October 14, 2023 - 20th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23)
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil 4:4). This is Paul’s call to faith communities this Sunday. Our anxious culture needs God’s good news in this text. Rejoicing in the Lord – even in a childlike manner – is the hallmark of our Christian life. Joy is the command to all who know Christ. For Paul, joy and life beyond worry come not when we have mastered spirituality or when God gives them specially to each of us, but when we perceive God’s action even amidst difficulty and pain.
“Rejoice in the Lord always,” writes Paul. It sounds so simple, but his joy is profoundly counter cultural in our society today. We think of joy as a private good feeling in response to happiness. For Paul, though, joy is shared, not individual. It is a byproduct of our life, not an end in itself. It is a discipline, not a right. And it is a command, not an option.
So we’re on board with rejoicing until we get to the Gospel reading, when we are told that we are to expect the rigorous judgment that awaits those who decline God’s persistent invitation. Remember that God had initially invited the people of ancient Israel to be God’s people. God chose a people who had begun as nomadic wanderers (Abraham) and who ended up being slaves in Egypt for over 400 years (Moses). God did so in order to use them as an example of how much God can bless and how high God can place any people who are willing to honor God’s will and God’s word above all else.
When Christ appeared, the parable goes on to suggest, those who were invited to the king’s banquet failed to show up when the day for the big event had finally arrived. In the timeline of the Bible, this follows the chapter in which Matthew relates Jesus riding into Jerusalem amidst shouts of “Hosanna” and also the people in Jerusalem crying out “Let him be crucified!” (Mt 27:22). The Messiah had entered the ancient city, but in the end the people of Jerusalem did not accept God’s invitation.
Within our Christian community, there are those members like the ones in the parable who refuse the invitation from God in one way or another. They want the safe, soft side of discipleship, but they shy away from the more difficult work of outreach and social justice. They want blessings from God, but they cannot be found when it is time to share in the work of ministry. They want to end world hunger, but they do not want to miss a meal themselves or make a contribution to work toward that end.
In Jesus’ teaching, there was a fundamental reminder that only the Creator owns everything and we, too, are simply tenants leasing out the talents God has granted to be used for the greater good in the kingdom.
Matthew 22:10 says “the good and the bad” were invited to attend. It is on this basis that all Christians can enjoy salvation. It is not by our merits, but on the grace and mercy of God that we have been saved.
What is unique about our faith is that when we say “All are welcome” we truly mean it. Think about Jesus’ words, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). Jesus does not put restrictions on who can come. We are to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves” (BCP 305). “For God so loved the world … that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
My friends in Christ, our God will take anyone who will show up. How can we work to spread the Good News of God’s mercy and love today and in doing so learn to rejoice at all the ways God is moving in our world?