Sermon for 19th Sunday after Pentecost, October 11, 2020
Read Pastor Julie's sermon as shared on Facebook Live. Visit https://www.facebook.com/saronstrasburg each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. for a brief live service of scripture, prayer, and a sermon by Pastor Julie.
Isaiah 25:1–9 | Philippians 4:1–9 | Matthew 22:1–14
Looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas brings home again how things have changed with a virus that is incredibly contagious and for some, very dangerous; and as it has been said, just plain rude: Viruses are not technically even ALIVE, but this one in particular has changed how we are together and how we celebrate. Like having a really good meal with a whole bunch of us (I wonder, maybe we can pull this off outside?) and I wonder if this doesn’t give us a sense of the longing for this feast in Isaiah; the table heaped with good food and drink; the people gathered around. This heart-felt vision is one for a people in the midst of disruption—while the dust swirls; smoke fills the air; contention abounds and inequity seems never to end: In fact, God has been there “… [as] a refuge to the poor, to the needy in their distress; a shelter from the rainstorm [of ruthlessness] and a shade from the heat.” And then the gathering and the food…
But there’s this strange phenomena that Jesus describes in a parable: The king is having a wedding feast and none of the guests will go. And they kill the messengers, too. The result, like last week, is that they get killed. It’s a whole big mess of pride and vengeance. But now all the people who probably wouldn’t have ever gone to go to such a wedding feast are invited and have a grand time. That’s unexpected, but at at least a happy part of the story: The ones grabbed off the street do benefit. And maybe this pushes us to think, again, how we get mixed up when we think about who’s in and who’s out. It messes with us: They aren’t necessarily more deserving—they are just not in a position to reject the king because they don’t have any investment in the politics of it; they were just in on the street that day and either needed or didn’t mind a really good feast. (Jesus messing with us…)
But there’s apparently a risk to this gathering (social distancing might have been better for him…) as we get to the hapless guy who for some reason didn’t put on the required guest robe. I mean in some ways, ALL the actors are hapless—the honored guests who are foolish enough not to come—and go back to their money-making endeavors instead; the king whom people clearly don’t like; all the killing over this; then the hodgepodge—“good” and “bad” who were at the right place at the right time for an unexpected party and meal, and all seems to be going well now; but now this: The scene moves to one of more cosmic significance: The king casts into “outer darkness” one improperly dressed man—as if “propriety” was even a concern by then.
In some ways, all the posturing and violence is nothing unfamiliar to us and this world. All that happens is surprising, and yet not. We get ourselves off the hook as ones to identify not with the oppressors, but the ones who make it into the feast. Now that there is a cozy group again—with the king having much-needed guests for his son’s wedding feast, everyone gets pretty comfortable for the moment. Which usually doesn’t last. We have this tendency as humans—when things feel out of control, to find another person or group to blame. Once the new guests ate their fill, there’s a good chance they would start looking around and pointing fingers at who was “good” and who was “bad.” Whatever this is referring to, this mixing of social classes was just not done; and was a recipe for trouble sooner or later. The commonality of being the “Uninvited Who Were Welcomed” will wear off. Maybe the king himself has begun to fear or maybe he seeks to pre-empt this conflict to come, but what he does is a classic case of scapegoating.
Get one to “pay the price”so to speak, to relieve building the anxiety in the system. As in ancient Israel, the sins of the people were symbolically cast on the goat and it was ritually sent into the wilderness to die; thus— supposedly—to restore balance to the community. Of course, the problem is that the issues eventually returned. Killing something to solve problems, it turns out, didn’t work out so well in reality.
Rene Girard says this is what people tried to do in killing Jesus. Just as they had been and continue to do any time a culture or group cannot effectively deal with difference, negotiation, reconciliation. Jesus dying being put to death—as he knew he would—was just one more attempt on the part of humanity to protect the ideology of exclusion and conflict, and to keep our violent ways intact. When it appears there isn’t an outsider, we’ll make one up. When it appears we are just another human being on earth and not some kind of demigod, we shove others down to prove we are better. Our peace, then, is false, as long as there’s a need to kill God’s son. But Jesus is willing to be thrown out to serve as the foil for our competitive, fearful ways. He knows it’s the only way to shift us in our world is to expose how our habit of inclusion and exclusion keeps us from knowing and living into God’s vision. Jesus will go ahead and die to be the Scapegoat this one last time for the sake of the feast, and to be a Disruption that highlights our nonsensical ways once and for all. There is no longer an outsider. No longer poor, or oppressed, or anyone who can’t eat with the king. Jesus has become the one to be blamed. So that God’s vision might carry on: Where every last person is at the table. The tears need not be shed. The shroud is dissolved. Even death has become meaningless. This is a feast worth longing for. Thanks be to God. Amen.