19th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who invites us to the banquet. Amen
So, I always get a little uncomfortable
when gospel readings
include people being thrown into the outer darkness
where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
To be fair,
it’s supposed to make people uncomfortable,
the threat of being cast out
is used to motivate those on the receiving end of the message
to act in a way that avoids this action.
However, I’m more uncomfortable with it
because it doesn’t square with my understanding of God,
who is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,
who sent Jesus to save the world.
And yet this was a teaching common in the early church
which Matthew deliberately included in his gospel,
the teaching where Jesus tells the story
of a King hosting a wedding banquet
on the day of the banquet
he sends servants to remind everyone who has rsvp’d yes
that the banquet is that day,
and the servants are ignored.
So the King sends more servants,
who describe this great feast
that has been prepared,
surely free food will bring them in,
but those invited go on about their business
or stay behind to kill the servants.
So the king, enraged,
takes a moment before dinner,
to wreak vengeance on them, and destroy their city
and after that he feels a bit better
but he still has no one to eat his banquet,
so he sends his servants back out to gather anyone available,
it doesn’t matter who they are
whether they are good or bad,
the King wants those seats in the banquet hall filled
and so the servants do this
and they fill the hall,
and the king comes to look at his full banquet hal
l and he sees someone,
just dragged off the street,
not wearing a wedding robe,
and the king confronts the guy
and asks why aren’t you wearing a robe?!
And when the guy has no answer
he is thrown out of the banquet hall into the outer darkness.
The good news of the Lord?
Why does Matthew include this story?
I think he includes it
because once we get past the hyperbole and ridiculousness of the narrative,
it points to a central and uncomfortable truth:
the truth that most humans will reject the invitation of God
to participate in the abundant life of God.
The abundant life of God that starts in this life.
As Jesus travels around,
teaching, preaching and healing,
he spreads the news of the kingdom or God’s reign on earth,
God’s reign is in direct contrast
to the way the world works,
think of the beatitudes,
blessed are the poor in spirit,
those who mourn, the meek,
those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
the merciful, the peacemakers,
these are the attributes valued in the kingdom of God,
rather than the powerful,
the violent, the rich, and the manipulative
that seem to be blessed in this life.
Jesus’ message preached primarily to the powerless, the victims, the poor and the manipulated
is that life doesn’t have to be this way,
in fact God desires pretty much the opposite
and you can start living that way now,
you don’t have to wait.
With Jesus, God come to earth,
kingdom living starts now!
And it looks like a banquet
where everyone is invited
and the best food and drink is served,
shelter is provided and God lifts the burdens from every shoulder
and all this is freely given,
offered to everyone both the good and the bad.
It sounds so good
it’s hard to imagine that anyone would turn down the invitation.
And yet it happens,
the grace of God is offered
and is ignored or actively, violently rejected.
because the invitation is for more than a banquet,
it is for a way of life
which means giving up the way of life where wealth leads to power
and power leads to the illusion of independence.
Think about it,
why would those initially invited go to the banquet
when their businesses will allow them to provide their own banquet?
We think, why would we go through the pomp and circumstance
and trouble to go to someone else’s dinner
when we can come up with something just as good,
better even because we can avoid social obligations
And in our quest for independence,
we turn down the grace of God.
We pass up our seat at the banquet
because we think we can do just as well for ourselves
if not better.
We don’t talk about this very often
but the truth is that we humans are free to resist and reject the grace of God,
and we do.
Because we are addicted to independence.
We are addicted to doing things for ourselves
so much that we even turn down invitations from God.
Because to accept grace
means admitting that we need help,
that, we can’t do it on our own,
because accepting grace means
we are then responsible to others, living in community.
But God made humans to live in community,
life is better when lived together
even though a small amount of independence
must be surrendered to be a part of community.
The other Pastors and I were talking about this at our weekly text study
and you know what this reminded us of?
All of the older folks we’ve walked alongside
who have been adamant about staying in their own homes,
maintaining their independence,
even though it often means increasing isolation.
And invariably when something happens
where they can not avoid it any longer
and they move into a community,
and when we go and visit
we hear some variation of the exclamation
“this was the best move I ever made,
I should have done this years ago!”
Because now, even if they are still doing most things for themselves
they are living in community.
We gain so much more than we lose
when we accept the grace of God
and yet again and again we resist
and if we’re confronted,
like the man without a robe,
we often have no good answer for why,
why when we have been offered the chance to live in the kingdom of God,
we would turn down that invitation.
Now you might be wondering,
with all this talk of resisting God,
is there any hope?
And if it were just up to us,
I’d say no.
But it’s not just up to us,
God, knowing that left to our own devices
we would never be able to fully live into the kingdom of God,
no matter how hard we tried,
Jesus who died on the cross
to save all of us stubbornly independent humans
who will only be right through our association with Jesus.
At our baptisms,
we are joined to Jesus
and God promises that we are God’s,
And we know that God keeps the promises God makes.
