“The Beginning of Love” Mark 1:1-8

I want you to take a moment right now and do a memory exercise with me.  Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and clear your mind.

Take another deep breath, and let it out slowly, and I want you to bring to mind a moment when you knew – were absolutely sure– that you were loved.

Let it sit there for a moment.

Maybe it’s a memory involving a parent.

Maybe it’s a memory of the first flowering of love with that special person, when the emotion of love and acceptance washed over you, or the heart skipped a beat, and you were overwhelmed, bringing the flood of tears, the catch of breath, or the lump in the throat.

Live in that moment… for a moment… and hold on to it.

Now I want you to take another deep breath, slowly let it out, and I want you to bring to mind a very different moment.  This was a moment when you were loved but it didn’t feel like love at first.

Maybe it was a truth about yourself, spoken by someone whom you love and respect, — a word that stung in the moment but that needed to be said, and you knew that it was said in love, though it made your cheeks burn and your eyes sting.

Maybe it was the moment of a quarrel with the beloved, when harsh words were exchanged that made eventually for a breakthrough in your love and understanding of each other, but in the moment of heated exchange truly hurt.

Perhaps your moment of being loved when it didn’t feel like it was love was when the parent lifted you as a misbehaving child and escorted you out of a room to correct your behavior or attitude.

Maybe it was a person berating you for your performance because that person knew that you were capable of so much more, and wanted you to see yourself in that way.

Maybe it was the tender hands of a nurse or loved one changing a bandage after an injury, or work you through therapy after a surgery.  You did not want them to touch the wound, work the joint for the pain it would bring.

They did not want to unbind it, pull the tape, press or stretch or open the wound for the pain they knew they would inflict.

But you both recognized that the actions taken were born of what needed to be done to heal, and was done as caringly as it could be for the sake of healing and future.

Live in that moment, for a moment… hold on to it.

Now hear the beginning of Mark’s Gospel again, and hear it like that second moment.  “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness:”

I think the Gospel of Mark is all about the love of God that does not always feel like love at first.

There is a lot of truth telling in Mark’s Gospel.  John appears proclaiming a baptism for repentance, which of course implies that you’re going to be doing some soul searching.  You don’t do repentance without first considering all the things you’ve done wrong, all the screw-ups you’ve made, all the things that are amiss in this world of which you have been a part.

Those things will get drowned out in the waters of repentance, but they don’t die easy.

It takes a truth-teller, a lonely voice crying in the wilderness to bring you to the waters.  You don’t just make your own way to the river, you come at the cry of the one who is like Elijah, who does not come to stroke your ego and tell you what a wonderful person you are, but is much more like that parent who scoops your misbehaving butt up in his arms to whisk you away for consideration of what you’ve done.

And the way that John prepares?

Well John is preparing the way for Jesus, not for you.

No one is clearing any pathways to make your life easier.

John is clearing the path for God to get to you!

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight.   John’s work is clearing the way for God to get to you.  There will be no pew to duck under, no hill to hide behind, no obstructions to slow God down as he comes to grab you.

That can be perceived as comforting.   At last to be safe in the arms of God!

Or, if can be disconcerting if you’ve spent your life trying to stay just one step ahead and a little out of reach of God’s grasp.

Take your pick, it’s love that is coming for you, but what kind of love?

Is it the love that makes for the lump in the throat and the heart welling in the chest, or is it the kind of love that stings in the eye and reddens the cheek, for both are possible here!

Both are,(in fact) needed.

You cannot have love without the telling of truth.

You cannot experience love without unbridled acceptance of where you are right now.

Mark’s gospel ends up full of stories about how when love comes near and does what love does, the reactions are varied.

Love as it comes near brings joy, but it also drives out demons.

Love in Mark’s gospel will lead some to be saddened, some to be disappointed, others to be ecstatic and still others left to wonder what it was that just happened to them.

That’s the way love works.

On our best days, we see love clearly.

But most days, well it’s only the beginning of love that we behold.  The start of something that continues to unfold, and love (like a highway for our God) both leads us somewhere, and brings something to us that we had not anticipated or expected.

This week in Advent we look for love.

We hear the beginning of the Good news that comes from preparing for the Son of God.

We live in moments.

Moments of repentance.

Moments of realizing that this is all about God, and not so much about us.

Moments where we find ourselves simply passive bystanders to the activity of God in our midst.

And other moments, where we are all too keenly aware that God has come near.   One more powerful that John with his promises has spoken to us, and to our hearts.

One who wields the Holy Spirit, and who drenches us with it has come near.

Sometimes that love, and the drenching of the Holy Spirit upon us comes as a warm affirming presence.

And at other times, it is like a shock of cold water to us.  A chastening urge that expects more of us, wakes us up, and demands of us because of who we are and whose we are.

So, how are you feeling the love this Advent?

God is coming for you, and the way has been cleared.   Are you ready for a new beginning, for that is what love always brings?

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“God Is Near” Mark 13:24-37

It may well be that you will hear this Gospel lesson a little differently this Advent.  Perhaps, I dare say, more as those first century Christians might have heard it.

Why do I say that?

Because most scholars agree that when Mark penned this Gospel and particularly this chapter where Jesus seems to talk right at us in the first person, he was writing into the face of the world as he knew it coming apart at the seams.

It is widely understood that this little apocalypse is penned right after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D., prompted by a Judea insurrection and revolt against the Empire.   The city is placed under siege.  Food is scarce. Insurrectionists are rounded up and crucified, at the rate of 500 per day Josephus recounts, so that the Legions ran out of wood to build crosses.

The Temple rebuilt by Herod the Great was constructed of massive, Herodian construction stones, each weighing from several to hundreds of tons.  You still see the immensity of scale on the remaining Western Wall or “Wailing Wall” where Jews go to pray to this day.   Stones so massive and well carved that it was all but impossible to put a knife blade in the seam.  In all, the message meant to convey by Herod in the building of the Temple was “this one will stand forever.”

The Temple is burned and then dismantled stone by stone until it stands in ruins.

The world is coming undone.

It was Judea’s Pearl Harbor, it’s Dunkirk, or its 9/11.  Watching something fall that you thought would be there forever.

As the Temple falls, so also goes the economy and the social welfare structure.  There is no place for the poor, the widow, the orphan to go for relief.

