Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

“I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live” (Eze18:32).

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Today’s parable is about the difference between Yes and No –
the difference between true repentance and hypocritical un-belief. It’s about the
difference between life in the vineyard doing the Father’s work, and the
consequences that come with going your own way apart from the Father. But more
than anything else, it’s about the life and salvation that comes for
undeserving and disobedient children by way of God’s grace and forgiveness.

In the parable we read that two sons are asked by their
father to go to work in his vineyard. One son refused, but afterward repented
and went to work after all. The other son said yes, but in fact never went the
way of obedience. And before we go any further, perhaps we should remember who Jesus
is speaking to here… What is He trying to do, and who might these “two sons”

Well, it just so happens that Jesus was talking to those men
who would have Him crucified by the end of the week… It was Holy Week, and
Jesus had been cornered by the chief priests and elders of the people who had a
gripe with Him. They had issues with power and control – After all, they thought
they had it, and they didn’t want to share it. They didn’t like Jesus calling
the shots. They didn’t like Him having His way around the temple, preaching and
healing and stealing the show! And they really
didn’t like Him turning the place upside down! So they asked, “Who gave You the
authority to come in here, busting the place up, turning over tables and getting
everyone so worked up? Just who do You think You are, anyway?”

To which Jesus, employing standard issue, Messianic, turn the
tables strategy replied, “Where do you think John the Baptist got his authority?
“Did John’s baptism come from God or from man (Mat 21:25)?” And with that, the
Pharisees found themselves in a pickle – Because to answer the question, they
either had to repent and agree that John’s authority WAS from God, or they had
to stand their ground and deny it. But the fact is, they had already taken
their stand against John’s “God given authority” by wrongly rejecting his baptism.
And if they changed their mind now, they’d look like a bunch of fools and loose
face. However, if they say that John was merely a man acting on his own authority, they’d lose even more
credibility with all those folks who were convinced that John was indeed a holy
prophet sent by God.

So what could they do? Well, in a lose-lose situation, they
did what any 3rd grader in trouble would do – they said, “We don’t
know…” In other words, they refused to repent and to get on board with God’s
authority – They refused to ditch their pride and confess their sin and
unbelief, and chose instead to harden their hearts and close their eyes to the
truth of what John and Jesus had been preaching all along: namely, that the
Kingdom of Heaven had indeed come in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and
that salvation was theirs by way of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. And
the sad thing is, as long as they refused to repent, it wouldn’t make any
difference how Jesus answered their question about His own authority. For without
repentance, they would continue blowing Him off the same way they blew John

The problem, of course, is that time was running out. And if
these boys didn’t snap out of their foolish pride and come to true repentance
through faith in Jesus, they were headed for an eternity of grief. Which is why
Jesus told them the one about the two sons who were asked by their father to
work in his vineyard. He was reaching out to them, seeking to rescue them from
their sin. For as we just read from Ezekiel, the LORD takes no pleasure in the death of anyone, but rather that they turn
from their ways and live (Eze 18:32). The time had come to turn these boneheads from their hard-hearted ways –
It was time for one last “wake-up” call to
get them to open their eyes and to see the gifts and THE GIVER staring them in
the face. It was time to show these self-righteous, super-religious “Yes-men” –
who were in fact faithless “No-men” – that it was not too late to turn back – to
repent – to acknowledge John’s
authority, and Jesus’ authority, and therefore the Father’s authority, so that
they might take their place in the vineyard.

