Scripture Readings: Exodus 32:1–14 | Psalm 106:1–6, 19–23 | Philippians 4:1–9 | Matthew 22:1–14
“Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.’” (Matthew 22:1-2).
Have you ever showed up at a special event, and felt incredibly out of place because you didn’t really understand the expectations of your host? Imagine showing up to a back yard BBQ in a suit and tie. Or arriving at a fancy banquet in shorts and old work boots. Now at one level, we know that clothes aren’t all that important, really. They don’t make us any better or worse… even though all to often, we humans end up judging one another based on something as trivial as our appearances.
But at another level, if we show up unprepared to take part in something special that we have been invited to share in, it does say something about our attitudes towards our would-be hosts. It might say that we don’t really value their invitation… and the experience they had hoped to share with us… or maybe even the relationship we have with them. At this level at least, when we’re invited to a party… if we value our host at all… it’s actually pretty important to respond appropriately.
Right before our first reading from Scripture this morning in the Book of Exodus, the Living God had just invited the people of Israel into a special relationship with Him: they were invited to be His chosen, set apart people… shaped by His character and intentions, so that the whole world might also be drawn into His fellowship, and receive along with them the blessings and joy God longs to share.
But things had not gone as planned. Right after the vows of this covenant, sacred relationship akin to a marriage between God and this community, been made, as Moses was working out the final details of how the LORD would live in the presence of His people, down at the foot of the mountain, Israel was actively breaking faith with their divine Bridegroom… bowing down to an idol of a golden calf, and claiming that this lifeless statue was the true image of God, embodying their heavenly Saviour who had set them free.
Obviously, this was not how the celebration was supposed to unfold. And so, exasperated, God turns to Moses, and threatens to shut the whole party down, make an end of this whole project he had planned for Israel.
In Exodus 32:10, God says to Moses: “Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” What had been planned as a great celebration… the start of a beautiful life together had turned into a moment of horrible betrayal, and near disaster for God’s people.
And yet… in God’s words we find, not only a warning of His righteous wrath, but also an invitation… an invitation for Moses to intercede. To step up and act as an advocate for Israel… as someone to act on their behalf, and plead to God for mercy and their deliverance.
God’s saying here: “Don’t try to stop Me, Moses… I mean it!” But these words beg the question: What would happen if Moses did try to stop God? What would happen if instead of taking up the offer God makes to start over with Moses, and abandon His unfaithful people… Moses actually tried to defend them? What would happen if Moses care more about God’s honour, and the lives of His people, than about Moses’ own glory… and what he himself might stand to gain?
In this high stakes encounter, God is inviting Moses into the tension between what it means to share in God’s goodness, His holiness… as well as in His faithful, steadfast love, even for His stiff-necked and sinful people.
Moses is given a choice of how to respond to God’s subtle invitation to intercede… and unlike the lifeless hunk of metal the people were worshipping at the bottom of the mountain, Moses actually ends up embodying God’s true likeness and character… God’s image by setting aside his own interests, and mercifully pleading the cause of God’s people… asking the LORD to set aside even well-deserved wrath, all in the service of holy, self-giving love.
By standing up before God, and pleading for Israel’s forgiveness, Moses actually reflects God’s own heart… His divine faithfulness and steadfast love… responding to God’s invitation to intercede by becoming even more like his LORD.
Of course, this does not mean that there will be no consequences for Israel. They had shattered their brand-new relationship with God… bringing about all sorts of heartache on themselves because of their choices. But through this encounter, and Moses’ prayers, we are assured that God will not abandon them to destruction. Instead, He graciously makes a way to maintain their covenant relationship… staying faithful to His own character, and promises, even if they don’t.
In all this, Moses’ response gives us a powerful picture of what it looks like to live as God’s image in a world that has all too often forgotten Him: loving God and our neighbours means praying for them. Praying for God’s mercy, and seeking the deliverance of those around us, even if the threats they may be facing would seem to be deserved.
Turning now to our Gospel reading this morning, we hear another parable of Jesus… with a particular context: at this point in St. Matthew’s account, Jesus was in the middle of a growing conflict with the leaders of God’s people in Jerusalem.
The parable paints a picture of those who respond with disdain and even violence to a king’s gracious invitation to the wedding feast of his son… and through this parable, Jesus was calling out the leaders of God’s people, who had once again turned their back on their relationship with the Living God, rejecting the messengers God had sent… the prophets, and their message of true repentance, and were now standing opposed to Jesus Himself, rejecting the One who is God in the flesh right before their eyes.
This is a parable of warning, to be sure… but it is also an invitation to turn around and take another path… to actually believe in Jesus, and follow Him, and find God’s kingdom at work in and through Him… just like many others from all corners of society were doing.
In the story, instead of the chosen, special, honoured and invited guests sharing in the fellowship banquet, it’s everyone else… the common crowds… the broken, the lost, and lonely and wandering, who end up sharing in the joys of the celebration.
This all reflects Jesus’ embrace of not just those seen as righteous… but sinners… those who were seen as worthless and lost causes by the religious leadership of the day. Through this story, Jesus shows us that sharing His time and teachings and compassion with these outcasts was not an expression of His lack of holiness… as evidence that He was somehow wandering away from the light, but rather, this is actually how He was embodying the compassionate, steadfast, and holy love of God… advocating and interceding for His lost and scattered people, and inviting them to be reconciled to God.
