The Grace in Community

Matthew 22:1-14

 

Once again our parable is a kingdom parable to illustrate what it means to live and build up the kingdom of God.  Here it’s pretty obvious that the king is God and the son is Jesus. The king is giving a wedding banquet for his son. He sends his servants to call those who have been invited. Now this is somewhat of a strange statement for us. Were all of the invitees standing around waiting for the food to be prepared? No. It happens that in Jesus’ time it was tradition that guests would be invited in advanced of the wedding banquet, more as a heads up. The invitation didn’t tell them when it would be. This was because the parent giving the banquet did not know how long it would take to prepare the feast. Once it was prepared, then the guests would be called to come … and they were expected to come.

But in this case all of the invited guests made excuses why they couldn’t come: one to care for his farm another to manage his business. Others didn’t even bother to give a reason, but just harassed the messengers.  Now a strange passage intervenes. According to Matthew these latter went to the extremes of even killing the messengers! At which point the king destroyed them and their city. Now really we wouldn’t believe that shameful guests would resort to such extremes. Usually when a parable has an out of place or odd statement there’s a deeper meaning there … we will get back to that.

So the king rejects his guests in return and sends his servants into the streets with orders to invite everyone they see, both good and bad until the wedding hall was filled. We presume that this included beggars, prostitutes, thieves, Romans, gentiles, upscale women and men, even children.

Now the parable ends in something of a down turn. During the feast the king mingles with the guests. He encounters one guest who is not dressed properly. He is furious with him, in particular when he couldn’t even make an excuse for his improper dress. So the king sent him to hell, proclaiming many are called but few are chosen.

So who might be the guests in our day and age?  I believe that God intends the fruits of the Kingdom of God for everyone no matter their religion or lack of it. The seeds of the Kingdom under many different names exist throughout human life. Therefore, I suggest that this parable can be applied to our current social order that so deeply touches our private and public lives. And I believe that God expects we who intentionally seek after God to be good stewards of the Kingdom in our midst in our present social order.

So how would the parable play out in our daily lives? Well, we need to start with an idea of just what we mean by the Kingdom of God. It is a way of living. It is not a particular place or time. It is a living style. And given that, it is a variety of considerations. Some of the important ones that we need to focus on are civility, faith, community and outreach.

As we’ve talked before we live in an age of mean spirited behavior and language. As citizens of the Kingdom we are forbidden such behavior and language. We are expected to respect everyone with whom we encounter either face to face, through the Internet or even just in the media. We are to always treat them as a child of God and a brother or sister of our own. We are not to judge them on their religion, ethnicity, gender, orientation, etc. Indeed, we are not to judge the person at all. We are called to judge a specific act of someone, and consider how we should respond to it. But we are not to broaden that judgment and presume that because an act is wrong that the human is unredeemable. Indeed, we are to be humble, for in many cases where we object to what someone is doing or saying, our own bias are clouding our judgments. As part of being civil, we must also be self-reflective and aware of our own judgment.

This quite frankly is not easy to do. And that leads us to faith. We need to nurture our faith. God supports us day by day to keep to a civil and compassionate behavior. One of the hallmarks of the Kingdom is that we believe it exists and that truly God is with us. This of course requires faith since no science can prove the existence of the Kingdom. But living a life of faith gives us the strength and stamina to follow in the footsteps of Jesus even in the face of mean-spiritedness. Faith is a strength that says “I did the right thing. I behaved as I should even if someone with whom I’m interacting is not. I haven’t succumbed to the popular way of behaving. I’ve stood with Jesus in this.” And that believe and faith can be a very strong bulwark against the tides of selfishness and isolation that are sweeping over us in this current age.

But like being civil in an uncivil time, it is hard to keep the faith. It is a way of behaving. It’s not something we can buy in a store. It requires day by day practice and nurturing. And that leads us to the faith community. The Kingdom is not a personal or individual state of mind.  It is a community. I do not live in my Kingdom of God and you do not live in yours. We live together in God’s Kingdom. And our faith community is one neighborhood in the Kingdom of God.  It is a community in which we provide and seek support. It is a community in which we nurture our faith with dialogue and worship and stories. It is a community that has long roots in the past and many branches in the present … and will grow even more in the future. It is the community of the family of God living together in harmony in all of our diversity and disagreements. Indeed it is the community in which we celebrate are uniqueness without being isolated. Where each of us shares our differences and learn from others and thereby grow in faith.

