Matthew 22:1-14 Philippians 4:1-9

October 12,2014 by Ken Dale

Another parable and more violence ? but at least we?re out of the vineyard! Today?s parable begins that the kingdom of God may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son? We might just call it a party. The gospels are full of parties where Jesus is present ? the wedding at Cana at the beginning of John?s gospel, the story of the prodigal son in Luke, and we know Jesus was known for eating and drinking with sinners. In today?s story the guest list is all set ? all the right people are invited ? probably the old cronies of the king ? but those invited don?t come. NRSV says that they made light of it and went away even after they were told how fancy the dinner was. Did they go to a better party? Actually not ? one went to his farm, another to his business, and some even ?did in? the king?s servants who came to invite them.

Remember though ? this is not about a party ? it?s about the kingdom of God ? the realm of God ? the reality of God?s love in this world. It is ?already but not yet? ? we believe that it has broken into this world in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ ? but that it is not totally here yet. As followers of Jesus we understand ourselves called to that new life and being instruments of that realm of God in the world.

There is a very strong glimpse of the direction of our lives in our reading from Paul?s letter to the Philippians this morning. They are familiar words so I will share them in a different way. Hear them as Eugene Peterson shares them in The Message: Celebrate God all day, every day, I mean, revel in God! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you?re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive?Don?t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God?s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It?s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life?I?d say you?ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling and gracious, the best not the worst, the beautiful not the ugly, things to praise, not things to curse?Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. (I love that choice of words ? ?most excellent? ? the image that comes to mind is Jim Carey in the film Bill and Ted?s Big Adventure.)

So there?s an invitation for us! How shall we answer? Sometimes are we not like those first invited guests? Instead of answering the invitation with our presence we discover some reason not to ? we are busy or we have better things to do or we have a better way to be. An easy and simple approach to hearing these words might be labeled positive thinking. But I think it runs a lot deeper than that. I think it?s about being committed to it and intentional about it. And maybe we are afraid to go there. Too much risk in accepting an invitation to the realm of God ? so we don?t go to the party.

In our life together as this church where do we place our focus? If we hear Paul?s words, it is on the things that are true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling and gracious ? the beautiful not the ugly, things to praise not to curse. This past week I learned of a new movement in the UCC. It is called Faithful and Welcoming. It is people in the UCC that don?t always agree with the proclamations and stances that the UCC makes to its churches and members. I went to the UCC web site and checked it out. Good stuff! The UCC has always celebrated its diversity and has always been on the liberal or progressive end of things. Very often when the UCC makes a proclamation is it controversial and it seems half of those who make up the UCC don?t even agree with it. But very often a decade or two later other churches and denominations are exploring the same issues and concerns. It?s not easy being on the cutting edge sometimes.

So this Faithful and Welcoming movement in the UCC consists of ECOT ? which stands for Evangelical, Conservative, Orthodox, Traditional. But what impressed me was what they are all about is not leaving the UCC. While they disagree with some UCC ?stuff? they also see the benefits of being part of the UCC ? and especially seek to be part of the answer to Jesus? prayer in John 17 ?that they may all be one.? Which is the motto of the UCC. There was one individual whose words have really stuck with me. As God?s people gathered together in Jesus Christ we are called to act out of love. All that we do is to be out of love ? for God and for neighbor.?? This particular individual raised the question of why people leave churches ? usually because they are having a problem or are unhappy?? even angry about something or someone. But he figures no one leaves out of love. What if we did what we did as church, as part of the church, was always motivated by love?

An important point that is made is remembering all of the verse from which that motto comes. Jesus prays that they may be one so that the world will believe that God was in Christ. When we pull apart from one another what is our witness? Do we not give the world another reason not to be attracted to Christianity? The UCC is a very diverse family of churches and people ? but we believe that we are to love and appreciate those differences. This church family is a very diverse family of people and we have differences in faith perspectives, in what we think this church is to be all about, in what direction we think we should be going, and in so many other ways such as politics, ethics, and so on. We need to love and appreciate those differences and think about the witness of faith we live out. When those differences are not loved and appreciated we give people reason to leave ? and we have. Paul?s words start with ?rejoice, again I will say rejoice.? Paul begins with joy ? joy is deeper than just being happy ? joy comes from knowing that ultimately things are in God?s hands. And that joy gives hope.

So what if we hear Paul?s words and accept the invitation to that realm of God. Last Sunday Kathy was deeply touched to hear in joys and concerns of two people of this church family and their hopes for participating in cancer clinical trials . As you may know that is what Kathy does in her work at the Harold Alfond Cancer Center in Augusta ? and I can?t begin to tell you the joy she experiences when a patient is able to get on one. It is research and by being on a clinical trial the patient may experience a more successful treatment and may not ? but either way, their being on a clinical trial helps future patients because of what is learned. There is a risk involved but it is also all about opportunity and opportunity for positive change in the future. Each individual?s contribution is for the common good of future patients.

We are coming out of a difficult year as a church ? some are more aware of it than others ? but we are coming out of it ? attendance is coming back up, new folks are to be found in our life together. So I would suggest a clinical trial ? that we trust Paul?s words and be intentional about being that way. Are we willing to risk ? and focus not on what we don?t like or are unhappy with or have a problem with and instead focus on God and as Paul via Peterson says, Celebrate God ? all day ? every day ? revel in God! Are we willing to grasp this opportunity to change the future? Again ? each individual?s contribution makes the difference for us all. Understand and feel God as a constant presence ? and make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you?re on their side, working with them and not against them ? and don?t fret or worry but instead pray ? let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers ? letting GOD know your concerns. Are we willing to take the risk getting a sense of God?s wholeness coming to settle us ? and believe that everything will come together for good. Are we willing let Christ displace worry at the center of life ? and doing our best to fill our minds and meditate on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling and gracious ? the best not the worst ? the beautiful not the ugly, things to praise not to curse. Let love be the motivator for all that we do and don?t do.

Paul says in so doing we experience the peace of God!?? Amen?