Psalm 23 (NRSV)
The Divine Shepherd
A Psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
Psalm 106:1–6 (NRSV)
A Confession of Israel’s Sins
1 Praise the Lord! O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Who can utter the mighty doings of the Lord, or declare all his praise?
3 Happy are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times. Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people; help me when you deliver them; that I may see the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation, that I may glory in your heritage.
6 Both we and our ancestors have sinned; we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly.
Psalm 106:19–23 (NRSV)
19 They made a calf at Horeb and worshiped a cast image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass. They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt, wondrous works in the land of Ham, and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
23 Therefore he said he would destroy them— had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.
Philippians 4:1–9 (NRSV)
4 1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 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. 9 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.
Matthew 22:1–14 (NRSV)
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet
22 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘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.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
There are few things more festive as a marriage. The celebration of marriage is a beautiful mystery that spiritually binds two people together as one, but it also extends bonds and roots of two families, and even communities forming connections that span through time and space. Yes I agree I might just be a little dramatic but marriage is an amazing things. In all of our discussions on divorce, premarital relationships, among others I think we often forget to express just how powerful and amazing marriage can and should be.
Because of this powerful symbolism marriage has been used as an illustration in many different faiths, but probably the most prominent of those illustrations comes through the symbolism of God and Israel. In most cultures marriage was performed as a business contract, or property transfer, but among the Jewish culture marriage was and still is a symbolic representation of the bond that binds the people of Abraham with God. Every aspect of their celebration from the canopy the bride and groom stand under, to the wine and the breaking of the glass point to this relationship between the people and their God. Every element of the ceremony has symbolic and deep theological meaning, but it does not stop with the ceremony. The feast is just as filled with meaning. The feast is where the community is strengthened and they celebrate the joining and hope of extension into the next generation. Often we forget just how powerful a good celebration can be to the spiritual health of a community. This is why Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding feast, and this is why Jesus uses the illustration of the feast to teach about the kingdom of God.
“The Kingdom of God can be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” Jesus begins. The Kingdom of God, the nation of Israel, the king and a wedding. It is often said that when the tribes of Jacob left Egypt and were waiting at the foot of the mount Horeb that the tribes were standing under the canopy of God’s presence while Moses received the law or the covenant, under that canopy the people of Israel were united to God. They were married to God, which is why so often the prophets of old speak of the adulterous nation that chases after other gods.
So we have a king giving a banquet, and he sends out his servants to call those invited in, but they would not come. He then sends the servant out another time to tell them that the dinner is ready. Before we think too ill of these people it is important to know that in ancient cultures they did not send out invitations like we do today for many reasons: 1. it would be extremely expensive and 2. Not everyone could read. They would send out servants first to tell them that the preparations were being made, so that those that were invited could prepare for the feast. Then when the animals were slaughtered and cooking they would send out the servants again to announce that the banquet is about to begin. At this time the entire community would come and celebrate. But this is the twist in Jesus’ story, instead of the community coming to the banquet they made light of the celebration, they continued to work on their farms, they went on selling their goods in the market place, and some out right refused violently.
This is where the story gets into the deeper meaning. The king has invited people to his son’s celebration and they refuse. Why, they have to run their farms, take care of their business, and be nasty to others. Jesus is saying the community is broken. The term community is an important one, it is a compound word built with common and unity. There is no unity in this area, they are all just out there doing their own things. They are so involved in their own lives that there is no room to celebrate the uniting of families and the expansion of their nation. This is something that our culture struggles with as well. Our culture is built on individualism, which is not always a bad thing, but it can become sinful if we become too focused on self and neglect those around us. All too often we use our busy schedules to neglect spending time with our families and our friends, and this same busyness often causes us to neglect the ones that need us the most. But Jesus does not find our busy schedules to be a legitimate excuse, in fact he condemns it. Those that reject the king’s invitation were found to be enemies of the state and their cities were burned to the ground.
This says quite a lot about the things we set up as priorities. I myself often struggle in this area, I have worked since I was in Jr. High on the farm, I feel like I must work, when I do not have things in my schedule I can become depressed and feel worthless. But as I walk further down the pathway of life with Christ I have found that it is those times that I invest in others that are the most meaningful. It is the times that I am not at work that the greatest memories are formed. Yet I still struggle in this area, and ask for prayer in this area of my own life.
The king in the story does not let the banquet wait though, he then sends out the servants a third time. This time he sends them out to the main streets or highways, out into the countryside to bring in anyone and everyone to celebrate the joy of his son’s marriage. The servants go out and they bring everyone, the good and the bad. Think about that for a moment. The ones that were considered worthy to be invited first were destroyed and then those considered unworthy were brought in, no strings attached, the good and the bad. Does that make us squirm just a bit? The good and the bad were brought in accepted as they were at that moment.
These people were brought into the new community, a community built around the king and his son, there is no regard for history, or current state. They are just accepted as they are and celebrate. As they come into the banquet the king treats them with the same respect as any invited guest to a wedding. They are each given a wedding robe. This is a custom that we may find odd, but it is very interesting. It is a symbol that all present in the celebration are equal. The wedding robe conceals everything that may be used to express personal pride. Think of it as a sort of uniform. When we wear a uniform, everyone in that uniform is equal, they are seen as employees of a company or as students of a particular school. The idea of a uniform is to provide equality, and to celebrate membership in some common group of people. The wedding robe is a symbol and expression of celebration for the one being married, it is to provide an equalizing factor to everyone around so that all attention can be directed to the ones being celebrated. It is a wonderful symbol.
But the king looks out at the guests and he finds one person that has refused to wear the robe. If everyone else was wearing a robe it would not be hard to spot the one person that was out of uniform. This one person is attracting attention to themselves instead of allowing the attention to be directed to the bride and groom. This is a powerful statement, although the guest is speechless before the king the judgment is swift, the guest is removed from the community.
This is a powerful story. The judgment of those that refuse to participate in the feast of fierce and for the one that is not covered by the wedding robe it is just as harsh. Jesus finishes this parable by saying, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Those are strong words, they scream out at us that our lives are not to be our own, but that every aspect of it should be focused on one thing, to bring honor to the son of the king. How well do we do that? We speak about being clothed in righteousness and being covered by the armor of God, but do we actually allow that to happen in our lives? When people look at us do what do they actually see?
This is the very reason why the early Friends distilled our expressions of faith down to the very simplest form possible, because every aspect of our life should reflect the light of Christ. Every word that we say should be of simple speech not filled with flattery but truth and equity. That our attire should be simple and modest, not to attract attention to ourselves but so that it would not distract from Christ in us. That worship should focus on the very core properties of faith, true words and actions.
Many are called to Christ, but only a very few will choose to live for Christ. We live in a culture that focuses and takes pride in individualism which is contrary to the call of Christ. The call remains, it is given to the good and the bad, the honorable and the disgraced will you come to the banquet of the son, or will you let the things of this distract us from the celebration? The chose is ours, we can come in common unity or we can stay focused on ourselves. All those things that we find so important will be burned to the ground and the memory left to blow like dust in the wind. It is the community that is important, it is the expansion of the kingdom to the next generations, it is the binding of families though time and space that we should celebrate, it is the marriage of God to the people that should be our desire, clothed in the wedding robes that are Jesus. God Himself taking on human form to live among us and for us. Who take our goodness and our failings and wraps himself around us so that all that can be seen is his glory. Let us be that kind of a community. A community built on unity and equality in Christ: loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the love of Jesus with others around us (the good and the bad.)
Open Worship: A time of holy expectancy, where we as Friends commune with God in Prayer and silence expecting to hear His voice and answer His call to speak or act.