The destruction of Jerusalem is the collapse of all social structures, all means of commerce, all means of welfare, health care and the vaunted “Pax Romana,” the promise that society would continue to operate as normal made by the Roman Empire is replaced with war, siege, and the end of all local governance.

The world is unravelling before the author’s eyes.

So, this Advent, as we watch our own “world unraveling” we might hear this lesson differently.

We are watching the careening of tax plans, the indictments of high officials, the unraveling of state and national government agencies, the reversal of policies, the saber rattling of nuclear nations, and the uncertainty of who to trust anymore for a variety of reasons.

The world as we know it feels like it is coming undone around us.

It’s perhaps small comfort to realize that what we experience is not nearly as bad as what Mark’s audience lived through, but still there are parallels.

Some seem to delight in the deconstruction and unraveling of things.

Still others are made anxious and fearful.

When we hear biblical texts talk about impending doom, darkening skies, falling stars, rolling clouds approaching, and the shaking of powers.  We might therefore be filled with the same kind of anxiety as Mark’s audience.

What’s next, we wonder?

We live in that kind of a world of dread these days, where you’re not sure what next shoe will drop, or what new allegation or threat to the world as you know it, expect it to always be, will pop over the horizon.

It’s important therefore that we hear what it is that Mark asserts in the face of an unraveling world; for it is not what we might assume from other apocalyptic visions.

Normally the words of warning in Apocalyptic would be followed by the great and terrible things that will happen and how the world will be sorted out in the end.   There would be accounts of who would be judged, and who would be saved, and who would thrown into the outer darkness.  We just heard such predictions from Matthew’s Gospel.   Sheep and goats and all of that.

But for Mark, these darkening skies, falling stars, rolling clouds and shaken powers signal something else.

Not more doom and disaster, but rather visions of hope.

“He is near!”   Mark confidently asserts to the visions of an unraveling world.

How can that be?

You might be forgiven if you don’t know how that works, or maybe better, if you don’t remember how that works, for we all have a bit of a selective memory when it comes to experiencing adversity and uncertainty.

We remember that as a difficult time.

We remember the details of how awful it was, much as I list off the events of the Jerusalem revolt.

While you are in the midst of trouble and difficulty, it is terribly hard to see any way out, any hope of return to normalcy.

If, however, you search your memory of the tough times, the really tough times you have lived through, you might begin to recall something else.

You might begin to recall how it is you made it through.

I remember with stark clarity the stories my grandparents told about the 30’s, about the uncertainty, the people who walked away from their farms, the lack of food, the failure of crops and dust storms.

But I also remember the stories of how they found God to be present.  “We didn’t have much but we always had something… enough.”

It takes a little more work, and maybe a little more encouragement.

It might also take an outside witness.   For, while you are in the midst of the awful experience, it might not be possible for you to see any glimmer of hope at all, not until someone points it out to you.

That’s what Mark does here.

Just when it looks like the last string of the world is about to unravel, “then you will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds.”    Jesus confidently promises.

Just when it looks like all is lost, then Jesus in Mark looks at us directly and asserts that you will see that the Son of Man comes not to mete out punishment, dread and judgment, but rather to “gather the elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth.”

From the Fig Tree that Jesus cursed back in chapter 11, that looked like it was finished; “look for the tender new growth…and know that summer is approaching.”

“He is near!”

When is Jesus near?   Well, watch for him in the evening, midnight, cock-crow and dawn…. All those hours of the Crucifixion that will read about in Mark 15.  The very times when we might expect Jesus to be farthest from his disciples, that is when he is actually nearest!

How can that be?

Well, I’m not exactly sure how it works, except to say that is exactly how it works.

Looking back over my life, I recognize that my prayer life was never better than when I was deeply worried or experiencing significant hardship.  When the diagnosis came, when the treatment was being endured, when the call was ending, when the conflict was at its most intense…that was when I prayed best.

I needed God to be near then.   I could not feel God’s presence, and so I sought it out, and discovered that he was near!

That’s not to say that I would recommend getting neck deep in trouble or hardship as a prayer discipline to enhance your ability to pray and trust, I’m just telling you that’s how it works.  When I thought God was most distant, that’s when God was nearest!

My Stewardship is never better than when I have made a decision to give even when it didn’t seem like I couldn’t afford to.    There was something about deciding to give that re-organized all my other priorities, and the way I viewed and used all my resources.  When I made the decision to give, I discovered that I had more than enough.  God was near!

I’m not saying that if you give, God is going to shower blessings upon you in some “quid-pro-quo” prosperity Gospel fashion.

I’m just telling you that though I felt I had little to give, or that giving was a significant sacrifice, it nevertheless gave me greater joy and I discovered God was near.  God was found in the daily decisions of what I could and should spend on myself as opposed to on helping others.

My bible reading is never better than when I am struggling to understand a particularly vexing passage.   When I am beating my head against the words, that’s when God seems closest to me, struggling with me, present with me in a way that makes me question, and ask, and inquire and to listen anew.

There is, in other words, something about adversity that lends opportunity for God to be near in a way that we do not experience God’s presence if life is always rosy.   It is at that express moment when it feels like the world is unraveling that you therefore must be most vigilant and awake and open to the signs of God coming near, to the sign of new life, to the gathering from the furthest reaches, to the entrusting of things to you with the promise to return.

That is the promise that exceeds all others.

Stones will topple, but that does not stop the Son of Man from coming near.

Systems will fly apart, but that does not keep God from gathering the elect from the four winds and the far reaches.

It may seem as though God has left the building, but the promise of return is most acutely felt.

Keep awake, keep alert to the moment and see what God is about to do.

Sometimes it takes darkening skies, falling stars, rolling clouds approaching, and shaking powers to get our eyes off ourselves long enough to look in hope for what God may be doing, in our very midst.

You might hear these Advent Gospels differently, because your world may indeed be unraveling in so many ways.

But, dear ones, do not hear them for warnings of awful things yet to come.

Hear them for the promise they bear witness to, that “He is near, at the very gate!”

Be awake to God’s presence.

See what God is up to, and look for the signs of hope in the midst of the unraveling, for God is surely near.

“Entrusted by Name” Matthew 25:14-30

We are in the second week of our look at Matthew 25, that chapter that deals with the fancy word “Eschatology” or looking at the end, judgment, the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Last week we took a look at the parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids, and the matter of oil, and being ready for the arrival of the Bridegroom.  If there was a take-away, it was that the Bridegroom will come and there will be enough light to recognize him, so maybe don’t obsess so much over your own oil, what you have in your own hands or on hand, or go chasing after things for yourself that make you miss the Bridegroom’s arrival.

