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

Did the closure of church doors come from heaven, or was it of a different origin?

And they argued with one another.

One neighbor on the phone assured me that this is of Satan, and churches need to stand up and seize back the rights guaranteed in the Constitution, which was "born of God", instead of falling for the lies of scientists and media who disagree with him.

One colleague reports that since their community stopped worshiping in person, attendance and giving are both up, and many new people that their congregation never reached before are receiving God's good news.

I can tell you that prayer and pastoral care concerns, and opportunities, and appreciation, and complaints, and workload have all increased.

More families are drawing closer together; more families are breaking apart.

Faith is growing stronger, being incubated again in the home; and faith is growing

weaker, as people more easily tune out and drift away.

The positives and the negatives are both magnified as the exile of God's people to the sofas of Babylon has flipped church on its head.

Is this a curse or is it a blessing?

If we say it is from Satan, then why are we not resisting by re-opening the doors?

If we say it is from heaven, we are afraid of the crowd, for they regard it as a bad thing.

New reports keep coming. conclusions keep changing, and now, with the entire internet at our fingertips, we do not know.

The chief priests and the elders standing in the temple with egg on their highly educated faces can sympathize with our plight.

They have dedicated their lives to getting religion right only to have John and Jesus come along and upend everything.

The baptism of John was a conversion of Jews, changing God's chosen people into something else.

Now Jesus is teaching in the same temple he trashed by flipping over the cash registers and

driving out the staff.

They both let the wrong people in and drove the right people out in a system organized around holiness—honoring God by keeping things and people meticulously separate and orderly.

Both John and Jesus flipped religion on its head, making a mockery of the worldview and

lifestyle these leaders had spent a lifetime learning, teaching, promoting and protecting.

Four years of seminary, twenty-two years of pastoring, and no preparation for preaching Easter to a camera in an empty sanctuary behind locked doors.

Eighty-seven years of hugging other people and no preparation for keeping social distance from grandchildren.

Preschoolers being taught not to share.

Grade schoolers being required to have more screen time and avoid social activity.

Work and school and life all thrown out of rhythm, off balance, a whole society in disarray as

smoke chokes our sky and the sun turns to blood.

By what authority is all this happening?

We think it will help to know who's in charge, and we are all the more desperate for that clarity in this ongoing haze of uncertainty which won't lift until...we do not know.

Jesus is not immediately helpful.

He doesn't give answers, only more questions and unsettling stories.

What do you think?

A man had two sons.

One talked back and disobeyed, the other answered "Yes, Sir" and went.

Ah, the good old days, when we knew right from wrong, when we could pick out the

good from the bad.

The first son is a disgrace who shamed his father; the other one is the hope to hold onto.

Jesus has set us up again, and flips over the story like a table in the temple.

The older son changed his mind and went where his father told him to go.

John and Jesus call this repentance.

The younger son, meanwhile, went his own way, his honor being nothing more than lip service.

Elsewhere Jesus had ripped the scribes and Pharisees: You hypocrites!

Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me."

Now he tells the temple authorities that the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.

The shameful ones had the good sense to trust John.

They had the wisdom to repent.

They had the courage to change their minds.

As so many of us waste so much time trying to change other people's minds, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu spend The Book of Joy encouraging and teaching us to change our own.

If the New Testament has a "book of joy", it's Philippians.

Paul writes by far his most joyful letter from prison to a town known as a Roman military

retirement community.

Status, rank, and résumé matter in Philippi.

Paul flips the script.

Paul points them down to God.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than

yourselves.

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of

God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.

That's why he's in charge; that's why every knee lowers to him—because he emptied himself

entirely, stripped down into rags and entered his Father's vineyard to sweat and serve and

bleed and die for others.

He reached the top by climbing all the way to the bottom, then God flipped the world over.

Wilt thou become a Saint? church history's greatest preacher, John Chrysostom asked.

Be severe to thyself and kind to others.

Flip the world's sad, unsatisfying script.

If you want more, acquire less and give more away.

If you want to hold on to what is most important, learn to let go.

If you want to change the world, change your mind.

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