Like a bride

Sunday Evening

Sunday was my daughter’s wedding – that’s why there were a few missing reflections on the texts for last week.

The wedding was in the wine country, a “destination wedding”, since no matter where we held it, family and friends would have to fly in from all over the country. But there was something sweet and profound in the blend of accents from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, California, Colorado, New Hampshire, and I’m not sure where else. Isaiah 25 declares that God will prepare a feast for all peoples; a world whose primal unity was broken will be gathered back together for God’s great banquet. In Matthew 14 that feast is anticipated in the feeding of the 5,000. In John 2 that banquet is anticipated in the new wine at Cana. In Revelation 21 that banquet is portrayed as a new Jerusalem, adorned like a bride for her husband.

Every wedding exults in the joy of creation and declares the promise of the banquet to come. In every wedding the bride is beautiful and the groom handsome, every flaw forgotten. In every wedding there is joy and dancing. In every wedding the woes of the world are forgotten for a moment.

It’s not that the woes are not there. An empty chair with daisies stood on the aisle for Megan’s missing sister. This date was the birthday of my missing brother. There are losses and wounds among us all, but they cannot overshadow the joy of the wedding. Hope, joy, the presence of possibility and future, the mystery and delight of two who find in one another a deep and enduring bond and dare to promise it no matter what comes – here joy trumps sorrow, hope trumps despair, life trumps death. There is a reason Jesus uses the wedding feast as a metaphor for God’s reign.

We live as believers – those who know the resurrection and trust the promise that God will fulfill his purpose of bringing life to us and to the world.

So we sing and dance and break the bread of the eternal feast.

(If you would like to read the sermon from the wedding, it is posted at jacoblimping@wordpress.com)

Whose image?

Thursday

Matthew 22

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Denarius with the Image of Tiberius

20Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?”

I don’t know why our translators chose this expression, ‘head’, for the Greek word that comes into English as icon – though certainly ancient coins bore the visage of the emperor. At the time of Jesus, during the reign of Tiberius, they bore an inscription that declared: “Tiberius Caesar, Augustus, son of the divine Augustus, high priest.” This was the reason you couldn’t use these coins to pay your temple offerings, the reason there were moneychangers in the temple to convert these idolatrous coins into a proper currency to bring into the temple.

Curiously Jesus accusers have no problem coming up with this idolatrous coin.

But Jesus is not sucked into the argument about the coins. Nor is he sidetracked by the trap they have set for him: a trap that would force him to risk open rebellion or risk alienating his base. He has a much deeper concern.

This narrative hinges on the fact that Jesus uses the word ‘image’. This is the same word used in the Greek of Genesis where God says “let us make humankind in our image.” Jesus doesn’t use one of the words for a graven image, a statue, an idol; he uses the word that connects to Israel’s fundamental conviction that humanity bears the image of God – for this is the question at issue. The Herodians and the Pharisees are made in the image of God, and have they rendered to God what belongs to God? Or are they rendering to Caesar what belongs to God?

Jesus is not dividing life between our civic and religious responsibilities. It is important to say this, because we routinely divide church and state, politics and religion. Jesus is challenging his accusers about where they have placed their allegiance. They have sided with Rome, not God. They have sided with wealth and power and safety rather than with the God who bids them care for the poor and protect the weak. They have sided with the accumulation of great estates rather than the commands of God that guards every family’s lands. They serve the empires of this world, not the reign of God.

This is why in the Gospel of Luke the leaders tell Pilate that Jesus forbids the people to pay taxes to Caesar. They hear Jesus’ challenge and know that he is repudiating their allegiance to the world of Rome. It is not that Israel could not live under Roman rule; it’s that its leaders have committed themselves to the way of human empires rather than God’s reign of justice and mercy. They have chosen to be “of the world” not just in it. “You cannot serve God and mammon,” says Jesus. He does not mean that it is tricky to pull off, or that you should temper your desire for things. It’s that your fundamental allegiance cannot be to God and to wealth at the same time. We must choose: the way of wealth and power or the way of justice and love.

Which takes us back to the central question: in whose image was I made? Whose image will I bear?

Let the sea roar

Wednesday

Psalm 96

Let the sea roar1 O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.

