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The Prickly Guest - Sermon Pentecost +18 (A) 2014

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Sermon delivered to St. Frnacis Lutheran Church
October 12, 2014 - Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

"The Prickly Guest" - Text from Matthew 22:1-14 

 You should listen to the delivered sermon. The text is provided below for convenience, but as with any delivered sermon, I go off the text as the spirit leads me. 




Greetings to you, my family in Christ, sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, children of God.

wedding bowties.jpg

This week has been an impressive week for good news. I'm delighted to tell you, my Saint Francis family, that I have been recommended for a call to Emanuel Lutheran Church in Modesto. The call committee has presented its unanimous recommendation to the Church Council, who has approved it, and now it goes before the congregation itself. And while the significance of the fact that a pastor with a same-gender spouse would be called to an ELCA church in the central valley is not lost on me, part of my own identity is that I am a pastor who happens to have a same-gender spouse, and not a gay man first and a pastor second. Indeed, one of the wonderful things about the changes that have happened in our church in the years since the 2009 ELCA churchwide decision that my identity with regard to lifelong committed relationship with another human being is no longer the first consideration in whether or not I will be called as a minister of Jesus Christ in this church.

But all that aside, I would find it very hard, being the person I am, a man in a same-sex marriage, to be anything but delighted by the decision in the Supreme Court on Monday and the 9th Circuit Court on Tuesday that led to the unjust bans in a series of states, tipping like dominoes. For anyone who is not up on the decisions, Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Utah and Oklahoma have all had their final appeals to the Supreme Court rejected in maintaining those bans, and as a result, Colorado and West Virginia, being in the same circuits as other of those states, have determined that they would no longer spend money fighting to retain their own respective unjust laws. Nevada, as well has decided not to continue spending money fighting against progress, and instead has decided to accept the lower courts decisions overturning its own ban on marriage equality. And only on Friday we found out that Idaho and North Carolina could no longer fight their own respective bans.

Can we call it anything but wedding season? Only last night, my husband and I attended the wedding of two men, two of the first friends we made when we first moved to San Francisco nearly 7 years ago. Among the guests were a large number of people from the community that we have also known since we moved here, some of whom also volunteered to help defray the cost of the wedding by setting up and helping guests find their way to their respective tables.

As sometimes happens in community groups, there are the occasional person who has history with others. The person doing the welcoming was hesitant about one guest who arrived but nevertheless asked her last name in order to present her with her placeholder and table assignment. The new arrival answered, but then rudely told the greeter that she could help herself find her way. The greeter, frustrated by an unresolved history of malice, made an offhand remark about an expiration date of retaining animosity, to which the new arrival said, "You're a mean person, you've always been a mean person" and grabbed her place assignment before the greeter could find out what table she was at.

Out of concern, the greeter related the story to another guest who had arrived earlier to ask if he could find out where the woman was seated, to which the friend said, "I would help you, but she hasn't talked to me in months." However, the friend added, "but it looks like she is hovering around the table you're going to be seated at."

The greeter felt she needed to get the new arrival reassigned to a different table in order to ensure the least amount of problems at the dinner, and managed to pull aside the busy wedding planner for a moment. The wedding planner said to her, "She won't say a word to me, I couldn't even make eye contact with her when I was standing near her a few minutes ago." But at the dismayed look by the greeter, she added, "But I will see if there is a better table."

Momentarily relieved of the responsibility, the greeter resumed her duties at the front door, until after a few minutes, the planner returned to deliver his bad news. "Looking through who has already arrived and who has yet to arrive, I cannot find a table at which this woman will be able to sit that won't be a source of friction. You will simply have to make do.

The greeter managed to avoid the guest throughout the rest of the cocktail hour, and then the wedding went amazingly well, and everyone had a good time. After which the greeter, whose job was now complete, sat at table 5 with her wife with no small amount of apprehension about a possible and inevitable confrontation, however, the prickly woman, who had been seated at the bar isolated, finally approached another guest at the table, asked for her place card, and then left the event. The greeter, relieved that an uncomfortable halo of silence was now eliminated from the table, was nevertheless saddened that this woman could not get past whatever perceived insult that the greeter had given her years ago, and instead live in forgiveness, reconciliation, and serenity.

