It has been said that change is inevitable – except from pay phones and vending machines. We face change in our lives all the time. It is a daily thing, having to adjust from moment to the next. In my life for example, I was grateful for the ability to see who is calling on the phone. Phone calls in the life of a clergy can be literally life changing. Sure there are moments when the phone rings and a warden doesn’t want you on icy, snowy roads to do a service. There are moments when the phone rings and someone is in need of help of one kind or another. There are moments of administration in talking to fellow clergy of one stripe or another. And then are the really big calls when one has to go somewhere, namely to the hospital to be there for big moments in someone else’s life.
But have you used a payphone lately… I cannot remember the last time that I used a payphone. I am doubtful that I could easily locate one in my community and I more than likely would have the change on me to operate it if I did. We carry cell phones now and pay and awful lot more for the mobile phone than looking for a payphone and coming up with “Two bits” or 25 cents. And here is a change for you, there is no “cents” symbol for me to use on my keyboard – I can remember there being one on my first typewriter! Isn’t that change?
Now you might wonder what that would have to do with Jesus being questioned about his authority (Matthew 21:23-32). Jesus was causing a stir in Jerusalem. He had entered the holy city as a king with the people cheering and crying out for God to save them and the nation. The religious leaders had heard about the young, powerful rabbi from up north. They had heard about how he was teaching and doing outside the traditions they upheld – and worse – encouraging others to go beyond those same traditions. Therefore he must be some kind of subversive and he must be dealt with… rubbed out! After all he might have the ability to start a war with the Romans and have the religious elite in Jerusalem stripped of their power. That would not do at all!
So they went to him and they ask him a question. “By what authority do you teach these new things? Who taught you? Where did you go to school? Who laid hands on you?” Jesus smiled and asked them a question, “Can you see God at work in John the Baptiser? Where did the power to see lives transformed come from? Did it come from heaven or was it made up in a man’s mind? Those who had come were clearly distressed. They gathered together and discussed and argued over their response. It was clear they were not going to answer, “From heaven” and acknowledge that God was at work in John and thus in Jesus. But on the other hand, if they said that it was by human mind and power that John preached they would lose all credibility with the people because the people clearly believed that John was God’s prophet. So they answered Jesus with, “We dunno.” And to that Jesus replied, “Well then I won’t tell you and embarrass you further.”
In a way, Jesus is having some fun with the religious elite. He is pointing out that they are very good with the externals of what they believe. But he also points out that they have not paid much attention to the weightier matters. They have not totally connected what they believe with what they do. And in failing to do that, they have not obey God in fulfilling God’s will for their lives of the mission of God in the world. Jesus’ question exposes the hypocrisy of say that one believes in God and then does nothing to bring one’s life into line with what God asks of that person.
Maybe that is how we can connect with what Paul tells the Philippians – which they (and therefore we) are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. This is not a call to personal faith and deeds to show that you believe and therefore are worthy of God and the Church. Working out our salvation, is a plural and thus a corporate thing. We are to live as the Church in this world, showing the world that we are in the process of being saved by God. We are called on to live in such a way that people in the rest of the world will see the quality of our community and be drawn to us and to God who is within.
From within the Church there ought to be encouragement, consolation, sharing, compassion and sympathy. And because there is then people should be attracted to our common life. As a result then, we need to connect what we believe with what we do. And because we desire to put our minds on the things of God, our priorities and goals are going to change as we move forward with God. The things we care about are going to change and thus the way in which are going to live our lives is going to change. There is still the opportunity to change our minds and go with God. And just like the ol’ pay phone, some of the old things will still exist but they won’t attract us like they once did. Thanks be to God for that!