“Sing to the Lord a new song.” Our praise should be ever new. Not, in this psalm, because God has done some new thing, but here just for the majesty of God who has shown himself to be worthy of our praise. Other gods are mere idols; they have no power to create or redeem. They have no power to speak. They have no power to shape the world. But the Lord is a god who saves, who heals, who makes whole.

It is not the song itself that must be new, not the words or the music, but the singing. We sing as those who live in the continual discovery of God’s goodness, not as those for whom the charm has worn off and everything is taken for granted.

Like a long married couple still in love, like an athlete who loves to be on the field every game, like a painter for whom every flower, every field, every sunset is brilliantly new, we sing every song as if it is springing forth from the heart for the first time. For all creation is singing. The fields are jubilant and every bird and creature stirring within. The trees of the forest sing for joy. The sea roars in praise. The mountains echo in reply. The wind whispers the mysteries of God. And all the families of the earth are invited to join the song.

To the author of life, all life belongs

Watching for the morning of October 19

Year A

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 24 / Lectionary 29

Creation stained glass“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

Jesus gives a brilliant answer to those who would trap him into open rebellion from Rome. But his answer is more than a clever dodge – it transforms their attack into the central question of human life: to whom do we belong? Whose image is upon us? What do we owe to the one who fashioned us and breathed into us the breath of life.

The texts vibrate with the notion that the LORD alone is God. The prophet declares that it is the LORD who has raised up the Persian king Cyrus and acclaimed him to be God’s anointed! (God’s ‘Messiah’ in Hebrew, God’s ‘Christ’ in Greek) God is the creator of all, and through Cyrus and his deliverance of Israel all the earth shall know “I am the LORD, and there is no other.”

The psalmist calls for us to “declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all peoples” for God alone made the heavens and all belong to him.

Paul’s thanksgiving for the believers in Thessalonica describes how they turned “from idols, to serve a living and true God.”

To the author of life, all life belongs.

But vibrating through our texts is much more than God’s claim over all life. It is God’s loving claim over all life. “He will judge the peoples with equity,” says the psalmist. He “rescues us from the wrath that is coming,” says Paul. God will go before Cyrus to “break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron,” declares the prophet. To God all life belongs – to the God who saves and delivers and draws all creation to “sing a new song” and “tell of his salvation from day to day.”

The Prayer for October 19, 2014

O God of all creation,
you formed us in your image
from the dust of the earth and the breath of your Spirit,
knitting each of us together in our mother’s womb,
and setting us to the task of caring for your world.
Help us to live as your faithful people,
serving you by serving our neighbor;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 19, 2014

First Reading: Isaiah 45:1-7
“Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped.” – The prophet declares that the Persian king Cyrus is God’s anointed whom God raises to power for the sake of Israel and so that all the world may know that God alone is God.

Psalmody: Psalm 96:1-10
“For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.” – The psalmist calls upon all nations to acknowledge the LORD alone as God.

Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
“The people of those regions [Macedonia and Achaia] report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God.”
– Paul begins his letter to the believers in Thessalonica giving thanks for their open reception of Paul and his message.

Gospel: Matthew 22:15-22
“Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” – The leaders of Jerusalem seek to trap Jesus into declaring rebellion from Rome or alienating his followers, but Jesus turns their attack upon them, declaring that we who are made in the image of God must render our lives to God.

 

Joy

Sunday Evening

Philippians 4

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A woman from Papua New Guinea, By eGuide Travel

4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

When we listen to the parable of the wedding feast – the king marching upon rebel vassals and burning their city to the ground, the king binding the inappropriately dressed guest hand and foot and casting him into the outer darkness – it’s hard to remember that at the heart of this story is the joy of a wedding feast and the boundless grace of the king who gathers all people into his joy. But it is important that we remember. The parable is not about the wrath of God, but the wrath of kings in the empires of this world and the dangers of choosing allegiance to human empire rather than the gracious and joyful reign of God.

God’s way is a way of justice and mercy. Nations do not fall in fire when they embody justice and mercy; they burn when injustice grows too great. There would be no riots in Ferguson if there were not a legacy of injustice. Watts would not have burned in 1965, nor Detroit in 1967 nor D.C. in 1968, had there been no legacy of injustice. Berlin would not have fallen into rubble without an ideology of hate. Go anywhere in the world and see if you can find a violent overthrow of a just society.

