Doing and Saying
The relationship between the mouth and action is intriguing. In Jesus’ parable, the father told his son to go work in the vineyard. He answered, “No,” but later changed his mind and went. Why is the first response often, “No”? Is it a Japanese custom to immediately say No? A new idea, a change usually elicits a No. A boy asks his mother if he can go to the mall with his friends. Her immediate response is “No,” but then he persists, and eventually she changes her mind and says “Yes.” Incidentally, at our Conference Family Camp, one of the campers who is a deputy sheriff in Santa Rosa taught a class on “Keeping Kids Safe in a Scary World.” Do you know what he considers the most dangerous place for a child or a youth? Yes, a mall. Abductions and attacks by gangs are prevalent. So, perhaps the mother should have stuck with “No, you may not go to the mall.”
Why is the immediate reaction to change or a new idea, often No? What is there in us that resists change, or a new idea? I decided two weeks ago to preach on this passage, and have been noticing how often people say “No”. I wish I had kept track! Sometimes the No is temporary, until the person thinks about it. We are in the process of recruiting and nominating our leaders for 2009. I called a woman and asked her to go out in the vineyard and serve as chairperson of a committee. She gasped, quickly said, “No way.” I’m still waiting for her to change her mind, but it might be a long wait.
A notable exception was when I called Ellen Takeuchi to ask her and Doug to chair Hanging of the Greens. She didn’t say yes, she didn’t say no, but said, “Let me talk to Doug.” He called back and said, “Yes!”
Another notable exception was my wife. When Bishop Shamana called to ask me to go out to the vineyard in San Jose and be the interim pastor at Wesley, we were in the process of moving into our new house in Arizona. Our son, Tim, was helping us. I asked Eleanor and Tim to sit down, and amidst the boxes, I told them the Bishop called. Their immediate response was an enthusiastic “Yes. After all, it’s only for six months!”
I’ve certainly found over the vast years of my ministry that church folk don’t usually jump up and down with enthusiasm when change is suggested. In one of my churches you should have heard the reaction when it was suggested that we move the pulpit, which was built in, and put the choir on chairs so the chancel area could be used for dramas! “No way” was the response. They didn’t change their minds either! I’m sure you’ve heard the seven last words of a dying church—we’ve never done it that way before.
Did you read in the announcements this morning that we have an opportunity to purchase the Soko Hardware property next door. Is “No” your first response? Probably. It is human nature to resist. But, let's think about it. We are holding Town Hall meetings to involve the congregation, all of you, in the decision. First, how would God want us to use the property? What kinds of ministries could we offer? Secondly, shall we purchase? After everyone has had a chance to think about it, offer ideas and opinions, then the entire church will vote and make a decision.
The son said “No” but then he thought about it. Perhaps he thought of how he was needed, how his father depended on him. He changed his mind, and moved his mouth to action. According to this parable, it is okay to change our minds. It is okay to say “No” and eventually change our minds and go out to the vineyard and work. In the end, actions are what counts, not words. Actions take precedence over the mouth, doing over saying.
When the father told his other son to go out in the vineyard and work, he replied, “Yes, I will go.” He told his father what the father wanted to hear, but he had no intention of following up his Yes with action. He said “Sure, I’ll go work,” and then didn’t show up. It is an interesting phenomenon. Say Yes but mean No. Some folks are afraid to take a stand and say “No.” Or, they don’t want to offend the one asking. Or, they don’t feel confident in explaining why they are saying “No.” They don’t want the confrontation. They want life to go smoothly. They find it easier to agree, to say what the other wants to hear, rather than be honest.
The father told his son, “Go and work in the vineyard today. The vineyard is a mess, and there is so much work to be done. Picking up the rocks. Planting. Pruning. Picking grapes. Go work in the vineyard today.” In other words, care for the sick and dying, the blind and the lame, the deaf and the dumb? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison?” And the son said, “Of course, you can count on me.” But instead, being religious, he conducted a worship service, held a Bible study, and then enjoyed some wine, cheese and fellowship with his friends.
But, he didn’t do any work. The vineyard was still a mess and there was much to be done; and so the father approached people from the lower rungs of society to see if they would do the work. He approached the tax collectors and the homeless, the pimps and the prostitutes, the bookies, the bartenders, and asked them, “Will you do the work in my vineyard. It’s a mess. The world is a mess. Will you care for the sick and dying, the blind and lame, the deaf and dumb? Will you feed the hungry? Clothe the naked? Visit those in jail?”
And the homeless and prostitutes said: “Are you crazy? Who do you think we are? Some goodie-two-shoes? Get real.” They started to walk away from the mess, but took a second look, had a change of heart, and went and did the work that needed to be done.
And Jesus looked the Pharisees in the eyes and asked the penetrating question: “And which of the two sons was faithful to the father’s will?” He who talks or he who does?
Jesus continued: “And so the tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before you Pharisees, even though you look so religious and smell so religious.”
We have received and welcomed Bruce Aizawa into our church membership this morning. I heard you tell Bruce publicly, with your mouths, “We renew our covenant faithfully to participate in the ministries of the church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service.” I heard you. Was it a “Yes, sure, I’ll go work in the vineyard, Dad,” and then not show up. In every church I’ve served, including Wesley, I’m amazed at the number of inactive members who said those words, who publicly promised God to pray, attend, serve and give, and then don’t show up, don’t pledge, or serve. We kicked off the finance campaign last Sunday. To Give is to Live. Will your response be, “Yes, of course I’ll pledge” and then not follow through with actual money? Or will your response be, “No, I won’t pledge,” and then change your mind and give anyway? How about being honest, forthright, and, James 5.12, “Let your Yes be yes and your No be no.” Do what you say.
Jesus said, Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” What counts in the final analysis is action. But, how about combining your words with your actions? And do what you say.
© 2008 Douglas I. Norris