Saturday, October 11, 2008

What to wear to weddings - updated

Readings for Sunday October 12 are here.

Isaiah writes:

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow,
of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,

This seems a precursor of the wedding banquet we hear about in the Gospel but this version in Matthew is very troubling. It is not the Jesus we like - not the inviting presence who continually seeks us even though we turn our backs on him over and over. What can this mean - all this talk of murdering and casting those without proper garments out to weep and gnash their teeth?

The context of this passage sheds a little light on what Matthew may be trying to convey to us. The setting is the last week of Jesus' life. He has been proclaimed as the long awaited Messiah at his entry into Jerusalem riding on the donkey, with palms and shouts accompanying his procession. Next he casts out the moneychangers in the temple. On his way he curses a fig tree for not producing fruit out of season. Just before today's parable Jesus tells of the stewards of the vineyard who kill the son so they might take over the land. Now we hear:
"The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 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.' But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, `The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' 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.
"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, `Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?' And he was speechless. 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.' For many are called, but few are chosen."

The Gospel continues in this way until Jesus dies on the cross. It is unrelenting in its march through stories of separation and judgment.

Matthew writes at a time when the church was beginning to take shape and in some places was experiencing persecution. It is often regarded a "manual" for church leadership. When hearing these stories Matthew is often speaking to the church and the issues facing it, using temple leaders and stewards of the land as code for any leader that falls away from his or her vows to God. Examples tell of leaders who abandon their responsibilities to the community to make personal gain, those who think they are okay no matter how they act because they think they are the "in-crowd," who kill the messenger who tells the truth of their behavior, who worship things more than God, who abuse those who look to them for truth and hope, those who are in the outer darkness even when they think they are doing God's will. The same issues we face today as we struggle to be God's people here in Rock Springs, Wyoming or wherever we find ourselves.

The wedding banquet is the ongoing invitation of God to live in the kindom of God here and now - it is not about the afterlife for the most part. The banquet is open to all but accepting the invitation is also accepting a Way of life. The man without the proper wedding garment has accepted the invitation but does not accept the fullness of the banquet. He is there but not fully. This is the journey of us all.

At first we may hear of God's offer but find other things to do that seem more important. When we realize we are in the place of weeping and saying to ourselves that we have somehow missed the point of life's meaning - we go back to the table. Even then we stray from what we know to be true and have to return again and again. All the people in the parable are us - at different points along the way. We find ourselves off the path, our lives seem like death and desolation - but then we catch hold of our invitation and return to fullness of life.

Paul in the letter to the Philippians offers a prayer for us as we seek our way back to the dream of Isaiah where all our tears are wiped away:
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.

Well - I did not preach this sermon - emailed it to the church - too bad I could not email myself. Roads were closed with many feet of snow and blowing and drifting on the pass. I did have the thought that perhaps why the Cubs lost was because they did not have the right wedding garments!!

Painting by James B. Janknegt

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Oh the places you'll see....

Last spring, our daughter called to say we should take a trip to Scotland together. Scotland is the birthplace of my maternal grandmother. We had gone to Norway a few years ago to see the birthplace of my father so it only seemed right to balance our family tree. She bought the airline tickets and left the itinerary to me. I planned our pilgrimage by thinking of people and places I wanted to see. Now we are home and our ions are beginning to coalesce in one place I am surprised by the depth of the experience and the sense of the Spirit that I encountered and which lingers.

We began in Torquay on the south coast of England, the “English Riviera.” Staying with friends whose guest room overlooks the sea, we spent a few nights getting into the time zone and seeing the sights of the area. Little did I know how Victorian churches were decorated on the inside: a wild cacophony of striped pillars, painted ceilings, and bright colors. Every inch of St. Luke's is covered with images or designs.
After a fire, the ceiling was repainted and Sputnik was included. Around the font a scene of ponies and farm animals had been added. Traveling further out to the moors we crossed the river Dart – hence Dartmouth, Dartmoor, Dartmeet. (duh).

At Exeter (on the river Ex) Richard Hooker’s statue dominates the churchyard and town square as his writings dominate Anglicanism.

Noting the current economic news, the trip to Alyth, Scotland was reassuring in an odd way. Alyth was the town where my grandmother was born. People told us that it was not much changed on the main street and millworkers cottages where she lived until she was about 14 years of age. The closing of the mills to centralize weaving into the larger cities seems to be the impetus for their emigration. Her mother was a power loom weaver and her father was a slater (roofing with slate). The roof over their heads was dependent on working for the mill owner. No mill, no job, no home. It puts modern life in perspective. At church on Sunday one of the hymns was one that was sung at my ordination – serendipity or Spirit?

From nostalgia touring we went to the Island of Iona, home of Columba and Celtic Christianity. More smashing of icons of the mind as we learned that Columba banished all the women to the Isle of Women – nearby but off “his” island. So much for inclusion in that branch of Christianity! Throughout the trip we noticed the merging of old and new in religion, however. For instance, in the wall of the convent built in 1200 is a Sheila na gig.

When the walls were covered perhaps it was not as noticeable but now as the weather takes its toll it is clearly there. I wonder if it was a gift or a joke for the nuns from those who built the building?

Fingal’s Cave was a wondrous as Mendelssohn’s overture portrays it as we discovered on a boat trip to the Isle of Staffa. Towering columns of hexagonally formed basalt from ancient lava flows form the walls and roof.

From ancient Christianity off the coast of Scotland we traveled to Chester Cathedral to see a modern sculpture of the Woman at the Well and Jesus.

I had caught a glimpse of it on the internet and it was in my heart to see it in real time and not just virtually. It is more than amazing. The artist captures the longing of God and humankind for intimacy with one another. As we entered the cathedral once again the same hymn from my ordination was heard as the choir practiced for Sunday. It is not an old chestnut so I have to wonder at hearing it twice in one week, once in a united Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregational church and once in an Anglican cathedral. Is it a message from the Spirit or just chance encounter?

It was a trip like that – things just turned up as we journeyed together – mother and daughter. We connected with sites and sights, our history, old friends, a cousin, and new friends until now only known on a blog or listserve. We made reservations for a bed each night – usually staying at least 2 nights or more but did not overplan our days. We left time for the Spirit to appear, whether in the opportunity to see a concert by a well known folk duo or cream tea with a cousin in the Kensington Gardens' Orangery. And we learned if you have to sleep in the same bed with someone who not your usual sleep partner – order two duvets!!!

Slide show of a few photos here.

H/T to Episcopal Cafe where this was first published.