Popular Kids

Postscript: the recording of this sermon was outside and a very windy day. Therefore, the audio is awful and I won’t be posting a video.

Message Title: Popular Kids
Theme: Life Lessons from the Playground
Main Text: Matthew 21:23-32
Scripture Reading: Exodus 17:1-7
RCL Scripture: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Psalm 25:1-9; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32
Focus: Chief priests compromised their convictions to maintain the crowds.
Function: To choose the unpopular route of the kingdom of God, we must do what’s right, regardless of the crowd’s opinion.
Other Notes:

SCRIPTURE READING: Exodus 17:1-7 The whole Israelite community broke camp and set out from the Sin desert to continue their journey, as the Lord commanded. They set up their camp at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people argued with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why are you arguing with me? Why are you testing the Lord?”  But the people were very thirsty for water there, and they complained to Moses, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What should I do with this people? They are getting ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of Israel’s elders with you. Take in your hand the shepherd’s rod that you used to strike the Nile River, and go.I’ll be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Hit the rock. Water will come out of it, and the people will be able to drink.” Moses did so while Israel’s elders watched.He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites argued with and tested the Lord, asking, “Is the Lord really with us or not?”


PLAYGROUND: Popular kids

  1. As we’ve discussed before, I was NOT cool in elementary school. But at least my mother thought I was cute. (PICTURE) I was a tender soul that loved people and wanted to make friends with everyone. Unfortunately, being friends with everyone wasn’t cool. Two girls in particular, we’ll call them Ashley and Stacy, loved to tease me and I desperately wanted to win them over as friends.
    1. Ashley and I lived only a few blocks away from each other. One day I was walking home from school with my little brother and Ashley and Stacy were walking on the opposite side of the road. They called my name! I was so excited for a chance to win them over!
    2. My brother cautioned me not to go talk to those girls, but I went anyway. As soon as I crossed the street these two girls pulled out aerosol cans of whipped cream and covered me with it while laughing.

TRANSITION: As a young girl, I was so desperate to fit in that I would go against my better judgement. I would follow the trend of the crowd if it meant a chance popular kids would include me.

In our text for today, we may not see a popularity contest, but we will see politics at work. Can these religious leaders be genuine or are they only trying to please the crowd?


Vs 23-2723 When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and elders of the people came to him as he was teaching. They asked, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things? Who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus replied, “I have a question for you. If you tell me the answer, I’ll tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things. 25 Where did John get his authority to baptize? Did he get it from heaven or from humans?” They argued among themselves, “If we say ‘from heaven,’ he’ll say to us, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But we can’t say ‘from humans’ because we’re afraid of the crowd, since everyone thinks John was a prophet.” 27 Then they replied, “We don’t know.” Jesus also said to them, “Neither will I tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things.

  1. Timing: This passage happened just after Palm Sunday & the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus was in the temple preaching to people. They gathered in Jerusalem for Passover.
  2. Location: Temple
  3. Audience: Chief Priests (and those in the Temple that Jesus was teaching)
    1. The Chief Priests were not only religious leaders by birth/heritage as Jews, but also leaders by their appointed authority by Rome. (WP)
    2. They were religious leaders but also politicians. Jews who bridged the gap between Jews and the Romans. Great idea, in theory, but were they able to keep their integrity while pressured by Rome?
  4. Topic: Question of Authority
    1. The Chief Priests engage Jesus in a conversation to make Jesus blaspheme himself and ostracize his followers. The chief priests want to trap Jesus in a political statement about Jesus’ authority coming from God.
    2. Jesus responds to their political trap with a trap of his own. He asks a controversial question about John the Baptist’s authority.
      1. The Chief Priests don’t answer for fear of the crowds.
      2. Please note: To genuinely say “I don’t know” is always an option when questions are asked. HOWEVER, the Chief Priests had an opinion but didn’t want to say it for fear of losing authority over the crowd.
        1. They chose silence instead of risking repercussions.
          1. By not having an opinion, they gave an opinion.
          2. (Hamilton: Jefferson or Burr? Jefferson has opinions, Burr has none.)

Jesus responds to their “non-answer” with a short parable:

Vs 28-32 28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. Now he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 “‘No, I don’t want to,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went. 30 “The father said the same thing to the other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ But he didn’t go. 31 “Which one of these two did his father’s will?” They said, “The first one.” Jesus said to them, “I assure you that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you. 32 For John came to you on the righteous road, and you didn’t believe him. But tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Yet even after you saw this, you didn’t change your hearts and lives and you didn’t believe him.

  1. Jesus’ response: Tax collectors & prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before the chief priests.
    1. They are like the first son
    2. You are like the second son
  2. Jesus is not saying God will exclude the Chief Priests, but eternity will be a lesson in humility.

INTERPRETATION: Chief Priests compromised their convictions to maintain the crowds. The Chief Priests were playing a political game of chess rather than living out the Torah.

