16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
Every generation or so human cultures seem to have a period of time in which they redefine themselves. By redefining themselves I do not necessarily mean that they change everything about themselves, but they reexamine what they find to be important to retain and what they defining feature should be pursued. This happens in pretty much any type of culture within societies. Business redefined their core beliefs and mission statements whenever there are significant leadership changes. School districts examine what has worked and what they need to do better when new leadership is hired. Even churches reexamine themselves as newer leadership emerges among them. It is healthy to take time to slow down, look at what has been going on and what goals for the future might be and consider how to proceed to accomplish our future goals. This process is not always a comfortable task to accomplish. When we examine what has been done in the past and consider what changes we might make as we walk into the future people can begin to push back. They were comfortable doing things the way they were, maybe they do not understand the significance of why the changes need to come about, or there may possibly be a change in structure that would change how influential a segment of the population might be.
Changes can be stressful. Changes are difficult to implement and even more difficult to continue to work toward. Last week I mentioned that systems like homeostasis or a state where there is no conflict, where everyone has a place and things can proceed with little dissention. Change disrupts homeostasis and forces us all to find a new normal.
Imagine for a moment the first century church. For decades the faithful followers of the Christ followed the teachings of the original apostles. Men and women that walked with Jesus, spoke directly with him, ate meals with him and witnessed the many miraculous events. But one by one the apostles were martyred for their faith as first the Jewish people drove them out of the Holy City, then the Gentiles began to place blame on them for disasters that fell upon various cities or political figures. One by one they were taken from the earth leaving only stories. As the church expanded across the empires and the faithful grew beyond the ability of the apostles to personally lead each gathering they began to write letters to encourage their disciples to continue to walk in faith. Those letters were collected together to form what we now know to be the New Testament. There are many theories about how the books of scripture were chosen. Most of those theories are not based on any fact what so ever, because the books of scripture were being used for centuries before anyone actually made a list of which were sacred and which were not and oddly enough the list that all the various ancient churches used are the very books we read today, with very few exceptions. There was really only one criteria that was used to determine the worthiness of a letter to be included as sacred writing within the church, was it written by an apostle or a direct disciple of an apostle. Of the books of scripture we read in the New Testament there is really only one book from which the authorship is questioned, that is the Letter to the Hebrews. But the question with that letter is not if an apostle wrote it but which, there are some that believe James wrote it and others believe it was Paul, because the writing style could be either.
So the end of the apostolic age was quickly approaching, change was staring the church in their face. The majority of faithful truly believed that Jesus would have returned by this time yet he had not. The faithful began to have questions and doubts. That is the purpose of the epistle especially the Epistles of John. John was the last of the apostles, he was the final eye witness that could verify the stories that were shared that encouraged the disciples to believe in the hope of Christ. At this time he was old, to be honest in ancient cultures he would have been considered ancient somewhat of an oddity. He no longer went by the title apostle because he felt he was no longer able to be sent out to minister because his joint hurt, his hands shook, and his eyes were failing. Now the church knew him as John the elder, he was the most respected of all men among the community of Ephesus, and he was the voice that encouraged the energetic youth to slow down and consider what was emerging before they rushed into the future.
There were many things that were emerging during this transformational period of time. Some of the more erroneous ideas were spoken about in other letters, but some were still gaining strength. The church was at a place where they were going to have to decide what is right and what is wrong. Where to walk and where to stand. Friends we are at one of those transformational periods today. We have been walking through one of these transformational periods for most of your lives, it has been building and building until suddenly all among the church at this point in time question where the future actually resides. We are in a cloud of unknowing, only able to see a dim silhouette of what stands before us. But well respected leaders are interpreting that silhouette in different ways and the faithful seem to rally around the various ideas and seem to exclude any and all differing interpretations of what the future holds.
These transformational periods are extremely difficult. It nearly ripped the early church apart and it is nearly ripping our contemporary church as well. But John the Elder, the apostle that saw the church from the very beginning into the changing age speaks great comfort to those of us in the midst of change.
