Monday, October 10

Sermon Sunday October 9

We have before us two texts that cause most of us certainly many today in the church pause. It seems scriptures like these can form the basis of an attitude of exclusivity and judgment that pervades the American Christian landscape. These are images of awrathful vengeful God, who throws people out at the slightest infraction. Last week Tripp suggested that seeking to place these difficult scriptures in their context could aid in our understanding these difficult passages of Scripture. The question is how do we interpret these texts? But also why bother? Why not pass over these passages? Why not simply focus on Paul in Philippians who, at least this time, is the easier read?
The Orthodox theologian George Florovsky began his essay The Lost Scriptural Mind with Christian ministers are not supposed to preach their private opinions, at least from the pulpit. Ministers are commissioned and ordained in the church precisely to preach the Word of God. I begin with this quote not to say that there is never private opinion in my sermons or in those of Tripp and Jane, for this certainly is not true. Rather these words remind us that when we read scripture and preach on those scriptures in our worship we do so in order that we as the church may hear again theWord of God and be renewed in our minds. We do so in order that we the people of God may have the mind of Christ. This reminder I think is helpful when we face difficult scriptures. In the end it is unimportant what your or my opinion is of these texts. If I am doing my job I will submit my opinion to the Word of God, and you who hear the Scriptures and my sermon are to discern the spirits: Do I proclaim Larrys opinion or the Word of God? Or perhaps better do you hear in my words and opinions that which conforms to the Word of God.
I say all this because I hear in scriptures today stories about our being formed (or not) by the Word of God. Do we hold fast to the Faith delivered to us as Paul encourages or do we respond to the Word of God and yet ignore it in the end (like the first and last set of invitees in Jesus parable), or out of fear of its demands do we turn aside like the Israelites in Exodus?
These thoughts and our scriptures remind me of the Simpsons episode where Homer gains ownership of the church and the Simpsons move into the church. Homer has a party in the church. At one point Marge tries to get Homer to stop the party and expresses her opinion that turning the church into a party spot isnt right. Homer says, Oh God is cool. Marge responds Ya, you know Im not so sure he is... In the Bible God is always smiting people who anger him. Homer dismisses Marges interpretation and subsequently is struck by lightning, and Springfield is flooded. Which abates when the preacher comes back flying in a helicopter and leads everyone in prayer. This is all very Old Testament and not unlike elements in Exodus 32. The episode also demonstrates a religiosity that never rises above opinion and appeal to circumstantial evidence. In the end Lisa when the rains have abated, gives a laundry list of natural explanations of what happened. In the end we are left with differing opinions and mass mentality.
We see some of this in Exodus 32. First we should note that the Israelites have had all sorts of manifestations and inexplicable events and now at Mt. Sinai, they have seen and heard the manifestations of their God. In the face of all of this when Moses stays too long up in the smoky and cloudy mountain they free out and demand Aaron create for them an image for them to worship. Their idolatry is in the very shadow of the manifestations of God on the Mountain. The idolatry here though is not explicit abandoning the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, but of creating an image of a calf or ox andnaming the calf as the God that lead them out of Egypt. Now there is also the possibility that the ox itself was not intended to be the image of God. In the ancient middle east the sky God was said to ride the sky on an ox or on a cart pulled by and ox.. The ox then was seen as the seat of the sky god. The idolatry here then is complex. Their idolatry ultimately is in response to the encounter of the unknown. Moses disappears into the mountain and fire and clouds, out of reach and they respond by asking Aaron the priest the religious leader left to make for them a seat of God, where God is bound to be present in a way they can understand and control. Out of fear they reject the revelation of God on the mountain grasping on to only part of that revelation, God has appeared to them with sky god signs and symbols, lightening thunder big cloud of fire and smoke. God is then angered by this rejection of the revelation of God as beyond and above all, as more than a sky God. God is about to make a contractof a sovereign with his people and the people seek to control the sovereign and act in the place of God. Moses reminds God of Gods promise to Abraham Isaac and Jacob, and God turns from anger. And here we find a difference Moses does not give God his opinion about what God should do, but speaks to God of Gods own word. Moses shows he has submitted his opinions to Gods word and insists that God act according to Gods Word. If we follow this too literally we end up in trouble, Can God act against Gods Word? What we should see though is that Moses is a type for Christ, that God is depicted as both just and merciful, there is both wrath and turning aside from wrath in God. God is other than us, we can like the Israelites fixate on certain particulars like God being described as ready to destroy all of Israel, or we can remember like Moses the larger revelation of God, that holds wrath, justice, mercy and love together in an uncontrollable but true and faithful God. Moses appeals not to his interpretation unlike the people of Israel but turns to Gods self revelation at the Burning bush.
