a sermon for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23)
The table is ready. The feast has been prepared. Are we ready to join in God’s celebration of joy?
When you think of the holidays, what do you think of?
Family. Friends. Food. Decorations. Eating and Drinking. Celebrations. Joy.
As the weather starts to turn cooler in the fall, most of us begin to look forward to the holidays. And by “holidays,” we mean especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. Of course, Thanksgiving is a national holiday when we remember the survival of the first settlers, the Puritans, who came to this country from England. And Christmas is, well, Christ Mass. Not everyone celebrates Christmas, and that’s perfectly fine with me. But the interesting thing is that all cultures have all sorts of different holidays celebrating one thing or another, and the most common way we celebrate is with food.
Food is the universal celebration. Food is one way that we show our love for one another.
- Friends dropping by unexpectedly? Let’s go out to eat!
- Daughters come into town with their husband or fiancee? Let’s grill some steaks!
- Is there a wedding, or a baptism, or a graduation, or even a funeral? Make sure there’s enough food.
Feasting is one way we share our joy.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard several Gospel readings in which Jesus used parables to describe some aspect of the kingdom of heaven. A parable is a story uses surprise to make its point. We saw a landowner who was so generous that he paid those who worked only a portion of the day the same that he paid those who worked all day. We saw a vineyard owner so patient and compassionate that, when his servants were treated violently by his tenants, he sent his own son as his representative.
And today we heard about a violent and authoritative king who destroyed an entire city simply because its citizens decided not to come to a wedding party. Not only that, but before the smoke clears, he invites all kinds of other people to come, from every corner of the town. And they came! But the final twist comes when the king finds one guest whose clothes are out of place and the king throws him out of the banquet hall.
Of course, because Jesus is the one telling this story, it’s only natural for us to ask, “where is God in this story?” Because if God is the king, he certainly sounds like an angry and unreasonable God. And if the kingdom of God is so violent, do we really want to be a part of it?
I believe it’s helpful if we look at today’s other readings to see how God’s banquet is described. In the first reading from Isaiah, we hear these words of celebration:
O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name…. On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines; of righ foods filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
Or this from the 23rd Psalm:
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
My cup runneth over.
Or even this from today’s Gospel:
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son….`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.’
God invites us all to a grand and glorious celebration! We are all invited to share in a life filled with joy. God invites us all, or as Isaiah puts it, all peoples will feast, all nations will rejoice, all faces will be have their tears wiped away. All, all, and all may rejoice in his salvation.
God has invited us all to live in a community of joy.
Are we free to reject God’s invitation? You bet. Maybe we’re too busy. Maybe we have other concerns. Maybe we really don’t have the time, or the interest, or the desire to be part of God’s community of joy. That is our loss. That pain is on us. But God invites us all to live a life filled with joy.
Yesterday, we celebrated with joy a very sad occasion. The sad occasion was the passing of Ruth Folley, a dear woman who lived to be 101 years old. Of course it was sad, but it was also joyful. Joy is very different from happiness. Happiness is fleeting; it is situational. We are happy only for a brief while, while we have something or hold something that we want or desire. Joy is a state of being, a state of peace and contentment that comes from understanding that we live in relationship with God. This is a state being that Ruth Folley lived in every day for 101 years. She knew the joy of being a child of God.
Joy is also the heart of the Gospel. Joy is the heart of evangelism. Joy is what we share, when we come to the feast around the altar and feast on the body and blood of Jesus Christ., whether it be at a wedding or a funeral of our dear 101 year old matriarch. Joy is what we share, when we join into fellowship with God and with one another.
Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say rejoice!”
The mission statement of this church of St. Simon and St. Jude is, “to welcome, to rejoice, to be Jesus in the world!” Our joy and our rejoicing is the most contagious thing in the world.
Come to the wedding banquet, the feast has been prepared. Come to celebration of joy that God has prepared for each and every one of you.
Thanks be to God.