Preparation is about being ready to welcome the arrival of the Bridegroom, not getting your own affairs in order.

This week the focus shifts from preparation to opportunity, or more specifically, what you do with an opportunity when it is handed to you.

When we go to Confirmation Camp in Nebraska, as you drive on to the camp property you are greeted with a sign that says, “Welcome to Nebraska Outdoor Ministries, Camp Carol Joy Holling.”

It’s an unusual camp name.  Most Lutheran camps are variations of “Luther” or named for the place they are located.  But the story of Carol Joy Holling Camp is a story about opportunity, and recognizing it.

Carol Joy Holling was the daughter of George and Irene Holling.  She had been tragically killed in an automobile accident on her way to college way back in 1954.

As George retired from farming in 1974, the family approached the Bishop at the time with a proposal.  They would gift the 320 acre home place to the larger church with the stipulation that within 5 years there would be youth camping taking place on the site in the name of their daughter.

There were no start-up funds for any programming or staffing.  That the Lutheran Church in America would have to provide.

In 1979, the first camp session was held, operating out of the existing farm house for a kitchen and gathering space and using platform tents for the campers to stay in.   356 children took part in the program that first year.

By 2016, the overarching entity called “Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries” now served 1500 youth annually in one of its 5 program areas on the original gifted site at Carol Joy Holling.   This is in addition to the 16,000 people who will use the camp program sites off-season for retreats and conferences, and the over 300 people with special needs and disabilities that will be served in the various programs to make camping possible for people with special needs.

What was a gift of 320 acres and no money for start-up, is now a ministry with assets of  8.6 million dollars serving both the church and the larger community.

It is the story of an opportunity seized.

When you look at the parable of the Talents, the theme that runs through it all is one of recognizing and responding to opportunity when it presents itself.

Each of the servants/slaves are given a gift in measure of their ability.

Two realize the opportunity.  They seize it.   Given something they could not have dreamed would ever be theirs as mere servants or slaves, (the chance to better their position and standing in life,) they seize upon it.

One however, is afraid.

Afraid of the Master, or what he thinks the Master is like.

Afraid of taking a risk, he resorts to what would have been the established minimum of the day.  He buries what is given to him, returning it intact to the Master when it is asked for.  That’s all you can expect out of life really, (the third servant figures,) the lot you already have.

His is a story of an opportunity lost.

We get sidetracked in this parable by all the details of amounts, or trying to figure out what the third servant did “wrong.”  He didn’t do anything wrong according to the laws of the day.   Burial of funds was an acceptable way of storing treasure before banks and FDIC insurance.  Returning what legitimately belonged to the Master seemed prudent, especially if you’re worried about disappointing a “harsh man.”

In a way, all three servants get the Master that they deserve and expect here.   The two who seized their opportunity find a Master who rejoices with them.

The one who was afraid of risking, expecting harsh treatment, got just that.

So, as one interprets this parable and what it means for us today, one “tact” to take would be to focus on the matter of lost opportunities, or what causes us to miss them.

If the church had been cautious in 1974, or said, “we can’t raise or commit the start-up funds,” or didn’t risk hiring a camp director for no program to try I for a year, there would be no Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries.  No camp Carol Joy Holling Camp for youth or adults, no lives affected.

How much risk are we willing to take?  What are the opportunities placed before us?

Can we recognize them, seize upon them?

And that might indeed be fruitful conversation in this day and age where opportunities are hard to recognize, and where risk seems all too real.

But I’d like to draw your attention instead to the nature and character of the Master in the parable, and what this Master knows about his servants.

The Master “entrusts” what he has to his servants, and he does so we are told, “to each according to their ability.”

I want you to let that soak in for a moment.

This is not a picture of a distant or untrustworthy master but rather one who has unique insight into those who have been serving him, and has developed a level of trust that begets trust.

What does it mean that you have been entrusted with something that you have been given according to your ability?   It means someone sees something in you.  You are capable of doing this, whatever “this” is.  Whatever has been placed upon you, entrusted to you.

You probably have a general feeling about what it is that you have been entrusted with.

It’s different for all of us, for all of us have different abilities, different “callings” if you will in this world.  The great temptation is to think that we’re not really up to it, whatever this “calling” is that we feel.   Whatever seems to have been entrusted to us.

The world is changing, too fast for many of us, and we can’t keep up.  Occupations, workplaces, procedures, institutions, the list is long of what we feel inadequate to handle anymore.

Is it time to chuck it all?   Bury it?  Call what we’ve done already “good enough?”

Would God really blame us?  Surely if anyone knows how hard it is these days to keep up, live up to the demands placed upon us and the expectations of others it is God, our Lord and Master.

I can confess that understand the desire to bury the talent. It is safe, and simpler, and what you do if you’re afraid.

But God as it turns out is an “entruster.”   God entrusts those who follow with the work laid before them and gives ability in measure to meet it.

God gives in measure of what God believes our abilities to be, which is really good news because that means that God does not give indiscriminately.

God gives in measure to what you are capable of doing, and then trusts that you will do it.

The question before me, before us all is is “Do we understand that we have been so entrusted?   Will we do what God knows and believes we are quite capable of doing?”

That, dear people of God, is the question we face daily.

We face it as parents and grandparents and students.

We face it as teachers and workers and as those who have retired.

Some face it with the ability just to get up and get moving in the morning, that is challenge enough.

Others face it in the routine of the day, the in and out of things that never look like they are changing that much, but often changing too rapidly for us to keep up in subtle ways.

We face it in the “business as usual” for politics which does not seem to change and yet effects and inflicts changes upon us with every new appointment, proposal and tweet.

So much in this world makes us want us to grab our shovel, dig a hole, bury what we’ve got to try to hold on to it, or dig a hole and bury our head in it to let it all pass by.

Would God really blame us for just trying to maintain “status quo” in our lives, in the church, in our relationships and our callings?

The parable answers that question.   To bury the talent is to take the view of God as someone who does not know us, or is harsh at least.

To bury what we have been entrusted with, to not do it, would be to get the God we deserve.  A God who deserts and abandons, takes away what little we think we have and casts us out, for that is what we expect in return for squandering our opportunities.

