10.08.2008

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 32:1-14
Psalm 106:1-6, 19 - 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14


This week's readings have us wondering – what does God really expect from us? We sort of like the Micah response...do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Got it. Check it off the list. Can do. And then, what's in it for us. (Did we say that out loud? Really?)

In Exodus, we see our current hero, Moses, on top of the mountain in the wilderness receiving commandments....instructions....from God. God is explaining to the people through Moses what is expected of how they are to live so that they will be able to be in right relationship with God. Meanwhile, down at the bottom of the mountain, Aaron and the rest of these liberated slaves and current wilderness wanderers have lost their patience with Moses and God and whatever is happening on top of the mountain. They haven't seen Moses for a few days and they have written him off and want some thing and some one else to follow. These are certainly people who want to be committed to something....at least they want to take direction from someone....they need someone to tell them where to go and how to live. And so Aaron has a brilliant idea to make a god...an idol for the people to worship and follow. This brings God in to a quick and deep anger. It seems God has lost all patience and is ready to completely wipe out these folks who continue to complain and whose faith continues to regress at the slightest bump in the desert path. It seems like at this moment, both sides of this relationship have failed a bit.....certainly God knew these folks were easily scared and needed some pretty constant attention.....and certainly these folks knew God had delivered them and provided for them and protected them up to this point. What do you think the people really expected of God? As we have followed them during this lectionary cycle, it seems they have been fairly consistently disappointed in how (and at what speed) their needs were met.

In the Psalm as excerpted for this week, we get the viewpoint of a person who is obviously in a different place in life. This writer is able to look back at those same wilderness wanderers and the history that surrounded them and see God's faithfulness and power and protection in a different way than they were able to see. He has a great line in there: "They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass." How often do we do this? Exchanging the relationship we have with God for the image of something pale by honest and thoughtful comparison? It certainly is easier to look back through the lens of history and experience at someone else who obviously failed to see the works of God around them. Read the entire Psalm – it's long. And it is largely a history of Israel's experience of failing to be faithful and experiencing dire consequences. Was Israel's suffering a result of some punishment? Or did their actions set in motion reactions that resulted in crisis? It's hard to know where cause and effect lie.

There is no question that Paul understood / taught / deeply believed we must be faithful to God for God to be faithful to us. This passage from his letter to the Christians in Philippi reads like an elementary school worksheet about "if-then" statements. He encourages his readers / hearers to live in upright ways and then they will receive the Peace of God. Another reading of this is that the Peace of God shows up as we live faithfully.....somehow through the very actions of obedience we are living out / performing. Again, we wonder how does this work? How do our actions and our choices affect us and our relationship with God? And does God respond? Or do we live with consequences we create?

And in the parable Jesus tells us we see another illustration of how this relationship between humans and God works. A king invites all of the best and brightest to his son's wedding banquet, and none of them show up. Hmmm. We'd be a little offended, wouldn't we? The king must have really offended these folks at some point. Not one to waste a good spread, nor one to fail his son and daughter-in-law by not hosting a proper banquet, he turns his servants out to invite the entire community...the dregs of local society. And they come, with joy (and we're guessing a little trepidation). But evidently, these folks knew the local custom and all but one managed to wear the appropriate clothes (show the appropriate respect) for the banquet. Woe to the one who did not. We see that obedience is required and expected against the penalty of death and banishment. If asked to come to the wedding banquet, it seems the thing to do is to put on your best wedding robe and show up....immediately if not sooner.

All of these stories seem a bit like the wool sweater worn on a day that is just a little too warm. They are uncomfortable. They are chafing. The difficulty for us with all of these examples is that they all seem to lack the Grace we prefer to read in to the scriptures. Maybe we have a wishful and inappropriate reading of the gospel story, but it seems that when we read the full scope of the story we find more of an allowance for mistakes. And yet, we live in a world full of sad stories and uncomfortable circumstances. What role do we have in creating it, and if we are faithful – really outrageously faithful – can we change it?

What is your gut level response to the readings for this week?
What is your response telling you about yourself? About your relationship with God?
Is covenant a reciprocating relationship, or simply a faithful relationship? What is the difference between those things?

The Kaddish
Let us magnify and let us sanctify the great name of God in the world which He created according to His will. May His kingdom come in your lifetime, and in your days, and in the lifetime of the family of Israel--quickly and speedily may it come. Amen.
May the greatness of His being be blessed from eternity to eternity.
Let us bless and let us extol, let us tell aloud and let us raise aloft, let us set on high and let us honour, let us exalt and let us raise the Holy One--blessed be He!--though He is far beyond any blessing or song, any honour or any consolation that can be spoken of in this world. Amen.
May great peace from heaven adn the gift of life be granted to us and to all the family of Israel. Amen.
May He who makes peace in the highest bring this peace upon us and upon all Israel. Amen.

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