He begins today with two incredibly powerful words, “We know…” We do not really get a full understanding of what the word know means in this context because in English know can mean so much. In the ancient Greek language the concept of know is not connected to any opinion but only the observable facts, and of all the senses sight is the one sense that stands above all other things. “We know…” John says. We have observed this, and we know it to be true in every imaginable way, we experience it, perceive it afresh every moment of our lives, and just when we begin to doubt we observe it again. We Know Love.
That is the number one thing that will get anyone through the most difficult time in their lives, that is the number one thing that will get a community through the major changes that every community faces as the culture seems to reexamine what it will be defined as. Love. We know love. They do not know love, but we know it by this, that he laid his life down for us. That is the most basic of the Christian faith. The simplest and purest form of Christianity is Love and we know love by the example, the very vicarious humanity of Christ taking on human form, living and dying for us. Sacrificing the glory of heaven for a moment to live among mankind to show us how to truly be human as God created us to be. We know this, because we have seen it.
John tells these “little children”, these disciples that were not even alive at the time that these events happened that he saw this happen, he faced the persecutions and the exiles because he knows it to be true, and he knows it because of love. So right there in the very face of change, a change that threatens to rip the very fabric of their known existence in two, John tells them in essence, “Go back to the beginning, go back to what we know for certainty and let us start from there. We Know Love because he gave his life for us.”
This is why it is so extremely important to slow down and start from the very beginning, get to the core of what and who we are as individuals and as a community before we even begin to approach anything else. If we lose track of what we know, we lose everything. Every form of Christianity begins right here, Love. The love that God has for us that we can have a relationship with him because of the sacrifice that Jesus made to lift us back into communion with God once again. Then John goes on to say, “We know love by this, that he laid his life down for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
Love God, Love Mankind. The purest form of Christianity. Before one can even begin to contemplate any other issue we must start at this place. This is why Trinitarian incarnational theology begins with Jesus before they try to explain anything else because it is in Jesus that we know anything. It is in Jesus that we begin to understand God and humanity and what love really is all about. Jesus came and gave everything to and for us, and we ought to do the same for others.
John continues to drive the basics of Christianity home as he says, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” If any verse in the bible could knock us off our feet it is this one. What is meant by the “world’s goods” are things like money, jobs, abilities to create, economics, time, and pretty much anything we consider property. Let that just sink in for a bit. John says We know Love because Jesus sacrificed his life for ours and we should do that as well, and to for others to know that same type of love if we see a need and we have any sort of resource available to us to help that person and we do not act we are not followers of Christ.
The church as John was writing this letter, stood on the threshold of a new era. Everything that they once knew was drawing to a close and the future seemed dim before them. They had to move forward into this unknown somehow, and john says stay with what you know. Love people with everything you have and show them through actions the love of God that was shown to us through Jesus. Today we face changes that really pale in magnitude to what they faced in that day. They faced persecution to such a degree that they would literally embrace one another at every meeting because that may be the last time you ever see a friend. They faced so much yet they gave all they had so that as a community they would survive. Our troubles are quite frankly inconveniences, yet the future is still unclear.
Every day you can read reports and essays about how the younger generations are leaving the church, everyone claims to know the answers in how to maintain the faithful. Very few actually tell us where the youth are going. They are seeking out groups that know who they are and live it every day. People want to gather around those that love people for who they are and are not ashamed to be who they are. So many people are reading these articles and coming up with plans to reach out to the target audience yet in the process they have forgotten the most important thing, which is simply love. Love the Muslim person not because they are Muslim but because they are human, treat them as you would anyone else and as the relationships grow between the two of you God will eventually open the door for you to share your faith. Love the drug addict, the alcoholic, the exotic dancers, the car salesmen, the lawyers, the janitors, the teachers, the preachers, the managers, and the stay at home moms. Love everyone as if they are just as important and just as worthy of the love that God has shown you, and let God direct your way. We do not have to convert anyone to faith, but if we are followers of Christ we must love one another or we are liars.
I know it isn’t easy, that is why we need constant encouragement from each other. That is why we need this time of worship to feed our spirits so that we can continue to love those in the world that do not know the God that loves them. We need each other so that we can keep one another honest and help one another discern the directions that God is opening before us. We need this time of communion as Friends to help us center down, putting all the distractions off to the side for a while, and just focus on the most basic of faith, love for God and love for mankind. As we enter this time of open worship I pray that we will examine what is most important and how we know what that is. And as we examine this let us each allow God to put away the justifications that we have made and just get right back to the center of Loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit and Living the love of Christ with others.