I see a connection between Jesus parable and this account in Exodus, that in this parable there is the presentation of truly hearing the word of God, and choosing after hearing the Word of God to hold on to ones own opinion. In unpacking our parable there are two levels of meaning: the parable as it stands alone (its basic meaning contextualized in Jesus probable use of the parable) and the Evangelists use of the parable in his narrative.
The basic meaning of the parable is found in the four groups of people described. In the parable there are the original invitees to the wedding banquette for the Kings son, landowners and business people, everyone else who is invited, the guest without a wedding robe, and the servants of the King. The first group is the chosen people of Israel, most specifically those who claim to be following the Law: Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and priests. The second group is all those Jesus has ministered to and gathered around himself. The outcasts the fringe and those who even thought they are part of the first group have responded to the message of the Kingdom preached by Jesus. The last man is clearly one (perhaps like Judas) who responds initially but still like the first group still insists on responding to the Kings invitation on his own terms. The servants are the prophets Jesus himself and possibly the disciples/apostles who have followed Jesus and been sent out into Israel by Jesus. Jesus is telling those who think they understand the will of God, that they have held to their opinions and in so doing have rejected Gods word and Kingdom in rejecting Jesus and his message. They are excluding themselves, God will simply respect this self-exclusion if it persists to the end.
Matthews use of the parable is eschatological, and this does not necessarily contradict Jesus use of the parable. The parable now becomes a story about the ultimate fulfillment of Christs work and of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. The wedding feast/banquette is a symbol of the end and fulfillment of Gods will for the world. In Mathew then this parable takes on further significance, as the destruction of the first group can be seen as prophesy/commentary of the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem. The call to invite everyone and anyone on the main street symbolizes not only the welcoming of the outcasts of Jewish society into the Kingdom of God but also Gentiles, that is parable is itself a statement of the reality of the Church. The last group is those who have responded and entered the church but who in the end have not submitted fully to Christ. One can respond to message of the Gospel and not follow through and submit completely to Gods Word (the past few months we have encountered many parables that address just this reality, the wheat and tares, the fish in the drag net to name two). And we cannot escape the reference to a place where one can be left to ones own selfishness and autonomy,a place that is seen as torment. Though let us be clear the individual has refused to put on the wedding garment a refusal to come to the banquette on the terms of the King, that is on Gods terms, not unlike the Israelite refusal to accept the unknown and turning to the known making God merely a sky God.
Our texts direct us to our will and our will confronting the Word of God and Gods revelation ultimately in Jesus Christ. In the face of a God who even as He is revealed remains unknown do we erect our own concepts that we then name as God rather than trust in the revelation we have in Jesus Christ and the Scriptures? Do we turn to some other thing whether nation or our conceptions of justice or to the opinions of a preacher or leader and serve them instead of God? What we learn in Genesis is that we may attach the name of God to our idols but God will not honor such naming. We can certainly choose our own opinions over that of Gods revelation of Gods self or the opinions of a leader. But true freedomand wholeness is to accept that God remains hidden even as God is revealed that God is hidden from us in the names and doctrines of Trinity, incarnation, Jesus as both God and human, the mystery of the Cross. These things reveal God to us but they also hide God, we cannot do away with them but neither can we say that we possess God in these names and doctrines, rather we are claimed and possessed by them.
Jesus parable stands as a warning to us. Are we confident of our position before God? If we are notwilling to submit to the will of God we will find ourselves excluded. We can refuse the invitation that is ours if we do not head the word of God. Yet the parable is also hopeful and joyful. God is always concerned that all benefit and that all people come to the Kingdom, to the church, to Christ. Not because we as Christians have it all figured out, because God desires to gather all to himself as one community centered on Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the end though it is not enough to respond to the invitation we must submit ourselves to be transformed to wear the garments of a new life, the Garment of Christ. True membership in the Church to be part of the body of Christ is to be clothed in Christ.
In the end it is God and God in Christ that finally judges who has truly respond or rejected the invitation. We Then are also to see ourselves as the servants who invite, none of us are the guardians of the faith, we are not judges, we are servants of Christ. At most we are those who go out and invite people to come and be united to God in Christ. Each of us and us together as the Church should seek to be conformed to the mind of Christ and to hold fast to what we have received and to pass on what we have received.
God does not play games, and at the same time the Kingdom of God is a banquette a place of joy and celebration and yet there are things in the world that can hold us back. We maybe at times held back by our private opinions the opinions of others from holding fast to the truth ofthe Gospel that has been handed on from generation to generation from the apostles and Jesus Christ to our own time. The church should be a place of great celebration and welcome for all no matter their lifestyle class race or place in society. But it is not our opinions that same us but Gods gracious invitation to relationship with god , reorienting our relationship with each other. The church is the place of all who have responded to the Word of God, who have heard the call of Christ and who have put on Christ, seeking to leave aside the garments of their own identities and opinions for the mind of Christ. May God give each one of us the grace to be formed into the image of Christ that we may wear the wedding Garment on the last day and be found to beone with Christ.