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.
Scripture: Luke 1:68-79
Imagine an oppressed people. Imagine an empire that is bent on progress at all costs, one keeping those that have position in that position, and people spending all they have just to appear to have status in the empire. Imagine religious groups bent on keeping some sort of handle of influence over the people that they serve; yet losing a grip with each passing moment. This is the setting of the greatest science fiction stories. The story of Dune, Star Wars, and many others all has a similar theme. The theme where the balance of power is tipping, hope is cast on a redemptive person, betrayal, romance, and sacrifice.
There is a reason these themes make great stories; it is because these are the stories that drive our lives. They are not just stories in books, on stage, and on the silver screens; they are the stories in that we all find ourselves in. These stories allow us to escape for a moment from the struggles of our own lives and imagine just for a moment that we are in someone else’s shoes. It is this stepping outside of ourselves that allows us to rethink our lives and our approach to life.
We think of stories as being something that is untrue. Early in our educations we are taught the difference between fiction and non-fiction. In our minds fiction is not real they are fantasy and non-fiction is factual reality. For the most part this is true, but have you read a good story? The good story is one that mixes the fiction and non-fiction. A good story is one that is a parable, one that teaches as well as entertains. Star Wars speaks of a balance between the forces of light and dark. Dune speaks of greed and the control of scarce resources. Star Trek speaks of the explorative curiosity of humankind (well humanoid kind). All speak of philosophy, theology, science, sociology, desperation, and Hope.
Myth and legend are stories, stories based on fact but also embellished with entertaining aspects to keep the attention of the audience. My favorite authors or Novelists actually spend most of their time researching the ideas in their stories, so that they can present the facts within their stories and educate their readers. Michael Crichton, the author of the novels Jurassic Park, Sphere, and State of Fear would study areas of quantum physics, environmental science, and genetics to such a degree that in his stories he would actually site the sources he used. One of my newest favorite writers Kathy Reich, whose character inspired the TV series Bones, is an actual forensic anthropologist in real life, and at the end of each of her books she will enlighten people in the science of her trade. These myths, or stories shaped cultures. They inspire higher learning, as well as new ideas of social interaction. The Greeks, Romans, Celts, and Hindu all had stories that encouraged their people. Universities grew out of the influence of the great writers of antiquity. The basis of our western civilization has developed in part out of the stories and myths of Plato. We look at these stories and mark them as fantasy but even these fantastic stories give hope and encouragement to all.
A story can be used to assist in the teaching of the masses, although it is sometimes hard to glean the facts from the creativity. We can learn powerful truths from the writings of William Shakespeare or CS Lewis. Those that scoff at the power of a story, fail to recognize the ability the storyteller has in shaping the world. Where would we be today without Narnia, and Middle Earth?
A new hope, the theme that inspired a generation in the movie Star Wars, is a myth that is much like those of the ancients. The quest of the Jedi is not that different than the desires of many cultures that are ruled by totalitarian regimes. That same theme are present in our world today even though we are informed that the story took place long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. This new hope is the theme of the New Testament.
The writings of scripture are mainly story. Do not get me wrong I am not saying that scripture does not convene truth, but much of scripture is written in literary forms. There are poems, parables, narratives, fantastical apocalyptic stories, and legal descriptions. These literary forms shaped a nation, and changed the world. During the period of time between what we say is the closing of the Old Testament and the New, the leaders of the people of Israel studied the scriptures. They knew many of them by heart, but even in the vast amounts of study there were aspects of these scriptures that they could not fully grasp. The prophets caused the greatest struggle. They had a history and a future that seemed to strangely apply to their present situation. To look at prophecy is often like looking at one of those 3-d posters what looks like a bunch of spots until you squint and unfocus your eyes, then once you get a glimpse of what lies behind it suddenly becomes clear.
Zechariah is one of those men that saw the picture behind the surface. The prophets of old would often speak in cryptic forms giving some sort of surface message that would catch the original attention of the people. These surface messages included things like agricultural failure, weather patterns, and military battles. When these surface messages are the reason many included the teachings of the prophets in scripture, but there were cryptic messages lingering behind the surface that many knew were there but they could not quite make out. These are the reason many refused to accept them as authoritative. The Pharisees readily accepted the teachings of the prophets, while the Sadducees only accepted the books of the law. It is not any wonder why there were different preferences in the two major groups because one focused mainly on temple worship ordained in the books of Moses, where the other group focused on cultural influence that enjoyed and used the expanded cannon.
Zechariah was from the priestly order of Abijah. At first glance we may think of this as being something like a denomination or religious group, but the priestly orders were basically groups that would rotate and cycle through the year. There were twenty-four courses that would 2 times during a rotation as well as during the mandatory feasts so they would serve in the temple for a total of 5 times a year. The order of Abijah was the eighth in that rotation. These priests would serve for only 8 days. So we have a priest, serving in the temple. We do not know much about Zechariah, except he served in the temple and had a remarkable experience there.
If the temple was dominated by the Sadducee order of Jewish tradition, then it actually makes this story pretty remarkable. If the Sadducees were mainly focused on the books of Moses, and gave little to no credence to the prophets then Zechariah would most likely be Sadducee. This would give us some insight into his doubt when an angel visited him while he served in the temple. We know he doubted and because of that he could not speak from the day of the visit until the day that his son was born.
What we read today is the blessing He recited over his infant son. All at once all of the law and all of the prophets came into focus. He saw laying before him the beginning of a new hope. He tenderly looked down at his son, the son he and his wife Elizabeth waited so long for, and he spoke with great emotion.