John 20:19–31 (NRSV)
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
(Lk 24:36–43; 1 Cor 15:5)
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Jesus and Thomas
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
The Purpose of This Book
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Last week we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord and King from the dead. We contemplated the question, “what if we actually believed in the resurrection and if so how that would affect the way we live.” I gave us a couple of options to consider, do we kneel before an empty tomb caught somewhere between forgiveness of sins and life, or do we live as conquerors with Christ in his kingdom? I want us to consider this again as we reflect on this passage.
I find these questions difficult to answer even though my professional status within our community is as a spiritual leader. Because I know in my mind that that tomb is empty and it is empty for a reason, yet this happened so long ago. Could we possibly be following some invention of man? Yes, I doubt at times. Doubt is an important part of our faith because doubt should drive us to seek answers. It is only when we dwell in the doubt allow the doubt to consume us where we have trouble. Every single one of Jesus’ disciples doubted. Peter and the disciple that Jesus loved, who we assume to be John though he humbly does not name himself as that disciple, both saw the empty tomb and they went back to the house wondering. They saw the grave cloths that once covered their lord. They knew the ones that wrapped their beloved teacher in those cloths, it might be that those very men were in that very same house and they asked them for a testimony. They sit confused and in doubt. They believe in an empty tomb yet that does not comfort them. They sit there behind locked doors worried that the darkness all around them will take what little hope they have away. They kneel at the empty tomb caught somewhere between, in limbo, a very real purgatory a place between heaven and hell.
The knowledge of an empty tomb does not move them to action. It just adds to their fears, will they have to give an account to the temple official as to why that tomb is barren? If so they face very real problems and they have absolutely no answers. As every moment passes the doubts rise, the fears mount, they remember the teachers of Jesus yet they do little to comfort them because they saw him die and now they do not even have a body to point to as the source of the teaching. The words spoken by their teacher are as seeming empty as the very tomb Peter and John left Mary at.
Mary has a very different experience. She came back with some crazy tale in their eyes. They left her weeping at the tomb, they left her there without an escort weeping, and she returned to the house after going throughout the city excitedly telling everyone that would listen that Jesus was alive that he had spoken to her just outside of the tomb. Peter and John are both contemplating how big of jerks they were for leaving her and wondering if the grief had broken this woman. They allow the knowledge of her past to reenter their minds, she was a woman of great sin…she was once possessed by demons…could they have returned? They sat there looking at her, everyone else was crying and here she was sitting there telling them he was alive, and reminding them of His teachings.
Their teacher is dead, the tomb is empty, they have a friend that had a questionable background that is raving like a lunatic and we wonder why they were sitting with the doors locked. They are bound, they so want to believe but the story just seems so supernatural that they cannot even begin. “Remember that day at my brother’s funeral,” Mary says, “Jesus told us that He was the resurrection and the life, remember that Martha, and what did Jesus do just after he wept with us? He stood at the mouth of the tomb telling Lazarus to wake up. Remember? Look over there! Look at my brother, he was in the tomb for four days and Jesus called him out. He was dead. Martha and I both helped prepare the body, and you were all there and witnessed our grief.” She continued to talk and everyone nodded with agreement, but it was one thing for a living man to call life back into the dead and quite another for a dead man to raise himself.
For hours this had continued. Mary went to the tomb before the sun rose, now it is evening, for an entire day they had sat there with the knowledge of an empty tomb and the fear continued to mount. They sat, stood, paced, they checked the doors again and again, and they jumped at imagined sounds because they knew that the darkness was going to overcome what little hope remained. Suddenly, a voice startled them all. Right there in the center of the room a man tells them, “Peace be with you.” A man that was not there just a moment before, they just checked the doors, they were secure yet a man got in, then they look at him. He lifts up his hands. They see the marks, the marks where nails once occupied. Those mark hands slowly move to his side and they each stare in amazement as the wound from the spear is revealed to them and they all fall to their knees. Again the man says, “Peace be with you.”
