Knowing God More Fully and Celebrating the Kingdom

Don Alexander
Sermon Text: 

19th Sunday after Pentecost

October 11, 2020

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

Knowing God More Fully and Celebrating the Kingdom.

When I first read today's readings I groaned a bit because they seem to reflect an image of a harsh and judgmental God; an image I don’t share. I understand God to be a loving father who gently calls each of us in the most personal and loving ways imaginable. If after hearing  today's readings you think God is judgmental, well, that’s understandable

It wasn’t until I looked at how I came to know God as loving, that I could actually put these stories in context. My story is ordinary, my parents introduced me to God. Over time I had other teachers, I sensed God’s call to action occasionally, and I read and studied the Bible. While the Bible wasn’t my only experience of God, it was certainly my most trustworthy encounter.

As I became more familiar with Scripture, it became clear that God revealed God’s-self slowly and not all at once. Starting with Genesis and continuing throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, we slowly learn about God, God’s plan for salvation, and God’s expectations for how people should live. A few examples might make this clearer. In Genesis, after Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit, God casts them out of the garden and then makes them clothes. So we learn when we sin, God doesn’t abandon us but instead loves and nurtures us. In today’s story from Exodus we hear of God giving Moses the ten commandments revealing rules for how communities can live together. These rules are as valid today as they were then.  First Kings tells the story of Elijah hearing God’s voice unexpectedly in a whisper and not in a strong wind, an earthquake or a fire. So we learn we may find God in unexpected places or as a whisper in the silence of our hearts.  In Isaiah we hear about the peaceable kingdom, a vision of the Kingdom of Heaven and we hear a prophecy of the savior. The book of Jonah teaches that we can’t escape God’s call and also that God has a well-honed sense of humor. Every book has a lesson or reveals a little more about God. It’s a big book and revelation is a slow process.

When we get to the New Testament many people see a change in God, who of course is changeless. They hear Jesus’ preaching to be about a loving, compassionate, forgiving, and approachable God he calls Abba - which translates as father or even daddy. This is in contrast to the stern, punishment oriented God of the Hebrew Scriptures. I understand this difference to be a result of humanity’s minimal capacity to discern God as compared to Jesus’ intimate and profound knowledge of God.

As children of God and I find the revelation of God in scripture analogous to a child growing up. When the child is young they know their parents as the rule giver. The parents set bedtimes, make the kids eat their vegetables, do their homework and as they get older they set rules about doing chores, who they can date and curfew times. The kids see a mixed bag of love and authoritarian rules. Rebellion against the rules happens. Eventually however, they see the rules were offered out of love. What was seen as strict, unfair or perhaps even harsh, is seen in a new light as acts of love.

Understood in this manner, our scriptures reveal a growing and maturing understanding of God, that doesn’t reach full maturity until Jesus teaches us about God. Our story of Moses receiving the ten commandments and Aaron making the golden calf reflect a young community learning about God’s desires for his children. They receive a set of rules to live by, not unlike parents telling children the rules of the house. Occasionally, the rules are broken, punishment follows, but the parents, just like God, continue to love and nurture their children. In Exodus, God punished the Israelites but he also nurtured them and eventually led them to the promised land.

Now as we turn to the Gospel reading, remember that parables are not historical and they usually have a twist or surprise intended to make the listener think. Parables can be metaphorical or allegorical.

To give some historical context, Matthew’s Gospel was probably composed in the 80s about 50 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The followers of Jesus, known as The Way, were still part of the Jewish community and worshipped in synagogue. About 30 years earlier The Way had dispensed with the requirement for circumcision and Peter had declared no foods were unclean, ideas that conflicted with traditional Jewish beliefs. The result was friction between the orthodox Jewish community and the not so orthodox followers of Jesus. In another 20 or 30 years the two groups would part company but when Matthew was writing, things were just tense.

Matthew almost certainly included this parable about the Kingdom of God as a way of assuring members of The Way that they too were being invited by God to be part of the Kingdom. He wanted the community to know God wanted them to participate in and share the abundance of the Kingdom of Heaven.

And what about the man who was thrown out for not wearing a wedding robe? Remember, Jesus started the parable out with, “The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to…”  I’ve heard various explanations for why this man was harshly removed but I believe his failure to dress for the party is Matthew’s way of saying this man wasn’t  celebrating the wedding. He had been invited to celebrate - invited to bring the Kingdom - and not wearing the right robe is a metaphor for not bringing the Kingdom of Heaven; for not loving his neighbor as himself. The message for us is to bring the Kingdom of Heaven now by loving our neighbors - all of them, even the ones that don’t look or think like us.

Today it is our turn to receive the invitation and what an invitation it is! It is a banquet feast. If the wedding feasts Jesus knew are any indication they will be joyous week long celebrations. There will be copious quantities of  great food, good wine, music,and  dancing. Now we may understand this as a vision of heaven, and I’m sure it is, but remember Jesus taught us that the Kingdom is here, it is now, and it is within. I understand the parable to say we are to be living the Kingdom now, in the present and the wedding feast celebration is a metaphor for loving our neighbor, right now and in the present.

And how do we live the Kingdom today? We do it by rising above our petty instincts to divide ourselves from others based on race, religion, and politics and instead truly love our neighbor as ourselves. I believe that most of us have been and continue to be attracted to the All Souls community precisely because this community brings the Kingdom - and I don’t say this casually. What this community does is often difficult and always takes persistence. Our garden provides fresh wholesome food to folks who are down for any number of reasons. Our sack hunger handouts have literally provided thousands of meals to the homeless. The winterization program has kept dozens of homeowners warm in the winter.

These are all good things but we also don’t shirk the emotionally hard stuff. When Rachael lost her husband two and a half years ago, Mary and I were in Mexico. Katherine and others walked with her until we could return and continued to walk with her for many months afterwards. When Neal got sick, this community walked with both Lee and Neal down another really tough road. Sometimes you can’t change events or outcomes but simply showing up and being present truly is a blessing that brings the Kingdom. It’s not just sad times where the All Souls community walks together in love. I’ve seen us celebrate many baptisms and welcome new members to our community. When Rachael and Ryan got married the pandemic made it harder to celebrate their joy but the community found a way with Zoom. Now that they’re expecting, the joy in this community is palpable. Even in the pandemic we’ve found ways to celebrate children returning to school or going off to college. We even figured out how to bless and celebrate our pets last week.

I believe, with all my heart, mind and soul, that All Souls is a special community because we have chosen to accept the invitation to bring the Kingdom. We relish bringing the kingdom now and look forward to sharing in the everlasting feast. I usually close with something to ponder. Usually it’s some way to do better but this time I’d like to close a bit differently. Ponder the ways you’ve seen All Souls bring the Kingdom of God and let us resolve to keep on this path of bringing the Kingdom to those around us.


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