I told the Carol Joy Holling story earlier, about the gift of 320 acres to start a youth camp, but I’ll bet most of you focused on the wrong parts of that story.

I’ll bet you focused on the 320 acres, and what a gift that land was.

I’ll bet you also were impressed with the numbers, – the campers served, the number of program sites now, the people whose lives have been impacted.

I’ll bet very few of you keyed in on what should be considered is the most precious thing with which the Hollings entrusted to the church.

They entrusted their daughter’s name to his venture.   Carol Joy Holling.

If they had just made a gift of a farm, well that might have been accepted or declined.

If all that was at stake was some vague vision of wanting youth camping, that might have been worth pursing but whether it succeeds or fails, well that’s just a matter of program decisions of finding the funding.

But what George and Irene entrusted to the church was a name.  Make youth camping happen in our daughter’s name within five years.

By entrusting the church with a name, much more was at stake than just a piece of land or an idea.

So maybe as we hear this parable, what we need to do is insert our name into this insistence of being entrusted and capable.

That’s what happens in Baptism, after all, we are named children of God.  A name is attached to letting our light shine.  A responsibility is given to us by name to do good works that we are told will glorify God, the Master.

God thinks you are up to it even before you can do anything for yourself.

That is how trusted you are with this Kingdom business.  God entrusts it to you, and to me, and rejoices when we do whatever measure of it we can, because that is what we are capable of doing.     You are entrusted, have you ever felt that?

“Remember” All Saints 2017. Matthew 5:1-12

It’s the same lesson every All Saints Sunday, Matthew or Luke’s Beatitudes.  Thirty-two years of preaching on this, you’d think I would have pretty much said it all and repeated myself a few times over.

In fact, I have at least repeated myself since it hasn’t been 32 years in the same place.  I’ve fudged and reworked the “Blesses ares” more than once.

But it is also the case that certain times and circumstances give one a unique perspective, allowing one to “see” things in the words and actions of Jesus than one did not notice before.

This is such a year.

I’m hearing, experiencing the Beatitudes differently because of how thoroughly aware I am of the power of Empire these days.

You can disagree with me, of course.  You can say that we’ve always been at the mercy of state and federal regulation, legislation and felt far removed from the “sausage making” of governance.

However, in my memory I have never felt quite as disenfranchised or disconnected as I do now.  I have never felt quite as “helpless” to effect change on things that impact me on a daily basis.

I have never quite felt the same connection with the events as recorded in the gospels, of what those times were like for a people who found themselves living in a time of Empire.

In the topsy-turvy world of a tweeting president who signs an executive order that up-ends the lives of many, I am feeling all the more poignantly the words from Luke’s birth narrative.  “And a decree went out from Caesar Augustus ….”

In Empire you see, pronouncements are made with little thought given as to how they will affect those of little power or influence.   Things are done, pronouncements are made with the promise that it will be “good for you in the long run.”

In the sideline of conflicting news, fake news, and news sources that are questionable or questioned I have never felt more clearly a kinship with the events of the trial of Jesus, where we are told that false witnesses were brought forward, “but they could not agree upon their testimony.’

In Empire, truth becomes whatever those in power conveniently say that it is. Those in power would prefer it not be up for consideration, investigation, scrutiny or debate, but rather just accepted as it is pronounced.

And in this Gospel lesson for today there is a detail that jumps out at me as it never has before.   Listen to the start of this story again.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the….

        It’s the “them” in this passage that catches my attention this time.

Who is the “them?”  Who is it that Jesus is teaching?

The language is intentionally ambiguous.  Jesus takes note of the crowds as the opportunity for the teaching, but then he sits down, which would be more indicative of this teaching being addressed to the close-by disciples, not the crowd in general.

We call this the “Sermon on the Mount” and we have a mental image that it was delivered for all to hear, but practically it would be hard to project from a sitting position so as to be overheard by the crowds assembled.

That is a detail that is not lost on the comic writers of Monty Python as they joke about it in the scene from their movie “The Life of Brian.”   When Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  A woman in the crowd pops up and says, “What did he say?”

To which another man responds “I think he said blessed are the Cheese-Makers.”

“What’s so special about the cheese-makers?”  she asks.

He then responds, “well it’s not to be taken literally, clearly Jesus is referring to any manufacturer of dairy products….”  And on the scene goes on, and it is funny but it also makes one think.

What difference would it make to hear these words of Jesus as something that was intended for the near-by disciples, and not meant to be cast out to be overheard by the crowd immediately?

How might we imagine these words?

When as we come forward for communion on All Saints Sunday, we are invited to take a few moments to stop and light a candle for a loved one who has departed.

Maybe we aren’t all mourning here today, or hungry, or persecuted, but I’ll bet it would not take long if we took some time to identify people, a whole crowd out there beyond our walls who fit the blessings Jesus speaks of this day.

The words of Jesus are for them.

And with every candle lit, we remember one who has gone before us, we remember also the words from our Baptismal service, the words of Jesus —  “Let your light so shine before others….”

Maybe when Jesus did his “Blessed are” teaching, it was meant for the inner circle as they sat there looking out over the crowds and all their circumstances that day.   Spoken for them to hear as they survey the crowd before them.

Who will let “them” know that they are blessed?

Jesus has said so.  We heard it.  He has reminded us, but the crowd we behold this day and every day can’t overhear him, not from their vantage point, so who will let them know?

How do you see those crowds out there?

Do you see them from the perspective of learning at the feet of Jesus?

Do you see the crowd differently than you used to as you listen to Jesus, or do you find yourself being lured into seeing the crowd as Empire tends to sees them?

Do you see the poor as Jesus does, or do you see them through the lens of Empire?  The crowd, the unemployed as a drag upon the economy?

Do you see the meek out there in your view as Jesus does, or do you look upon them through the lens of Empire?  See them as suckers born every minute, and if they can’t figure out how they are being scammed, then they deserve to be preyed upon by the stronger.  It’s the natural order of predator and prey, after all – or as we might say, “a dog eat dog world.”

Do you see those who mourn as Jesus does, or do you look at the mourning with the eyes of Empire?   All that violence on the streets, the communities mourning the death of their youth, their husbands, their mothers and fathers…. what we need is more enforcement, more soldiers, stricter penalties and longer sentences.  Subjugate the violent with greater violence, that will end the mourning.  Lock them up, that will solve the grief caused.

