Proper 23 – Ordinary 28 – Pentecost + 19
15 October 2017
Faithful God, whose steadfast love never ceases and whose mercies never come to an end: grant us the grace to trust you and to receive the gifts of your love, new every morning, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Today’s gospel is a parable that is not only one we can identify with, but one that can, at the same time, make us feel that we’re sitting on something sharp and uncomfortable when we see the details, when we see how we respond to the love of God, in and for our lives.
We’re all familiar with the uncertainties of planning a grand meal, a banquet, a feast for an anniversary, a celebration?
At the same time, we know who we’d like to see attending such a grand occasion. We have the guest list in our minds, and we see them cleaned and polished.
In our minds eye, we see those on our guest list dressed ‘to the nines,’ in their very best, and ready to give compliments on the décor, the preparation of the dining room, the presentation of the various dishes to be served.
But those on ‘our preferred guest list’ don’t come!
They have “better things to do” even if it’s, as one translation says, “weed a garden.” (Mt 22:5)
So, what do we do? How do we respond?
Will we sit there surrounded by the preparations we’ve made? Or will we find those who will attend the feast and appreciate the honour of being there?
But at the same time, this is Jesus’ parable. He’s the one telling us this story, so we know it has implications for each one of us, and for our relationship with God, with Jesus, and with each other.
How is it that we receive, treat those who come to us, and invite us to God’s table? To the Eucharist?
How many of our friends and family have turned away from the love of God, from time spent in communion with each other, from being strengthened by Word and Sacrament, from the fellowship offered in and through the life of the church?
How often have we allowed our personal dislike of either the one who is preaching / presiding to affect how we hear or receive the loving message of God? Will we continue to worship God in the company of the body of Christ? Or will we leave with our heads high, and our pride bruised? Both are very human responses, but one puts God ahead of our own agenda’s our own egos.
Or perhaps it’s someone with whom we have a difference of opinion who worships with us in the body of Christ that causes us to act like those who refuse to come to the feast? Or even worse, like those who “seized his servants, mistreated them, killed them”? (Mt 22:6)
How often do we not consider the world around us any further than the boundary of our own vegetable garden, our own property lines?
What we’re seeing, here, is how much effort God has put into having a relationship with not only each one of us, who is here, but with those who for this reason, or that, cannot be bothered to attend.
And this is the heart of what we’re seeing, today, in the gospel, in the parable that Jesus is telling us, today.
I find it interesting that there are groups in the world who desire peace but claim that peace is only possible if the rest of the world is on the lethal end of a weapon.
Or those who use and employ violence of any kind, be it physical violence or the weapons of rumour and slander against those whom they don’t like, or don’t agree with to bring about their ideals of what a ‘perfect world’ looks like. Where are such lines drawn? Who is in the circle? Who is outside of this realm of love and grace?
At one time, and I’m sure they’re still out there, there were groups who wanted a complete breakdown of government solely for the purpose of doing what they wanted, when they wanted to do it without considering the lives of those around them.
I’m sure these are the ones who physically harm, mistreat and kill the servants of the king. I’m sure these are the ones who use whatever is at hand to promote their lifestyles, their agendas their vision of what the kingdom of God looks like ahead of any vision that includes absolutely everyone who loves God.
But this isn’t where our host leaves his grand banquet, his feast, his wedding feast. Instead, “8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’” (Mt 22:8-9)
Isn’t this interesting? In retrospect, in looking at the way the king’s invitation was treated by those invited, he now says “those I invited did not deserve to come.” (Mt 22:8b)
These are the ones in position of perceived power, those who are the cream of the society who openly scorned the kings invitation. These are the ones who chose gardening over feasting, who killed the messengers sent to encourage them to come and to attend the king at his table.
So, then, who is now welcome to the feast? The king sends his servants out a third time and asks them to invite “anyone you find.” (Mt 22:9b)
“And the wedding hall was filled with guests.” (Mt 22:10c)
And this is important to us, here, today. This doesn’t mean that God has turned God’s back on those who have abused God’s messengers, who refuse to come into God’s presence with praise, rather the doors are now opened to those whom we may feel don’t adequately represent our lives of faith, but still these are the ones whom the servants find to fill the tables. These are “all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good” (Mt 22:10b)
So, who is this we see at the table?
We are here, because we hear the invitation of the king, of God, and we come into the presence of God with praise, with thanksgiving, with gladness.
We come to be filled with good things so that we can be sent out into the world with good tidings and with messages of God’s love for all of humanity.
But who is it beside us at the table of the king? Those on the margins of life? The gospel only tells us “the bad as well as the good.” (Mt 22:10b)
Yet, here we are, representing the kingdom of God to the world.
Here we are, dressed for the banquet, here we are representing the nations of the world who love God and who come when the word of God is felt in our lives and in our hearts.
The passage from Isaiah for today is one that we associate with Advent, with the anticipation of the arrival of the King in our midst.
Isaiah describes the feast that is set before us, today. He tells us: “6 On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines. 7 On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; 8 he will swallow up death forever.” (Isa 25:8-8a)
On this mountain, Isaiah says, but we can also see it as ‘in this place. We can see the love of God for all whom God loves, and all whom the love of God has the chance to change our lives, change our perceptions change how we see the world around us to break down barriers and to open our hearts and our lives to the love of God for all of the world.
In Jesus parable, those in positions of authority in the community have felt that they are in those positions by the grace of God, yet, when the call comes to attend the king, to attend the marriage banquet, they each find their calendars otherwise occupied.
What if, just what if, it is in the state of love of God that we are our true selves?
Wow! What a thought!
We are truly ourselves when we find the love of God directing not only our actions, but our words, our thoughts, our hearts in all matters.
We are truly ourselves when we come into the presence of God with a song, with praise and thanksgiving, even when it feels our lives are falling apart.
In the letter to the Philippians, Paul tells us: “4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phl 4:4-7)
It often feels that our lives are filled with conflicting choices; choices that have the ability to make us feel like we are in the midst of a tug-of-war in our lives, with the decisions we make that can benefit only ourselves, or can benefit the people of God on all sides.
This is the same choice that we see Jesus addressing in the parable. The choice to uphold the rules and regulations that have emerged in Jewish life that hem us in and make us feel either superior to our fellow human beings, or unworthy of the love of God. At the same time, we are able to open our hearts to the love and message of God who wishes only to love each and every one of us, and who invites each and every one of us to the feast.
Today we see that we are the ones who are invited to the table, to the feast.
We are the ones who don’t scorn the invitation to the table, and, yet we may be surprised with whom it is that we are rubbing elbows at the kings feast.
But we are all here by the love, the invitation, the welcome embrace of God who loves each and every one of us.
We are all here because we heeded the call to be in the presence of God, to be at the marriage feast of the king.
And, we are all here because we heed the words of Paul who tells us ““4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” (Phl 4:4-5)