Saying and Doing: Life and Death

October 1, 2017 – Pastor Doug Stratton

Matthew 21: 23-32           

Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”

Jesus 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?”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 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.

CCI: The move from saying we will do what is right and doing what is right, the movement from death to life.

Intro: On September 10, the Cincinnati Enquirer published a lengthy article titled “7 Days of Heroin.” On Day 4 the reporter meets Stephanie Gaphney at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “Elliana, who turns eight months old today, is here for a checkup. She’s a patient at a special clinic that treats babies for neonatal abstinence syndrome, which occurs when babies are born to mothers addicted to heroin.

The infants can suffer tremors, sleeplessness, seizures and other withdrawal symptoms.

Elliana gurgles and wobbles a bit when Uebel sits her on the examining table. As she checks out the baby, Uebel quizzes Gaffney on Elliana’s progress.

“Is she holding things?”

“She takes stuff and then drops it out of her chair,” Gaffney says. “She looks at it, then she looks at me and laughs.”

“Good,” Uebel says.

The clinic’s goal is to monitor the babies, but also to support the mothers. Many, like Gaffney, used heroin and other opiates for years.

Gaffney, 28, quit cold turkey after learning she was pregnant. She’s living now with the baby at First Step Home, a treatment center in Walnut Hills. They plan to move into an apartment together soon.

After years of addiction, Gaffney’s goals are modest. She wants to raise her child in a normal home. She wants a normal life.

Uebel finishes the examination. “She looks real, real good,” she says.

Gaffney is relieved. She scoops Elliana into her arms and takes her appointment card for her next visit to the clinic in December.

“See you then,” she says.

(Ten days later, Gaffney is dead from a heroin overdose.)

Jesus was finally in Jerusalem. The day before the story we just read from Matthew, Jesus had entered the city to the cheers of the crowd. The common people had greeted him as the returning Messiah fresh from a military victory. They thought their salvation was at hand. But when he entered the temple he did not act like a returning victor, embracing the place of worship. Instead he cleared out those who taking advantage of the worshipers and just about started a riot. The poor, the sick and the children flocked to him while the leaders huddled to make plans. And then he left the city for the night.

The next morning when he went into the temple, the religious leaders came to Jesus and asked, “What gives you the right to do all this?” They were talking about the way he was disrupting their lives and their society. Where do you get  your authority?

And Jesus sidesteps the question by putting it back on them.

And then he tells them the story that we need to hear today.

A man had two sons, he went to the first and said, “I need you to go work in the field today.” The son responded, “No, Dad, I have plans.” But as the day went on, he felt bad and went to work.

Dad asked the second son to go work in the field as well. He quickly answered his dad, “Sure thing!” And then was sidetracked by facebook or another tweet, or something else and never made it to the field.

Which son did what his father asked? Of course it was the first. Actions matter far more than words.

Today we live in a world where words are cheap. Leaders from around the world speak of the importance of Human Rights and then turn a blind eye toward Saudi Arabia where religious freedom does not exist and slavery is endemic.

We affirm the need for better schools in minority neighborhoods but refuse to fund school renovations. We decry the refugee crisis around the world and turn our backs on those seeking refuge. In the book “America’s Original Sin,” Jim Wallis reminds us that repentance means more than saying “I’m sorry.”

We fall into the trap of the second son all too easily even when it comes to addressing the crisis of addiction like that of Stephanie Gaphney and Elliana. We are quick to say “Something must be done” but we are slow to become personally involved. As the opioid epidemic sweeps across our nation and into our local streets; as our local high school is called by the students, not Hatboro-Horsham, but Heroin High; as our children, and as parents, and even as grandparents become addicted to pain killers we rise and call for action and then all too often sit back down and wait for others to do something. And while we wait more and more Elliana’s become orphans.

This afternoon, we are hosting an event designed to raise awareness of the addiction crisis and to spotlight those agencies that are working to provide hope to people suffering from addiction and to the families and friends of those who are wandering and who have died. Because of the banner on York Rd, identifying HBC as the host for the event, we have received calls from family members and loved ones. We have been asked about increasing funding for treatment and therapy. We have been asked about resources available. We have even been asked why we are associated with such a clearly social issue.

Hosting Angels in Motion as they pack bags, and hosting an Awareness Walk and Hope Expo are great things. But unless we are willing to get our hands dirty, we are like the second son. No, let me correct that, unless I am willing to get my hands dirty and use my arms to embrace those addicted, and reach out to hold the hands of those who live in fear, I am the second son who said, “I will go,” and then immediately forgot.

But of course obeying Jesus’ call to go work in the fields goes far beyond the opioid crisis. The Holy Spirit will burden each of our hearts with a call to work in the fields that is different. Perhaps you have not been called to stand with the addicted, but has the Spirit burdened you with children in our schools? Then go volunteer! Does your heart break for displaced persons around the world? Then work with refugees! Do you anguish with those who have lost everything in flood or earthquake? Then find a way to provide assistance! Do you feel the loneliness of an aging neighbor? Then turn off the TV and make a visit! Are you frustrated by the social injustice and racial inequality in the United States? Then start a community discussion group and be a part of the solution. Do you lose sleep worrying about the salvation of a friend or family member? Then for heaven’s sake, tell them how Jesus has changed your life!

Jesus concluded the parable he was telling by informing the religious folk that the tax collectors and the prostitutes will enter the kingdom of first, because they acted upon their faith. You see, there is a big difference between saying and doing, and that difference leads to death or life.

     This morning we are going to celebrate World Wide Communion Sunday. This day is a reminder that we are One Church gathered in in congregation around the world, and throughout time. As we gather today we are gathering with God’s people who have lost their homes in Puerto Rico, who are fleeing violence in Syria, who are grieving the loss of loved ones to addiction. We gather as a family separated by distance, but united by Christ.

Let us join in prayer, committing ourselves to saying, “Yes” and doing what God calls us to do.

       But before we go to prayer, let me encourage you that if you or a loved one is experiencing any kind of an addiction problem, speak to me, or to Bev Troop or to Marilyn Harris. There will be no judgement, only compassion. We are here to help.