But other than that, the wedding and feast of my two friends went quite well. Unlike the wedding that shows up in today's Gospel, a parable of Jesus. What is it about this ruler who goes through these great preparations, that none of the initially invited guests show up?

In fact, today's parable is quite troubling in a number of different ways, in both its delivery and its interpretation. For the ruler to present this invitation for his heir that gets met with a flat rejection is unusual in and of itself; but the ruler takes the time to entice his guests with visions of the elaborate set up, and they are still unimpressed and reject him.

But at this point the parable goes from being merely odd to outright absurd, because other than a couple of the guests with seemingly valid excuses, the rest of them take the kings slaves and abuse them and kill them. And in retaliation, the ruler turns on his subjects, and burns the village to the ground, all the time inviting people right off the street, and leading us to wonder just where is this banquet going to take place now?

And if we left the parable there, with the replacement guests at the feast, we would have an account of the something akin to that in Luke and the less familiar Gospel of Thomas, and something that parabolically explains how the great feast is meant for those that will come to it and not only those who are invited, and if we look past the rampant destruction of the city and those who were nasty to his slaves, how he feeds those who are willing to attend. We are left with a sense that we are the guests who were invited and came.

But then we deal with these last few verses. When you think about it, this ruler who had his slaves drag people off the street, discovers there is a guest in his midst who has not found themselves clothed in the appropriate garment, and then sends that person out into the darkness and away from the banquet, just who is this parable trying to reach?

We don't know why the silent wedding guest deemed it unecessary to explain themselves. Maybe they believed the ruler guilty of some imagined sin but could not explain it to them. Maybe they were afraid to be found out guilty of being there under false pretenses, perhaps they were one of the initial guests who escaped the death and destructions. We have no idea why they would arrive at the banquet without the appropriate garment, considering who it was for.

A part of me cannot help feeling sorry for this guest as they stare silently at the ruler. Who is not ashamed to look at them and say, "You are not going to act like that at my feast, standing there, isolating, being a harbinger of gloom at a joyful event. And in some way, this guest, who refused the wedding garment on entry, has isolated themselves. Their silent protest mocking the ruler and daring him to throw them out. The darkness outside is one of their own devising, one which they have prepared themselves for. The weeping and gnashing of teeth are a private hell they have sent themselves into. This is not some trick of the ruler, some devise for an unfortunate misguided fool. He has invited "good and bad" to the feast, and all are prepared for the celebration, except this one.

And have not many of us been there, my brothers and sisters in Christ, at a place where we ourselves felt excluded from a festival because we feel that we are different from others. I know, as a gay man, I believed for a long time the church was not welcoming for me, that the messages that I thought I was hearing told me God didn't love me and that I should not be there. That was a recording in my head that went on and on for years, until thankfully, the world shifted and I was able to hear the actual Gospel and not some bigoted, homophobic interpretation of it.

We are called to this banquet, God calls us to this banquet, this feast. He calls all of us, good and bad, to take part in this joyful feast. The mood is celebratory, the wedding cloaks are weaved of God's love and forgiveness, we wear them in faith and reconciliation. It is a gift of God's to us, in the death and resurrection of God's son, Jesus Christ our Lord, a free gift of grace that although we can reject it, it takes nothing to accept. God's grace is freely available to each and every one of us, regardless of race, origin, gender identity, ability, age or sexuality.

This is a God who feeds his hungry children, comforts her people in need, whose son graces the feast of his body and blood and who sanctifies us through his spirit, so that we may approach his promised, eternal reign in shiny bright wedding cloaks of love, faithfulness and reconcilation.

Amen.

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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on October 12, 2014 2:01 PM.

Let Go, Let God - Sermon for 9/28/14 (Pentecost +16 A) was the previous entry in this blog.

Children - Sermon for Children's Sabbath (10/19/2014) is the next entry in this blog.

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