The penalty for idolatrous cities in Deuteronomy is burning. It is not the sentence of a jealous and wrathful god; it is the consequence of injustice that is the fruit of our idolatrous worship of wealth, privilege and power.

But the way of justice and mercy is the path of joy. It is a city that gathers joyfully in festivity, that gathers happily around its daily bread, that lives happily in community.

The way of justice and mercy is the path of joy. But it is not so much the path to joy as the path from joy – or from joy into joy. Joy in God’s kindness abounds in kindness to others. Joy in God’s bounty abounds in generosity to others. Joy in God’s deliverance abounds in freedom to others. Joy in God’s mercy abounds in mercy to others. Joy in God’s forgiveness abounds in forgiveness to others.

4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, this joy leads to gentleness, thankfulness and peace. It leads to all that is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, and excellent. It leads from and into the wedding feast that has no end.

It doesn’t mean we should deny the sorrows of life nor weep for the wounds of the world. It’s just a reminder that even there, we dwell in God’s joy.

Royal rage

Saturday

Matthew 22

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Study for Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans by François Joseph Heim

7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.

Jesus is in Jerusalem, along with the crowds for Passover and the additional Roman soldiers brought in to keep anyone from thoughts of freedom at this national festival of liberation. For Jesus this is his final week. He will be accused of resisting Roman rule and will suffer the ancient equivalent of a beheading broadcast across the internet, designed to show everyone the futility of resisting those in power.

What does Jesus say about those who will not have God as their king, who refuse the realm of grace and life?

The banquet story is a story about grace – a God who invites all into the joy of the marriage of heaven and earth. Even those who live on the streets are clothed in wedding garments and brought into the king’s palace.

But as Jesus stands in the temple in Jerusalem facing those rulers of Jerusalem and Judea who are plotting to kill him, the story takes a more ominous turn. Where once the story had focused on the gracious gathering of outcasts to a great banquet, now the story concerns a king and the vassals who chose to rebel – and the inevitable outcome of that rebellion.

It is not an allegory; Jesus is not equating God with the king. God is not an enraged lord coming to slay his enemies. Jesus is simply reminding the Jerusalem elite of the world in which they live and the need to choose their lord wisely.

Wedding feasts were weeklong affairs. Like all banquets they were public rituals where questions of honor were foremost. Who is invited? Who will be asked to sit where? These are issues of which we are familiar in the Gospels. This is the reason for the two stage invitation: first, invitations are sent – followed by time for people to find out who else is invited and whether they should associate with such people. Then the servants are dispatched to escort people to the banquet. In this telling, Jesus skips over that first invitation and goes right to the second – the sending of servants to gather the guests and the invitees stunning rejection of their king. Even more surprisingly, the king gives his subjects the opportunity to repent by sending a second wave of servants – but the royal subjects escalate their rebellion by the disgraceful humiliation and murder of the king’s men.

All those wealthy landowners owe their privilege to the beneficence of the king. To spurn his invitation means that they have shifted their allegiance to some other lord. To abuse his servants is a declaration of war. Jesus doesn’t need to ask the question what will happen to such rebels; he just tells the story. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.”

This is political reality among human empires. After Julius Caesar was assassinated and his murderers defeated, war broke out among the triumvirs, Herod the Great was allied with Antony and Cleopatra. His fealty was pledged to Antony; his troops were in his service. Octavian (who we know now as Caesar Augustus) crushed Antony and Cleopatra’s forces at Actium. Had Herod’s troops been present in the battle, he too would have been crushed and his kingdom given to another. But Herod was off defending the eastern borders so, when Antony fell, Herod came quickly to kneel before Octavian and somehow persuaded him to receive his fealty.

Rebel realms are crushed and their cities burned. That is the way of empire. At least, that is the way of human empire. Everything depends on serving the right lord.

Jesus stands before the elite of Jerusalem as the representative of God’s empire. He is ushering in the reign of God. And this parable about welcoming all now also warns his hearers of the dangers of rebellion. They are choosing between two ‘empires’: one is the realm of life; the other the realm in which death holds sway. One is the new Jerusalem; the other burned cities. One the realm of grace; the other the realm of revenge.

