First, and this seems fairly basic, we need to have to be willing to listen to God if we are going to do what he calls us to do.
You see, I have this theory, that from the Garden of Eden to this very day, that many of our problems come from a simple unwillingness to listen to God. God is speaking to us everywhere. The Scripture says he is not far from any one of us. Yet do we really have the willingness in our hearts to hear what he wants to say to us? Do we? Do we honestly seek out what he wants in our life, even when it is not what we want for ourselves? Or do we appropriate the idea of God to sanctify our personal desires and agendas for our lives? We need to start with taking time to really listen to Jesus.
The Pharisees did not have a heart ready to listen in this part of the Gospel. That is obvious. They wanted to shame Jesus and to trap him. They did not want to hear what God was saying through Him. Are we that different? Am I that different than the Pharisees sometimes? I am not sure.
We want God to be our cosmic codependent. We want him to be molded into our image and desires instead of vise versa.
What would it look like if we started in our individual lives by asking God, “What do you want me to do? Where do you want me to work? How do you want me to spend my money? Instead of simply asking God to bless what we want to do anyway…and getting angry when God does not help us get what WE want? If you are like me, you spend a lot of time doing a lot of things on your own power, running ahead of God, and wondering why you are out on an unfamiliar road and feeling all alone.
What would it look like if we started being more intentional as an entire church about listening to God and seeking his will? Maybe before we start a ministry we are intentional about trying to discern what God’s will is about that ministry. Maybe before we plan a budget, we plan a time of prayer. Maybe before we fill a staff position we pray about whether God wants us to fill that position or not. And not just “God helps us” and then doing what we want type of praying about it, but really seeking to know God’s will.
Maybe if we did that more we would see more possibilities opening up. But, the hard part about listening to God is that is not just about the process of discerning what God is saying to us. It is acting upon what we know God is saying to us in our lives.
And that leads me to the second thing that we can learn from this little snippet from Scripture. God asks us to jump into action, and not simply be satisfied with agreement. He asks us to go beyond simple agreement to action.
Faith is an action word. A verb. We tend to describe faith as a noun. My faith! Our faith! But God calls us to live by faith more than he calls us to describe faith.
The parable tells the story of two people. One heard God, argued with God, said he was not going to do what God asked, but then did it anyway. The other said, “Sure God, I will go out and work in the field.” But then he went to a baseball game or something, so that when God showed up at his field, it was the one that argued with him that was there, and the one who said he was going to be there was not.
Which, Jesus asks, has a living, authentic faith relationship? The one who gives lip service and lots of nice sounding talk to doing what Jesus asks, but never really intends on living what he says? Or the person who argues, and refuses at first only to join God in the work he asks of us to do?
The one who obeyed the people said. And they were right. Because an authentic commitment to the good news of Jesus requires a lot less talk, and a little more action.
When we come to God, asking for leading and direction, we need to follow and act upon what God asks us to do, even if it costs us something. Especially if it costs us something. Especially if it isn’t universally agreed on by everyone. Especially if it is challenging, and we feel there is no way we could get it done without God. Because it is when self-reliance comes to its end, that active faith begins.
Let me share a story of a group of people that did not heed that lesson.
READ THE GREAT FISH CONTROVERSY
We at First Baptist Church of Colorado Springs, are just a vulnerable as anyone to becoming just like the fisherman in an empty aquarium.
We need to not only agree that we need to go out into the world….we need to do it. We need to not only agree we need to seek God and listen to him no matter what the cost, we need to do it.
We need to not only agree that we need to have Jesus in our lives, we need take action to invite him in.
We need to not only agree with Jesus that the world is going downhill, we need to do everything in our power to make it better.
We need not only to agree that Jesus is the hope of the world, we need to bring that hope to people and places that need it. Starting with ourselves.
1st—We need to listen to God
2nd—We need to act and not just agree
3rd—We need to realize that real faith is not something we can ever have a handle on or arrive at. It is something we are constantly growing into and that is growing into us.
This is why the tax collectors and the whores were entering into the kingdom, while the Pharisees and scribes were at best fans and at worst simply critical observers of the kingdom. Tax collectors and whores, like the obiedient worker, were willing to grow and to change and to be made new by God. And they were going to keep growing and keep changing and keep being remade by God until the day they died.
God calls us to be the type of people who are constantly listening and actioning themselves into being people that are constantly growing and changing.
Or as Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen have put it, “In the spiritual life, we are everyday beginners.” We must constantly be living in a way in which we are expecting God to birth new life into our lives at any and every moment. We must live our lives together as a church with that same hope and anticipation. We are not to settle for simply being transformed, but continually transforming.
If our faith is living and active, we are constantly growing and changing. If our church is being inspired and driven by the Holy Spirit, we will be in a continual process of growth and change. And it will be more and more obvoious to ourselves and everyone around us that Jesus is a real force in our lives.
As I prepared this sermon, my mind kept going back to the wonderful, beautiful children’s story THE VELVETEEN RABBIT, and the story that it tells us about living an active, authentic, real faith journey.
The story starts out on XMAS morning, with a boy receiving a velveteen bunny. Well, he ends up in a toy room, bored and unused by his owner. He sees all the fancy toys, and all the airs they try and put on. They brag about what they have, or the way they were made, or the things they have done. And he feels discouraged until he talks to the skin horse, who tells the Velveteen Rabbit about becoming “real”. The skin horse teaches the Velveteen Rabbit, “real is not how you are made, it is something that happens to you.” The Velveteen Rabbit wonders, can a frumpy, old fashioned, shy toy like me be made real when there are all these other toys around that might be better candidates to be used?
But one day, the boy decides to use the rabbit like a teddy bear. And the rabbit, is drug every where. Not everything that happens to him is that pleasant. But he grows to love the boy.
The boy develops scarlet fever, and the rabbit is thrown into the woodpile to be burned. He is sad and hurt and frustrated and brokenhearted. He started to cry. And soon after that the toy fairy transformed him into a real rabbit, so that he was not only real to the boy, he was real to the whole world around him. HE WAS A REAL RABBIT.
We are a lot like the Velveteen Rabbit.
Like the rabbit we long for significance, value and purpose.
Like the rabbit listening to the skin horse, we need to listen to a call from God. And take what we hear into our hearts.
Like the rabbit desprately looking for every way to become real, we must actively choose to pursue that reality in the way we live.
Like the Velveteen rabbit, if our faith is going to be real to us, and appear real to others, we must constantly be seeking to be changed into something each and every day.
So that at the end of our days, we might have God come to us, and continue the transformation so that we may live fully, and never stop living.
We stand at a crossroads! Will we have the courage, humility, and to kneel before God, and surrender our lives to listening to God, working with God, and growing to be like our Heavenly Father, or will we simply stay where we are at, and watch God work through others and not us.