Sermon for 19th Sunday after Pentecost - October 15 2017

Sermon for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
October 15, 2017
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

That must have been some wedding feast!  People from anywhere, all celebrating together.  Maybe they didn’t know the bride or the bridegroom at all.  After all, the way the parable is presented, this was no small town, but one that had more than one “main street.”  And don’t overlook the fact that those who were brought by the king’s slaves came from a ruined city, a city that had just been attacked and burned down by the king.  Why should they be celebrating at all?  And I always thought that maybe the poor guy who showed up without a wedding garment might not have been able to find one after the conflagration, and what was he to do?

Which I guess just goes to show that heaven may not be at all what we imagine.  Heaven may mean celebrating in the midst of ruin, with people we might just as easily have called our enemies.

The picture on the front of the bulletin today is the only one I could find of people feasting among the ruins – and it’s not exactly among the ruins, but you can just make them out in the background, illuminated by blue lights.  This is the celebration of Hokol Vuh, a 6-day festival of food in Mexico, with some pretty vague linkages to Mayan culture that I could not quite determine.  That said, this is sort of how I envision the wedding feast in Jesus’ parable – lots of people, lots of food, lots of conversation, and, surprisingly, lots of joy despite the ruins.

So there are a couple questions I would like to explore with you this morning:

First, how can people who are gathered to the feast rejoice when their homes are in ruins by the actions of their host, and Second, why did the man without a wedding garment fare so poorly?

Oddly enough, the commentaries I consulted did not address the question of the king who invited them also destroying their homes.  They went straight to what you would expect:  just as with the other parables that Jesus used in challenging the religious leaders of the Temple in Jerusalem, the story line is that they refused to acknowledge that either John the Baptist or Jesus were, at a minimum, prophets of God, or, more to the point in Jesus’ case, that he was the Messiah of God; and therefore, they were not going to be included in the kingdom of heaven.

But I was still puzzling over why the people would feel like rejoicing at this wedding feast.  Unlike the Hokol Vuh festival, it probably wasn’t about the great chefs of the country exercising their considerable skills to titillate the palates of the diners.

But then I began to think about real people experiencing real ruin – from floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, fire … and remembered some stories.

Here’s one:  in Houston, a new family moved into an older neighborhood and tore down the one-story ranch house on their lot, and put up a two-story, fancier home.  It really stood out, and the neighbors were not best pleased with these new folk coming in and changing the look of the place, and potentially threatening their community with gentrification down the line and so on.  They didn’t make any effort to welcome the new family into their lives.  Then Hurricane Harvey hit.  All their homes were flooded – even the new house was flooded … but only on the first floor.  Their new neighbors invited them all to come and stay in their house, on the second floor.  Friendships were renewed, and new friendships were made.  Everyone rejoiced.

And that’s a true story.  All over Houston and along the Texas Coast, people took in their neighbors, helped their neighbors, fled to their neighbors, and opened their homes and arms and hearts. This happens in disasters, every time.

The days ahead are going to be hard for them all.  There were a lot of losses – homes, cars, treasured possessions, and even lives.  But they can all look back on these days and remember when everybody helped out anyone who needed it.  It’s a good thing to recall that we are community, and we can make and rebuild community.

So that’s the first idea – that despite the losses of their city, the people in Jesus’ fictional parable recognized something that spoke to them of caring and sharing and being community.

Here’s a second story.

If you have cancer, you know that the medical people may recommend radiation and chemo treatments.  These are designed to kill the cancer cells, but they also have the effect of killing off healthy cells, and wreaking havoc on the immune system.  But you do it, because you know that once the treatment has ended, you may have remission, or even cure.  You are willing to pay the high price in order to have the chance of beating the cancer and being healthy again. 

It’s hard, there are losses, but there is also hope. 

Perhaps the people at Jesus’ feast realized that the destruction of their city was needed to uproot all the evil that may have festered behind closed doors and high walls, all the selfishness of the rich and the misery of the poor – and now they could start again, with new or renewed friendships and connections, to build a better city, a better community, with nothing to hold them back.

It would be hard, but a fresh start is often just what is needed.

And maybe, one might indeed feel grateful to someone who eliminates whatever is holding us back.

It’s a parable, intended to tell us about reality, not being reality in itself.  So at this point, maybe we can take a couple minutes and consider what might be holding us back – as individuals, or as a community – from whatever rejoicing God is offering.

Because we don’t want to be the guy at the wedding without the tuxedo who gets kicked out.

Why was he kicked out?  I think because he was unable, for whatever reason, to realize all the good that still exists in the world.  Perhaps he had put his stock in his possessions, the way he lived his own life according to his own lights, and never thought of the good of those around him.  He came with bitterness and darkness and anger and grief in his heart, and he could not see the graciousness of the king or the opportunities of community.  He lived in darkness, and remained there.

Where does that leave us? 

Life can be so difficult: trials come, troubles arrive, differences divide, and hopes fade.  How can anyone rejoice? 

We can rejoice because we remember that God offers God’s very self to us, and is ready to stand by us, uphold us, and always, always, always love us more than we can ask or even imagine.  Sometimes that love comes in a form we don’t recognize – sometimes in destruction and disaster to tear us away from what can never offer us true joy –

the joy that we receive grace and therefore can offer grace to others;

the joy that we receive mercy and therefore can offer mercy to others;

the joy that we are loved, and therefore can love others.

In times of trouble:  Remember to breathe.  God’s grace is enough for all.

  January 2018  
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