Do you see those persecuted as Jesus does, or do you look at the persecuted with the eyes of Empire?  See suspicion in every foreigner?   Invoking fear of any who are “other” for whatever reason?   Default to rules and regulations over human stories and circumstances.

This year as I hear the beatitudes I hear them differently.

I hear them as one who is sitting at the feet of Jesus but who is also keenly aware of the messages of Empire.

I look out over the crowd of the evening news, of the homeless person on the corner, on the people just out of Jesus’ earshot, and I want to be a light shining out there, but the truth is I am also aware of the risk.

I have benefited from Empire, my stock portfolio is better now than it has ever been.

I have been intimidated by Empire, I’ve never felt more out of step with others around me in my own community, my own family, than I do whenever the conversation turns to politics or politicians.

I am sitting at the feet of Jesus and I can hear what he says, but I’m not so sure if I can repeat it, say it, act upon it.

I’m not so sure I can clarify it to the crowds out there, inform those who can’t quite hear that Jesus isn’t just for the “cheesemakers or all those involved in Dairy manufacturing,” or for the peacemakers,  but is in fact for everyone.  Jesus is for a world who suffer under in the throes of Empire as well as those who are enamored with the Empire’s dreams.

I can hear Jesus, and I can see the crowds, but I’m not so sure I can bridge the gap, be the light, shine forth to give these blessings he speaks to those who long to hear them.

How about you?

Have you felt caught between what you hear Jesus wanting you to do, to say, and the power of Empire?   Felt either its’ seduction or its intimidation?

If you have been there, (perhaps are there right now,) then take heart because the last part of the Beatitudes is intended for you, oh conflicted one, for “Blessed are you!”

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

If you are feeling conflicted in these days, you are feeling as the Prophets did before you, caught between the call of the Word of God and the seductions of Empire or its wrath!

You are in good company here at the feet of Jesus, listening to his words and seeing the needs and reality of the crowd!

The prophets saw this too, and so they spoke!

They spoke, and some suffered.

They spoke, and gave hope to a new generation who were afraid, despairing and lost in exile, longing to hear if God’s Word was for them!

They spoke, and got shouted down by the voices of Empire sometimes   A voice which always wants nothing more than to carry on “business as usual” – for that is what is good for Empire.

“Blessed are you….” Jesus says, to those disciples at his feet who now live in the tension between the Kingdom of God that Jesus comes to proclaim and the reality of the crowds who are both suffering at the hands of Empire and are also complicit with it in so many ways.

“Blessed are you…. Jesus is saying.   Great will be your reward, but hard will be your work as you try to shine forth your light in this wind whipped hilltop of a life.

And remember, remember you are not in this alone, and that others have gone before you in faith and have shone forth the light of hope and have received their reward.

That’s what I hear in this Gospel lesson today.   Jesus teaching me, and reminding me to remember.

Remember those who have gone before.

Remember those before you who are like sheep without a shepherd, the crowd outside these walls longing to hear Jesus’ words are for them.

And Remember…. Remember to shine!

“Stick With It” John 8:31-36 Reformation

 

“Stick with it, you’ll get it.”  That was the encouragement from my fourth grade teacher when it came to my times tables.

Mathematics and I were never close friends, and the movement from the world of addition to the concept of multiplication baffled me.   I would try to simply “add faster”… dots on the numbers, — work harder, count faster…. and she would encourage me to instead memorize the tables.

Now we acknowledge that there are a variety of ways to teach multiplication, and not everyone learns in the same way.

But in those heady days of the 1960’s memorization of the times tables ruled the day, and so rather than trying a variety of approaches, the one trusted approach was urged and hammered.

“Stick with it.”  She would say.  “You’ll get it.”

I don’t begrudge Ms Ellis for not having other tricks up her sleeve.

I won’t deny that her urgings eventually served me well, particularly the ones induced by having a student who had to catch the bus stay after class to “work harder on it.”    That did indeed put enough fear and pressure on me to do what I otherwise always found a way to push aside or delay.

In all, the encouragement (even under duress) served me well.   I learned my times tables.

But was it an uncomfortable time?   You bet.

Did it feel like she was demanding “works” from me?    It sure did, and as a good Lutheran I knew (even in the fourth grade) that I was not saved by my works, but by grace.

I carry the image of my fourth-grade self all hunkered down and desperately trying to get something all these years later.

5×7 is……

6×7 is……

7×7 is……

“If I keep this up, I’ll get it.  Ms. Ellis told me I would.”

But in that moment of being urged by her to stay after school and study, there was nothing but pressure and resentment, and my wondering whether I would make the bus or not.

“If you continue in my word…  “Jesus says.   I hear Jesus’ urgings to those who believed in him, and I find myself right back there in my desk in fourth grade trying desperately to drill these things in my head.

I wonder if that was what it was like for those to whom Jesus was speaking?   We are told they believed in him, but there was however something that eluded them as well.   This talk of freedom, and of truth.

“Knowing the truth,” that is what continuing in the Word is supposed to make possible.

I have to admit that in this day and age I am as perplexed about the truth anymore as anyone else.

We can search a thousand databases with the swipe of a finger now.   We can gather information from a world wide web.

When I searched for a Cherry Pie recipe yesterday “Google” fetched me Four Million responses in 0.64 seconds!

But what Google could not reveal to me was which one was the best!

Which one was the recipe which seemed most “true” to my memory of what a Cherry Pie made by Nancy Haberstich, ought to be? (She always made the best Cherry pie and I was once scolded in no uncertain terms for trying to figure out just what she put into it.)

We have always treated truth as simply a matter of getting the right information, and we can thank Martin Luther for that in many ways.  The events of the Reformation which we celebrate now these 500 years later were kicked off by his questioning about truth.

Truth was found in the 95 theses, or teased as he raised questions of authority.

Truth was found in asserting the rights of the individual, the giftedness of each person.  The “priesthood of all believers” which asserted that all people had equal worth or value by virtue of being children of God.

Truth was found by those who inquired of it, and who sought it out by translating the bible into the common tongue.

If we could but ask the right questions, and have access to the right information, read the scriptures for ourselves in the right way we could understand, we could figure things out for ourselves.

This was the belief of the modern world kicked off by Luther’s 95 Theses and the Renaissance.

Truth was knowable.

Truth was attainable.

