St. John's, Centreville
October 15, 2017
Proper 23 A
Exodus 32: 1-14; Matt. 22:1-14
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are in our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
As the story of the exodus continues in our Old Testament reading this morning, the Israelites are still in the wilderness. Their leader Moses, has been called by God to come up to the mountaintop to talk with God. Now up to this point in the story, God has rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, led them in safety through the Red Sea, provided them with food and water when their provisions ran out, and promised to be with them.
In our reading last Sunday, God calls Moses up to the mountaintop and gives him the Ten Commandments. God then tells Moses about other ordinances, how specific situations with animals and slaves and property should be handled. While all this is happening, the Israelites who are gathered at the bottom of the mountain are getting restless and anxious. Moses has been up on the mountain with God for an awfully long time and they do not know what has become of him. Maybe he has abandoned them.
They gather around Aaron, Moses' brother, and chose him as their leader. So Aaron orders all the people to turn in their jewelry and he melts it and turns it into a molten calf. The people want something tangible to worship, something they can see, something that can allay their fears and anxieties, even though God has led them in safety into the wilderness and has provided for them. Perhaps they have short memories. Perhaps their anxiety about being in the wilderness without Moses has caused them to make this molten calf to worship.
God sees what they have done and God is not happy. In fact, God is furious and God tells Moses that he will wipe out the Israelites and will start again with the descendants of Moses. "My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; but of you I will make a great nation." God is so angry that God is ready to wipe the Israelites off the face of the earth.
But Moses speaks to God. What would people like the Egyptians say about God who brought the Israelites in safety out of Egypt only to kill them in the wilderness? And remember the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that God would "multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever." Moses reminds God of this covenant that God has made. "And God repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people."
God changes God's mind after talking with Moses. Now that is not to say that we can change God's mind anytime we want. But when we talk to God, when we pray, when we are persistent in prayer, God listens and God hears our prayers. They are not always answered in the ways that we want, but as with Moses, God hears and God responds.
The Israelites at this point in their history don't seem to understand who God is, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They seem a little too hasty is giving up on God when things get tough or when they think Moses has abandoned them. They would rather have something concrete to worship, like a molten calf. What do we worship when we think God has abandoned us?
The Pharisees and the religious leaders in our gospel lesson this morning seem to have the same lack of understanding. The prophets, the martyrs, the apostles, and even Jesus himself cannot seem to get these religious leaders to understand who Jesus is and to listen to him.
So Jesus tells them another allegory about a king who throws a wedding banquet for his son. He sends his slaves out to tell the people that the banquet is ready. But they all have their own excuses as to why they can't come. So he sends out other slaves to invite them again, that the banquet is now ready. But the people beat and kill some of the slaves. The king is furious. So he sends out his troops and destroys their city.
Now the king sends out other slaves to invite anyone they meet to the wedding banquet and the hall is filled with guests, eating and drinking and enjoying the wonderful banquet. But one guest is not dressed properly and the king has him bound and thrown out into the darkness where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth.
In allegories such as this, everything stands for something else. The king is God and the Son for whom the banquet is given is Jesus. Those who refused the invitation to follow Jesus are the religious leaders. The slaves are the prophets who invited people to follow Jesus, and who were often killed.
Those who had been expected to respond to God's invitation, the religious leaders of the day, show only contempt for it. Those who seem unworthy, like the tax collectors and sinners, are welcomed and accepted.
The story is told by Jesus as a wake up call to those who were listening to him. Jesus is disappointed that so few people are responding to God's invitation to be a part of the heavenly banquet.
There is a bit of controversy about the wedding guest who is thrown out because he was not dressed appropriately. That does not mean literally that he had on the wrong attire. The other guests at the wedding banquet were there as followers of Jesus Christ, striving to follow the commandments of God, striving to live the kind of life that Jesus calls us to live; striving to love our neighbor and be the people that God wants us to be.
But this other wedding guest may not have taken his invitation to the wedding banquet very seriously. He may have thought that the king just wanted warm bodies. Perhaps he didn't want to change his lifestyle, perhaps he didn't really want to love his neighbor, perhaps he didn't want to make the sacrifices that are necessary to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
The invitation to attend the heavenly banquet is freely given to everyone. Some choose to accept it completely, gladly, without hesitation. Some are more casual and unsure if they want to attend or not. And some will downright refuse to accept the invitation as they think they have better things to do.
God's invitation is freely given to all, but God wants more than just warm bodies. As Barbara Brown Taylor put it, "God is not looking for warm bodies. God is looking for wedding guests, who will rise to the occasion of honoring the Son. We can do that in shorts and running shoes, as well as in suits and high heels, because our wedding robes are not made out of silk or denim. They are made from the whole fabric of our lives, using patterns that God has given us - patterns of justice, forgiveness, loving kindness, peace. When we stitch them up and put them on, we are gorgeous. I don't know why we would want to wear anything else, especially if we want to be ready for a wedding banquet whenever the invitation comes."
God wants us to come to the heavenly banquet. God is inviting us now and will continue to invite us. But God doesn't want just warm bodies. God wants us to take on for ourselves the way of life that God has shown us. God wants us to come as committed followers, ready to take on the way of the cross, ready to be faithful followers. Amen.