Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
September 28, 2014
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin
Let Your Yes Be Yes
[Jesus asked the chief priests and the elders,] “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”
Jesus was a master debater. I don’t know how he pulled it off, but he managed to silence his major detractors, time and time again. The writers of the Gospels were probably delighted when he did this, scratching their heads and saying, “Now, how did he turn that back around on them like that? I’ve got to write that one down, because I could probably use that someday.” (Ever been in a relationship that left you scratching your head like that? ? )
The chief priests and the elders of the Temple often came to Jesus to ask him questions to test him—to try to outsmart him—but there is no outsmarting divine wisdom, is there? It’s that way in our lives too. Sometimes we just have to scratch our heads and say, “Wow, God, I don’t know how you turned that one around—or how you’re going to turn this one around—but you did—or you will—so I’m just going to take note and go with it.”
It takes a certain amount of humility to see it that way—to change your mind about an issue or a problem like that—and that is what Jesus was telling the religious leaders in today’s passage that they needed to do. It’s all about having the humility to change your mind. It’s all about putting down your pride and saying, “Okay, God. You got me. I used to see it that way, but now you’ve made me see it this way, and so I’m going to retool my thinking about this issue. I’m not going to fight divine wisdom anymore.”
Scholars recognize that this passage is about “changing your mind” because Matthew used the literary device of repetition. The phrase “change your mind” appears twice in it: first when Jesus tells the story about the son who said he wasn’t going to his father’s vineyard to work and then changed his mind and went, and second when Jesus rebukes the religious leaders for not changing their minds about John the Baptist and his message. And what was that message? What was John’s message? Simply, “Repent!” which, literally, in the Greek, means, “Change your heart! Turn around!”
Now, just imagine how infuriating it must have been to the religious leaders to have Jesus tell them that the prostitutes and the tax collectors—the most scorned groups of people in that culture—were closer to the kingdom of God than they were, just because the prostitutes and the tax collectors changed their minds and accepted John’s message of “Turn around! Humble yourself and change your heart.”
Now, there’s something I want us to see here. Jesus was telling the religious leaders that God was scorning them because they rejected John’s message. Not because they believed anything in particular about Jesus—who he was, why he was there—but because they rejected John’s message, the message of humility and repentance. So it’s less about what you believe—or what you say you believe; it’s more about what you do with the message? How you let it change your heart? Is that what Jesus was saying here? I think so.
In another part of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” This sermon is titled “Let Your Yes Be Yes” because so many times, we as Christians say we have been changed by God, by our faith, but then, when it comes to humbling ourselves enough to let God change our minds and hearts about something, our Yes becomes No. I was talking with one of the instructors at my fitness studio the other day, and she was recalling several months last year when she worked for a small company whose owners were extremely rigid in their Christian faith—so much so that they often hatefully criticized people based on their political and religious views. My friend was often the target of this criticism, because she didn’t believe exactly the way they did. Her comment to me was, “Isn’t religion supposed to make you happy? Isn’t it supposed to make you a nicer person? Isn’t it supposed to teach you how to love? I never felt so hated in my life! I mean, I’m not out there killing babies; I’m doing my best to raise my daughter. But nothing I did was good enough, and it seemed like it made them feel better about themselves when they were judging me!” …
They said Yes to God, but once they had their party line figured out, they refused to let God speak to them about it. They refused to let God change their minds; their hearts grew hard; and their Yes, sadly, became a No. To them, my friend was as a prostitute or a tax collector—someone to be scorned and hated—and wouldn’t they be shocked to have Jesus tell them that because she tried to live by John’s message about being humble, she was in better standing than they were!
You may wonder why I very seldom preach about the cleansing blood of Jesus. This is one reason I don’t. This may be offensive to some of you, but please hear me out on this. As the early Christian church developed its theological views to set itself apart from the Jewish religion—to make itself unique—to make itself necessary—it forgot that Jesus was a Jew, and that his message was a very Jewish one. All those things Jesus taught about caring for the poor, not letting money be your god, loving everyone, treating others the way you know is right (the way an emotionally healthy person would want to be treated and spoken to), forgiving over and over and over again—those messages are very Jewish. And very important. And if all Jesus came to do was to die, to shed his innocent blood so we could be forgiven of our sins—then why did he even bother going around, healing the sick, preaching the good news of God’s love, and teaching the multitudes about a better way to live? If all Jesus came to do—as is the impression we might get from a lot of TV and radio preachers—was to die, then why didn’t he just throw himself up on the cross as soon as he was old enough to realize it, and just be done with it? He didn’t, because his message was important! Jesus’ teachings have healing, saving power! Jesus wanted us to hear God’s take on things so God could change our minds, soften our hearts! So God could make our Yes be a Yes of love and acceptance, and not a No of hate and judgment!
Yes, Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave on that first Easter morning. But that wasn’t the only work he did. And it seems to me that if we gave the rest of the work Jesus did as much press as we give his final work, well, we would know a whole lot more about how to get along in this world without doing such damage to others along the way.
… But that’s just my take on it. It may not be yours. But I guess if you want to hear more about the blood of Jesus, you may have to listen to some other preachers, because I’m trying to balance the scales a little bit. And, you know, you can pray for me. Maybe God wants to change my mind about this. Or maybe not.
Letting your Yes be Yes means putting your faith in action. It means seeing an opportunity to minister God’s love and grace, and acting on it. We celebrate here today a beautiful example of just that. Have you read Lynn and Kay Stricklan’s newsletter about their non-profit organization Tutaweza (too-tuh-WAY-zuh)? It tells a beautiful story. Thirteen years ago, they made a trip to Tanzania with a group called Global Volunteers, and they met a man named Andrew who had a heart for fatherless children. Together, they created this small organization that would provide secondary school scholarships for these young people so they could get an education and lift themselves out of the cycle of poverty. Tutaweza, in Swahili, means confidence in the future, and that has been its gift to nearly five dozen Tanzanian young people since its inception. But they don’t just send money. Lynn also traveled to Tanzania last May to teach a three-week computer science class on tiny computers that were donated by various mission partners. They also conducted a book drive that provided 143 textbooks for partner schools. Currently, 13 Tanzanian students are attending boarding schools because of the work of this little miracle called Tutaweza. For those 13 students, Lynn and Kay’s Yes has been God’s Yes – for a brighter future.
How easy it would have been for Lynn and Kay to see the need and walk away, doing nothing. How easy it would have been for them to say, “Well, unless we know for sure that these kids are being raised in the Christian faith, just as we believe it, we’re not really sure we want to do anything for them.” … How easy it would have been for Lynn and Kay’s Yes to become a No when they faced the overwhelming layers of government forms and documents that were required just to set this up. But at some point, they let God change their minds about what they could do for these young people who live halfway around the world. They let their Yes be Yes, and this congregation has done the same, choosing Tutaweza as one of its mission emphases for the month of September. I encourage you to give as God leads you, toward this work.
And to find your own Yes—the Yes to which God is calling you. It could be halfway across the world, as the Stricklans’ is. It could be halfway across the country, maybe someplace like Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Mississippi. It could be halfway across the state, someplace like La Puente Home in Alamosa that we learned about last Sunday. It could be halfway across the city, someplace like Springs Rescue Mission or Crosses for Losses. It could be halfway across your pew, someone who has been wounded emotionally or spiritually and who needs your loving words. It could be halfway across your living room, in a reconciliation with a partner, a parent, a child, a sibling. Or it could be halfway across your heart, allowing yourself to begin to love and forgive yourself in ways you may not have done in many years. Let your Yes be Yes, and let God change your mind. Amen!
Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church