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from the high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79 NRSV)
A new hope is upon them. I remember very vividly the first time I held my son, the emotion that I felt that day; I sense in the words that Zechariah spoke. I can imagine that he said these words with tears of joy in his eyes. That day I held my son, it felt as if the meaning of life suddenly began to become clearer. Not that it became crystal clear but I was beginning to see some shapes just under the surface. Zechariah was in a place just like that; he had devoted his life to serving in the temple. If you wanted to know the deeper meanings behind all the temple process Zechariah could tell you. Yet in this blessing you can sense that suddenly in the matter of moments every one of those ceremonies suddenly began to deepen. The prophets became more authentic.
A new hope is upon us. The priests and the rabbis of the first century were all very aware of the social tension around them. It was very clear that something big was on the verge of happening but they really could not place what that was. For some they delve deeper into the prophets to see if maybe God spoke when their ears were closed, some focused on religious service, others just thought if they adapted then maybe they to ward off the trouble at least for a time. The dawn from high will break upon us. Dawn is the start of something new. The beginning of creation was marked with light; we mark the start of the day by the coming of first light.
Dawn marks the beginning, and the new hope is rising. Today many are looking at life very critically. Our culture is full of skeptics. For a skeptic the only source of authority is experience, first hand observation. But along with that is the thought that even though something is observed they do not believe that what they see as truth can be relegated to others. This leaves us as people of truth into a new day; we seem to be sitting in the darkness in the shadow of death. What we hold as most important is challenged in ways that we just do not feel equip to handle. Before all we had to do was know the research, answer the questions better than others, but no one really cares to enter a debate anymore. Skilled debaters can still encourage people but their words do not hold the same authority as they did a generation ago. What holds authority in a culture not willing to engage in discussion? Story.
Your story is the most powerful force in today’s world. Your experience through life’s trials can encourage others to investigate for themselves. The story needs a central theme, a hope in hopelessness, and a mission to fulfill. Zechariah ended his blessing over his child by saying that God will guide our feet in the way of peace. We can have a story but in that story needs some action. Our life and lifestyle must reflect the story that we speak for our current culture to accept it as having any authority. We as a people, and as a meeting to advance into this new dawn should be guided in the path of peace. Our money and our witness must point to the direction. Our actions and our words must speak the same mission. Our religion must be authentic in theory and in practice. It does not matter if our theology is sound and well supported by scripture if we fail to promote a life with God by helping those in need in some way.
Yesterday I sat in the back of this Meeting looking over a crowd gathered to celebrate the joining of two lives in marriage. The family was emotional, but what I saw that spoke even louder than the vows uttered was the love and emotion expressed by the kids that sang. Kids whose lives were touched because one man and one woman chose allow their feet to be guided in the pathways of peace. They sang loudly the very pews shook with raw joy because they were excited to praise the God. They experienced God because people were willing to get involved in their lives. Many would have over looked them or called them a drain on the culture, they were orphans or children affected by a life threatening disease unable to fully support themselves. Yet they were here celebrating
We are involved in that in a small way, but not everyone can see that. We cannot take our sister, or our coworker to Uganda to show them what our offerings are doing for these precious children. But we can knit hats for babies and talk to the parents as we volunteer, telling them our stories and where we find hope. We can speak through our art and express where we find hope. We can cook a meal and serve those without a home. We can encourage the poor by helping them find work. We can help the undocumented workers gain full residency status by volunteering to help fill out paper work. We can be guided in the pathways of peace, or release others to serve in those areas.
The dawn from the high will break upon us; will we hide in the shadows of the past or stand out in the emerging light?
As we enter into this time of holy expectancy let us consider this blessing over this child that was destined to announce the coming of the King. Let us join with Zechariah in the celebration of hope, and open our eyes to things we did not think possible. And let us share the stories of our life in word and in deed with hope in the God that provides for each new day.
Scripture: Hebrews 5:5-10
Jesus the priest. How often do you think of Jesus in that light. I’m gussing about as often as you consider getting a root canal. Not to say this is a bad thing. We don’t think of Him as a priest often because for most of us a priest is something we have never seen. Even pastors that are called priests are not the same as the old testiment style of priests.
Jesus is the priest. A priest in he historic Hebrew faith I one that stands in as te representative of the people before God. They are the ones that can assure that the sacrifices were ok, or if you would have to visit a seller to find an acceptable offering. The priest assured the people that their prayers were heard, and if necissary passed on some prophetic message to the patitioner.
To simplify it even more the priests participated in worship while those that came to woship just witnessed the Levites worship for them. It almost sounds odd, yet often this is how we ourselves approach worship. Do we really expect significant spiritual growth in that manner? You would think not, but this is how we worship. We do not know how to approach God, how could we? I the closest thing to this in our human existance would be to just walk up to a king and start to chat. We have to be taken into the presence of our heavenly Father. This is why Jesus our priest is so important. He took on full humanity, he worshiped for us, he prays for us, and he died in our place. He did this so that we could once again have a relationship with our Creator.
He worships for us, but we do have a part. We participate by imitating Him, and listening to his direction. The problem with this is too often our lives are so busy we can’t seem to find the time. Let alone find the words to say. This is why I have grown to love using scripture to facilitate prayer. I read a portion of scripture and allow the Spirit of God to direct me into prayer. By doing this I have grown closer to my God, savior and teacher. I become more able to folow his comands, and I can love others in His love more easily. Jesus is our priest, He offered a scarifice once and for all humanity, he directs us into worship, and whe we do not know what to do he even prays the words for us.
Today I encourage you to listen to your eternal worship leader!