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Pentecost 19 Proper 23A October 11, 2020

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

In our first reading today, Moses is spending a great deal of the time on the mountain receiving the law from God. The people get upset about Moses’ long absence and ask Aaron to make them a God. Aaron collects all their gold earrings and makes a calf. God sees this and tells Moses that he needs to go down the mountain and set things right, referring to the people as “your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt.” God tells Moses to let God alone so that God can “consume them,” and then God promises to make Moses “a great nation.”

Moses’ response is worth our notice. The  text says, “But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, ‘O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you  brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?” Moses makes several more wise comments and then reminds God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, to whom God promised descendants as numerous as the stars and the sands of the earth.

In reference to God’s anger, Biblical scholar Beverly Zink-Sawyer writes,  “Rather than instilling within us fear of a vengeful, angry God,… these characteristics should comfort us with the realization that we, indeed, have been made in the image of a God who feels as deeply as we have been created to feel—and feels not only the negative emotions of anger and disappointment expressed in the text, but positive emotions such as love and forgiveness.”  (Zink-Sawyer, New Proclamation Year A 2008, p. 224.

What struck me this year was Moses’ ability to calm God down, remind God that God, not Moses, had brought God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, and help God to remember that God had promised to Abraham and his descendants that God would make them as numerous as the stars. In a time when people believed that you could not see God or even be near God and live, Moses shows amazing courage and presence of mind.

Edwin Friedman was a rabbi and a family therapist who worked with families and organizations around the world. One of his major ideas is that leaders should provide a “non-anxious presence.” Moses certainly does that in this passage. Biblical scholar Shauna K. Hannan says that we have often referred to this story as “the ‘golden calf’ incident,” and suggests that we might want to give it the title, “God changes God’s mind at the request of Moses.”  (Hannan, New Proclamation Year A 2011, p. 183.)

Our gospel for today is extraordinarily challenging. Professor Hannan says that Martin Luther called this parable “the terrible gospel which  he did not like to preach.” (Ibid, p. 185.) Luke’s version of this parable is far more popular. The king sends his servants out to invite people. The prospective guests give excuses but no one is beaten or killed. The king finally invites everyone, the lame, the halt, and the blind, and the message of God’s inclusiveness is clear.

Matthew’s gospel was written around 90 C.E., and his community was made up of Jewish people who had become followers of Jesus. The injuring and killing of the slaves refers to the treatment of the prophets and of Christian missionaries. The burning of the city is a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E. When the king sends the slaves out to invite everyone to the banquet, that symbolizes the opening of the new faith to the Gentiles. God’s kingdom is open to everyone.

But then there is the  portion that does not appear in Luke’s gospel. Scholars tell us that wedding garments were easily available and that almost everyone had one. In addition, these garments were often passed out to guests. So, this is not an issue of what the guest was wearing. The point is that God graciously and generously invites all people into God’s kingdom. But, when we accept God’s  invitation, we need to have the proper attitude. God’s love, grace, and mercy are great gifts to us, and we are called to accept those gifts with gratitude, openness, and faithfulness. Matthew is telling us that this man did not have the right attitude.

In today’s new testament lesson, Paul is showing his deep love for the congregation in Philippi. He has known these people for a long time. He urges Euodia and Syntyche to resolve whatever their difference has been. We do not know exactly what it was, but we do know that we are called to be of one mind in Christ. Scholars tell us that these two women were leaders in the congregation, and their oneness in Christ was crucial to the health of the community.

Paul also calls us to “rejoice in the Lord always,” not an easy thing do in the days of Covid 19, but essential to our faith. He also calls us to be gentle to everyone. Gentleness is one of the fruits of the Spirit. He reminds us that “the Lord is near.” As near as our breath. We can reach out and touch our beloved Good Shepherd who is leading and guiding us. Paul calls us not to worry but to pray. If we are worried about something, we need to pray about it and put it into the hands of God.

And then he writes, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Whatever we have learned from our dearest teachers about God and Jesus and the Spirit, Paul is calling us to think about these things. 

One of the most powerful things he mentions is that when we are worried, we should pray. If we’re worried abut a friend or a relative; if we are deeply troubled about all the people who are dying of this virus; if we are worried about the strife in our country; if we are worried about kids, teachers, administrators, and staff returning to school—all these are things we are called to pray about.

God’s kingdom is open to all. May we have an attitude of trust and gratitude. The risen Christ is in our midst. May we follow him every step of the way. Amen.

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