Sermon–October 12, 2014


18 Pentecost—Proper 23-A

October 12, 2014

William Bradbury


Exodus 32:1-14

Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23

Philippians 4:1-9

Matthew 22:1-14

Years ago I was talking with a friend of mine, a good ole boy in Augusta, Georgia called Mr. John. He was telling me about a house wiring project he was doing where he neglected to turn off the power. He said: “Let me tell ya son, that 110 volts coming out of the wall tickles! Glad I wasn’t working on the dryer ‘cause that 220 will bite ya!”

There are at least two similar shocks in the gospel reading today. The first shock is that rational people would turn down an invitation by the King to attend the wedding banquet of his son.

If you had been invited to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011 would you have turned it down?

So it’s a shock to hear people say their farms and their businesses are so important they couldn’t possibly get away for an evening at the palace.

This reflects the essential struggle between the gods that require non-stop production and which produces “endless weariness” and the God of Israel which requires Sabbath rest, which produces on-going renewal.

The Israelites fled Pharaoh’s non-stop brick making production, but now while Moses is on the mountain the people relapse into the worship of the gods called More and Right Now.

We too are living in a culture that worships the Golden Calf that demands “endless restlessness without any Sabbath.” So it’s only a mild shock when we see these very busy people turn down an invitation from the King. See Walter Brueggemann’s excellent little book Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, page 11

At the end of the story we get the big shock that bites us: one of the people invited off the street who attends the wedding is thrown out of the party by the King simply because he is not wearing the right wedding clothes!

Where’s the radical welcome we’ve come to expect in the teaching of Jesus? Where’s the unconditional acceptance and mercy of God?

Surely this could never happen in All Saints Church! Years ago the vestry and parish created a Statement of Inclusion so no one would ever—ever—be asked to leave or made to feel uncomfortable because they weren’t the right race or sexual orientation or didn’t have enough money to buy the right clothes.

All are welcome—except this guy the king throws out.

So what’s going on? Are our statements of inclusion and preaching about the unconditional love of God misguided?

This is a big shock—so big that some liberal scholars come to the rescue by saying that Jesus never really said any of this. This is Matthew’s doing so we can just forget it since Jesus would never do such a thing.

Of course, the problem with that interpretation is that Jesus in his authentic parables shows us people who also don’t end up at the banquet. Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan: the priest and the Levite leave the injured man on the side of the road and walk away from living into the joy of God.

Remember the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son refuses to come to the party thrown for his wastrel younger brother.

Yes, but in those cases the people themselves choose to avoid the party.

Well, then, remember the parable of the vineyard: those who are working in the vineyard refuse to give the first fruits to the owner who then casts them out, giving the vineyard to others.

So apparently radical welcome and total acceptance does not mean you can’t miss the dance.

The man today is thrown out because of his refusal to dress for the occasion, which shows that he is not willing to party. This idea is from from Luther Seminary

I’ve only been to one Jewish wedding—but I will never forget it: there was lots of great food and drink, of course, but what took me by surprise was the dancing. In the weddings I’m familiar with couples dance with their partners in isolated islands on the dance floor.

In this Jewish wedding the dancing is communal: we join hands into a great circle of friend and stranger, dancing round and round with that great Hora music going. At some point the community gets the bride on a chair and then lifts her up above their heads, while we continue to go in a great circle of joy.

In Jesus’ allegory wrong clothes mean wrong attitude which means refusal to give oneself to the celebration. The man doesn’t come to dance but to sit in the corner alone.

This is why in the C. S. Lewis’ story The Great Divorce, the bus trip from hell to heaven ends with most of the people deciding that what they have to do that night back in hell is much too important to be missed, so they get back on the bus taking them to hell. They could stay in heaven but choose not to.

But what does all this say to us about our practice of inclusion and unconditional acceptance in the church?

Are we wrong? Instead of having smiling greeters welcome us into church should we have stern screeners who decide if visitors have the right attitude?

We know what this creates: a small church of unhappy people who are attractive to no one.

But of course I’ve been in some churches that have had unofficial screeners for generations. I’ve seen these people send frosty stares at those who are not dressed right, or don’t look right, or don’t manage their kids perfectly like they think they always did—which is to say, all those who are not sufficiently like us.

Some churches haves these kinds of negative forces that newcomers can feel and if these forces are allowed to go unchecked then we end up, not with a church, but with a club—a club with all the right people.

It is necessary but it is not sufficient for the church to be welcoming and inclusive. It is central for the church to have enough spiritual power to create the desire to join the dance—the dance of faith and the dance of discipleship, the dance of the Living God.

We are all welcome, but not just welcomed to remain the same, but welcomed to join the dance of the new creation which is made real for us by the Risen Christ.

We know we have domesticated Jesus when we can picture him as enjoying the status quo. We know we have lost the plot when we think the highest value on a Sunday morning is doing everything exactly like we’ve always done it.

Where did we get the notion that it is God’s highest priority that my life should not be disturbed? It is clearly Jesus’ chief aim to disturb us, to shake us up, in order to wake us up to the presence of God.

The God revealed in Jesus is not a narcotic to keep us asleep, but a stimulant to wake us up!

The man gets thrown out, because he is not willing to join the dance. And why doesn’t he participate? I suspect it is because he does not want to undergo the change this dancing produces.   

Let’s be clear: It is God’s work to change us, and God means to change us through Jesus Christ. Jesus is sent to upset the status quo, to shock us, to wake us up to God.

Here are two central questions for reflection:

Is there enough spiritual voltage in the church to get a person dancing?

And if there is, are we willing to keep putting our finger in the socket to see what happens?