Truth was just a matter of asking the right question, and getting to the single, essential answer.

There was a “truth” to be found and we could get to it – and the unspoken addition we’d usually add is “if we work at it hard enough.”

But today that seems elusive.

Today we are more likely to find ourselves voicing Pilate’s comment.  “What is truth?”

It does not appear to be found in information.   We can’t discern between real news and fake news.

Truth does not appear to be found in analysis, for one can no longer discern what sources are reliable, and surveys reveal only what the clever crafter of the questions wants to affirm in their own bias, and statistics can be massaged and altered to prove any point, and contradicting viewpoints can be suppressed by taking down the information with which you do not agree… or so it is now on government web sites.

Yes, we are more likely than at any time in history right now to agree with Pilate’s assessment.   “What is truth?”

And yet, Jesus stands above us like Ms Ellis did above me encouraging and urging even those who do not understand and who argue with him.   “Continue in my Word….”

Keep at it, you’ll get it!

And so, I wonder how it is that I am supposed to “continue” in Jesus’ word?

I used to think it had to do with memorizing things.   Get the right Bible verses down, remember the Catechism if you are a good Lutheran.  “We are to fear and love God so that..”  Work at it harder, you’ll get it.

And, there is nothing wrong with rote memorization.

There is nothing wrong with remembering as Luther did the passages from Romans and Hebrews and Habakkuk that remind us “the just shall live by faith,”

There is nothing wrong with seeking the truth, and asking the right questions, and earnestly inquiring.

But what Jesus is pointing to is something much deeper than just memorizing or giving intellectual ascent to something, or “working harder.”

Jesus is urging us to take this following thing into our very being.   To truly be his disciples is not just to know what to say, or when to say, or parroting back the right phrases or ideas, “doing” the right things.

Rather, it has to do with continuing, abiding….living it.

This is what I didn’t get right with what Ms. Ellis was trying to encourage me to do.   Not just knowing the tables, living them, taking them into my consciousness in such a way that I could not look at 5×7 without seeing 35 in my mind. Living a whole new understanding of things.   Not “faster addition” but a very different way of seeing the world.

The “Continue in my word” is not about knowing Jesus’ words. It is about living your life in such a way that you become a visible sign of those words, such that one cannot help but see Jesus in your actions.

This is the “I don’t get it” that is being voiced in this gospel today by those who believed in Jesus but are not yet living as if they are Christ in the midst of this world.

“We’ve never been slaves to anyone!”   They protest.   Our Ancestors were slaves in Egypt, yes, but look here, no one is pulling our strings!  We are free!

“Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  Jesus says to them. Committing sin is always a matter of living, not just theory.   It has to do with what you do, and how you act, and what you say, and what you leave unsaid, — all those “doing” things that trip us up.

Sin is always about action, in one way or another.

So, when Jesus urges “Continuing in my word” he is also talking about a different kind of action, not just intellectual ascent, or knowing.

Continuing in the Word has to be about taking Jesus into your life choices, into your decision making, and into how you choose to model your own actions, and the words you choose to use on a day to day basis.

If you do that, you will be free.

That is the promise.

And now I get it, because it makes sense.

When it is no longer I who does things, but the Christ within me acting, I cannot see myself doing anything other than what Jesus would have me do.

I am free.

Free from the questioning of my own motivations.

Free from the wondering if this is right or not.

And that freedom then spills over into my ability to discern the truth in others, and in other things.

If I can see Christ at work in their actions, then they are of the truth, and I can support them.

If those actions are not consistent with what Jesus came to proclaim as being the living Word, and the bringing about of the Kingdom?   Then they are actions the are the marks of slavery, and they will lead only to suffering.  My own perhaps, but surely others.

“Stick with it.”   Ms Ellis said.   She knew that if I made these tables a part of my life I would see the world in a different way.

“Continue in my Word.”   Jesus urges us.  Not just so that we will know some nice things and can repeat them, but so we will be set free to live.

Not sure what is true anymore?   Continue in Jesus’ word. Live into it, and you will begin to see what is of God, and what is not.   You will begin to live the truth, and the truth will set you free indeed.

Taxes are the Easy Part. Matthew 22:15-22

“Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

 

Huh, who’d have thought that the tax question would be the easy one to answer?

We’re pretty much conditioned to think of tax questions as complex, difficult, and “high emotional energy investment” questions to answer.   Just witness the kind of contortions our lawmakers go through to try to address them!

Whether it is asking politicians to disclose their own tax returns, or debating the finer points of the tax code and their practical effect on people’s daily lives, tax questions almost always elicit no small amount of discussion and heat!

I suppose that is why the Pharisees and Herodians thought this was the perfect kind of trap to lay for Jesus.

No matter what Jesus says about the matter of taxes, someone will no doubt find fault with his approach, and he will end up making someone angry amongst his followers, or get himself into enough hot water with the Roman officials to get himself censored, imprisoned or killed.

The trap laid is meant to spring on Jesus in such a way that a satisfactory result will take place.   Both religious leaders and supporters of the current local regime can watch him fall and find themselves rid of the pesky demands he makes upon their lives.

But here’s the funny thing, the tax question ends up being the easy one to answer once Jesus reframes it.

“Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.  Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 

As soon as one of the religious leaders produces the coin, the jig is up, because something has been revealed.

First of all, we’re in the Temple here and the only money that should be found anywhere on the premises is the Shekel, the Jewish coin used for offerings and commerce on the temple grounds.

Why?   Because of what the denarius has inscribed on it.

The head of the Emperor is placed there and these words, “Tiberius, son of Augustus the Divine One” and on the back side, a figure of Pax, the goddess of peace.

If one remembers one’s ten commandments, the commandments one and two are “No other gods,” and “no graven images,” so to even have this coin on the Temple grounds is sacrilege.

But secondly, to have a coin it in the pocket of a religious leader and readily at hand is even more of an egregious breaking of the Temple law.   These coins (which were necessary for commerce outside the Temple) were to have been exchanged before one ever set foot here, and certainly not casually carried around where they might fall out upon holy ground!

The tax question is the easy one here.   “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, …”

The coin belongs to the one who struck it.

The coin only has value in as much as it is worth whatever one is willing to ascribe it.

In other words, the Emperor makes the coin’s worth, and it is worth something in the eyes of the Emperor and the Empire only.

Producing the coin from your pocket so readily begs therefore the question is “How do you see this coin as someone who is carrying it?  Do you say it has value, worth?”

