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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Let Us Be Glad

God’s deepest desire and firmest promise is to hold a feast for all peoples where death and pain is no more, where all have enough to eat, where all, all are welcome; our only question is why we’re so reluctant to come to the party.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 28 A
   texts:  Matthew 22:1-14; Isaiah 25:1-9; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:1-9

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

You realize there’s no reason we can’t stop the Gospel reading after verse 4, don’t you?

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.  He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come.  Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’”

The end.  The party is ready, the food’s on the table, all are invited to the royal wedding.  Come and have a feast, a celebration, a party.  This could be the end of the story, the beginning of the joy.

The rest of this parable – the reaction, the killing, the horrifying consequences to the rejected invitation, the casting out of one guest – none of that has to happen.

Imagine all we heard from Scripture today was Isaiah’s vision of God’s feast, David’s joy in the Shepherd’s table, Paul’s exhortation to rejoice, and those first 4 verses of Matthew 22.  This would be a day of celebration.

You do realize there’s nothing preventing that, don’t you?  Nothing keeping us from stopping after 4?  We’re forcing the other ending.

If we did stop there, we could recognize important things about this feast God wants to have.

We could realize God’s feast is inclusive of all.

Certainly Jesus’ story shows the kingdom of heaven as a feast opening its doors to the many.  By the end, all are brought in, “both the good and the bad.”  Isaiah more powerfully promises a time when the Lord of hosts will “make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines.”  It sounds marvelous.

And it’s for all peoples.  It’s inclusive because God is inclusive: no one is left out.  All peoples, even, presumably, our enemies, will be at the feast.

David sang of God making us a table in the presence of our enemies.  Maybe we’ve misheard that, thinking it’s trust that we can bravely eat with God while our enemies howl at us.  What if David meant what Isaiah said?  The feast is for all peoples, so the Good Shepherd’s gift is that enemies are made companions, sharers of bread, fellow feasters.

That’s what this feast could be for us and for the world, if we want it.

We could realize God’s feast is restorative, too.

That vision, that even enemies are changed to friends and eat with us at God’s table, is magnificent in its hope for a new world unlike anything we experience.  This feast God provides, by bringing in all people, gives life and restoration to a world of death and brokenness.  “You restore my soul,” David sings.  Surely that happens when the table is spread in the midst of our enemies and all eat together.

The restoration goes even deeper: in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, the feast God spreads for the peoples of the world is a healing gift of forgiveness and grace, where all – good and bad – are welcomed, where reconciliation is offered, where new life begins.

This restoration is actually complete: Isaiah declares a feast paired with the death of death.  The funeral pall covering this earth, pulled over the face of the world as a medical examiner might do at the scene of a crime, that sheet is now ripped away, destroyed, that all might live.  Tears are wiped away, with no need for new ones, unless they are tears of joy at this life.  At this feast all anyone can say is, “This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

That’s what this feast could be for us and for the world, if we want it.

We could also realize God’s feast is now, and it is a foretaste.

Isaiah sings of a coming time when death is no more.  David sings in the valley of the shadow of death.  Both sing of a great feast hosted by God.

Recognizing this about God’s providing, God’s feasting, Paul encourages the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord always.  Again, he repeats, I say rejoice.  He sees this feast of God not only in our future, but alive in our present.  So alive we can let go of all our anxiety, praying all things with thanksgiving knowing God answers with abundance.

The meal the risen Christ spreads before us of his Body and Blood, this Table of life at which we eat here, we call a foretaste of God’s great feast to come.  It’s also a sign of this present joy: at this table, around the world, gather friends and enemies, all to receive life and forgiveness and salvation.  It isn’t yet inclusive of all; it’s not the full feast God intends for the whole creation.  We wait for the time yet to come for that fullness.

But it is a sign of this greater feast of God that is beginning even now.

That’s what this feast could be for us and for the world, if we want it.

The king says: All is ready, come to my feast.  What’s keeping us?

Well, life is busy and complicated.  As with some in Jesus’ story, we might have business to attend to, life to live, work to be done.  We can’t stop such important things.  Like some in the parable, we might also “make light of it,” deciding this “feast” is just pie-in-the-sky unrealistic dreaming, focusing our attention on the “real” life.  Either way, we can’t be bothered to come to God’s feast.

We might struggle with our abundance.  As last week’s parable said, we live in a garden we did not make, with a harvest we don’t deserve; letting go of that isn’t easy.  We might not come to God’s feast if we have to share with others.

We may have something in common with the ill-dressed wedding guest.  The host provided wedding garments for everyone; he didn’t want to wear it.  Did he think his own clothes were nice enough, he didn’t need to wear someone else’s?  Do we also fool ourselves into thinking we deserve to be at God’s feast in our own right, by who we are, by what we’ve done, clothed in our own rightness, not clothed by God in the goodness of Christ Jesus?

This feast could be life for us and for the world.  Somehow, we’re the ones who keep us from living that.

My friends, listen to what our brother Paul says: Rejoice!  Rejoice!

There is no need for you or anyone to live outside God’s gracious providing.  The Lord is near, and you can pray with thanksgiving for all you need.  So keep your mind on the feast God is offering: “Beloved,” Paul says, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  Think about these things and rejoice.  Set aside your worries, and trust in the Triune God, who, in Christ Jesus, has made all things new, true, just, honorable, worthy of praise, and is making a feast for all peoples to live in God’s abundant life.

This is the feast God is doing in the world, for us and for the world, if only we want it.  So we return to the prayer with which we began this morning:

“Call us again to your banquet, Lord of the feast.”

Ask us once more, gracious God.  We have held back, for many reasons, but we see now you dream for abundant life among all peoples; we want to be a part of that.  We want to come.

This feast God provides is found in its fullness in the time to come, yet even now God makes it in this world of evil and pain.  It’s a potluck feast, where everyone brings what they have for all.  Those with material abundance bring that to share; those with spiritual abundance bring that to share; those who think they have nothing still discover gifts they can place on God’s table for all to enjoy.

We know this: God’s hope and desire is to bring all peoples together, even in this life, in a feast of life and grace and love.  There’s absolutely no reason for us not to accept this invitation and step forward ready to work with God to make it a reality in this world.  No reason for us not to say with joy and hope: “This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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