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Will, But Don't Want
Exodus 17:1-7; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32

There is something irresistible about God's will for those who are open to the movement of God's Spirit in their lives. What I mean to say is this: If God wants you or any of God's people to do something, whether it be something simple, like go to church, or visit a friend, or care about someone in need; or even if it is something more difficult, like go into the ministry, or building a church; this thing that God wants you to do will be difficult to refuse, especially if you are open to the movement of God's Spirit in your life.

My wife and I have seen this happen in our own ministries over and over again. And it isn't because we were any more open to the movement of God's Spirit than any other Christian, for it happens with all of us. But, I can remember one instance where this happened to us while we were in our final year in seminary, over twenty years ago.

Knowing that we would soon be appointed to churches somewhere in Iowa, my wife and I began to do something that just about all ministers do when they think they are up for appointment. We took out a map of Iowa and began to look and dream about all the possibilities. And as we looked at that map of Iowa we wondered what God had in store for us. Would it be Northeastern Iowa, with all of its beautiful, tree covered rolling hills? Would it be Central Iowa, with it's broad fields of corn and soy beans? Would it be Southwestern Iowa, with it's smaller farms and countless rivers? And I remember how as my wife was looking at the map that she suddenly became a bit excited at finding a small town northwest of Des Moines which had the same name as her maiden name: Cooper. And I remember how she and I laughed about the irony of if, somehow, we were appointed to the town of Cooper. And I remember how Linda and I said to each other, "Nah, it would never happen." Linda Cooper Donelson could never be the pastor of the church in Cooper, Iowa. It would be too unreal. And, yet, several months later we were appointed to a parish with nine churches. And guess which town was within that parish? That's right -- Cooper, Iowa! And, Linda, my wife became the pastor of the church in that town.

Indeed, there is something which is irresistible about the will of God for those who are open to the movement of God's Spirit in their lives. And, for those of us who are open to the movement of God's Spirit in our lives, the twists and turns along our journey which may only seem like irony, and coincidence, and mere happen stance, may actually be God speaking his gentle "I love you" in the ear of our soul.

There are many things that God, that wonderful divine parent, asks us, Godís children, to do. In our gospel lesson for today we are reminded of this simple fact. Jesus' parable of the two wicked sons is a classic example of how we sometimes respond when God calls upon us to do Godís work.

The parable starts out with a father asking one son to go to work in the vineyard and the son just blatantly answering that he just will not go. And as this wicked son goes out the door, his conscience gets the best of him and he changes his mind and does his father's bidding. Then the father asks his other son to go work in the vineyard, and the other son says that he'll do it, but, in fact, he never goes.

Now, just what was Jesus trying to get at when he told this parable. I've often wondered why there wasn't a third son; a son who was asked to work in the vineyard, said "yes" and then did it. For, indeed, there are those who are obedient. And, yet, when you really examine this possibility closely, you have to admit that there was only one truly obedient Son. And his name was Jesus Christ. And no matter how hard we may try we can never truly, fully, and completely be the obedient Son that Jesus was.

Instead, there are the two types of God's children. There are those who hear God telling them to go serve in the vineyard: to do those difficult tasks, such as helping in the nursery, or leading a choir, or teaching a sunday school, or serving on a committee, or supporting programs that help the needy. There are those who hear God asking them, "Are Ye Able?" And for the most part, what is our answer to God when we hear the call? Either we cheerfully and almost casually answer that we'll do anything God wants and then forget about it as soon as the worship service is over. Or there are those of us who say "no", at first, and then change our minds as we have a chance to meditate upon it for a while.

Certainly, there are those of us who have answered both ways when God has come knocking on our door. And we who have cheerfully, even casually, committed our prayers, presence, gifts, and service, without following through may have even caught ourselves, from time to time, looking down upon those who may have said they wouldn't serve, but later changed their mind. But, the question that Jesus asked his disciples should be asked of us, as well: "Which child of God did what his Father wanted?" Which child of God are we?

The apostle Paul was always one who struggled with the question of his obedience towards God. Often, in his writings Paul would explain that no matter how hard he tried there was always something that he was doing or not doing which caused him to fall short of God's expectations. Even the apostle Paul knew that he wasn't the good Son who quickly, obediently and gladly did everything God wanted him to. Therefore, it was Paul who offered Christ to the world. For Christ was the only obedient Son who not only willingly and gladly worked in his Father's vineyard, but who also went forth to die upon the cross on our behalf, "That," as Paul wrote, "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

As I said before, there is something, indeed, irresistible about the will of God in the lives of those who are open to the movement of the Spirit of God. And obedience to God, whether it is quick, or whether it comes only after a struggle of the soul, has its own reward.

I am reminded of something that happened to me as I was serving as pastor at the Corunna church several years ago. We had celbrated the baptism of a baby in the church. In fact, she was the grand-daughter of the church janitor. And I don't know why we chose that particular Sunday for the baptism. It just seemed like the best Sunday for it, I guess. And, so we did the baptism. And heaven knows, it wasn't one of those perfect worship services where everything comes off perfectly. In fact, there are very few worship services like that. But, God was there. And with God's presence even the most feeble of human attempts can become magnificent. For, as it turned out later, a couple from the upper Peninsula just happened to be there that day. They weren't sure why they came to our church. They only felt moved by God's Spirit to worship there with us. And as they entered into the sanctuary and looked at the bulletin and experienced our worship that Sunday, they were deeply moved. You see, they were visiting in that community to remember their mother, who had died several years ago. And her birthday was that Sunday. And it so happened that the name of their mother was "Rachael." And it also just so happened that the name of the baby being baptized was "Rachael," as well.

Some of us might call it a coincidence. Some of us might call it happen stance. But to those of us who know, who are open to, and who have experienced God's Spirit moving within our lives, things like this are God's whispering in our ear, "I love you." And hearing that whisper, feeling that gentle touch upon the soul, is the simple reward of faithful obedience even in the midst of doubt and imperfection.

Our lives may be full of turmoil, at times. Even our worship may be disturbed by the conflicts of interactions the depths of which we may scarcely comprehend. Nevertheless, God is here. And because God is here, we may experience that gentle touch and hear those gentle words.


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