15 October 2023

One of the toughest question we face as people of faith concerned with justice and peace, is how to hold together the invitation of the Gospel with the confrontation that God’s reign brings against personal and corporate sin and evil. But, as tough as it may be, we do not have the luxury of avoiding this question, and this week’s Lectionary brings us face to face with it in dramatic and helpful ways.

May our worship this week invite us deeper into God’s reign and confront the places in our lives where we refuse God’s reign entrance into us.

Exodus 32:1-14: While Moses is on the mountain with God, the people, struggling with how long he has been gone, ask Aaron to make them gods. He agrees, takes their gold jewellery and makes a golden calf which the people then worship, even though he tries to remind them that their celebration is “to the Lord”.
OR Isaiah 25:1-9: A song of praise to God who brings down tyrants, provides refuge for the poor and needy, brings an end to death and creates a celebration for all people on God’s holy mountain, removing the shame of God’s people.

Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23: A psalm of confession, remembering how God’s people turned away, and traded God for an image of a calf, forgetting God’s saving acts for them. Also, a recognition that God seemed intent on destroying the people, but for Moses pleading on their behalf.
OR Psalm 23: A song of thanksgiving and security, recognising that God cares for and guides God’s people as a Shepherd.

Philippians 4:1-9: Paul encourages the Church to stand firm, to agree with one another, to live as those who await Christ’s appearance, and to meditate on those things that are good, true and beautiful.

Matthew 22:1-14: Jesus tells a story about a king who prepares a wedding feast for his son, but the none of the originally invited guests want to go. So, he sends his soldiers to destroy those guests, and then he invites others from the streets to come in, but when someone is found without wedding clothes, that person is thrown out. Jesus finishes with the well-known saying that many are invited but few are chosen.

This week’s reading are a bit startling, perhaps even shocking, at first glance. The shock is found in the rather violent way that God’s judgement is portrayed, especially in Jesus’ parable. However, this image must be placed in context with another theme that also emerges from the readings this week – that of inclusive welcome. Let’s begin with the Gospel. Here Jesus tells a parable of a king inviting guests to his son’s wedding. When the guests refuse to come, the king responds in anger and violence, but then invites those who would not normally be welcomed to come to the feast. Following the other parables of the last few weeks, this invitation is a clear indictment against the religious leaders who should have been willing to accept God’s invitation into God’s reign, but who refuse. The king’s response in the parable must not be taken literally as God’s response to the leaders, but it does serve to indicate that God does not simply accept their rejection of Christ. Then, there is the further shock of the person who is rejected for having the wrong clothes. This would indicate that entrance into God’s reign requires us to adopt the “clothes” (the ways of being) of God’s reign. The invitation is open to all, but we only experience God’s life when we allow God’s reign into us. With that as the background, then, we can see both the invitation and the confrontation of God’s reign. This is expressed through the other readings as well. In Exodus, the people, who have been rescued from oppression, turn away from God and stir God to anger. But, in the person of Moses as a kind of “conscience” for God, God remembers grace and continues to lead God’s people. In Isaiah there is the song of praise for the celebration (resonant of the wedding feast) on God’s mountain for all people. The Psalms echo the two Old Testament readings, revealing that, as much as God saves us, we need to remember God’s grace and allow it to change us (Ps. 106), and when we do allow this, we know the joy and peace of being like sheep nurtured by a divine Shepherd (Ps.23). Finally, in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the life of grace that is possible for all those who have come into God’s reign and allowed God’s reign into them is described – united, gracious, expectant and focussed on the best qualities of life, all leading to a sense of God’s presence and peace. So, in spite of the seemingly violent first impressions of this week’s lectionary, the conclusion the readings invite us to is the peace of God which passes understanding.

GLOBAL APPLICATION: It can be hard to hold both confrontation and invitation together as we seek to follow Jesus in the world. It is all too easy to emphasise confrontation, judge those with whom we disagree, stand against our opponents and embrace some form of violence in order to achieve our goals – and then, even though our goals may be good, or in line with God’s reign, we end up becoming the same as what we oppose. On the other hand it is all too easy to emphasise God’s invitation, be naive about evil, and run the risk of bringing those who need protection into harm’s way because the ones who threaten them are allowed to continue unchecked. It is crucial then, that we hold these two elements of the Gospel together, recognising that God’s reign does not seek only to bring all people in, but seeks also to get in to all people. It is important that we follow Jesus’ lead in confronting evil and those who perpetrate it. It is important that we hold ourselves and others accountable to God’s standards of grace and justice and peace. However, it is also important that we follow Jesus’ lead in welcoming all people, especially the excluded, marginalised and vulnerable. It is important that, like Jesus, we seek to bring grace and healing, justice and basic survival requirements to those who need it. It is impossible to work for justice effectively unless we do both. And so, this week, we find ourselves challenged to stand against systems, leaders (political, economic, or religious) and structures in the name of justice, equality and peace. We may do this by speaking out, by using our vote, or by praying and living in ways that demonstrate the qualities of God’s reign. But, we also find ourselves challenged to stand with those who are excluded, hurting, marginalised, stereotyped and oppressed. We can do this by working at grass roots level to meet the needs of those who struggle, by marching with those who protest injustice, by giving of our resources to help those in need, or by simply developing relationships with those who need to be welcomed. Naturally, both invitation and confrontation happen together – often simultaneously – and we cannot help but seek to find our peace in both modes of living out the Gospel. Grace, then, is not “soft” or “cheap”. It is powerful and transforming if only we allow Jesus to teach us how to live it.

LOCAL APPLICATION: In every community and relationship there are times for invitation and welcome, and there are times for confrontation and holding people accountable. It is not ungracious to confront abusive spouses and hold them accountable. It is not ungracious to challenge those who mistreat their workers, or to confront those who stereotype or judge others because of insignificant differences. One of the strengths of the Wesleyan revival in England was that, in the class meetings, accountability and confrontation were built into the process of coming to Christ and joining the community. On the other hand, it is not a compromise to welcome those who have been excluded, those who are different, those who need love, direction, help, basic needs or a place to belong. It is not a compromise to put relationship above law, and to stay faithful to relationships even when we disagree. The challenge of the Gospel is to learn, in our homes, our marriages, our churches and our neighbourhoods, to confront graciously and to welcome with integrity. We are called to sacrifice for others, to love others and to welcome others. And we are called to hold ourselves and our companions to the standards of justice and peace of God’s reign. It is as we learn to allow others to hold us accountable, and as we learn to graciously challenge those with whom we journey, that we learn to live as citizens of God’s reign. And it is as we forgive, include and seek to understand others that we discover the richness of God’s grace and the power of God’s reign to transform us in meaningful and healing ways. The question is whether we are willing to do the work and to face the tough realities of living in this invitational/confrontational community that God seeks for us.

The Amazing Invitation
Extending The Invitation
In Defiance
Seeing The Signs
God, You Are Enough

Hymn Suggestions:
The King Of Love My Shepherd Is
Praise, My Soul, The King Of Heaven
Saviour, Like A Shepherd Lead Us
Come Sinners To The Gospel Feast
We Won’t Stay Silent (Link to YouTube video)
Love And Justice

A Liturgy For The Foretaste Of The Heavenly Banquet
A Liturgy Of Compassion

Video Suggestions:
Psalm 106