Mother Katherine’s sermon preached Oct. 11, 2020

Posted by on Sun, Oct 11, 2020 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The 19th Sunday after Pentecost

October 11, 2020

Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. 
She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls from the highest places in the town, 
You that are simple, turn in here!’ To those without sense she says, 
‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. 
Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.’

—Proverbs 9:1-6

These words are from the book of Proverbs, written at least 600-700 years before Jesus told his parable. His point is not dissimilar, as Proverbs is characterized as teaching ‘knowledge [sometimes translated ‘fear’] of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ We hear it in that last line; “Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” In today’s parable, Jesus is trying to teach listeners something about God and about the invitation his life is all about, so that they too may ‘walk in the way of insight’, and come to the feast.

From Isaiah we just heard, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples…” He also offers an image of the divine feast from an even earlier time, concluding, “This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Jesus tells his parable to people who would have known their scriptures about a divine feast.

We recall this parable is told in both Luke’s and Matthew’s Gospels and told in very different ways to different audiences, and were written well after Jesus’ death. So in addition to prior scriptures of feasts, and what Jesus really spoke in his day, this morning we hear a retelling of Jesus’ words in Matthew’s context of tensions beginning to polarize the Jewish community, and now we also must stretch ourselves to hear it in our own day, to hear it about our own lives. As often happens, there are many layers leading up to and beyond Jesus’ parables.

Hearing matthew’s telling this week make me shudder at the level of violence, literally killing the messengers, then the king sending out more slaves to risk their lives carrying his invitation. And why weren’t the slaves themselves identified, invited, or talked about? I chaffed at the elitism of the sequence of invitations, and then at throwing someone acting disrespectful  out ‘into the outer darkness.’ All these are very 21st century thoughts in hearing these words, and all good questions to ask. You might have similar reactions or questions, maybe more. Those things should bother us and invite us to inquire further. In doing so what I believe it comes down to is that this parable is about our prioritizing acceptance of God’s invitation and being all in, being full participants in the wedding feast. 

Jesus is also speaking to the Pharisees and others who have rejected him, alongside of those who believe him to be the Messiah. In Matthew’s telling, this mixed acceptance of the gospel by Israel is symbolized by God, through his servants (that is Jesus and his disciples) issuing the invitation. Like the first round of the king’s invitations sound elite, God’s invitation is first made to the Jewish leaders of the community. These are who they have believed the Messiah will come to save. Well, they not only reject him but some were violent in their response to Jesus. Surely this lowly guy isn’t the Messiah! In the parable they make light of the invitation, they stay prioritizing farms or businesses, they are even violent with the messengers. Jesus is telling how his own story is playing out. 

The kingdom of God had long been often compared to a banquet in Jewish and early Christian writings. Meals that Jesus shared with all sorts of people, (many considered sinful and suspect) and the Last Supper with his disciples, begin to sound like the feast with the second group of more marginal people who were invited by the king. By speaking of it as a royal wedding feast for the son, Jesus brings even more to the metaphor of the kingdom of heaven. 

In this light, looking back at our earlier questions about the slaves, the parable suggests they are symbolic of Jesus and the disciples, not forgotten or undervalued people owned by an uncaring king. All of us belong to God, they are being the messengers of the good news, and as history tells, such messengers do not always survive the message. We also have to deal with that prickly scene of the king and the inappropriately dressed guest. Back then it was common to borrow a wedding robe from the host. This year as I read the parable, I imagined the king saying, “How did you get in here without a mask?!” Similarly most places, the church included, has masks for anyone who doesn’t have one. It wasn’t about looking snazzy or hiding your work clothes, it was about being all in. Accepting that invitation and showing up to share in the celebration – ready, robed for action, is how we show that we recognize that holy invitation, God’s call and God’s place in our lives, is more important than all those other reasons the first people gave for staying away. More important than we might have realized before the recent change in how we are living. Has there been a change in how you prioritize and value; people, possessions, giving to others, helping them, a spiritual embrace even if we cannot hug? Has our faith become stronger, and can we let God take that rightful place in our lives? How are we ‘all in’?! Which leads me back to the mask. Well, it is certainly not a wedding garment or a literal symbol of faith, yet it does mean we are valuing the lives of others and caring about protecting those who are vulnerable and more. What metaphorical wedding robes do we don to remind ourselves and perhaps others that we are all in as Christ’s disciples who share good news? How do you participate in the body of Christ, how do you give of your self and come to the celebration?

Finally, the scene of the guest thrown out into darkness is like a cold bucket of water grabbing our attention. A nice god wouldn’t do that, what happened to welcoming all? —All were welcomed, invited even. If and how we respond truly matters. Professor of New Testament studies M. Eugene Boring of Brite Divinity School crystallizes it by saying, “those who find themselves unexpectedly included may not presume on grace, but are warned of the dire consequences of accepting the invitation and doing nothing but showing up.” In short, we must enter Christ’s banquet as a full participants.

The last line had long bothered me, and maybe you too; “Many are called but few are chosen.” So consider that the Greek word for “chosen” is the same word for “choose.” Perhaps, many are called but few will choose to answer, to be ‘all in.’

By God’s grace you were called and you answered.
By God’s choice, and our choice, we have come to the spiritual table for Christ’s banquet, today and always.
Bless you for making your participation honest, devoted, and wholehearted.

© 2020 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

View lectionary readings: