Sunday, October 1, 2017

Who is the boss?

Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32

I have a sister named Pat and a brother named Dave. Since I am the oldest, I was often charged with keeping track of my siblings. Often, my brother was not in the mood for whatever I told him to do, like wash up for dinner, or put away his toys. Dave’s favorite way of refusing to do what I told him, was to say, “Who died and made you boss?”
It is a common saying, with a number of variations. Who died and made you: King, Queen, President, God. A similar statement is, “You’re not the boss of me!” It means the same thing, but it’s not as much fun to say because it lacks the sarcastic tone of “Who died and made you boss?”
This is pretty much what the chief priests and elders were saying to Jesus. “Who died and made you God?!” And, “You’re not the boss of us!”
They are not happy with the ideas Jesus is proclaiming. They are not happy that he is challenging their authority. They are trying to find a way to get rid of him, or at least discredit him in front of his followers.
We know today that God sent Jesus, and that God is Jesus and Jesus is God. But the priests and other leaders don’t believe it. They refuse to even consider it, because that would make their whole way of being and leading false, and imply that they don’t have the authority to rule.
Jesus could easily be saying to them, “Who died and made you boss?” And, “You’re not the boss of me!”
In fact, it’s what John the Baptist essentially did say. He challenged the authority of King Herod. He challenged the authority of the priests. He challenged the authority of the Temple operation. When he offered baptism for the forgiveness of sins, he was taking the ritual outside the temple and offering it for free to all. Inside the temple, forgiveness of sins cost an offering, either money, or animals, or grain. It was definitely not free! John and Jesus are threatening their income.
So, when the leaders challenge Jesus, asking from whence comes his authority, Jesus challenges them right back. And then, the leaders are stuck with a dilemma. They say to one another: “If we say John’s authority was from heaven – meaning God – then they have a problem. If they say it was not from God, then they have a different problem.”
The leaders are stuck between a rock and a hard place no matter what they answer. So, they choose to say, “We do not know.” They mean, “We are afraid to answer either way.”
… Then, Jesus tells a story, a parable, about two sons. The boys are both told to go and work in the vineyard. One says, “Sure, Dad, I’ll go do that.” But he didn’t go. He continued to play his video game. The other said, “No, I don’t want to.” But he put down the game controller and went after all. Which boy did what his father asked? The one who went to work, of course, even though he said he wouldn’t go.
The father has the authority to be the boss of the sons, whether they like it or not. One son obeys, the other disobeys. Perhaps Jesus is saying that God has authorized John and Jesus to tell the leaders what to do, and they are refusing to do what God says. He is accusing the leaders of being the disobedient sons. In contrast, John and Jesus will both be obedient sons up to and including the times of their deaths.
… Paul picks up on this theme of obedience when he writes about Jesus to his friends in Philippi. Jesus was God, but emptied himself of his divinity to become human. He was so obedient, he then gave up his human life. He died so that God would still be the boss of him.
So, what matters is our obedience, our recognition of who, exactly, is the boss of us. We should, each of us, have the mind of Christ. We should seek humility – looking to what is the best for the other, for the community, instead of what is the best for us.
This is not to say we can’t have a mind of our own, and belongings of our own. It means that God put us here to care for one another, not to be in competition with each other for possessions and power. When the priests and temple leaders refused to consider that Jesus and John were sent by God, they were seeking to maintain their own power and position and possessions. Jesus gave up all that to demonstrate what God really wants for us.
When we are not worried about power and position and possessions, we can more easily be obedient to God. We can partner with others because we all have little position or power. We can give generously because we see others who have even less than we have. We are not worried about who may be the boss of us, because none of us is the boss.
… This Thursday we remember St Francis of Assisi. He was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. He suddenly realized how different his life was from the life of a poor person. He heard God speaking to him, “Francis, rebuild my church.” In obedience to this call, he took off his fancy clothes and became a monk.
At first, it was just him, living in a broken-down church building, placing stone upon stone to rebuild the building. Soon, some others joined him. They went out each day to work, with food as their only compensation.
Eventually, Francis wanted to put together a rule, a set of instructions on how to live faithfully. Francis’ idea of faithful living did not include fasting, or beating oneself, or avoiding tasty food, or silence. For Francis, obedience to God meant living simply, with few or no possessions, and the faith that God would provide the basics.
Many times, people wanted Francis to be the leader of the order, and he did take on that role as necessary. But, as soon as possible, he got others to take over. He said, basically, “I do not want to be the boss of you!”
… How, in your own daily and weekly lives, do you let Jesus be the boss of you? Do you make choices that you are proud of? Are you obedient sons and daughters of God?
This week, pay attention to the choices and decisions you make. Ask yourself if Jesus would be happy with your choice. Learn to make other choices if you need to.
And remember this: In the parable, there was no punishment for disobedience. The sons either did or did not do what they were asked. In the concluding verses, it appears that all get into the kingdom, even the chief priests and other leaders. The only difference is the timing: those who are more obedient get into the kingdom sooner than those who are less obedient. How much sooner, Jesus doesn’t say.

Please pray with me: Jesus, your obedience amazes us. We all want to live, not die, yet you chose to die because that was God’s plan. Teach us to be more obedient, less concerned about what we have and what we do, and more concerned with how we live. Remind us that you alone are the true boss of us.  Amen