  1. CHURCHES HISTORICALLY: A large complaint of people who leave the church is the question of corrupt leadership in churches. It doesn’t take much digging on the internet to find reports of church leaders committing sexual, financial, or totalitarian abuse of members in their congregation.
    1. We may experience different perspectives here at Liberty, but the world does not look kindly on churches based on the broader spectrum of congregations.
  2. COVID AND CHURCHES: Today, we see a struggle to make wise choices in relation to worship and COVID.
    1. I have had a conflicted heart throughout the COVID season. I feel like I am equally stuck in the question of authority as this parable. I feel like if I were to say wear masks or don’t wear masks. Meet in church building or meet outside or meet digitally. I either don’t have faith or am a fool. I either am liberal or conservative. I either think I am in control or am waiting for others to take control. It feels like a no-win situation.
  3. CHURCH DEBATES: How do we as a church move forward to make wise decisions for us and our community?
    1. Our governor is recommending one plan of action. Our denomination has been in conversation about other plans of action. The world health organization (WHO) and the CDC are still offering other suggestions. Each news source is reporting things from their own political bend.
    2. Whose authority do we listen to? How do we get information that we can trust?
      1. Some scientists believe the virus is droplet size and therefore masks help.
        1. Some people trust this and find masks as a safe place.
        2. Other scientists say the virus is aerosol size and masks won’t help.
        3. Some individuals believe masks put us more at risk by increasing carbon dioxide levels.
        4. Other individuals believe the masks make us sicker by preventing us from being exposed to germs and building our own immune system.
        5. Some see masks as an attack on their freedom and individual rights with their body.
      2. Some believe COVID is only like the flu and we should just carry about our lives
      3. Some believe this is about demonstrating faith in God over fear
        1. Some pastors believe we show our faith in God by maintaining “normal” worship. Many of these churches believe those congregations that adjust their worship are living in fear, not faith.
        2. Some pastors believe we should use the brain God gave us an analyze information we receive to make a scientific approach to worship.
        3. Other pastors have not changed their worship setting, not out of faith but fear of church members ceasing to give. A pastor’s livelihood dependent on the giving of church members. A decrease in giving means financial crisis for churches and the risk of closing.
      4. Some believe this is a conspiracy during the election season to stir up fear & voters
      5. Some believe that this is only a problem for big cities or the elderly or the immune compromised. I’ve even heard people joke that this could kill off the stubborn people so we can finally see change in x, y, or z.

APPLICATION: To choose the unpopular route of the kingdom of God, we must do what’s right, regardless of the crowd’s opinion.

  1. Fear is the major factor surrounding COVID.
  2. Authority in our personal lives:
    1. Dr. Brené Brown is a social worker, professor, lecturer, author, and podcast host. She has spent years studying vulnerability, shame, and the pathway to a meaningful life.
      1. She found in her studies, our community or inner circle plays a significant role to the wellbeing of our life. To live a meaningful life, she concluded, we shouldn’t receive every piece of feedback that people give us as equally valued. This is because not every person cares about you or is hoping for your success. It is important to know who to trust.
      2. Dr. Brown suggests getting a small piece of paper, something to fit in your wallet, and write a short list of people you trust.
        1. Who are the people you will listen to when they give you constructive criticism?
        2. Who are the people you turn to when you need encouragement?
  3. I want to start out by saying that I am not scared of COVID. I am not filled with fear, but I am cautious because I do not see a consistent or trustworthy message being shared.
    1. I want to be intentional and practical, but I do not root my actions in fear. I continue to wear masks, social distance, and limit my interactions outside of my home not out of fear but out of respect for the rest of my community.
    2. I will take a few sacrifices of my freedom if it means that I am minimizing the spread of this disease.
    3. I will wear a mask or take extra time to set up outside or risk the weather if it means I am not putting any of you at risk.
    4. We don’t know. There isn’t enough knowledge about this disease for any of us to have definitive statements about the right decision, but we can error on the side of caution for the love of this community.


  1. BACK TO OPENING: COVID is one example connected to our scripture today. I want to live my life in a way that maintains my integrity as I follow Christ with words and actions. I do not want to be pulled in to a popularity contest. I want to root my actions in Christ, not fear.
    1. Being rooted in Christ doesn’t mean we stick our heads in the sand and ignore the world.
    2. Being rooted in Christ means that we filter information through the lens of scripture.
      1. Am I providing avenues for community development through these actions?
      2. Am I showing the love of God through my words?
      3. Am I bringing about God’s redemption?
  2. We should root our words and actions in our beliefs, not in impressing or placating other individuals.
    1. How will you fight against the demands of the crowd?
    2. How will you do what is right even if it isn’t popular?
    3. What ways will you be Christ’s love in this world?

Benediction: May you be unpopular. May you be weird. May you be the ones doing what is right even when it isn’t cool.

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