2008-10-08 by Frank Lewis
This Sunday’s gospel reading contains one of those “hard sayings of Jesus.” A traditional interpretation tells us that Jesus is drawing a clear line in the sand. On one side, ancient Israel has rejected God’s anointed in the person of Jesus. On the other, the good news of the Kingdom continues to be extended beyond the people of promise as may be illustrated in the parable when the second wave of invitations is extended into the highways and byways. In the end, one has come into the presence of the king robbed in his personal best, which isn’t much. We imagine a ragged and dirty man looking for a free meal at the church picnic. Suddenly he’s surrounded by a couple of security guards and removed. We’ve all seen it. End of story.
I’d like to make this part of the lection line up with the verses in Exodus and Philippians. To do so, I need to find an intercessor in the crowd. But this parable isn’t about the Good Intercessor, although it would have possibly made for some great preaching along that theme. Imagine if Jesus had included an Egyptian tailor and his wife who saw and befriended the wedding guest before the king laid eyes on him. Together they could have found a pair of drapes hanging in an ante-room of the palace and stitched, tucked, pinned and pleated his way into some first class party clothes. After spraying some first century odor cover upper toward his direction, they would have joined hands and sung “You’ve Got a Friend.” Later in one of Paul’s letters there would be a reference to Omar and Mervadt’s Drapery to Formalwear business where Paul wintered and put his tent making skills to work creating a new line of missionary attire. We’d connect the dots quickly and end by encouraging our people to be on the lookout for the dirty rag wearing wedding guests in our midst for they may just turn into the Bishop of some modern day excavation site. We preachers love to spin such stories, but that’s not possible with what Matthew records.
My commentaries and preaching books are pretty slim on this parable. Most resemble what I’ve mentioned in the first paragraph, but I don’t want it to end there and the discipline of romancing the texts won’t let it.
If we take this Sunday’s texts in chronological order as the events unfold, we could possibly script a worship plot as follows:
We Baptists love to sing that old hymn “The Solid Rock” written by Edward Mote. (The Baptist Hymnal, 1991 p. 406) It helps me wrestle with the parable as the final stanza proclaims
When He shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne.
I think this is how I would treat the passage this Sunday. First, it’s a parable. Maybe a little exaggeration is employed by Jesus to give the story the punch it needs. Get your robe on, clean yourself up, and start living like someone invited to the party. Don’t expect God to accept you on your terms. God is God, you are not. Yet everything you need has been provided. You have no excuse. There’s nothing more you need to do. Get dressed, and come on in. (It’s been suggested that the King even provided robes for the guests to wear since they didn’t own anything fit for such a celebration. What an image of the gospel!)
Second, I’d remind the congregation that while there is trouble in the texts (restless travelers in Exodus, quarrels and anxiety in Philippians, and a crisis for a man who chooses to stand in the king’s presence improperly attired) God has provided good news for us. God relents of anger, surrounds us with people to help us on the journey of faith, and forever holds out the invitation to come and enjoy the celebration of the kingdom. We don’t have to devise substitutes. We don’t have to let bitterness or anxiety drag us down. We aren’t left outside looking in at the party of grace, unless we choose to stand outside or insist on the garb of our fallen humanity.
The parable is bleak if the focus is on the rejection of the king’s invitation. And while we need to be clear about the seriousness of not taking God’s invitation lightly, it seems to me that the balance is in the invitation itself. A king has invited us to share in the celebration of his son’s wedding. The best food awaits us inside. A robe is hanging with our name on it. None of this is ours because we earned it or deserve it. It’s all a gift. Let’s celebrate.
Frank R. Lewis
No Holding Back
2008-10-07 by Steve Schuette
The Matthew themes continue on…the insistence that violence leads to more violence and that the ending isn’t always “…and they lived happily ever after.” And while Luke records that those invited find excuses not to come, going to their business and farms (Luke 14:16-24), it’s Matthew who includes the bloody killing of slaves. The “slaughter of innocents” never seems to end. And for Matthew the camera always seems to shift to the one who is thrown out rather than all the invited guests who get to rejoice and celebrate the wedding banquet.
And yet Matthew does bring the point home: rejoicing is not an option, just one choice among many. Either we live into this or we don’t. Either we fully give ourselves over to the occasion or we hold a part of ourselves back, coming in but not fully dressed for the celebration. Anna Carter Florence is on to it, I think….either you fully own the joy of God in your life – which is connected in a real way to who you are, what God made you for – or it moves on. And Paul’s joyful, peaceful letter from prison becomes an example of living in a way that is so rooted in these spiritual realities that the circumstances are secondary.
John Shea quotes the mystic poet Kabir in reference to this text: “If you do not cut the ties that bind you now, do not believe that death will do it for you.” Maybe the crises we’re facing are calling us back to a clearer perspective on what is of real value and worth….that the things we are anxious about (business/farm), as Frank suggests, are in the way.
Question: is there any justification for imagining the wedding gown as connected with the baptismal gown?... “put on Christ Jesus?”….that owning one’s call in Christ and one’s identity in baptism is key to fully being oneself and fully participating in the community banquet (communion)?
PREACHNG ON THE ELECTION
2008-10-07 by CJ Teets
Go to HOMEPAGE and Share It! to read Ron Allen's thoughts on preaching during this election season.
Also, check out the new material for All Saints' Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Advent in UNLECTIONARY.
