Reading Ramblings – October 11, 2020

Date: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 11, 2020

Texts: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:4-13; Mattew 22:1-14

Context: The verses for this Sunday emphasize the abundant grace and love and blessing of God. In a world where everything is measured out and sized up, where we try to get a steal of a deal and then turn around and get better than market price when we sell it, this abundance and this generosity is strange. It sounds wonderful and yet it might raise feelings of unease as well. Surely there must be some sort of hidden fee, surcharge, or other cost we don’t know about! Surely there is a catch! But there is no catch. This however, does not mean we can expect to appropriate the goodness and grace of God on our own terms rather than his. He gives us all, and in return we acknowledge him as the source of all good things. To think that we could give thanks to anyone or anything (including ourselves) other than God is not merely foolish it is arrogant and ultimately false. God receives the glory for all He has done, is doing, and has promised yet to do. Come and receive! Be seated at the banquet as his guest!

Isaiah 25:6-9 – A stunning and beautiful passage, a reprieve from the promises of discipline and disruption that precede and follow. After chapters of premonitions of judgment and disaster both on God’s own people of Judah as well as surrounding nations, Chapter 25 begins a section promising that despite these things, disaster will not be the final word. Rather, disaster is to be seen as part of God’s ultimate plan of reconciling all of creation to himself. And when that is accomplished, what a party it’s going to be! Will there be anything lacking? Hardly! Will there be anything to mar the beauty and joy and lavishness of that celebration? Will there ever be a moment when we realize the weekend is over and now it’s time to go back to the grind of the workweek? No. God’s grace is not just sufficient it is overabundant, and those who trust in that grace will not be disappointed in the least. Our Lord Jesus the Christ has already accomplished the victory over sin, death and Satan that make this eternal celebration possible, and now we await God the Father’s perfect timing to ensure that as many as possible will participate in his joy.

Psalm 23 – Few sections of Scripture are as widely known and deeply appreciated as the 23rd Psalm. A beautiful picture of our relationship to the loving care and guidance of our Good Shepherd, who cares for us in all aspects of our life, and leads us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and to the eternal banquet reprised in Isaiah 25. The psalm depends not only on the goodness of the Good Shepherd, which in light of his sacrificial life, death, and resurrection cannot be doubted, but also on the obedient trust of you and I as the sheep. This psalm is not a promise of an untroubled life, but rather the assertion that we can have the peace of our Lord with us regardless of the circumstances that may whirl around us, as we focus on His voice rather than the voices of the day. This requires a daily renewal and recommitment on our part to choose his voice, his pastures, his waters, his pathways rather than run off in search of what we presume to be better options. When we do (and we will!) we can trust the shepherds rod and staff to guide us back as we repent and focus once again on his voice.

Philippians 4:4-13 – Paul concludes his letter to the Philippian Christians with an enjoinder to maintain their focus on good, rather than the difficulties either he or they face. This is not a generic call to positive thinking. Truth, honor, purity, loveliness,commendability – all these things are unthinkable for Paul outside of God and what we have received in Jesus Christ. This should be our clear understanding and articulation as well. God is the source and definition of all that is good, and therefore we give him thanks and praise whenever we recognize his creativity and beauty and goodness expressed in this world. All this focus on positive things from God should make rejoicing easy and second nature! How can we complain who have received all things in Jesus Christ? How can we who have been brought to faith by God the Holy Spirit doubt the same Spirit of God is at work in the world around us as well, and in the hearts and minds of even those most commitedly against him, seeking their conversion to his glory? This rejoicing will in turn have practical effect as we reach out with the love of Jesus Christ to those around us who might be in need, as St. Paul himself was. Nothing is impossible to those who place their faith and trust and obedience in the resurrected Son of God!

Matthew 22:1-14 – The vast emphasis in this parable is the goodness of God. God who provides all things and welcomes all to him. Yes, there will be those who deny him and his goodness. But this does not make his goodness and his welcome any less magnanimous or desirable! Who would turn down such an invitation in favor of slaving away at work? Who could possibly seek to turn God’s graciousness and glory to disgrace or offense? Those who insist on doing so will receive their due, tragically. But still the call goes out, and none are overlooked or not invited. Both bad and good receive invitation to the Lord’s bounty.

But as we touched on in the Old Testament reading, we receive the graciousness of God in Jesus Christ. In other words, we cannot possibly presume another source for our blessings here and eternally, nor should we arrogantly give the thanks and praise due to God to another. He provides everything, from the clothes we wear to the feast to the feast itself. To reject some portion of this in favor of our own ideas or own preferences is not simply foolish, it is arrogant and insulting. Only in giving God the glory and praise and honor appropriate are we responding as we ought to. After all, if the owner of a company decides to give her employees a massive bonus, would it make sense to send thank you notes to the CEO of another company, or to insist on receiving the bonus on our own terms rather than on the terms of their generosity?

The closing statement in this parable might seem troubling, as though God picks and chooses who He will save and refuses to save others. But it’s clear from the parable that the invitation of God – God’s choice – includes everyone from greatest to least. It is not a matter of whether all are invited. All are invited, but not all will respond in appropriate repentance and joy. As such, few in this verse should probably not be interpreted numerically, as though to say only a small number of people will be saved. Rather, in comparison to the universal invitation of God, not everyone is willing to receive from him.

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