It can be challenging to get the core principles of the Christian message out to the world these days. There seem to be a lot of people seated at the banquet and calling themselves Christians, but they don’t have any wedding robes on!
They call themselves Christians but are not clothed in compassion and mercy. They call themselves Christians but are not clothed with forgiveness and love and they do not stand in solidarity with the poor and widow and the outcast and marginalized. They call themselves Christian but do not seek to build justice for the immigrants – squabbling over whether they are legal or illegal. They do not seek to live in the complicated already/not yet of Christ’s redemption work that is both complete here and now and yet still being made known, instead becoming one issue voters and one issue actors on the global stage.
And there, but for the grace of God, go I. Or any of us. Without Christ’s mercy and continual redeeming work acting upon these broken vessels we call ourselves we cannot reflect the Light and Life of Christ that by the power of the cross is breaking in wave upon wave into this world; life breaking in upon hatred; life seeking to turn hatred on its head, in its every form.
Not just seeking to break in upon and change the self-proclaimed haters of the world. Not just seeking to break in upon and change those who get gleeful when someone else “gets what is coming to them.”
…But those of us quietly nursing grudges.
…Those of us harboring itsy-bitsy uncharitable thoughts.
For the microcosmic, small-seeming moments of hatred and the macrocosmic, large-seeming hatred that reveals itself in blatant meanness and selfishness as well as the war and violence and inhumanity than rains itself upon people across this nation and globe every day are one and the same hatred.
And God in Christ at the head of the banquet table says, “if you aren’t dressed, you will be cast out.”
If there is no love and compassion in you, you shall be cast out.
If there is no truth and forgiveness in you, you shall be cast out.
If there is no longing for justice for ALL of Christ’s children across the entire globe, then you are not properly attired for this banquet.
You know, the writer of the Gospel of Matthew uses, at the core of this portion of the gospel lesson, a “story (that was) circulated in a variety of forms in early Christianity,” including the Gospel of Luke, Q, and the Gospel of Thomas (New Interpreter’s Bible, pg. 416, 1995). All these different sources interpreted and modified the story according to their theology.
The writer of Matthew includes this parable as the climax in the string of parables that we’ve been hearing over the last weeks, beginning with the parable of the two sons, one of whom says “yes” to going to work in the vineyard but then does not go and one who says “no” but then changes his mind and does go and get to work in the vineyard, then the parable of the vineyard owner’s vineyard being given to others, and concluding with today’s text, intended to caution new Christians, who were learning of the promises assured to them by God through Christ, that these promises should not be taken for granted.
And this is a cautionary tale for us as Christians some two thousand years later as well! We have been invited to a banquet without end and God is even seeking to get us dressed by grace in Christ, but we take these gifts for granted at our own peril.
The Christian principles that saturate the pages of Christ’s holy scriptures are not ours to pick and choose, and we do not get to claim to be Christians and then keep that privileged label of “redeemed by God through Christ on the cross” while leaving our Christian principles to the side when we interact with our neighbors on the streets, in the grocery stores, at the protest rallies – not even when we face those seemingly possessed by hatred do we get to respond with hatred.
We get to respond and walk with Truth – yes, even as Moses spoke truth in power to Pharaoh and cried “let my people go.” We get to respond and walk with Love and Compassion – yes, even as Ruth’s love and compassion for her mother-in-law Naomi was a catalyst for getting them both to a new home and life amidst tremendous grief and loss. We get to respond by Rising up for Justice, especially for those who have no voice for themselves and need us as advocates – yes, even as Jesus reminds us just a few chapters later here in Matthew that “such as we do for the least of these, we do for him” (Matthew 25:40).
The writer of Matthew tells us that it’s not just enough to be invited, you’ve got to show up preparing ourselves for this Christian way of living; show up acting like we mean to be there as Christians, like we mean to be here, on this earth as the redeemed and being redeemed children of God that we are, stirring up the right kind of trouble for Jesus in this world so desperately in need.
And it’s really a world in need, isn’t it?
I mean just this week has been one heck of a week, hasn’t it? A plot by a serious anti-government group to kidnap the governor of Michigan exposed. Hurricane Delta dropping more than a foot and half of rain in less than twelve hours across southwestern Louisiana that had already been battered by another storm three weeks before. Kim Jon Un parading new intercontinental missiles in North Korea, thought to have range enough to hit the USA. Infection rates for COVID-19, which has claimed more than one million lives worldwide and over two hundred thousand lives here in the United States, while showing signs of slowing down in some places, has been picking up again in other areas.
And that’s just a few things from this week! Just a few things from this week. And as weeks stretch to months with this global pandemic, and the stress and tension this causes for everyone butts heads with the stress and tension being caused by a contentious political landscape, and this combines with the regular everyday stresses that come with living and dying in this broken world, it gets harder and harder to act well; to behave decently; to look like the Christains we have been baptized and redeemed to be.
When Paul writes to the Philippians to encourage them in their Christian lives together, he suggests that their gentleness should make them known to everyone. That they should think about the things that are honorable, just, commendable, and pure, pleasing, and true. that they should think about the things in life and community with each other that are pleasing. Focus on these. Be built up by and in these practices of life together. And, of course, these ideals and this wonderful encouraging from Paul is applicable to us and our lives and this world in which we live as well.
Sure, our humanness and the brokenness that is caused by sin and is the devil’s delight will and is muddling and messing things up left and right. It’s really not a question of if we will disappoint or let each other down within our Christian communities and this world at large, it’s a question of when. But it is what we will do next, it is what we will do now that we have heard that, despite our messy, broken unworthiness, we have been invited to the banquet – the Feast without end; it is what we will do now that can show the world what Christians being redeemed by the Living Christ can really look like.