“It’s Party Time” – October 15, 2017

“It’s Party Time”
October 15, 2017 – Year A – 19th Sunday after Pentecost

 

Last weekend many of us gathered with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving.  It was like we were in the midst of a joyous party.  Great food.  Wonderful company.  Lots of stories were told.  For me, not only did I host a Thanksgiving Dinner, I also presided at a wedding.  So, it was double the fun!

Jesus tells a rather confusing story, or parable about a wedding banquet.  Food was made ready for cooking.  And so, the meal was prepared.  But horror of horrors, the invited guests didn’t show up.  The King’s slaves were sent out to find the guests.  But the slaves were seized and killed.  Enraged, the King sent his troops to destroy the murderers.  Then more slaves were sent into the city to find guests who would fill the hall.  Then, to make the story even more confusing, the King enters the hall and spots a man who is not wearing a wedding robe.  Speechless, the man ends up bound –  hands and feet, and thrown into the outer darkness.  “Many are called, but few are chosen,” so ends the tale.

This parable is full of allegory.  The King represents God, giving a banquet for the Son, the Messiah.  The people of the streets are the new Christians community – both Gentiles and Jews, who claim to be followers of Christ, but whose actions say otherwise. They are the people who throughout the ages have ignored the prophets and leaders who serve God.   The required “robe”, which the guest who was cast out does not have, is righteousness – the behaviour befitting someone who claims Jesus as Leader.  It is a warning to all who hears this tale, that no one can presume by virtue of their identity – or their baptism – their place in God’s great feast.

Let’s take a deep breath and slowly figure out what this parable means for us 21st century followers of God’s way of love, joy and celebration.  It is party time.  Even in the midst of catastrophic events happening all around the world, God want to throw a party.  You and I and the people who hang out in our stair-wells, and the children in our play-share program, and the Narcotics anonymous members who meet at noon hour, are all invited.  God wants people who are intentionally living the way of kindness, who speak truth – not gossip, who seek out others to tell the Good News of Jesus Christ, and who are filled with grace.  They are the ones who are robed with joy and righteousness.  There is a place for all of these people at the banquet that God is hosting.

In one of my previous congregations, there was a fellow from the community who came to every funeral service held at the church.  He sat through the service and then joined us in the hall for the reception.  Over the time I was at that church, I learned that this man came to the services, not to pay respect to the deceased or their family, but because he loved to eat and visit with others.  He loved to be in community.  He couldn’t afford our fund-raising dinners, but he sure loved our funeral receptions!

As I wrote this message I had the song “Cabaret” by Liza Minneli, playing in my head.  The words are this:

What good is sitting alone in your room?
Come hear the music play
Life is a cabaret, old chum
Come to the cabaret

Put down the knitting, the book and the broom
It’s time for a holiday
Life is a cabaret, old chum
So come to the cabaret

Come taste the wine
Come hear the band
Come blow that horn
Start celebrating right this way
Your table’s waiting

What could permitting some prophet of doom
To wipe every smile away
Life is a cabaret, old chum
So come to the cabaret.

God’s kingdom is a party.  It’s a celebration beyond any celebration we have ever seen.  We are not in charge of the celebration.  It’s Jesus’ party.  Jesus can invite whomever he wants.  The Pharisees had a problem with the kinds of people Jesus hung out with.  That should not be our problem.  “God is not looking for warm bodies.  God is looking for wedding guests who will rise to the occasion of honouring the Son.” (Barbara Brown Taylor).

Let’s remember that in the midst of hard times, God calls us to a wedding banquet.  Please respond joyfully- thankfully – faithfully!  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Is it Thanks Giving or Giving Thanks?” – October 8, 2017

“Is it Thanks Giving or Giving Thanks?”
October 8, 2017 – Thanksgiving Sunday – Year A

 

Growing up in Calgary, it was my family’s tradition to spend the thanksgiving weekend raking leaves.  Saturday was a full day of raking and bagging the leaves.  On Sunday morning, I would walk by myself to church while my Mom and Dad and sister were attending a competitive swim meet.  Once the swim meet was over, it was homeward bound and Linda and I and our Dad would get to work finishing off raking the leaves.  Mom was inside preparing a chicken or small turkey for our family meal.  Monday was more raking.

We didn’t have much by way of family tradition concerning this day of giving thanks.  We had a family meal, complete with pumpkin pie to finish the meal.  Ours was not a family who went around the table and asked what you were thankful for this year.  We didn’t think about giving a food hamper to those less fortunate then ourselves.  We didn’t give an extra thank offering to the church, likely because, I was the only one of our family who regularly went to church.

