by Local Preacher Hennie Gray (Yate)
Psalm 23; Isaiah 25 : 1 – 9; Philippians 4 : 1 – 9; Matthew 22 : 1 – 1
*Please note the Psalm and Old Testament reading are from the Related readings in the Lectionary and not the Continuous readings.
The main theme of today’s lectionary readings is rejoicing; the kind born of relief and victory. Maybe you can remember the kind of joy when peace was declared after the 2nd World War?
Isaiah’s reading accentuates security and safety in the midst of unrest and chaos, worded as “shelter from the storm” and “shade from the heat.” Psalm 23 echoes this sense of all being well in God’s company, even if we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and in both these readings the banquet is prepared by God for his loved ones as a feast of celebration in plain view of those who mean harm, accentuating their powerlessness and God’s complete victory over evil.
In Philippians, Paul speaks about rejoicing in the same breath as suffering. Paul knew, with relief and joy, that God does not let us down. Paul suggests that worrying anxiously about what lies ahead of each of us is a waste of our precious time and it is more helpful if we can contemplate the wonderful things which lift our spirits and make us rejoice. This is spelt this out in a list: whatever is noble, right, pure, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy – think on these things. What a lot we miss out on, by failing to rejoice, whatever happens in life.
Rejoicing is a fruit of trusting our God’s promise, to be our shelter in the storm and knowing deep inside that ultimately, we have nothing to fear.
The parable Jesus tells us about the wedding feast once again features the rejoicing and celebration with God which happens even in the face of violence, opposition and rejection.
All of us can count ourselves among the guests who’ve accepted the invitation once it has been thrown open to those walking in any direction and with a good or difficult past life. It’s a celebration that’s stretched all over time and space, heaven and earth.
At that time, it was cultural that wedding garments would have been provided for guests free of charge, so notice the deliberate insult by the guest who has decided not to wear his, and just turns up in his old clothes – the filthy rags of his old life. Jesus wanted those listening to him (and also Matthew and his readers) to be clear in their thinking that accepting the honour of a place at the banquet obliges them to accept also the grace of renewal and transformation. If we continue to live with former outlooks, attitudes and behaviours it places us alongside those who have chosen to reject the invitation.
The good news is that we are all invited to God’s wedding banquet – in accepting we allow the rags and tatters of our old lives to be exchanged for the freely given robes of holiness and right living. Jesus died for this free exchange – the offer is still on the table.
O God, our shepherd king: we thank you, for being present and providing for us, or guarding and guiding us. For bringing us good days and bringing us through dark days, we thank you. For your invitation to your heavenly banquet, we thank you.
Go into the week ahead and wherever you find yourself, celebrating or sharing a sadness or anything in between, may you rejoice in God’s grace.
See each moment as an invitation to meet with God, each meeting as an opportunity to invite others, until we meet again. Amen.