Thursday, October 6, 2011

17 Pentecost - Proper 23 A

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 9, 2011
(Proper 23 -- Year A) 

The Very Reverend Donald W. Krickbaum

Exodus 32:1-14 – Psalm 106 – Philippians 4:1-9 – Matthew 22:1-14

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son” and those invited did not come . . .  Then the folks off the street – everyone – were all invited, but still some just did not get it.  Sometimes, we just do not get it.  We either do not show up, or even if we do we simply don’t get the point, and just mush on with our grim little lives having missed the wonderful opportunity the King has offered us.  Just too sad!

There is a story of a poor family in Europe about a century ago who planned to emigrate to the United States.  They spent their entire savings to purchase the passage for all of them on the ship to the new world.  The night before their departure from their small village their friends and neighbors brought them gifts of bread and cheese so that they would have something to eat during the long voyage.  They got to the ship the next day and found their small cabin, being the cheapest available, on the lowest deck.  For days they remained in their quarters, having only their bread and cheese to eat.  The teenage son had finally had about all of the dry bread and cheese he could stand and begged his father to do something.  He gave his son a quarter and told him he could go above to try to find an apple to buy to have something fresh to eat.  The boy was gone for such a long time the father got worried and went looking for him everywhere on the ship.  Finally, he came to the ship’s huge dining room and much to his surprise and horror there was his son in the middle of this beautiful dining room, sitting at a table with piles of fabulous food in front of him.  He rushed over to the boy admonishing him sternly, saying that they could never afford that lavish dinner and they now they would all be in deep trouble.  The boy looked at him and said, “Oh, no, Father, it is okay.  You see, this entire banquet, all of this food, is all included in the price of the ticket!”

So many Christians tend to be like that family – we just do not get it.  We struggle along trying to be good church folk, but we find it all to be a bit difficult and, at times, sort of grim, like trying to exist on dry, stale cheese sandwiches, when all the while there is laid out for us a wonderful feast which is all included in the cost of discipleship – the price of the ticket.  I am often reminded of the very severe young evangelist who stood up and declared with the most sad face, “I have been so happy since I found Jesus!”  

Jesus has called us to take up the cross and follow him, but this journey takes us always toward God and God’s great banquet.  We are invited to feast with Christ now, the Kingdom is already begun, and we are guests at this great banquet where we, along with each other, are nourished by the extravagant grace of God.  We can so easily get focused only on the price we think we must pay, the sacrifices that we have to make, the struggles we have with our own inadequacies, and the sense that we are all alone on this difficult journey of faith, that we fail to see and delight in the marvelous grace of God and the joy of being a member of this great fellowship of faith.  We are not called to be some poor band of brothers and sisters who have to earn our way into heaven, but, rather, we are a community of the faithful and redeemed sinners who have accepted the power and grace of God in our lives and now want to share that joy with the world around us.

God’s grace – God’s love – is really amazing!  David Hope, the former Archbishop of York, wrote:

"I dare to venture that in spite of all we may say, teach, or preach, all of us are to a very large extent caught up in “self-justifying works,” so that “amazing grace” is almost a stranger to us.  Yet it is in and through “amazing grace” that the Lord has laid his hands upon us, to call us out and into a ministry in his church . . . and it is only in and through amazing grace that our ministry is nurtured, encouraged and enabled, and ourselves built into a holy temple to the Lord."

Yet, we so often plow our way through the business of the church, through the struggle to do the right thing, trying to get it right, that we miss the joy and, yes, the outright fun and delight, of being a part of this fellowship, the church.  I remember going to a clergy conference some years ago put on by the Church Insurance Corporation about all the dangers of being sued and the limitations the Church Insurance wanted to put on us about counseling and spiritual direction because of the monetary liabilities.  One of our number declared, “This just isn’t much fun anymore!”  How terribly sad – more than sad, it is tragic!  When the joy and wonder of ministry and worship are gone from the church, the joy and wonder of serving God and one another soon disappears from among the faithful.  When the church is joyless and hope is gone, then we are no longer the true Body of Christ, but only an empty shell of who God intends us to be.  Archbishop Hope went on to say:

        "There is, therefore, an urgent need in our church for the renewal of all of our lives in the power  of the Holy Spirit . . . to allow the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to be at work in every part of us . . . so that we may prove what the will of God is, what is good, acceptable and perfect."

What does this spirit of renewal require of us today?  I firmly believe that it means that we are prepared to accept the gracious invitation of our Lord to joyfully participate in the celebration of our life together.  It means that we vigorously seek a change of heart and a new direction in our lives and the life of the church.  This spirit of renewal says something of the kind of priorities we set for ourselves and our congregation.  It says that we not only accept the invitation to this banquet, but that we come prepared to celebrate with joy all that is given to us and to offer that abundance to everyone around us.  Unlike the king in today’s story, Jesus is not concerned with the actual clothes we wear, but rather with what attitude and spirit we clothe ourselves when we come together.  If we are going to try to be a part of the Kingdom without a genuine willingness to enter fully into the spirit of the community and be open to accept the power, grace, beauty, joy, and love of God in our midst, then Jesus is saying we have no business in the banquet hall.

We are all called to clothe ourselves with the Holy Spirit, seeking first the renewal of our own lives by turning to God in repentance and prayer and with open hands and hearts be filled with a sense of joy and peace that comes only by God’s grace.  We “frozen chosen” (as Episcopalians have sometimes been called) can be critical of some of the excesses of our more charismatic brothers and sisters, but folks, say what you will about the hand-raising, happy clappy, praise-shouting atmosphere of their worship, they certainly sound like they are having more fun that we are.  (I fear that sometimes the church may have come down with terminal boredom!)  I am not necessarily suggesting that we get into anything wild, but I am suggesting that we open ourselves sufficiently to the presence of the Holy Spirit that our hearts can be set afire with the power of God and that our life together will be a living celebration of God’s love for us and all those who are a part of our fellowship.

Out of our life together, I pray that our joy will be so energized that our ministry will be one of love and hope for all the seekers of a better and more meaningful, godly, and happy life.  It is in that spirit that we then care for the hungry and the homeless, the poor and the dispossessed, the sick and lonely, the fearful and fainthearted; to teach the children, tend to the elderly, and seek the gracious presence of God in our hearts and the heart of our church, and discover the heart of God in every person – no exceptions.  This is what is all included in the price of this ticket we have been given to the heavenly banquet.

Saint Paul reminded us, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice. . .  The Lord is near.”

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