And in this light, it’s actually the leadership’s rejection of Jesus that proves that they are actually the ones who are out of sync with the character and intentions of the Living God and His holy ways.
The king wanted a joy-filled celebration for his son, but those he invited didn’t want to join in. Jesus tells us God wants the wide world to share in His blessed fellowship, but the most powerful and ‘respectable’ of His own people could not have cared less. Their responses to Jesus’ invitations to come join God’s kingdom celebration was to flat out refuse… and in the end, to pursue His death.
So much for the honoured guests who miss out on the party. But what about the guy who gets in, and then gets kicked out because he’s wearing the wrong kind of clothes?
As it turns out, this parable is not just a warning against responding to God’s gracious invitation with outright rejection… but it’s also a warning about saying yes but with presumption… taking the gift of this gracious invitation for granted, and in so doing, treating it with disdain and contempt, but in a different way.
The story goes that one of the guests shows up completely unprepared for the wedding party… assuming that as they were graciously invited, they don’t really have to bother to respond appropriately to the great honour they had just been given. And Jesus wants us to understand that saying yes to God’s kingdom… to the new life that God is inviting us all to share in… requires us to respond to this gift with reverence, gratitude, and love, not as if it’s no big deal.
The people of Israel at Mt. Sinai in our Exodus reading, had been graciously invited into a covenant partnership with God, and yet at the very moment when their union with Him was to be celebrated, they were shattering it… treating His gift as if it was nothing.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus had come to Jerusalem, which could have been the moment that the leaders of God’s people welcomed him as their Messiah… but they turned their backs on Him.
And here in Gondola Point, how might this parable be a warning for you and I as God’s people today? A warning against rejecting God’s gracious invitation… or maybe a warning against treating it as if it’s nothing special. As if it doesn’t require us to make any changes at all in our life to say ‘yes’ to the Living God, and share our lives with Him?
What do we think it means to receive God’s invitation to share in His gift of New Life?
Are we content to be casual Christians… happy to enjoy comfort and blessings for ourselves, but not bothering to clothe ourselves with the compassion and mercy of God that we have received?
Are we just looking forward to our share of a heavenly feast, but forgetting all about the needs of those hungering for fellowship, sustenance, and hope all around us?
Are we embodying… are we the image of the holy love of the Living God… or a self-centered spirituality?
Or, like Moses… are we starting to share in the character of our LORD… willing to intercede, and sit in the tension between a world wandering far off course, and the Saviour who gave His life to seek and to save the lost?
Are we like the guests that were invited freely, and still honoured their host through their appropriate response… the tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners who messed up, but still find forgiveness, mercy, and new life by turning to Jesus in faith… letting go of our old ways, and turning to our Saviour who gave His life to set us free?
Jesus Himself is the truest image of God… He alone fully embodies the holy, self-giving love of God. And He does this by turning the world upside down, and taking onto Himself the fate of those who rejected Him, and who treated God’s goodness and grace with distain and contempt.
At the cross, Jesus gave Himself up to be cast out into the outer darkness of death for the sake of the world, laying down His life to intercede and advocate for us sinners… to make amends for us, and fully reconcile us to our loving Heavenly Father, and to one another. And rising again from the dead, He shares His New Life with us through the gift of His Holy Spirit, helping us respond rightly to His love, and reshaping us in Christ’s image.
None of us earn our invitation into God’s fellowship… it’s God’s gift to us all in Jesus Christ. And His parable is a warning and an invitation for us all to respond faithfully to all that He has already done for us: rescuing us from our sins and failures, and drawing us into the fellowship of God.
If we have been invited into God’s party… His fellowship of holy love… what does it look like to respond faithfully in our day to day lives here in Gondola Point?
It looks like trusting in and following Jesus. Letting His Spirit and New Life reshape our own… in every facet of life. In our relationships, our choices, our priorities… consciously conforming everything we do to the way of Jesus.
One simple and personal example of this shows up in our second reading. In St. Paul’s encouragement to the Christians in Philippi, we find him urging their community to become a people of peace and reconciliation. He even names two Christian women, Euodia and Syntyche, and encourages them to overcome their issues, whatever they were, and work together again as sisters in Christ. This is just one example, but it’s a powerful one: a reminder that at the heart of God’s character, and what Jesus has come to do, is drawing people together in holy love and fellowship with Him. If we have been invited to share this gift already, our faithful response must also include putting this Holy love into practice with those around us.
Our world desperately needs God’s holy love, and we His people are to be the way our world encounters it. Through the Holy Spirit, freely given to us in Jesus Christ, you and I are now to embody God’s self-giving, holy love… growing more and more each day in Christ’s own image, and being made into His hands and feet, working to bring God’s healing, forgiveness, compassion, and peace to everyone we can.
I’ll end now with St. Paul’s words to the Philippians, 4:4-9. May they remind us of what it looks like to faithfully say yes to the life Christ has invited us to share in:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
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.” Amen.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School