They should choose their allegiance wisely.

“As for all the rest…”

Friday

Philippians 4

File:Smiles of innocence.jpg

Smiles of Innocence, By Pranav Yaddanapudi from Hyderabad, India

8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Finally.” This is not the last in a list of things Paul wanted to write about. It is the way he sums up everything else about which he has not written. You cannot address everything in one letter. You cannot speak to every concern in one sermon. So, as for all the rest: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

There are ten commandments, but they do not exhaust all that God would say to humanity about the way we should treat one another. There are four Gospels in which Jesus speaks about many things, but he has not and cannot address everything. He hasn’t spoken about the kind of music our young people should listen to. He hasn’t spoken about investment portfolios (at least not directly) or the jobs we take or the homes we build. Indeed, there is quite a lot of “the rest.” So, “as for the rest, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

It means we have to use some discretion, some judgment, some wisdom. Does listening to the snarky political commentators bleating loudly on radio and TV ennoble me? What about the distorted sexuality on television sitcoms? Or the semi-nudity of cable dramas? It’s not that there is a simple, black and white answer – as if seeing a breast or hearing a curse word makes it wrong – it’s a more complicated question whether the show elevates or degrades me, whether it elevates or degrades us.

Some Christians got Harry Potter all wrong, reacting to the concept of wizards rather than recognizing the stories portray young heroes struggling between good and evil, power and loyalty. Harry is a Christ figure in the end, giving up his life for the sake of the world, dying to destroy the evil Valdemort.

Maybe our reaction to Halloween is like this too. Costumes and pretend are deeply rooted in us human beings – the scripture itself is story that engages the imagination. This isn’t about the scripture’s historicity or reliability – this is about the nature of story. Stories are told to draw us in, and so to teach, to change, to expand our understanding of God, ourselves and the world. Imagination is fundamental to our humanity (compassion requires imagining what another feels). So we are – and should be – able to discern the difference between those costumes and stories that are fun and playful, and those that distort the image of God in which we were made.

None of this is simple. Some portrayals of evil are voyeuristic; others reveal truth and lead us away from harm. Some portrayals of tragedy are salacious and others deepen compassion. Some portrayals of goodness are simplistic and naive; others inspire and encourage.

And it’s personal. Different things affect each of us differently. Watching sports can be simple fun but, for some, it can be obsessive. At the end of the day, at the end of the activity, am I a better human being? More whole? More complete?

Christians needn’t be prudes, nor need we obsess on the morality of everything, but it is important to question the culture in which we live. We should be at home in our bodies, in the goodness of our createdness, but not necessarily at home in the values of the society around us.

Drinking, eating, dancing, sex, work, politics, exercise – all the many dimensions of life – for some there are pretty clear words of scripture, as for all the rest we have this guiding word: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

“For all peoples”

Thursday

Isaiah 25

img_2991-bread6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,

“For all peoples.” We have such a difficult time with this notion that God is inviting all people to his banquet. We seem to share the genetic material of warring chimpanzee tribes stealing each other’s food, invading their territories – even murdering their members. Certainly in every age survival has depended upon the community. Whether it’s the threat of a lion or invading tribes, we need an ‘us’. It seems written into our DNA. High schools divide into tribes of jocks and geeks and burnouts – whatever the current terms might be, and both urban and suburban streets divide into gangs.

Our allegiance to sports teams is a legacy of our tribalism. I don’t know which was sweeter – that the San Francisco Giants recently won their division series, making it to the National League Championship series, or that the Los Angeles Dodgers lost. It’s a rivalry that extends across generations back to New York. Such manifestations of our natural tribalism can be certainly ‘friendly’ but not always. In 2011 a Giants fan, Bryan Stowe, was beaten senseless while attending a game in LA. So I get nervous going to a Sharks game wearing my Red Wings sweater – even though I am far from the only Wings fan there; I just don’t want any trouble from a drunk fan of the opposing team.

Tribalism births the conflicts between Shia and Sunni, Black and White, Catholic and Protestant, Hutu and Tutsi. Though we know it can break out in devastating horror, we too willingly embrace its prejudices. It feels good to know that we are ‘we’ – the good, the righteous, the correct – and they are ‘they’ – the evil, the corrupt, the liars.

