Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 12 Oct. 2014, Proper 23
Year A RCL: Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
Before we explore today's violent parable to see what there is in its dress code to rejoice about, I'd like to get today's headcount:1
Charlie, since you are the usher, will you write today's headcount on paper for me & bring it up here? I can't because I don't like this pencil. Barbara, will you lend Charlie your pen? I can't let him write with it because the pen is red. Matthew, will you do the headcount? I can't. I'm studying for a math test. Eric, will you write the headcount on your bulletin & bring it to me? I can't. My back hurts & the paper is too heavy.
Excuses! Excuses! We hear excuses in Exodus when the people fear what the future holds since Moses is gone a long time & they can't see their fear-less leader. They don't feel God's presence, so they worry & fear takes over. They make a mess of their festival to the Lord. “The ink is not yet dry” on the 10 Commandments2 [the 10 statements we talked about last week] & the people break the 1st one: “You shall have no other gods besides me”3. [For a really unbelievable excuse, read what Aaron tells Moses in Exodus 32:21-24.]
The excuses we hear in Jesus' parable may sound believable: I can't come to the wedding, I have to work on my farm/I have business to handle. Understand this: in Jesus' time people didn't post printed invitations4 on their refrigerators. They were invited to a wedding without knowing the date.
Knowing this makes it easier to understand how work may seem more important to invitees in Jesus' parable. Work is important, yet Jesus says more important in life is our relationship with God, our King. The invitees make light of it: they do not take seriously God's invitation to a joyful relationship.
Maybe they don't like the pencil that was used to write the invitation! Maybe they dismiss it because the invitation is red or too heavy. Whatever the excuse, they miss living the fuller life that we know in Jesus, the Son, whose bride is the Church – us!
Jesus tells his disciples – us – to invite others to share the fuller life he offers. I wonder what the people with Jesus think when they hear him tell the last part of this parable about the man who wears his everyday clothes to the banquet instead of his wedding robe.
God sends an open invitation to everyone – including you & me. God's open door5 policy lets EVERYONE come in to celebrate with God & God's Son. As Bible commentator William Barclay says, God invites us to join in the celebration of joy6 & abundant life. This IS the reason for rejoicing.
Like some of the invitees, we can get distracted & forget to rejoice. We can get distracted by the stuff of our lives, honest work that is different from what turns into that out-of-control party in Exodus while Moses is on the mountain with God.
The people with Moses are afraid to go it alone. They fail to realize God IS with them even though they cannot see God or Moses.
In their fear from not knowing what to expect, I see our fear over the Ebola outbreak. We worry & care about it now because it's in our country. Like when AIDS was still far across the globe in Africa, we didn't fear it until it came here.
Why have we waited until now to pray about a cure for Ebola? Like the people with Moses, we fail to notice what is far away. We forget to remember, we have work to do for God's kingdom here AND far away.
Remember this: through prayer, we can be a healing presence in harsh situations anywhere. Our prayers – your silent prayers when you are alone – send love & hope across the globe. We have to take time to do the work of prayer.
In the wedding parable Jesus wants us to notice: We can be so busy with our here & now to-dos & worries that we forget the things that have lasting value. “(We) can be so busy making a living that (we fail) to make a life; (we) can be so busy (organizing) life that (we forget to live) life...”7
What's important in this parable is not how we will be punished. What's important is “what we will miss.”8 “This parable has nothing to do with the clothes... (&) everything to do with the spirit in which we (live & worship God).”9 The man not wearing a wedding robe has refused to participate completely.10 That's why he gets thrown out of the party.
God loves us just like God loves the people with Moses & wants to guide them & us deeper into God's love so that we live fully in love. How quickly we can yield to fear when God's love seems to have gone away. God's love never goes away. It is always with us.
We get a taste of God's love at this Holy Table. By Jesus' dying for us, we receive a wedding robe so that we can come to this banquet: We are robed in the Light of Christ.
The Light of Christ helps us see God’s love & know God IS with us even when we don't feel God's presence.
May we have the grace to accept God's open invitation to come & feast on the amazing gift of abundant, undeserved, & unending of love.11
May we rejoice in the Lord always...
The Lord is near.
Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew: Vol. 2 . Revised Ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1975.
Bates, The Rev. Dr. J. Barrington. “Dress codes or radical welcome?” Accessed: 8 Oct. 2014. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2014/09/18/18-pentecost-proper-23-a-2014/.
“Excuses! Excuses!” http://www.sermons4kids.com/excuses_excuses.htm. Accessed 9 Oct. 2014.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
http://www.sermons4kids.com/excuses_excuses.htm. Accessed 9 Oct. 2014.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 7 Oct. 2014.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
Williams, Carol. Charles Kirkpatrick. Interactive Group Activities for Sermon "You Are Invited". Accessed: 9 Oct. 2014. Sermons4Kids.com. http://www.sermons4kids.com/.
2 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation. P. 183.
3 Ibid. Jewish Study Bible. P. 148.
4 Note: Idea from Bates, The Rev. Dr. J. Barrington. “Dress codes or radical welcome?” Accessed: 8 Oct. 2014. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2014/09/18/18-pentecost-proper-23-a-2014/.
5 Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew: Vol. 2 . P. 270.
6 Ibid. Barclay, Pp. 267-268.
7 Ibid. Barclay. P. 268.
9 Ibid. P. 270.
10 Ibid. Bates.
11 Ibid. Bates.