You have revealed what you think of it, just by having in on your person!

If you are a Pharisee producing this coin, you have already acknowledged that your religious fervor is just a façade.  You are ready to offer tribute to Caesar on demand like anyone else in the Empire.

If you are a Herodian, a support of local governance, and producing this coin you are revealing that you don’t really believe that God is supporting Herod as King.   You’re hedging your bets with the stronger political ally, ready to give tribute to Rome, not to Herod, when asked.

The tax question is the easy one to answer.   Let the Emperor have what belongs to him!

But the harder question is the one that now hangs in the air of the person who is holding the coin.

…and give to God the things that are God’s.”

I can figure out pretty quickly what belongs to the Emperor.  I’ve got it right here in my hand, but what belongs to God?

In lip service I might profess that everything belongs to God.  I belong to God, but here I am holding this coin and it makes me wonder, do I belong to the Empire and this Emperor? Just by holding this coin and considering it to be of value, have I sold myself into the things it represents?

In trying to trap Jesus, have I revealed who I really belong to?

Have I revealed how my own self-interest so often trips me up?  My own desire to control, to have power, to delight in watching the fall of someone else with whom I disagree?

The person speaking, be he Pharisee or Herodian, has just described Jesus as being “Sincere,” “a teacher of truth” and “impartial?”

Were those just words spoken only to butter Jesus up, or did they have the ring of truth to them, are they really what the speaker believes about Jesus, and if so; they why is he participating in or laying this trap?

This is the harder question to answer, what have my own actions here revealed about to whom I (the speaker) belong?

And that, beloved, is the question that trips us up all the time as well.   What do our actions, our words reveal about to whom we truly belong?

That question trips us up whenever we start to get sanctimonious about our own “rightness” about something.    The more we drill down to prove our viewpoint is the right one the more we begin to sense that what we are really doing is revealing who we really belong to.

We belong to ourselves.

We have made ourselves out to be god, and have forgotten about the neighbor.

The neighbor has been dehumanized into the “other.”  They have simply become the “opponent”, not the beloved child of God whom Jesus sees.

This is the trap we set that we most often end up springing upon ourselves, for like the Pharisee or the Herodian, our actions end up betraying what we truly think about Jesus, no matter what our lip service might be.

Who would have thought and a question about taxes would be easier to answer than the question about what belongs to God?

Because you see, asking “what belongs to God?” opens us up to examining our own attitudes about things, and about people, and possessions and their importance to us, and about the myriad of decisions that we make every day about our resources, and our attitudes held, and …..

The list goes on.

Taxes are easy.  Someone sets the tables, gives you the chart, imposes the demand, tells you what to pay, and sets the penalty if you do not.

But asking the question about what belongs to God?   That sets you up to an unending set of self-evaluations and decisions.

What do I say about what belongs to God in my personal sharing of the blessings given to me by God?

If I open my checkbook and look at the expenditures there, what do they say about how much I value God?  About what I say is important, the work of God for my neighbor or my own creature comfort and enjoyment?

What do my words spoken this past week say about what belongs to God?   Did my words to the people I encountered speak of how much I (and God) values them?

Or did my words demean “others?”

Did I lay traps for people to fall into?   Did I participate in dehumanizing my neighbor.  Speaking of “those people” or “people like that” instead of using their names and treating them as individuals of value and worth?

Did I build up those who are of great value in the eyes of God and perhaps lesser value in the eyes of Empire, or did I participate in Empire, simply joining in the taunts and phrases that further devalued and defaced “the other.”

Once you start asking “what belongs to God?” you begin to struggle with how your own words and actions proclaim what you believe.

Once you start asking “what belongs to God?”  you too are standing there with the coin in your own hand, and you have to face what might be your own malice perceived now by others, and mostly painfully, recognized by Jesus!

The gracious moment in this story comes in that last line. “When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.”

I like to think that that this was truly a “grace moment”, when Jesus made them simply stop in their tracks and think.  That’s usually what Jesus does best after all.   He makes us think and re-examine our own actions and words, and gives us an opportunity to change directions.

Maybe these folks in this story came back again and were a part of the crowd who joined in crying “Crucify Him!” in Holy Week.

Or maybe, having been shown their own malice and actions by that coin, these were some of the bystanders gathered at the foot of the cross to watch and to wait with the women.   These were the ones Matthew tells us seems to have an awareness of how God’s grace had transformed them, from people intent on trapping Jesus into people intent on following, even to the Cross.

We do not know what these Pharisee and Herodians did, but that’s not really the point.

The point is turning and walking away from laying traps is always an option.

Repenting of the setting of traps for others, is possible.

Seeing that Jesus comes to reveal Empire’s pernicious hold upon us is possible.

Who would have thought the tax question would be the easy one to answer?

Who among us is not now wondering what it is that we will say about Jesus with our own words and actions in the coming week, each and every time we see a coin which says, “In God We Trust” in our own hand?

What Do We Do With Our Invitations? Matthew 22:1-14

Parables of the Kingdom and supposed to shake things up.  They are intended to make one think about things, about assumptions that are made by the listener, about the nature of the King who both brings in this promised Kingdom and that same King who rules over it.

If that’s the goal, then this parable exceeds all expectations.

It is a head scratcher on so many levels, but let me see if I can give you an illustration that makes its meaning a bit clearer.

On an almost weekly basis I get an invitation like this.   It is from a financial planner who has noted my age and is offering me a “banquet” meal at a local restaurant, which will be followed by a presentation on estate planning.   It’s all “free”.. except I will have to sit through the presentation.

I know of folks who go to every one of these they get just for the free meal.   They have no interest at all in what is actually offered there.

But, it’s an invitation, so what do you do with it?

Keep that in mind as we look at the parable, for that’s the question this parable explores.  What does one do with an invitation?

Which is it?   Does the King offer a blanket invitation to everyone, really want to gather in all, or is there some “catch” to who is welcome at the banquet of the Kingdom?

What kind of a King is this, who upon being rebuffed in his first invitations sacks and burns his own city and puts to death his own subjects?

What kind of subjects are these, we wonder, who upon receiving a great and gracious invitation from their King, blow it off in preference for their own mundane tasks of going to their farm or opening their shops?

We pour and puzzle over this parable, and mostly what we want to figure out is that last line.  “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

That’s the line that jumps out at us, the memorable line even when we don’t remember the rest of the parable that precedes us.

