Good morning. As we gather together this morning a mere 37 days before the election I am again troubled and deeply concerned. See it has been another week where all I wanted to do was live my life, enjoy the outdoors and make it another week free of the Corona virus. But just as the expression goes man makes plans and God laughs those innocent notations went out the window. See on this week after over 100 days of waiting we heard the outcome of the grand jury for Breonna Taylor. And on this week African Americans were reminded once again that our lives don’t matter in America’s justice system. It was another week of dodging social media vitriol about Breonna Taylor, where internet trolls attempted to dig up and manufacturer dirt about all the details of her life, every action analyzed and critiqued until all the humanity this young lady’s life was washed away and reduced words on a page. A type of “it is what it is” a cautionary tale of “this is what happens when you hangout with drug dealers” as if that could ever justify a murder. It was another week of listening to the talking heads on both sides arguing their positions. But what truly struck me was when I took a minute to compare the current events to today’s lectionary scripture selection and realized there was a lesson in the text tailored for this moment where we find ourselves. The title of today’s lesson is Actions Speak Louder than Words.
This morning’s text places us in the middle of one of the temple teaching of Jesus. Now, the Pharisees and Sadducees were not pleased that Jesus had dared to take a position of authority in the Temple and was teaching. In their eyes that was exclusively their job. Instead of humbling themselves to listen to His teaching they decided that Jesus was a threat to them - - a threat that needed to be handled. See if Jesus was allowed to be Who Jesus was (and is) they would be out of a job, their position of power and prestige would be gone. And even worse than that they might have to admit that John the Baptist was right and they needed to repent. Yes, so in order to protect what they had they had to deal with the threat, discredit it. So the leadership of the temple began to question Jesus’ authority to do what he was doing.
These leaders were more concerned with protecting the system than serving the people. In the text these religious leaders were trying to lay a trap for Jesus. They wanted him to say that His authority came from God and then they could accuse him of blasphemy and have him killed. However, Jesus countered with a question about John the Baptist’s authority. In Verse 24-25 He replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?” The same attitude is pervasive in our society today. Ecclesiastes 1:9 states that “there is nothing new under the sun.” We see it in our governmental systems today. It is easier to blame the victim than it is to fix a broken system. It is easier to say ‘just live right’, ‘just work harder’, ‘just be best’, to point the finger at “You” and assign a task than it is to look at the system and to look at yourself and admit that you missed it. It is easier to perpetuate misjustice in a system that they have devoted so much of their time, energy and money to than admit that the system is flawed and needs to be fixed. This is not new…. Cowards have been with us for a long time.
Back to the text the temple leaders - - - the pharisees and Sadducees knew if they accepted John’s teaching of repentance calling out their sins they would have to accept that Jesus came with God given authority and ultimately have to accept the message of Jesus being the Messiah. Once that happened all these leaders would lose their positions of power and all the privileges that came with it. They would have to walk away from all that clout they had built up. Reputations, legacies…. To do that requires a level of bravery, of courage and character that is rarely seen. On most time when people are confronted with a difficult truth, a truth that could expose a weak area in their character, a truth that could threaten their income, their position or their power they will revert to the “I don’t know” or “I didn’t know” defense. It never ceases to amaze me how many Senators and Congress people lose the ability to use the internet, watch tv or even read the newspaper after 45 tweets something crazy. They run through the halls of government dodging reporters like they are running offense in the NFL with phrases like “I didn’t read the tweet. I didn’t see it. I haven’t heard anything about it.” All in an effort to avoid facing the truth - - you missed it, you sinned, you need to repent. That is the message that John the Baptist preached and Jesus was trying to bring the Pharisees and Sadduccess to a real life “come to Jesus” moment.
And this brings us to an important observation from the text - - Actions speak louder than words. Jesus wasn’t fooled by the leaders outward appearances, their words and well crafted arguments designed to trap and enforce their broken system. Jesus saw their actions and they spoke so much louder than their words ever could. The leaders in Jesus’ time were hypocrites. They taught a standard of ultra conservative, rigorous devotion to the law but they did not practice what they preached. They were more concerned with maintaining their position in society than actually repenting and obeying God. Much like the leaders of today - - their words mean nothing. It is in their actions that they reveal how they really feel and what they believe.
For example, when I hear 45 say “I’m pro-life. The most pro-life president there ever was.” Sir, you are a hypocrite. You may say “you’re pro-life” but because by your actions you have allowed over 200 thousand souls to die of CoVid. Pro-life? You aren’t even pro-insurance. Pro-life? You gather people to you in large rallies risking their lives to support a broken system. You’re actions betrayal you - - you are not pro-life. When I read what the attorney general of Kentucky, Daniel Cameron said on his official website that “My commitment is to make sure we are doing everything we possibly can to improve the public safety outcomes of the men, women and children of all 120 counties.” but his actions revealed the attorney general’s true allegiance to the police instead of to the people of Kentucky, especially to the Taylor family. The text is showing us that even people who appear to be “all together lovely” are sinners in need of a savior.
Rich, poor, male, female, non-binary, young, old, wherever you find yourself this morning Romans 3:23 reminds us that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
In our modern-day society, we have been subjected to so many - - some would say - - too many apologies for bad behavior. People’s actions contradicting what they had been saying publicly. From preachers crying on tv saying “I have sinned against you” when they were caught in adultery or the multiple versions of apologies that pop up after someone gets caught on video doing something wildly inappropriate, racist, or ridiculously scandalous. We all know the pattern, a press release with a well-crafted written statement, “I would like to apologize for any harm my action may have caused and I am committed to making better choices in the future.” However, the press release should be read is like this, “I didn’t realize what I was doing was being caught on camera and recorded. Now I’ve lost my job, I had to cancel my social media accounts and people are really mad at me. Please forgive me so we can sweep this under the rug and get back to living a life of anonymity in comfortable ignorance.” An apology is not repentance… You can apologize and go back to doing what you’ve been doing and living how you’ve been living.
What God is looking for is genuine repentance followed by a change in behavior. There’s a quote “Don’t talk about it. Be About it.” Jesus continues his teaching with a parable about two sons – in my own interpretation of the text it reads like this: A father asked his sons to work in the vineyard. The first son said, “Naw, I’m not doing that” but showed up to work. The second son said, “I would be glad to assist you father” and never came.
When Jesus asked the church leaders which one did the will of God they agreed that it was the son that originally said no but showed up to work. Then He dropped the hammer on the leadership, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.”
Sinners who repent and obey God, their actions will reflect their repentance. It does not matter if they once turned their backs on God. Once they repent all the sins are washed away. You can begin again.
In closing I want to leave us on a hopeful note. This passage of scripture illustrates for us that even the most extravagant sinner can receive grace to repent. You can repent and be forgiven. God will never turn his back on a repentant sinner. You can’t fall away so far that His grace, His mercy and His love can’t reach you. All you need to do is repent, ask for forgiveness and begin to walk the walk and talk the talk. Allow your actions to line up with your words in the best possible way.