They rejoice! Mary is right This Is Jesus! The tomb is empty and there is life. He has risen. He laughs and jokes with them and then he says, “As the Father has sent me so I send you.” The laughing stops. Confusion again settles in. And Jesus walks around to each of them embracing them, and breathes on them. Each one present feels the breath on their face, they breathe in as Jesus exhales before them. Their minds race back to the very dawn of time and they remember the story of their first father and the breath of life that God gave them, they remember the story of the fall, the separation from God that their fall from grace ushered in, and the death that resulted from it. Jesus with his nail scared hands gently touched them brought his face close to theirs and breathed. This is not the breath of a phantom, there is warmth in the embrace and humidity in the air that is hitting their faces. Death no longer held this man, the curse of Adam did not hold him. Life now occupies the body that was once dead, buried and sealed behind a stone. Life is being breathed back onto the ones that were caught somewhere in between. “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He says to them.
Do we get a glimpse into this passage? Do we see the power of the words? In the beginning God breathed life into the clay formation of Adam and he lived. Adam and Eve our first parents once walked with God in the Garden of Eden, the very Garden where the Tree of life and the tree of knowledge stood. The garden was the kingdom it was the place God lived in communion and love, it was the very place that He created to bring pleasure to himself, an outpouring of the great love and joy that flowed from His very being. In that place He created life, and that life was transmitted through breath.
Then sin entered the Garden because mankind sought to take for themselves the gift of knowledge. They looked at the fruit and saw that it was good, they reached out and took what was not given, and suddenly everything changed. What was once living became death. There were two trees one knowledge and one life. They took knowledge, they ate of Sophia and could not handle it. One could say that this is an image of the Trinity. Where humanity tried to harness the power of the Spirit of God, or wisdom without that being given. We were not ready and be in the presence of the raw spirit kills. Consider the first born of Egypt during the plagues, consider those that happened to touch the Ark in ancient Israel, consider the tongue of Zachariah when he questioned God. The Spirit of God is wild it is only tamed and reigned by God himself it is not something to be mastered by man. They ate the fruit and set forth a dangerous chain reaction. They sought knowledge but did not have wisdom. Without wisdom death enters. The affects are still felt today. Read any scientific journal or health magazine, a generation ago they said one thing was healthy and in the next that very thing causes death. A multitude of people took believed in the knowledge of man and as a result they face agony.
But Jesus breathed on them, and says receive the spirit. Receive what was once stolen. Be restored. For in the body of Jesus the Spirit of God was tamed and through Him life returns, creation is redeemed, and reconciled.
Receive, this word is one of deep meaning. Its usage can mean: Take hold of, grasp, obtain, benefit, collect, select, believe, experience, cause to experience, put on, and do. Those very things was the things we as humans try to do through our own efforts, and Jesus breathed on the disciples and told them, “if you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any they are retained.” What is he saying? Though humanity tried to take what was given, I have restored it and have tamed it so that humanity can experience it. We tried to steal the spirit and it brought death, and Jesus tamed the spirit so that those of us in Him can then use that spirit to restore. This is a very powerful essence we wield. It can bring death or life. It can restore or destroy. I failed to mention one possible meaning of the word we translate as receive and that is to exploit.
Exploit. This is the knowledge of man. The use of knowledge to rule over others. The misuse of knowledge to gain what is not ours or to control what is not ours to control. Forgive or retain, exploit or experience. Kneeling at an empty tomb or feeling the breath of life. Do you believe in the resurrection and if so how does it affect your life? Jesus stood there among his disciples in a room that was locked out of fear, he said to them peace be with you, he embraced them and breathed on them and then challenged them. Will you join him? Will you believe in the resurrection or just look into an empty tomb. Will you receive and pass on the gifts of grace or exploit? Will we live lives that will encourage others to take steps toward God or will we bar the gates of heaven? Will we be a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others? That choice lies in each of our hearts and in the collective of our community. But this experience in the room changed everything about the disciples. They once stayed behind locked door out of fear and then they ventured out. And their testimony remains with us even to this day and just as Jesus breathed on them they breath on us and say “Peace, receive, and believe.”
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.