Into the smoldering ruins of our continual warfare, God declares through the prophet that God has prepared a table “for all peoples.”

There is only an ‘us’. We are a single human family. We have one Father: a God who delivers, a God who reconciles. And this God of redemption will gather us to one table.

“For all peoples.”

How radical is this notion. All our instincts are to take care of our own. We flock towards those who are like us and fear those who are different.

At a playoff game some years ago there were two Pittsburgh fans at our Red Wings bar. I resented their presence, a presence made worse by their little tribal dance of victory.

“For all peoples.”

It’s no small thing that Jesus invites outsiders in – tax collectors colluding with Rome, “sinners” unwelcome in the temple, women spurned by their communities. Jesus dares to touch lepers. He invites himself to dinner at the home of Zacchaeus. He shows mercy to the Syrophoenician woman. Peter’s baptism of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, reaches across to erase a deep, deep divide in the human community. The first followers of Jesus receive Gentiles in the daring embodiment of this truth: “for all peoples.”

It betrays Jesus whenever his name is used for tribalism. God and country can never be equal terms – at least not with the God revealed in Christ Jesus. Certainly not God and race, though some have tried this, nor God and political party.

The church’s central liturgy is a meal for all peoples. Yet even here, we want to set rules about who may come and who may not, who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’, who is worthy and not worthy. All such attempts founder on the simple word of the prophet, embodied in Jesus: “for all peoples.”

This is not exactly about “inclusiveness” – a current buzzword of the ‘liberal’ wing of the church; this is about reconciliation. The restoration of the human community. The healing of the breach. The beating of swords into plowshares. The gathering at one table.

God has set a table “for all peoples.” It is a table full of grace, for it declares to each of us: “You are welcome.” But it is also silences that rising objection in our hearts and minds, for it declares that “they” – whoever ‘they’ may be – are also welcome. Tragically, this radical welcome, this transforming grace, causes some to refuse the invitation.

Fighting words?

Wednesday

Matthew 22

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St. Ignatius who, tradition holds, was fed to the beasts in Rome c. 107

1“Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables:”

It’s hard, sometimes, to tell if Jesus is trying to save the Chief Priests and Pharisees, to convert them to his understanding of the grace and work of God, or whether he is trying to provoke them into a precipitous act of violence that will cause the crowds to rise up in revolt. These are provocative stories. They challenge the very foundations of Judean society. They threaten to upset the political system and bring down the wrath of Rome. They shame the leaders of the city and invalidate their authority. It is not hard to understand why they needed to destroy Jesus and publicly degrade him in the eyes of the crowds. But they can’t achieve that with words – he keeps outsmarting them. So the cross becomes necessary, that oh so public manifestation of brutal Roman power and the consequences of resistance. Jesus may talk about a new reign of God, but all that’s left when Rome is done is a bloody, lifeless mass.

Those who see the world entirely in terms of the political struggle of power will see in Jesus a zealot determined to provoke the leaders into violence, convinced that either 1) their violence will cause the crowds to rise up in a mass rebellion and cast down both Rome and Rome’s partners in crime who rule the city, or 2) their violence will provoke God to action and God will send his angelic armies to join the peasant masses to purge God’s holy temple and slay the foreign invaders.

A lot rides on the lens you bring to scripture.

Is Jesus bringing the poor and dispossessed, the outcasts and sinners to himself in a massive army of peasants ready to seize power? Or is Jesus welcoming sinners and outcasts with the dramatic proclamation that God is drawing near to heal and reconcile all things? Will Rome – and all such human tyrannies – fall because of a peasant uprising or dissolve before the triumph of mercy?

Is God a God of conquest or a God of compassion? Does God win by power or love? Does he woo the world or seize it?

There is a step of faith, here. Either Jesus is telling parables because he hopes yet to reach this broken and rebellious world or he is trying to pick a fight. You have to trust one or the other of these – and the one we trust we shape all that follows.

Maybe we like the kick-ass Jesus who wants to tear down the pagan world. If so, we should be clear that this is the same promise ISIS offers: “Come change the world through the force of arms. Come redeem the world with violence.” And there are young men and women who will join that fight. But read the whole story. Read the stories of Jesus healing a lame man and a Roman soldier’s servant. Read of Jesus opening the eyes of the blind. Hear Jesus declare, “Blessed are the meek, the peacemakers, the persecuted.” Hear Jesus say to Pilate “My kingdom is not from this world. If it were, my followers would fight.”

