Friday, October 13, 2017

Weaving Our Wedding Garment: Thoughts on Matthew 22.1-14 (RCL Proper 28A, 15 October 2017)

Please note that we are using the complementary series of Hebrew readings and psalms during Ordinary Time.

Weaving Our Wedding Garment
Thoughts on Matthew 22.1-14

RCL Proper 28A
15 October 2017

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Click here to listen to the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 Eucharist on the 15th.

           22.1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying:  2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.  3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come.  4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited:  Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’  5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.  7 The king was enraged.  He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.  8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy.  9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’  10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

            11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’  And he was speechless.  13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

            Since the beginning of September our Parish has experienced the deaths of three of our elders:  Margaret Gall, Barnie Robinson and Pat McCarthy.  As so often happens at such times I hear a lot of stories, some told by family members, some by friends and some by members of the Parish.

            From time to time I will hear what appears to be the same story told from different perspectives.  Those of us who were here for Barnie’s funeral are likely to remember Bill, Patrick and Warren sharing their stories of their mother and each one of her sons, at one point or another, saying, ‘But I was Mom’s favourite!’  Whose version of the story is true?

            Now I do believe that there is such a thing as truth.  But to know the truth, we need to look at it from as many perspectives as possible.  Perhaps this is the wisdom that was behind the early church’s choice to have four gospels rather than one in order to tell the truth about Jesus of Nazareth.

            Behind the gospels according to Matthew, Mark and Luke is an oral tradition of stories about Jesus and some of Jesus’ sayings.  Biblical scholars call this oral tradition ‘Q’, the first letter of the German word Quelle which means ‘source’.  Within this oral collection is the parable of the wedding banquet told somewhat differently by Matthew and then Luke.  Today we have heard Matthew’s take on this story with his ‘take’ on its meaning for his community in its own time and place.

            The image of the wedding banquet is not new to ‘Q’.  From early Jewish times the coming of God’s eternal reign of justice and peace, something we call the ‘kingdom’ of God or the ‘age to come’, has been described as a banquet.  To the people of Judah who were facing the growing threat of the Babylonian empire’s expansion towards the Mediterranean Sea, the prophet Isaiah invokes the image of the banquet as a reminder that God’s future for Judah and for all peoples cannot be thwarted by the dangers and uncertainties of the stormy present.

            25.6 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.  7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; 8 he will swallow up death forever.  Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.  9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.  This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Isaiah does not pretend that there will be smooth sailing, but he does assure the people that the threats of the present are not God’s last word nor God’s purpose for the people --- indeed for all the peoples of the earth.  All of humanity will come to share in the bounty of God’s banquet in the age to come.

            But the evangelist Matthew lived in a different time and his community experienced its own challenges.  They faced external threats from both the Jewish and Roman authorities ranging from social exclusion to execution.  Internally the community was split by various divisions, for example, how should Jewish and non-Jewish believers in Jesus live together in a common Christian life.

            So Matthew tells his community a story that would have been familiar to Jewish believers from Isaiah that the early oral tradition remembered as a story that Jesus used to describe the coming of God’s reign of justice and peace.  But Matthew’s version is not as generous as Isaiah’s nor as generous as Luke’s version.  His experience of external persecution and internal division has led him to tell the story differently.

  • The original guests represent the Jewish authorities who have refused to accept the invitation of the king, God, to attend the wedding banquet of the king’s son, Jesus.
  • The authorities have not heeded the words of the king’s slaves, the Hebrew prophets and the early Christian missionaries, who have proclaimed that the promised banquet of the kingdom has begun in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
  • Since we know that Matthew’s gospel came into being after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 ce, Matthew uses this historical event as a sign of God’s judgement on the Jewish authorities, past and present, for their failure to accept the good news of God in Jesus.

            But then Matthew tricks his listeners by turning away from the Jewish authorities and looking his own community full in the face.  They are the man without a wedding robe; they are the ones who have heard the good news, have been brought to the banquet of the age to come, yet have not shown themselves to be living lives worthy of their calling by embodying ‘kingdom’ values such as forgiveness, compassion, hospitality, generosity, gratitude and the like.  Matthew’s message is a simple, clear one:  Shape up or be shipped out!

            Two thousand years later you and I have once again heard the familiar story.  The questions Matthew asked of his community are now asked of us, even if our circumstances are not identical to those of his community.

  • How shall we hear the message of the banquet of the age to come?
  • How shall we embody the ‘kingdom’ values that are expected of those who have accepted the invitation to sit around the table of the eucharist, the foretaste of the heavenly banquet?
  • When we imagine God’s future, what does it look like?

            These are not questions I can expect us to answer today.  These are questions that we answer in our daily decisions about how we use the time God has given us, how we employ the knowledge, skills and experience God has endowed us with and how we allocate the financial and physical resources the generations of faithful ministry here at Saint Faith’s has bequeathed to us.

            God, through Matthew, invites us to weave our ‘wedding garment’, our corporate and personal witness to the transforming power of God’s generous love to us and to all peoples.  The loom, our lives as individuals and as a community, is before us.  In Jesus God has shown us the pattern of our garment.  The Spirit stands beside us to guide our hands in the weaving.  So let us begin so that all God’s peoples can enjoy the banquet prepared for all of us since the beginning of creation and the hope which leads us forward.

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