17th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 23

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
22st Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 28 November 13, 2011 Sermon, Proper 28 Matthew 25:14-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
21st Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 27 November 6, 2011 Sermon, Proper 27, Year A, All Saints’ Sunday Matthew 25:1-13; Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-20
20th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 26 October 30, 2011 Proper 26, Year A Micah 3:5-12; Psalm 43; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12
19th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 25 October 23, 2011 Proper 25, Year A Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46
18th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 24 October 16, 2011 Proper 24, Year A Matthew 22:15-22, Psalm 96
17th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 23 October 9, 2011 Proper 23, Year A Isaiah 25:1-12; Matthew 22:1-14
15th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 21 September 25, 2011 Proper 21, Year A Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Psalm 25:1-8; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32
13th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 19 September 11, 2011 Sermon, Proper 19, Year A Matthew 18:21-35; Romans 14:1-12
12th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, Proper 18 September 4, 2011 Sermon, Proper 18, Year A Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20
10th Sunday After Pentecost – “But who do you say that I am?” August 21, 2011 Proper 16, Year A Isaiah 51:1-6; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20
9th Sunday after Pentecost Year A – Canaanite Woman August 14, 2011 Sermon, Proper 15, Year A Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28
8th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A – Peter Gets Out of the Boat August 7, 2011 Proper 14, Year A Matthew 14:22-33
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – Feeding of the 5000 July 31, 2011 Proper 13, Year A Matthew 14:13-21
Third Sunday after Pentecost July 3, 2011 Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, Year A Zechariah 9:9-12; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, Proper 8 June 26, 2011 Second Sunday after Pentecost Romans 6:12-23; Psalm 89: 1-4, 15-18

 

17th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 23

Sermon Date:October 9, 2011

Scripture: Isaiah 25:1-12; Matthew 22:1-14

Liturgy Calendar: Proper 23, Year A


Prophets are bothersome people, and they get reviled, detested, ignored or murdered , because prophets bring divine messages from God that tend to make their  listeners extremely  uncomfortable. 

Even today we are uncomfortable with prophets.

Because they make us uncomfortable, we laugh at them or deride them or ignore their messages.  I’m sure that over the years you have seen prophets appear in the comic strips, especially Non Sequitur, carrying those funny signs that bring wry smiles to our faces. 

And here’s a great example of a modern day scientific prophet being derided, reviled and exiled. 

Daniel Schectman

Daniel Shectman, an Israeli chemist, just won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this past week.   Aron Heller of the Associated Press  reported that when Shectman discovered a new crystalline structure that seemed to violate the laws of nature back in the 1980’s, his “colleagues mocked him, insulted him and exiled him from his research group.”   These scientists believed that what Shectman had discovered was physically impossible.   (Free Lance-Star, Thursday, Oct 6, 2011)  Heller goes on to say that Shectman then spent years in “the scientific wilderness ”  after being reviled and cast out by his fellow scientists.   

 

The prophet Isaiah was reviled and cast out in his time. 

And yet, even after three thousand years, we Christians find that   even though we love Isaiah’s hopeful and merciful messages from God, we are still uncomfortable with Isaiah’s uncomfortable prophetic words and images that proclaim God’s judgment, prophetic words and images that Stanley Saunders describes as  “harsh, exaggerated images.” 

Today’s  passage from Isaiah is a great example of what I’m talking about.  Today we’ve just heard the first nine verses of Isaiah 25, and our reading ends on a high note. 

The Lord is going to make for all peoples a feast of rich foods—and verse 9—“Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us…..let us be glad and rejoice in our salvation.”

In verses one through nine,  this benevolent God makes a feast of rich foods for all people , and here I have a vision of Stanley Fields in an apron in front of his grill, cooking up a feast—this  benevolent God serves as a bartender who provides us with a feast of well aged wines.

This generous and welcoming God becomes a God of wrath in verses 10 through 12, and we find one of those “harsh, exaggerated images” of God that the lectionary leaves out. 

The Moabites are the hostile neighbors of Judah.  Now God, who we have just heard is going to prepare a feast for all people, has no such plans for Moab.  The hand of God that rests on the mountain of feasting and salvation for all people is the same hand that will strike down the Moabites. 

Isaiah tells us that “The Moabites shall be trodden down in their place as straw is trodden down in a dung pit.  Though they spread out their hands in the midst of it, as swimmers spread out their hands to swim, their pride will be laid low despite the struggle of their hands.”

This image is awful!  Imagine seeing people trampled down into a pit full of excrement—they struggle and try to pull themselves out, but they are going to drown in that dark brown excrement.

Horrible.  Who wants to think of a God who would do this to anyone?  This vengeful image of God is far from the God that we have tamed into a sort of pleasant old uncle who welcomes us when we find the time to drop by for a few minutes, who plies us with sweets, and then leaves us all of his riches when he finally dies. 

What have the Moabites done to provoke God to such wrath?

Isaiah tells us that they are full of pride. 

Fast forward to Jesus, who is in the temple in Jerusalem in the last week of his life, answering to the chief priests, scribes and elders  who are out to get him because he has dared to question their authority.

They too, are full of pride and they revile and deride Jesus, and would love to get rid of him.  Jesus is an inconvenient challenge,    

because  Jesus speaks to them as a prophet, telling them something they do not want to hear, a message from God, a story about divine judgment, about the fact that salvation is offered to all, but that not everyone will be chosen.

Jesus the prophet is speaking to us as well. 