And finally it is through this faith community that we know that the whole is greater than the parts. We are energized by being in the community with a strength that cannot be found alone.  It has been statistically documented that people who belong to faith communities can often sustain outreach to the needy far longer than an individual. It has also been documented that people belonging to a faith community overcome trauma and suffering more often. The whole provides the energy and the vision that we are participating in something great and cosmic in breadth.

And that leads us to outreach.  We are not to bottle ourselves up in the faith community. The Kingdom calls us to reach out to all of God’s children whether they live in the Kingdom or not. We are called not to separate ourselves from them, but to join them in love and respect. We are not better. We haven’t seen the light and the rest are just in ignorant darkness. Rather we have committed ourselves to living a certain way and that way calls us to be available to the world to offer care and hope and vision. It is for those in the world to decide to partake of our offering or not. Indeed we are the servants of the King who were sent to call the guests to the wedding feast.

So again who are the guests that refused to come to the wedding feast of the Kingdom? They have been invited. But now that they are called into the Kingdom they are refusing to join in. An age is passing and one that will leave us bereft of community. Our technology has magnified our tradition of rugged individuality to the point where an individual can survive in a semi-isolated world of his or her own making. Many, if not most, people have abandoned intentional communities, such as churches, temples, service organizations, and clubs. Many people are satisfied with their work community and just their family. Their breath of relationships is narrow. They have no vehicle in which to broaden their relationships by the regular interactions within a larger intentional community. They have refused the call to come to the feast of community. People have started choosing just to associate with friends. Even our neighborhoods are becoming just rows of houses within which live strangers. As a result there is a starvation of interaction with a diverse group of people resulting in a lack of sensitivity to other’s thoughts and customs.

We are becoming a collection of individuals and families rather than a cohesive community.  When I listen to the younger generation there is so much reference to cybernetic communities. But these are just bits and bytes. Nothing can replace basic, face to face human contact. It is that very physical presence that makes for community. An Internet community is limited to the cerebral … words and pictures. But a real physical presence transcends that: you are facing a real person. God became incarnate in Jesus … a physical, flesh and blood human being. People could not – cannot – relate to a ghost, whether mystical or cybernetic as deeply as they can a human being. So God became incarnate so we could relate to God. Similarly reaching out to flesh and blood people to invite them into care and love and hope is part of being in the Kingdom of God.

And when you are looking someone real in the eye it is much harder to be mean-spirited – and so we come full circle back to civility: in a community of people, civility is needed deeply.  So we arrive at that strange passage in Matthew where the people murdered the servants and the King destroys their town. I suggest that when someone has abandoned intentional community, they leave themselves bereft of human support. They can at the extreme end dehumanize themselves and find it easy to see other humans not as people, but as objects that are either in their way or offensive. It is easy to criticize and even abandon those to which you do not relate.

We hear a lot today about cutting into the social safety network. I wonder at those who promote this if they have ever worked in a food pantry or served food to the homeless or helped a desperate family find work. I suggest that if they do these things they would find it much harder to callously damage the social safety network.

So the King sent his servants – that is ourselves – out into the streets to invite ordinary people into the Kingdom of God. And that is what we need to do. Our living in the Kingdom of God is not just for Sunday morning worship or when we are interacting with each other. It is how we are to live our private and public lives. Our civility is for all whom we encounter no matter how we might feel about them. And certainly our faith is always supporting us through our lives. We are renewed by our faith community, but our sense of community can be shared with others in our concern for them – just a kind word now and then can mean the world to someone. And that becomes part of our outreach.

And there will be times when people – like the person who came to the wedding feast improperly dressed – who will be suspicious of our good behavior: after all the world is a dangerous place where you cannot trust most people. They will wonder what scam we are trying to play on them. They will think we are naďve or foolish. We are not to turn from such a person. But we are to maintain our Kingdom behavior no matter how others may suspect us or even ridicule us.

And in the end we will be able to look back and say to God, Thank you for letting us into the wedding feast – our lives were fuller and filled with love and grace and hope.

 

Think about it …

God’s grace and love be with you …

Amen.