! Of course, after a couple of minutes he would realize that if he didn't make dinner, we weren't going to be eating dinner and he would get up and make dinner. While on the other hand, my youngest brother used to say yes to pretty much anything you asked him. Whether or not he was actually do what he agreed to do was very much up in the air. (He has gotten better about this... sometimes now he actually says no. He used to play the game where he would say yes and then procrastinate as long as he could to see if someone else would do it for him.) Naturally when Jesus asks the chief priests and elder who is doing the will of the father, they have to answer honestly and say the first son, because he actually did what the father asked. He said no at first, but he still did what was asked of him. While the second son doesn't actually do anything. 

For better or for worse, God created humanity with the gift of free will. We are able to make choices for ourselves, to say yes or to say no. We are able to choose to do what others ask us to do or we can say no. Usually with other people I caution saying yes or no to everything, the best way forward is typically discernment about what they asking you to do and whether or not you can do it. Interestingly, we have the same ability when it comes to God. If God asks us to do something, we have the ability to make a choice. Jesus always allowed the people around him to make that choice. From the beginning to the end of his ministry, Jesus allowed people the choice as to whether to follow him or not. As an old priest I once knew said, "Judas was free to betray him, Peter to deny him, and the disciples to desert him—and they did. And so the question lands in our own laps again. Will we GO and work in Jesus' field of souls as free citizens of his Kingdom that begins in its planting and its watering here on earth?" (H. King Oemig) 

Will you go and work in the fields of the Kingdom?

The first son in the gospel passage answered the question with a resound, "I will not." Yet, at some point, he experiences a change of heart. He changes his mind about doing what his father had asked him to do. We don't know why, we don't know how it happened, yet we know it did. He goes out to the fields and works. Jesus almost makes it sound like it is so easy to choose to do God's will, though we know it is not always that easy. Kingdom work, working in God's fields, the way God wants us to do so, is not the easiest thing to do in the world. In fact, it would be much easier to say yes... and then not do it. Which is in fact the route the chief priests and the elders seem to have taken.

Sadly, the chief priests and elders were too concerned with their own authority and power, as evidenced by their question to Jesus at the beginning of the passage, than to go work in God's fields. "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" Voltaire suggests that we should judge people based more on their questions than their answers. Whoever asked this question gave their own concerns away. They were having personal authority issues. The chief priests and elders said that they belonged to God and walked in his ways, and yet they were not willing to do what God through Jesus was suggesting they do. At the end of the passage they have to acknowledge that their behavior betrays them. Whereas, the tax collectors and prostitutes... who certainly didn't start out following God, end up being the ones who do God's will, because they were the ones repenting, being baptized by John, changing their hearts and starting to live new lives, following God through Jesus. The tax collectors and prostitutes were going into the Kingdom of God already. 

Will you go and work in the fields of the Kingdom?

Luckily for us, this is a question we get to answer over and over again. We are always being given opportunities to go work in the fields of the Kingdom of God, and every time we are given the opportunity, we have the free will to say yes or no. 

[Today, we will baptize Deacon, at 4 months old, into the family of God. But this doesn't mean he doesn't have this choice ahead of him. He does. He has his entire life as a family member to make the journey, to learn and grow and build and make mistakes and carry on.  To decide for himself, as all of us do, whether he will go and work in the fields of the Kingdom of God.]

All of us have this option, and even better, it doesn't matter when on the road we start saying yes and going. 

You've heard the expression, better late than never? God seems to have an interesting sense of timing and late doesn't seem to be in God's vocabulary. Every moment, any moment, is the right moment to start following Jesus. To experience a change of heart and mind and go out to do the work God has given us to do. Even those chief priests and elders... they still had time, time to have a change of heart. 

God gives us grace. Makes allowances for changing our minds, we are able and allowed to do so. God gives us grace when we decide we don't want to follow his way, and when we experience that change of heart that takes us back to following his path, God welcomes us back with open loving arms. God cuts us some slack. We should probably do that for ourselves and others as well. 

So when you are going... when you are wandering around this big wide world... when you are living your daily routine in Franklin and the surrounding area, listen to what God is calling you to do. Listen for the question, Will you go and work in the fields of the Kingdom? Don't worry about it if you make mistakes along the way, if you say yes or no, if you go or not go at first. It is never too late to begin to follow Jesus.  

Amen.