So Jesus said, “A man had
two sons… and he went to each of them and asked them to work in his vineyard. One
said “Yes” and the other said “No.” And right away, it appears we have a winner
and a loser – an obedient son who pleases the father, and a bad boy who
deserves a good spanking. Of course, the self-proclaimed winners in the crowd –
the Pharisees and Elders and you and me – are all nodding along, congratulating
ourselves for our willing obedience and our determination to serve the Lord,
right? But suddenly the story takes a
gruesome and revealing twist, for we discover that the apparent winner is
actually a loser – that the one who
said Yes, like you and me and the religious Yes-men that Jesus was speaking to,
never actually submitted to the Father’s commands. Instead, the yes-man was
hell-bent on going his own way apart from the father, doing what he wanted,
when he wanted… On the other hand, the
bad boy who said “no” actually had a change of heart and ultimately turned back
to the vineyard. And just like that,
the one who seemed so disobedient and vile like your average tax collector, prostitute
or other garden-variety sinner, ultimately
finds himself secure in his father’s kingdom, doing just what his father wants
him to do.

And so the question is, which of these sons actually walked
the “Yes” of obedience to his father’s authority, and which one went the way of
“NO,” going his own way apart from the father?

The answer, of course, should
be obvious – which is why, to everyone who refuses to acknowledge the father’s
authority– to everyone who continues their own way apart from the Father, Jesus
says “Listen… It’s not too late… YOU can turn back. YOU can turn from your sin
and your selfish ways. YOU can turn from your “no” and come back to God’s
“Yes.” For the door has been opened for you, too, and the Father really does want
you with Him on this. I mean, look around you… Even the tax collectors and
prostitutes are turning through repentance to be welcomed into the Kingdom of
heaven. The “no” of their miserable lives and all their sorry mistakes has been
turned to “Yes” through repentance and the forgiveness of sins. So what are you
waiting for? Confess YOUR sin – Let go of that foolish independent pride you’ve
been clinging to, and believe and trust that God’s Yes is for YOU!”

THAT’S all Jesus wants. He
wants everybody in, and nobody out. And that’s the whole point of the parable: Nothing
pleases the Father more than having His wayward, disobedient children return to
His vineyard – you and me included! For the gate has been opened in Christ
crucified and risen, and now He’s waiting with the open arms of grace to receive
you back.

That is why, when you have
sinned – when you have said “no” to the Father by making bad, self-serving,
unloving choices, simply turn back in repentance to receive His forgiveness. In
these turbulent times, don’t get all wrapped up in the power struggles, the
hatred, the divisions, taking sides and hurting one another, murdering one another
in your hearts… Come back to the vineyard where the Father can have good use of
you to perform the loving service of your vocations for the life of the world. Confess
your sin and take your place with the good
son – NOT the son in this parable, but with the Son who TELLS the parable; the
Son who came from the Father and not only said “YES” to His Father’s will, but
actually went on to DO the Father’s will – to do the heavy lifting – to make
that sacrifice for you and for your salvation. For in God’s Son Jesus Christ, there
wasn’t a “no then a yes” or a “yes then a no,” but only Yes and Yes – It was “YES” that prayed, “Father, not my
will but yours be done;” It was “YES” who, “being
in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be
grasped,  but made himself nothing, taking
the very nature of a servant, humbling himself and becoming obedient to death–
even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8) in order to become God’s Yes for you
– His Yes for your forgiveness.

And that’s really good news… For if the truth be told, you
were born a “NO;” you came into the world a “no,” a lost and condemned person, dead
in your trespasses and sins. But because of Christ’s Yes, as St. Paul writes, “God,
who is rich in mercy, has made YOU alive with Christ even when you were dead in
transgressions (Eph 2:4-5). YOU are now God’s workmanship, created in Christ
Jesus to do good works  (Eph 2:10) – to DO the “yes” of obedient discipleship – to
BE the “yes” of a new creation in
Christ through your Baptism, to LIVE
the “yes” of His righteousness that you receive here in His Body and Blood for your
forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Through repentance, all of your Christian life becomes “Yes”
to the Father; Yes to His authority; Yes to His Word; Yes to His will for your
life and the work He has given you to do; Yes to His gifts: Yes to your
Baptism; Yes to His body and blood poured out for you from the cross; Yes to
life everlasting – In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Preached by Pastor Holowach

Sermon Text: Matthew