Even as we go about our lives turning down the many invitations God sends
to participate in kingdom living,
even if we turn our backs on God
exiling ourselves from the presence of God,
God still loves us,
sets out a banquet
offering life and forgiveness
and invites us to come to the table
because no matter what we do,
God is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
the banquet is ready,
come and eat,
there is a place for you. Amen
16th Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love. Amen
If you are ever between books
and need a story that will make you laugh
I suggest you pull your Bible off the shelf
and read the book of Jonah.
It’s short, only five chapters
and is satire of the other prophetic books.
Jonah upon receiving the call of God
does what most of the other prophets frankly wanted to do,
he runs away.
But as he finds out
he can run but he can’t escape God,
and after a lesson in humility
learned in the stomach of a big fish
he goes and gives the message from God to the Ninevehites,
that in 40 days Nineveh will be overthrown.
Now usually people ignore the prophets,
Ezekiel and his brothers busted their buns
trying to get God’s message out and nothing...
and in a way Jonah is counting on this response
because he really doesn’t like Nineveh,
they conquered his own people,
he’d actually like to see them be destroyed by God,
but wouldn’t you know it,
Jonah’s reluctant prophesy works,
the whole city repents
and God decides not to destroy them
and as we heard in our first reading today
this displeases Jonah
and he throws a temper tantrum
“He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’’”
He’s so dramatic,
it makes me laugh every time
and the thing I find most funny
is Jonah’s ability to make God’s virtues
sound like a bad thing.
Jonah, for all his faults knows his scripture,
where God is described as gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and Jonah knows that God really is
gracious and merciful slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love
which is why he didn’t want to go to Nineveh,
because he knew that God would be this way with the Ninevites,
and Jonah didn’t want them to be on the receiving end of God’s grace.
God’s grace makes Jonah angry.
Well it makes him angry
when it’s directed at people he doesn’t think deserve it.
This happens in the parable in our gospel for today as well
with the landowner who keeps hiring people throughout the day,
now in a sense his continual hiring of people
is an act of grace,
each time he goes out into the marketplace
he sees people who want to work,
need to work,
but for some reason have been overlooked for jobs.
Think of it like picking teams on the playground,
the strongest most noticeable are chosen first
and the rest are left on the sidelines to watch,
no matter how much they want to take part.
So it is a matter of grace
that these leftover people
are hired to work for even part of a day,
and he promises to pay them whatever is right,
this of course is determined by the landowner
and I’m guessing that none of those hired later
expected a full days wage,
and yet when it comes time to settle up for the day
the landowner tells the manager of the vineyard
to pay those hired last first,
and to their great surprise they receive a full daily wage,
more than they expected
but surely much needed.
And so it goes on down the line
until those who were hired first are paid,
and they receive,
the usual daily wage.
And they grumble at this,
having seen those hired later get paid
they expected more.
It’s not fair they grumble,
those others don’t deserve to be paid the same as we do,
we did all the work.
And the landowner reminds them
that they are getting exactly what they agreed to
at the beginning of the day,
had the landowner never hired the others
the outcome would still be the same,
and the landowner asks them
“are you envious because I am generous?”
The short answer is ‘yes’ they are.
The longer answer
is that we humans tend to live our lives
from the perspective of scarcity.
Where whether it is true or not,
we think there is only so much to go around before it runs out
and so we hoard what we have and seek to acquire more
and come up with all sorts of ways
to judge who is worthy to use the resources,
who we think should get a piece of the pie
and from this we get our sense of what we think is fair
and this transfers to our idea of justice
where we think people should get what they deserve
and what they deserve is an eye for an eye,
it’s Jonah wanting God to destroy the city of Nineveh
in return for what they had done to his people.
But God views the world differently.
God looks at the world from the perspective of abundance
where resources are shared with everyone
and justice looks like people getting what they need
which they deserve because they are beloved creation of God
and this perspective is in such contrast
with the way of the world
that when it is applied in the world,
it upsets people,
though not I should note,
the people on the receiving end of the grace of God.
Which makes it odd
that anyone should get upset,
because we are all on the receiving end of the grace of God.
If we got what we deserve,
according to our own understanding of justice,
it would be us up on the cross rather than Jesus
and yet on Good Friday,
there Jesus was, for us,
living and dying the truth that God is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love
and that truth continued on through
to Sunday morning and the empty tomb,
and when Jesus appears to his disciples, alive,
he claims them, and all of us who have come after,
for the perspective of God.
Having been claimed by the risen Christ
we are to see the world from the perspective of abundance
where justice is everyone getting what they need.
And not only are we to look from this perspective
We are to make it a way of life
We are to live lives that work to make sure
That people get what they need
Whether the world judges them as worthy or not
And yes, this is difficult because we live in the world
and sometimes the generosity of God upsets people,
and we get angry and dramatic like Jonah
and that’s when Jesus comes to us once again
and gathers us at the table
where all are welcome
and there is enough for everybody
and breaking his body,
pouring out his blood,
Jesus gives us not what we deserve
but what we need,
and then he sends us back out into the world
to live from God’s point of view,
God who is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.