One to Stand in the Breech
2008-10-07 by Frank Lewis
While examining the romance connecting this Sunday’s lectionary readings, a second connection may be found in the expressed role of an intercessor. There is a temptation to say “leader” or even “intercessory leader” but “intercessor” fits the integrity of the texts better. Moses was a leader, but one of his roles as leader is intercessor. Paul is a leader, but he seeks to bring intercessors into the situation between Euodia and Syntyche. The lack of an intercessor in the Gospel story is apparent. I’m left wondering how Jesus’ parable would preach differently had there been a “good intercessor” to befriend the shabbily dressed wedding guest.
In my brief stint as a denominational servant working for our publishing house, I had the unique privilege of visiting the classrooms of six different seminaries within a two-year travel circuit to talk to future leaders about their call to ministry. My assignment was to assure them that the resources they would need for the challenge of local church leadership could be found under our roof and conveniently ordered by calling us toll-free. As soon as I delivered the company line, I rolled up my sleeves, loosened my tie, and began to talk honestly about the real stuff of ministry. Most of this consisted of a brief testimony of my journey followed by an extended Q and A time with the students.
When asked, I tried to be honest. Pastoring is hard work. It is lonely work. You are called to a task that is never finished. Sheep smell and the longer you work with sheep, the more you are going to smell like sheep. The ministry is filled with high moments, but in between those high moments there are going to be board meetings and difficult people. You will be disappointed with the things people say and do. There are going to be times when you will want to quit and walk away from it, but the call will keep you. Always go back to your call.
A pastor will find it hard to read this Sunday’s texts and not feel some of this “real stuff of ministry” especially in the Exodus passage. In his absence, the Israelites grow anxious and use demeaning language in reference to Moses. “This fellow” is a pretty accurate translation from the first verse as they speak of God’s human instrument of redemption and release from years of Egyptian oppression. I can hear a younger voice today calling him “dude” or something similar. In Tennessee he’d be a “two-bit hayseed” which is not a term of endearment. He’s enjoyed his fifteen minutes of fame but now out of sight and up a mountain he’s demoted to the less significant “this fellow” suggesting that however impressive his accomplishments were, they are now a bit suspect.
Making matters worse for Moses is the initial dialogue he has with God. “Your people whom you brought out of Egypt” God says, “are a bunch of stiff necks.” He pronounces judgment on them and is about to consume them with fire.
To borrow a phrase from sports, Moses had “left everything on the court” in giving leadership to the Exodus. He had put up with the people who didn’t believe him, who whined and complained, who stood in his way, and who had to be brought along ever so slowly. He faced down Pharaoh and learned to trust God when nothing about doing so made sense. To have come this far only to hear God say “I’m going to consume them with burning hot wrath” had to be one of the low points of his life. What preacher among us wouldn’t shake a raised fist at God and say “Are you kidding me? After all I’ve been through with these people? Are you serious?”
But this is not what Moses the intercessor does. Not even close. He appeals to the God of the covenant promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. He reminds God that these people belong not to Moses, but to God. He recalls God’s promises and prays them back to God on behalf of these stiff-necks who have no idea how close they are to being vaporized in the presence of their golden calf. Moses knows that God’s reputation is at stake among the nations who worship false gods. He pleads on the basis of that reputation, on the character of God, and as a result the scriptures tell us God relents. The mind of God is changed because someone interceded.
The call to ministry is a call to “stand in the breech” between the God who has every right to judge sin, and the stiff-necks who slither around from one golden calf to another. It is a call to cry out for mercy on behalf of those who have never heard the good news, as well as for those who have heard it and turned a disinterested ear. Harder at times, it is a call that keeps us in spite of being “fellowed” or “duded” into oblivion by people who have no idea of the sacrifice involved in ministry’s demands. We find ourselves standing in the breech in times of church conflict, at the bedside in a hospital, and in confidential matters shared in our offices concerning the most personal aspects of a parishioner’s life. We stand in the breech every Sunday we open the pages of Holy Scripture and proclaim the grace of God. This high and holy calling of ours is at once a great privilege and an enormous responsibility. For someone sitting under the preaching of God’s Word this Sunday, it may be the first time they have ever heard about a god who loves them. For others, it may very well be the last time they will hear good news and eternity hangs in the balance.
This week in sermons all around the world, it might be most appropriate to “call out the called” by crafting a powerful word to those sitting under the hearing of our messages to listen for God’s call in their life to stand in the breech. A future preacher, missionary, or evangelist may be sitting in front of us just primed for God to move through the word proclaimed.
Frank R. Lewis
October 7, 2008
Our guest preaching blogger this week is
2008-10-06 by CJ Teets
Frank R. Lewis, the pastor of First Baptist Church, Nashville, Tennessee. He celebrated his eleventh anniversary as the congregation's senior minister on October 1. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Frank is married and the father of two, a college freshman and a tenth grader.
Frank holds degrees from Samford University (B.A. in Religion and Philosophy), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv), and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (DMin). He was the founding pastor of Green Valley Baptist Church in Henderson, Nevada from 1985-1995, and following a brief stint at the Baptist Sunday School Board where he served as the Preaching and Worship Consultant for his denomination, Frank was called to lead the Nashville congregation which hosted the Festival of Homiletics in 2006.
The pastor enjoys teaching courses at Belmont University as a member of the School of Religion's Adjunct Faculty and has provided field supervision for students at Vanderbilt Divinity School and Beeson School of Divinity.
When he's not preaching and providing pastoral leadership, Frank enjoys martial arts. He teaches a men's fitness class on Sunday nights using Samurai Swords (bokken) and won the gold medal in the Senior Executive Men's Taekwondo Tournament for the Southeast United States in March of 2008.
See his first post below.
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