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Pentecost 19 Proper 23 October 15, 2017

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

In our opening reading, Moses has gone up on the mountain to speak with God, and the people decide to make the infamous golden calf. Once again, we need to keep in mind that, in the early days of our human acquaintance with God, sometimes we attributed to God the worst of human characteristics. In this case, God becomes very angry and Moses has to calm God down.

Often in the Old Testament, God appears as what I call a bad parent, reacting in a childish or violent way to the bad behavior of God’s people. But this passage makes clear our human tendency to veer off the path and turn to idols of various kinds.

Our reading from Paul’s powerful letter to the Church in Philippi has many truths to tell us. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” Paul writes. “”Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” When we are deeply aware of the presence of God in our lives, when we are able to rejoice in God’s presence, we are more able to remain grounded and gentle. Paul also says, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The shalom of Christ, his peace within us and his vision of shalom for the creation, enfold us in Christ’s love and fill us with the grace to enable us to live into his vision of shalom.

I want to take time today to focus on this very challenging gospel. Luke’s gospel has the story of the wedding feast, but it is more straightforward and has fewer complications than Matthew’s version. Let us see if we can bring some clarity to this passage.

A king is giving a wedding banquet for his son. He sends his slaves to those who are invited. The first thing we need to say is that we now know that holding slaves is not acceptable. Those on the guest list do not respond properly. Some of them go off and do other things, and the rest hurt and kill the messengers. Scholars tell us that Matthew’s community was a Jewish community which had tried to reach out to the synagogue and met with great resistance and even violence. They were inviting folks to follow Jesus and there was conflict, even violence.

So now the king tells the messengers to go out and invite everybody to the wedding banquet. We now know that Jesus invites everyone to the feast. But there is one person who does not have the proper wedding garment. Scholars tell us that this has nothing to do with literal garments. It isn’t that this poor fellow didn’t have a tuxedo or that he couldn’t afford to have decent clothing.

Scholars tell us that the wedding garment symbolizes our attitude to our Lord’s invitation. Do we have the proper attitude and do our actions match our words? Biblical scholar Charles Cousar writes that the wedding garment symbolizes “[doing} the will of my Father in heaven,” (Matthew 7:21) and having “a righteousness [that] “exceeds that of the scribes and the pharisees” (Matthew 5:20), producing “the fruits of the kingdom.” (Matthew 21:43.) All are expressions to identify the consistency between speech and life, words and deeds, that is appropriate for those who call Jesus “Lord.” The garment represents authentic discipleship and the parable prods the audience to self-criticism lest they find themselves among the “bad,” who are finally judged.  (Cousar, Texts for Preaching Year A, pp. 523-24.)

This is a challenging gospel. This past Tuesday, we had a clergy gathering at Trinity, Rutland. Almost all of the clergy were present. The title of the gathering was “Racial Reconciliation— Acknowledgement.” Acknowledgement is the first stage in our recognition, that, as white people, we have what is called “white privilege.” Our lives have been much easier than the lives of persons of color because of our white privilege. The other thing that we have is called “white innocence,” which means that we deny the existence of white privilege and thereby deny the existence of racism.

I have already sent to you the email which Bishop Tom sent to us as we prepared for this day. The email had readings and other resources which I hope you will feel free to use. Among them is the book Tears We Cannot Stop, by Michael Eric Dyson. This is a wrenching book which tells a truth we may be reluctant to accept.

Another resource is the RACE Implicit Bias Test. There is a link to that on the email. This is a test developed at Harvard University. It is a real eye opener. You are all welcome to take this test.

We also had two speakers. One of them is the Rev. Arnold Thomas, who is serving at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Underhill and has previously served as Executive Minister of the Vermont United Church of Christ. The other speaker was Shela Linton, a founding member of the Root in Brattleboro.

One thing that is clear from our speakers and from the resources on the list, is that racism is very present in our country and in Vermont.

This includes our migrant workers here in Vermont.

For me this means that, if I am to be wearing a proper wedding garment, I must be about the work I know Jesus is calling me to do, and as our 78th General Convention calls all of us to do, which is, “to find more effective and productive ways to respond to racial injustice as we love our neighbors as ourselves, respect the dignity of every human being, and transform unjust structures of society.” I hope and pray that we will all make a commitment to this work.

Blessed Lord, our Shepherd and Savior, give us the grace to be authentic disciples. Give us the courage to make our deeds match our words. Give us the creative holy energy to help you to build your shalom. Amen.

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