Once I moved to St. Catharines Ontario and worked for the YMCA I spent many thanksgiving weekends working.  So, there was no turkey and pumpkin pie in those days.  It wasn’t until I went to seminary that we as students pooled our resources and invited those who were at loose ends on Thanksgiving Sunday to gather for a potluck supper, usually at my home.

It was when I was Ordained and began serving in churches that I became aware that there are many folk, like myself who are single or in partnership and crave to be together with others so they might give thanks for God’s abundance.  And so, I started the tradition of inviting folk to my table for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter Sundays.  Anyone who is on their own, either as a single, double or in-between is invited.  I am richly blessed that I can share good food, interesting conversation, and lovely friendship.

What are your memories of Thanksgiving weekend from earlier days?  Did you have traditions that you still follow?  What new traditions have you incorporated into your way of honouring this special weekend?  This church has the tradition of decorating the chancel with harvest fruits, vegetables and grasses.  This weekend it is extra special as the 2 bouquets on the communion table are there from yesterdays wedding of Cory Nelmes and Joseph Burt.

Another tradition of churches like ours is reading the story from Deuteronomy of the abundance that God provided to the Israelite people as well as listening to the amazing account of the healing of a group of lepers while Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.  Without these two beloved accounts, Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be the same.

Both lections remind us of the gratefulness we feel as we respond to God’s abundance.  It is natural to turn and say thanks when one feels blessed.  However, that leaves us pondering why the other people who were cured of leprosy didn’t stop and express gratitude?  Admittedly, they were a group of outsiders, a group from Samaria.  They were despised.  The Samaritans were culturally inferior, theological and liturgical heretics.

The story of the 10 lepers is a puzzling one.  One minute they were shouting “have mercy on us” and the next they were making tracks out of sight.  All except one, that is.  One realized he was healed and turned toward Jesus, falling at Jesus’ feet.  Thank You!  Thank You!  Thank You!  He gratefully praised Jesus.

Jesus was rather astounded that only one person expressed his appreciation.  “Where are the others, questioned Jesus?”  Then Jesus said an interesting thing, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

It would seem that gratitude has something to do with faith.  We know that although he was an outsider, he never-the-less was filled with thankfulness.  For Jesus to say, “your faith has made you well” implies that faith and gratitude are closely related.  Faith without gratitude is no faith at all.  There is something lifegiving about gratitude.  We see that wellness, wholeness, and salvation are used in the Bible almost interchangeably.  So, it might have been that Jesus said, “your faith has made you whole”, or “your faith has saved you”.

John Buchanan, an American theologian, suggests “being grateful and saying thank you are absolutely at the heart of God’s hope for the human race and God’s intent for each of us.”  Medical research points to evidence that grateful people take better care of themselves, and that gratitude is a stress reducer.  New studies point to grateful people being more hopeful and have an improved immune system.

This wonderful story of 10 of God’s precious people points us to a world of thankfulness.  One person was so grateful that he turned to Jesus and cried out Thank You.  The remaining 9 were also healed, but we have no record of them giving thanks.  Perhaps they still saw themselves as lepers, rather than whole, giving, grateful people.

What does this say to us, some 2000 years later.  I see many folk holding back their “thank you’s” as if there was a ration.  Rather than being generous and grateful, we respond briskly and coldly.  If we were to slow down, look around and see who can be thanked, our community will be a much happier one.  Many years ago, I was part of an organization that started a campaign entitled “kindness grows.”  We wore green lapel pins with the phrase “kindness grows” on it.  The objective was to live out ways of being kind.  It was amazing how many ways that kindness was expressed.

So, why don’t we each commit ourselves to be a little more thankful.  Let us act in ways that express gratitude.  May we mirror God’s wondrous grace.  Let us give, over and over again, generously.

Karl Barth, one of the great theologians of all time, was fond of saying that the basic human response to God is gratitude – not fear and trembling, not guilt and dread, but thanksgiving.  “What else can we say to what God gives us but to stammer praise?”

Writer Anne Lamott says her 2 favorite prayers are, in the morning, “Help me.  Help me.  Help me.  And at bedtime, “Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.”

On this Thanksgiving weekend, may we give thanks for God’s great abundance.  May are giving be generous, our loving be extravagant, and our thanks be genuine.  Amen.