October 9, 2011 Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14 Psalm 23
1st Reading: Isaiah 25:1-9 2nd Reading: Philippians 4:1-9
“Praise” “rejoice” “let us be glad.” I, of course, wrote all this before yesterday when my dad's wife took her own life. It is certainly affecting me, but even after all that, I still stand by these words and believe joy to be a state of being that doesn’t change based on happenstance. I picked out these commands from our readings this morning because sometimes I can be too serious and sometimes I look around and wonder if we’ve come here to church to be solemn and feel guilty or to give thanks to God for how good God is. And there is no reason it can’t be both, but sometimes I look around for that joy and don’t see it on people’s faces. There is a nearby church who calls the sanctuary the “celebration center” and another one nearby that has for its baptismal font the “celebration bowl.” This word reminds us of the joy that comes from believing in God. We are a reserved people. We don’t want to look stupid. We often keep our feelings hidden, whether they are joyous or sad. We don’t want to be like those holy rollers with their Amens and Hallelujahs, do we? I remember I used to sing, “If you’re happy and you know it then your smile will surely show it” and looking around and not seeing anyone smiling. We’re Lutherans.
So let’s see does anyone have anything to praise God about today? I invite you to share one thing with your neighbor that you have to praise God about. I’d say, don’t stop here. Share that with someone else you meet this week. You can leave all the religious stuff out of it and just say how thankful you are that this or that is the case.
Isaiah is praising God for many things. God has done amazing things, made wonderful plans and carried them out. God has been a refuge—has anyone here experienced God as a refuge or a safe place? God has fed the people—we experience that every time we share the Lord’s supper, but this supper is found in every meal we eat. Let’s remember that this morning at coffee hour. Sip that cup and taste the Lord’s plan, planting those beans, the hard work that goes into growing them, the harvest, the processing of them, getting the husks off, washing and soaking and drying them, the sorting them, the roasting them, the grinding of them and the shipping and stocking and brewing. And then that feeling of coffee in your mouth, God’s plan, the third Lutheran sacrament, the goodness, the holiness, something greater than its parts. And pay attention when you eat your lunch and dinner, the texture, the flavors, the ingredients and where they came from and what it took to gather them and get them in this form, who cooked it and where the energy came from to do so. There is so much to be thankful for, to pay attention to in God’s plan for feeding us with rich food and well-aged wine. God has a plan for the future, to swallow up death, to wipe away tears. God has done so much for us and still plans to do more—much more. We have so much to smile about. We have so much to be thankful for.
Paul also tells the people of Philippi to rejoice and in case they didn’t get it, he repeats it and tells them to do it always. None of us feels like doing it all the time, but Paul seems to be saying it is a state of being, a choice. You can’t always be happy. You can’t always get what you want, or so say the Rolling Stones and they would know. It is saying whatever your circumstance, focus on the positive. Focus on what is true, honorable, just, pure, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. There is always something to be grumpy about or feel guilty about. Don’t dwell there. Instead, turn your thoughts toward what is positive in any situation and focus on that and you will experience God’s peace.
Now this Gospel is really puzzling. I’d almost rather not even read the ending paragraph there where the poor guy gets thrown out of the wedding but if you start throwing things out of the Bible, it gets to be a slippery slope. It seems to go against the whole parable where Jesus says that everyone is welcome, the good and the bad. It seems petty to exclude someone because of what they’re wearing. Some scholars have suggested that Matthew embellished Jesus’ story a little bit because his community was uncomfortable about including absolutely everyone. This part of the story only appears in Matthew, so maybe that could be true. He might have misremembered part of the story to fit his community.
I’m thinking, though, that maybe this guy came to the party, but he wasn’t really partying. He wasn’t really celebrating or rejoicing. His heart wasn’t in it. He wasn’t fully dressed for the wedding. He wasn’t putting any effort into it. Many times you get out of something what you put into it. It seems those wedding garments were available to everyone who came to the party. It is like he wouldn’t wear a party hat or have cake or sit and eat with the others. At a party, you have to make an effort to enjoy yourself and get into the spirit and this guy just isn’t there and he’s spoiling it for everyone else. He was just going through the motions, making faces, and being a spoil sport. So he’s asked to leave.
I wonder if sometimes we encourage people to subdue their joy and check it at the door at church. Sometimes this doesn’t seem like that joyful of a place. Other times it does. I know it is a matter of balance, but I fear more that we don’t celebrate enough than that we do so too much. When visitors come, do they sense our joy and hope and get swept up in it on a regular basis? When we sing, do we feel like smiling? Do we come in our wedding robe, in full sequins and feathers and in our shiny shoes and sparkling eyes or do we sometimes hide our lamp under a bushel? I’m sure it is a little bit of each, probably more on the reserved side.
Let me tell you some things that I have found very joyful around here lately. Little Nicholas, Barry and Ellen’s grandson, helping to read the lessons brings a smile to all our faces. It gives me joy when Jessica and Cheyenn light the candles so respectfully at the altar. I leaped for joy when Doug’s email came this week that there was no trace of his cancer on the PET scan. I smiled at the sound of the tone chimes practicing the other night. I rejoiced when our visitors last week were shown the candle table and engaged in a conversation with several standing around there. I gave much thanks to God when our office helpers showed up and gave their help while Susan is on vacation. I rejoiced to see food piling up in the barrel and the girl scout troupe come to sort it. I give thanks that my uncle is staying with my dad over the coming week and that our family comes together to support each other. I give thanks for a beautiful day yesterday. I give thanks for my wiggly fetus and all the people getting ready to welcome this new person. I smiled inside when I saw each of you drive in this morning and come in to the church. There is so much to be thankful for, to smile about, to rejoice and praise God for if we just look. And if there is any place to let it all hang out and to let your smile really show it, this is the place, God’s house, and then take that bright smile out to show others the light of Christ.