What does this story have to say to us, both as individuals and to us as part of the collective body of Christians that we call in our creed the one holy catholic and apostolic church?

Whether we want to claim this role or not, as Christians and as the Church, we are modern day prophets.  The world studies us and watches us to see how we interpret God’s divine message for the present day.

And as the church, we have come up short, because we too have been full of pride, convinced that we have all the answers.   Jesus has been inconvenient for us too.   

Even a sermon series would not be long enough to cover all of the ways the church has come up short in interpreting God’s divine message to the world in over two thousand years of church history.  So for our purposes I would like take one example of coming up short, an example about us.

Outsiders observing the Episcopal Church have seen over the past several years a church at war within itself, a church divided, and ultimately split, with each side, full of pride, convinced that it and it alone understands God’s will.

To my way of thinking, neither side in this messy division has been completely faithful to the church’s prophetic role, even though each side has claimed at one point or another to be the true prophetic voice of God as we’re fought our way through our disagreements. 

If we wish to speak and act prophetically as the Church, then our example is Jesus himself, that inconvenient prophet whose voice we  claim to follow. 

And so the first thing we need to do to interpret God’s divine message to the world as the Church is to listen to God. 

I’d like to return to Daniel Shectman for a moment, our modern day scientific prophet.  After being thrown out of the scientific establishment, Shectman spent years in “the scientific wilderness.” 

Shectman described his experience during those wilderness years  in this way.  He says that he spent those years in listening.

Shectman says that “A good scientist is a humble and listening scientist and not one that is sure 100 percent in what he read in the textbooks.”

And his description of a good scientist is also a description of a good prophet, personified by all of the Old Testament prophets and by Jesus himself. 

Throughout his ministry, Jesus spent time listening to God.  We read in the gospels that Jesus frequently went off alone to pray.  He listened to God’s voice.    The most vivid example we have of this humble, listening stance on the part of Jesus was the time he spent in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet not what I want, but what you want.”  Humble listening. 

Jesus wanted to make sure that we understand what God’s expectations of us are, and what we are to hear if we actually take the time to listen for God’s voice and so he tells these uncomfortable prophetic stories that illustrate his point by talking about not only God’s mercy and welcome for each and every one of us, but also God’s judgment . 

 In Matthew, Chapter 25, Jesus tells the parable  in which the Son of Man comes in all his glory, and all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from  another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, a less comforting image than usual of the role of Jesus as a Good Shepherd.   

In this parable, the ones who are blessed by God are the ones who have fed the hungry,  given the thirsty something to drink, who have welcomed strangers, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited those in prison.

And not only does Jesus tell a parable about what  God expects the church to do in the world, he acts out the role of the church for the disciples in John’s account of  the Last Supper. 

At the last supper,  Jesus gets up from the table, and he takes  off his outer robe, and he ties a towel around himself—as we would  put on an apron. 

This story is fascinating on several levels, because this action of taking off his robe and putting on the towel weaves together our understanding of Jesus in  his various roles as prophet , priest and servant King into one role through this one  simple action. 

Old Testament priests wore an ephod.  The priests wore this kilt like garment, a sort of linen apron around their waists , and this piece of clothing is connected with the priest’s responsibility of consulting the divine will.  Priests, as well as prophets, were to be listeners to God, as well as servants of God.     

As if he is putting on the priestly ephod, Jesus wraps a towel around his waist and visually interprets what he perceives God’s divine will to be for those who would follow him.  They are to be servants, just as Jesus, “who was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.” (Philippians 2:6-7) 

Now, with this towel wrapped around his waist, Jesus pours water into a basin and washes the disciples’ feet, a humble task usually reserved for a servant or a slave.

And then he says to the disciples—

“So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” 

Jesus, in each of his roles—as our great high priest, as the greatest of prophets, as our servant king,  calls us, as the church, to humbly listen to Jesus, and to follow his example and to interpret God’s divine message to the world through our words and our actions.

And God’s message to the world is one of selfless love and service.  

My modern day image is that God calls the church and each one of us to lay down our pride, our arrogance, our certainties, and instead to pick up our aprons and put them on—literally to clothe ourselves in Christ, as Paul says in Galatians. 

Because people who  don  Christlike aprons are usually going about the business of humbly serving one another and those  around us who are in need. 

We have been treated today to many images of feasting in our lectionary readings.  God invites each and every one of us to this feast that God prepares for us each Sunday, and each week we remember Jesus, his life and his death, we proclaim his resurrection and we hopefully await that final last day when he will come again in glory to be among us once again. 

The story of the man in the wedding garment who got thrown out of the wedding feast reminds us that God has expectations of what we are to do as a result of coming to this table Sunday after Sunday.    

We are to humbly listen.  We are to put on Christ by putting on our aprons and simply serving  those around us.  God’s  expectations demand strength and renewal  on our parts, especially in our day and age when humble listening is next to impossible in this noisy world.  Laying down our pride and our convictions that we have all the answers takes incredible strength.   We have to give up who we are before God can make us new.    Renewal for us is putting on Christ.  That is why at the end of the Eucharistic prayer today we hear the following words. 

 “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.”   

Here we are, the good and the bad, gathered in and seated at God’s great feast.  The invitation is for us all.  And keeping in mind the prophetic words of Jesus that many are called but few are chosen,

"Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ,” so that we may get up from this table, and clothe ourselves in Christ,  in order that we may go out and “worthily serve the world in his name.”

 

Amen

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