“Many are called, but few are chosen.”   We repeat as a kind of mantra for all kinds of circumstances.

We choose up teams on the playground as kids, “I’ll take _____”   You can have _____.  Well you know, many are called but few are chosen.

We hope for a promotion at work, get our paperwork in order, interview with high expectations and the list comes out and your name is not on it.  “Oh well, many are called but few are chosen.” We say in consolation to ourselves.

At other times may quote it to try to make someone else feel better who has been passed over in life.

“Well, you know, many are called but few are chosen.”

And we do firmly understand that is the way it is in this world.  People do get passed over.

People do get the short end of the stick, sometimes by no fault of their own.

We also recognize that in this world there are times where we see it as legitimate that judgment is passed.   We even take a little glee in watching someone “get their come-uppance” when they have flagrantly flaunted or violated the rules at work, in society, or in their social circles.

Who isn’t thinking, “It’s about time…” about Harvey Weinstein?

Who isn’t hoping for someone to come through the seats of power, (wherever they may be,) to sweep through and do a little sorting, cast into outer darkness those who embarrass, those who have held on to power and abused it, those who flaunt their own self-interest?

We fully expect and hope in this world that someone will eventually call to task some people who simply ought not be there.

But when it comes to the Kingdom of God, is that how it works too?  Is that what we want?

Does God call us all to the banquet feast and then wander the tables looking over the crowd to say, “Buddy, how did you get in here?”

Do people really get consigned to the outer darkness, and if so, by what criteria?

That’s really the burning question, because if we could answer that reliably, we’d know what we should do, and what we should refrain from doing.

Is it the clothing one wears?  Is that what attracts the attention?

Or, is it what one refuses to put on even when it is provided?

Those are the questions that swirl around this parable.  The question might well be “many are called, but WHO is chosen?”  For, that’s what provokes and prods at us.   Who ends up getting chosen to be consigned to outer darkness?   Could that happen to me?

I think the answer to that is “yes”, but not for the reason you might think.

It is not the case that the King (God) is vindictive, looking for folks to consign to the outer darkness on a whim.

It’s not that there is any “unknown” thing that was done in this parable that raised the King’s ire and caused the rebuke.

No, what appears to be the case is the King saw behavior that was consistent with what had frustrated him in the first place, which is to say, a person having no regard for his son or the event, and that gets us back to this…. the original invitation.

Read that opening line of the parable again.   “The Kingdom of heaven may be compared to a King who gave a wedding banquet for his son.”

What follows then, is the King’s reaction to how his son is being treated, neglected, and disregarded.

The first round of invitations is simply rejected. They refuse to come to the banquet, which in this culture dishonors the son.

The second round of invitations brings home the insistence of the King’s offer.  “Hey, look the party’s ready, the food’s prepared, come!

“But they made light of it and went away….”  This is sending the message that the son just isn’t important enough to disturb the daily routine!

More than that, the invitation to the banquet was such an inconvenience in the daily routine that they “killed the messenger” so to speak to keep from coming.

I think we intuitively know how this works.

If I invite you to a party and you can’t come, that’s not really a big deal to me. Sure, folks get busy, they have conflicts, things do come up…. I’d understand.

But if I invited to you my child’s party and you don’t show up, or refused to attend, or made light of the party so that my child (despite having high expectations) ends up being disappointed?    Now I’ve got something to be mad about!

I think that is what is operative in this parable, as you read it through, the King is vindicating his son.   He is a “big deal” in the eyes of the King, and paying no heed raises the King’s anger.

That’s the reason the city gets burned.   It is because of disregard for the son’s party, and all those who have labored to bring it about.  Slaves who have been killed rather than guests be inconvenienced with their attendance.

The King is insistent that this party is going to come off, one way or another.  If not with the original guest list, then with whoever can be brought in, and it’s all being done for the sake of the son.

And those who end up attending, they are receiving something they could never have imagined would ever be theirs.

And what is it that rekindles the king’s anger at the end of the parable when the room is full of guests?   It is seeing someone who could not be bothered to get dressed up for it.

Whether the garment was provided, or expected, doesn’t really matter.  The point is the King can see right away that this person has no regard for his child, or the reason for the banquet, and that is what elicits the response.

So, is God looking for people to throw out?   No.

Does God notice when someone acts cavalierly toward Jesus?   You Bet!

Does that give you pause to think, to consider your own actions?    It’s supposed to!

Welcome to the power of this parable.   It’s supposed to make you think about how you, on a daily basis, respond to the invitation of God to come into the Kingdom of Heaven.

But it is not intended to drive you out of fear.

It’s not supposed to make you afraid, wonder if you’ll be cast out.

Rather, it is intended to help you drill down and ask a deeper question… the “Many are called, but few are chosen” question.   It’s meant to make you ask about the invitation!

What on earth would make me choose to ignore God’s invitation?  Ignore his Son, Jesus?

What on earth would make me choose to refuse an invitation from the King to the Heavenly Banquet?

If there is condemnation in this parable, It is not where we at first think it is!

It’s not the case that the King is prowling the banquet looking for offenders.

It’s that the King can spot a mile away someone who has chosen something other than honoring his son!

This realization flip-flops the parable on us.

We do not need to fear a prowling king, we need to fear our own indifference.

That wedding garment symbolizes involvement, and the question the parable wants us to ask is “what am I choosing?”

What am I choosing with my actions toward God’s gracious invitation to come to him?

What am I choosing to put in front of the response to gather at the Banquet?   Is it my job?  My possessions?  My busy schedule?

Do I find the invitation to God’s Kingdom, freely offered, so inconvenient that I’ll do things to try to “kill” it?   Withhold a pledge because I don’t’ agree with something my church does?   Work to undermine a decision by leadership?   Sow seeds of discontent within the community with my words?  Actions?

Many are called, you know.

All were called in this story.

Some were called repeatedly.

But then choices were made about the invitation.   Rather than responding out of gratitude, attending, and honoring the King and his Son with your attention and presence, another choice was made.

Some, even when they found themselves in the midst of the banquet, did not put on the garment of honor.   He preferred to not be inconvenienced, not to conform, not to fully participate, and it is that choice that ends up catching the attention of the king and causing the consignment to the darkness.

The parable is meant to make us think, what do we do with our invitations?