Read the whole story, and consider carefully the logic of that word to Pilate. If the kingdom could be gained by violence, his followers would fight. But they did not fight. For hundreds of years they did not fight. They were fed to lions and to fire, they were subjected to rape and the cross, but they did not fight. Violence only breeds violence. “All who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

When the author of 1 John writes, “God is love,” he is not being sentimental. He is setting forth a daring and provocative proposition that all people, friend and foe, are sister and brother to me. It is a conviction for which many will suffer and die. It is a truth he learned from Jesus.

So Jesus tells parables, even to the hostile leaders of the nation, hoping to reach them, hoping they will come, like Nicodemus, groping in the dark for the realm of God.

It is not an army of angels that shows up on Easter morning; it is Jesus breathing on his followers the Spirit of God.

Banquets again

Watching for the morning of October 12

Year A

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 23 / Lectionary 28

File:Bride wore pointe shoes.jpg

By Megsnjj.com

We are talking banquets again – God’s banquet for all people, the day of God’s righteousness, the earth’s redemption, God’s drawing all things under the reign of his Spirit, when tears are wiped away and the veil of death forever lifted, when the world that has lost Eden is brought to the New Jerusalem and to the wedding feast that has no end – the feast that has begun in Jesus.

Except there are some who spurn the invitation.

After Isaiah has spoken oracles of judgment against all the nations around Judah – one other oracle is added. Lest the first be heard as nothing more than the vindictive cry of a nation against their enemies, the prophetic words culminate in God’s promise of a day when all people are gathered to a feast on Mt. Zion. All people. God is not partisan. The sins of the surrounding nations are real, for which they – like Israel – must give account. But the purpose of God is redemption, renewal, reconciliation, the gathering of all at one table. A new Eden. The earth’s true purpose and destiny.

And with the words of the prophet in mind we hear anew the words of Psalm 23: “Thou prepares a table before me.” God is not just taking care of David’s daily bread; God has invited him to God’s banquet. God our true shepherd, our true king (shepherd is a royal image), has invited us all to feast at his table.

In the exhortations of Paul, we hear something of the fruit of God’s invitation. Euodia and Syntyche must be reconciled; it’s a wedding, for heaven’s sake! They are joint participants in God’s great wedding banquet! Indeed, Paul describes something of what it means for us all to live the joy and peace of God’s banquet.

But there are some who spurn the invitation. There are some who choose the realm of death rather than accept the invitation to grace and life. And to those leading families of Jerusalem who have chosen Rome over the realm of God, Jesus has a brutal word drawn from the world of Rome. Rebellion is death.

Not that God is coming in a rage, but the way of death is death. Those who will not accept the king’s summons to party are choosing a road whose outcome – so Jesus shows them – they know all too well. In the world of human empires, rebellion is answered ruthlessly.

But the party will go on. God will gather his guests. And they will all be clothed in the finest of garments. We are being be clothed in Christ.

The Prayer for October 12, 2014

Gracious God, shepherd and guardian of our souls,
keep us from the folly that would spurn your grace
and grant that, clothed in Christ,
we may know the joy of the eternal wedding feast;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 12, 2014

First Reading: Isaiah 25:1-9
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines.” – Following a section of the book of Isaiah containing words of judgment against the nations surrounding Judah and Israel, we are given an oracle of salvation declaring a day when God will gather all people to a feast on Mt. Zion.

Psalmody: Psalm 23
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” – The language of shepherds is used for kings in ancient Israel – but here the poet declares that God is the one who guides, protects and prepares for him God’s royal banquet.

Second Reading: Philippians 4:1-9
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
– Paul begins his concluding remarks to the believers in Philippi with a series of exhortations about their life together both to specific individuals and to the community as a whole.

Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” – With a story about a royal wedding and the vassals of the king who declare their rebellion by refusing the king’s invitations and abusing his messengers, Jesus presses his attack against the leadership of the nation who have aligned themselves with the empire of Rome rather than the reign of God.