Pastor Sherry’s Message for September 27, 2020.
Scriptures: Matt 21:23-32; Phil 2:1-13; Ex 17:1-7
Norma Dearing, a woman who worked for years in the Christian Healing Ministry in Jacksonville, Florida (with Francis and Judith MacNut), used to use this metaphor when speaking at women’s retreats: Where is Jesus in the car of your life? She would ask, Is He a hood ornament? Or abumper sticker? A decoration for all to see, but conveying no indication of your true commitment to Him. Or perhaps He is in your trunk, taken along for the ride like luggage, or even bound and gagged, having minimal or no influence on your life at all. Maybe you drive Him around in the back seat, from which He provides directions that you ignore. Or, have you placed Him in the passenger seat such thatHe is companionably along for the ride, but with no real control over the direction you take. Perhaps you have seen those bumper stickers that assert, God is my co-pilot. Closebut not enough. Jesus belongs in the driver’s seat of the car of our lives. If we are obedient to Him, He determines the direction we take and the speed with which we get there.
Some years back, I decided to use this illustration in a sermon I was giving as a seminarian. On my way to the church where I was serving an internship–some 30 minutes from my house–I was driving along, practicing my sermon, when I got pulled over. My 1st response was to fuss with the Lord: Lord, I am on my way to do Your work…Couldn’t You have hidden me under the radar? The cop walked up to my window and said, Lady, do you have any idea how fast you were going? No Sir, I said, I’m afraid I was practicing my sermon and I wasn’t paying attention. (Honest it was, but not very smart to admit I wasn’t paying attention.) It turns out I was doing 65 in a 45 zone. However, he expressed surprise that I, a woman, was on my way to preach (I figure he was probably a Roman Catholic and not used to female clergy). He took my license and registration, and returned to his patrol car. I continued to whine to the LORD and to beg for His divine intervention because, as a poor seminarian, I didn’t have the $180-$200 this ticket would cost. The patrolman returned to my window and said, I’ll tell you what, if you‘ll promise to slow down, I ‘ll let you off this time. He also asked me to pray for him and his partner. I was absolutely delighted to comply! As I continued on my way, more slowly, I was thanking God for His grace and mercy toward me, a sinner. The Lord then said to me (in my spirit), Sherry, where is Jesus in the car of your life? I replied, Lord, You know He is in the driver’s seat. You know I have surrendered my life to Christ! Sherry, that may be true, but whose foot is on the gas pedal? I laughed with the Lord all the way to church that day. I had learned yet another lesson about obedience. Not just lesson.2 or.10 but .XYZ!
This, I believe, is the Lord’s point in our readings today:
Our Gospel comes from Matthew 21:23-32. Jesus preaches this parable, in the Temple, on Tuesday before His arrest late Thursday night. The Chief priests and the elders, the “usual suspects” are there, trying to find a justification to get rid of Him. Earlier, they had observed Him clear the Temple of the moneychangers (2nd time); heal the blind and the lame; and had heard the peoples’ praise of Him. These 3 events pointed to His authority as the Messiah, demonstrating Him in the roles of Prophet, Priest, and King. They know the Scriptures, yet they want Him to state the source of His authority. They should have been cognizant of the passages predicting Messiah and what He would be like. They could have recognized Jesus was The One of whom the prophets proclaimed. But they wouldn’t allow Him in the driver’s seat where He rightfully belonged. Too concerned with holding their own authority, they were unable to expand their-too small box to include Him.
Our passage picks up with Jesus teaching in the Temple on Tuesday, again two days before His arrest. He knows His religious enemies will be gathered there like so many vultures. Nevertheless—and bravely—He teaches three parables on God’s judgment. These stories are specifically aimed at the religious authorities for having failed as Israel’s spiritual leaders. Our parable today is the 1st of these.
Jesus sets the parable in a vineyard. Everyone listening knows this symbolizes Israel. Since grapes were a very important crop in Israel, the vine or the vineyard had become a metaphor for the nation. The prophet Isaiah talks extensively of God’s disappointment in His disobedient vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7. Jesus teaches in JOHN 15:1, I am the true vine and my father is the gardener. In this judgment parable, however, He introduces a father who commissions his sons to work in his vineyard. The father figure is God. He appoints leaders, sons, to work the vineyard, Israel. Their work is to bring the people into intimate relationship with Him, and to assist Him to usher in His Kingdom on earth.
The first son says No, then apparently reconsiders and is obedient. As Jesus interprets this, the 1st son represents the tax collectors and the prostitutes—sinners, the unchurched, pagans—anyone common, ordinary person who has accepted Him as Lord. They had probably rejected Jesus at first, thinking they didn’t need a Savior, and found themselves caught up in dead-end, sinful lives. But, hearing Him teach and realizing they do need Jesus, they now have put Him in the driver’s seat.
The second son Jesus describes says, Yes. Lord, I’ll do what You’ve asked, but then doesn’t. Jesus explains that these are the very ones who are there trying to trip Him up: the chief priests & the elders. It was their job to guide the people to God and they had failed due to their spiritual blindness. They should have been able to recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of the Messianic prophesies, but they were too worried about hanging onto their power, positions, and influence. They not only wanted to keep Jesus bound and gagged in the trunk, but they were ready to murder Him and toss His body out onto the roadside. Jesus knows this and reprimands them for failing to believe in John the Baptist as well as for missing that He is Messiah. Matthew explains in chapter 21:45-46, When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew He was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest Him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that He was a prophet.
In our Philippians lesson (2:1-13), Paul tells us the way we keep Jesus in the driver’s seat of the car of our lives is to have “the mind of Christ.” By this he means that Christ was entirely obedient to God the Father. Jesus humbly gave up His self-will, and all of His heavenly prerogatives, and put God in the driver’s seat. Jesus’ humble obedience is the best model of this that we have.
We only have to look at our Exodus lesson (17:1-7) to see a repeated example of how not to behave. Those poor Israelites appear to have forgotten God’s gracious provision for them as soon as they meet a new or different roadblock. All too like us,they put the Lord in the driver’s seat until they become afraid. Even so, the Lord always provided for them—this time water from the smitten rock (a prophetic picture of Jesus’ death). Look at the pattern: they trust and obey until they come to some new crisis; then they cry, complain, or get angry. How gracious of God to continually rescue them and to meet their needs, despite their rebellion and lack of trust.
Our lessons today pose the question, which kind of son or daughter are we? Our Lord calls us to be obedient to Him…are we? Maybe like the sinners Jesus lists, we said NO at first, buthave come to say YES later in life. Or perhaps we had never invited Him into the car of our lives, but are happy we have done so now. Or maybe we trust Him until we hit a bump in the road, then we panic. Jesus wants to be in the driver’s seat of the car of our lives, hands on the wheel, controlling the speed and the direction we take. We can trust in Him to get us where we need to go.
We don’t have to whine or complain or rebel…we just need to sit back, relax, and leave the driving to Him. We can trust and obey, even down to allowing His foot to manage the gas pedal.
©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams