Monday, October 13, 2014

Sermon: October 12

You get an invitation. Maybe it’s big and beautiful, like an invitation to a wedding. Maybe it’s a simple online evite to a friend’s birthday party. You check your calendar. You write it down and you RSVP.

But what if the invitation was for something much, much bigger? After his encounters with those in authority in Jerusalem, Jesus tells another parable about the Kingdom of Heaven.

A King is throwing a Wedding banquet for his son. It is a great big party and he sends slaves out to gather the invited guests. But they do not come. Again slaves are sent, but these invited guests made light of the invitation; they ignored it, went back to work, beat some slaves, killed others. The King is enraged and destroys the city that houses the unworthy guests.

And then he sends his slaves to invite everyone they meet, the good and the bad! And the banquet hall is filled. During the banquet, the King notices someone without the proper attire. How did you get in here? The man was speechless. So the King had him thrown out.

Jesus ends by saying, for many are called, but few are chosen. Or maybe another way of saying that, many are called, but few follow through…

Jesus tells this parable after using two other parables against the powers that be that did not listen to John the Baptist, that refuse to listen to Jesus. In this parable from Matthew, Jesus confronts them once again, noting they had been called to the banquet but refused. When the honored guests fail to live into the gift from God, God sends out the prophets to gather everyone and the invitation is extended to everyone to come to the bountiful banquet. Those that heard these parables in Jesus day and in the days when it was retold to the community of Matthew’s gospel, would have heard it through their own filters, that God was calling them to the banquet, for those in authority, the powerful, refused to go.

Now, I want us to hear the parable, not as if we are hearing Jesus talk about it way back when to someone else. What if Jesus gave his parable today? What if he was looking at us today? This version of the parable was written by Clarence Jordan in Georgia in the 1960s…
Jesus continued the conversation by speaking to them with Comparisons. “The God Movement is like a governor who gave a big dinner for his party chairman. He told his secretaries to invite the prominent dignitaries, but they refused to accept. So he told his secretaries to try again. ‘Tell them,’ he said: ‘”The banquet is all arranged - the steer has been butchered and the hogs barbecued. Y’all come on to the dinner.” ‘But they couldn’t have cared less. One left to go out to his farm; another went to his store, The rest of them taunted and insulted the secretaries. At that, the governor had a duck fit, and ordered the names of the scoundrels to be struck from the list of his friends. Then he said to his secretaries, ‘Plans for the banquet are all made, but the people I invited aren’t fit to come. So go to the various precincts, and whoever you find there, invite them to the banquet.’ Well, they went to the precincts and brought in everybody they could find, good and bad. The banquet hall was filled with guests, and the governor went in to greet them, There he saw a guy sitting at the table who looked and smelled like he had just come in from his farm. The governor said to him, ‘Hey, buddy, how did you get in here, looking and smelling like that?’ He just clammed up. Then the governor said to the waiters. ‘Tie the bum up and throw him in the back alley.’ Outside there’ll be yelling and screaming, for the big ones were invited but the little ones got in.” (Cotton Patch Gospel: Matthew 22)
Notice in the parable, who finally gets invited? Everyone they could find; the good and the bad. It went from the chosen few to the many! The little ones got in! The banquet is set, the invitation has come; are we too busy, are we the ones who don’t get it or are we the ones who follow through and come as invited?
Fifteen years ago, Jane Knuth, a math teacher and mom, began volunteering at a thrift shop in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She approached the work with a hard-charging determination to "fix the world" - but over the years, the experience changed her. The poor and desperate she has been able to help have deepened her own faith and brought her to a new understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

Jane Knuth has collected stories of her experiences in a book Thrift Store Saints: Meeting Jesus 25c at a Time. Thrift Store Saints includes some two dozen stories about the volunteers and patrons of the St. Vincent's thrift shop. The Kalamazoo thrift store sells everything from furniture and clothing to basic household items, but also offers financial assistance, referral services - and prayerful and emotional support - to the needy and the lost.

Rather than viewing society's poor as problems to be solved, Jane and her colleagues see them each in a completely different light: as saints who can lead us straight to the heart of Christ. Jane Knuth writes:

"From all appearances, it looks as if we are running a thrift store at St. Vincent de Paul. At our meetings we frequently get into discussions about how to better run the store. Should we raise our prices? Give away less? Not accept so many donations? Lock our dumpster? Move to a better retail location? All these issues would come up with any resale shop. Eventually, it occurs to us that our purpose is not to run the most profitable, shrewd, efficient, riff-raff-free store in town. Our purpose is to help the poor and to change our way of thinking and being. It only looks as though we run a store. The store is just our cover...

"I still keep looking for the 'deserving poor' - the innocent ones who are blatant victims of injustice and hard luck. I want to help them and no one else. From what I can see, apart from children, most poor people's situations seem to stem from a mixture of uncontrollable circumstances, luck, and their own decisions. Same as my own situation. Do I deserve everything I have? Am I somehow more moral, smarter, or a harder worker than poor people? Sometimes I am, most times I'm not. Do poor people deserve their daily struggle for existence? Are they immoral, stupid, and lazy? Sometimes they are, most times they aren't."
No one deserves the banquet, but both the good and the bad are invited to attend and to live into that gift. In today's Gospel, Jesus articulates the vision of the Kingdom: a banquet at which all are respected and honored for who they are and the goodness they bring with them; a banquet that might be found in the classroom, the clinic, the playground, the home or a thrift store.

If we are to be truly faithful to the parable, the compassion of God must transform our heart's perspective, enabling us to see beyond stereotypes, economic distinctions, religion or class, to recognize that the hall is filled with children of God, worthy of respect, love and compassion. We must be willing both to give joyfully what we have and to accept humbly what others bring to the banquet, to live that gift in our lives.
As St. Paul put it in his letter: “Finally, beloved, 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. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”
The invitation is there and you name is on it – will you open it & accept it? Will you come to the banquet and live into that gift that is yours by grace? Amen.

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