Posts Tagged ‘Matthew 22’

What if Jesus Was Serious About That Whole Love Your Neighbor Thing?

As a pastor, I do quite a bit of writing; weekly sermons, notes for classes, monthly newsletter articles.  In working on my article for November, it struck me that this might be something to share with all of you out there in the world.

I write this article shortly before Reformation Sunday, the last weekend of October. In celebration of the Reformation, our scripture lessons supersede the texts regularly assigned for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost. Had we gone with that set of scripture passages, the Gospel for October 26th would have been Matthew 22:34-46. I had to chuckle when I realized that, as it is a passage that I’ve run into more than once recently.

Recently the combined Confirmation/Adult Forum class discussed the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert in the 40 years between the Exodus and entering the Promised Land. Within that discussion, we looked at Deuteronomy 6:4-5, commonly known to the Jewish faith as the Shema. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” As the class talked about this passage and its importance, we also recognized that Jesus himself passed this vital Jewish command onto us, and this happens in the passage from Matthew 22.

When challenged by the religious elite to pick out the most important law, Jesus responded back with this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the command of our Lord, to first love Him, and then to love everyone else as well. But perhaps this is easier said than done.

We live in a trying time, and perhaps in those moments when we pick up a newspaper or visit a news website or turn on the nightly news report, we see too much negativity in the world to even begin to think about love. We are dealing with fear and paranoia over Ebola, videos and reports of ISIS beheading Christians and threating to attack the United States, and the ever present tension/conflict between Israel and Palestine. And that doesn’t even begin to take into account the constant barrage of attack ads on TV and the radio as we creep up on Election Day on the 4th.

With all of this staring us in the face day after day, perhaps we find ourselves feeling a little cynical about that whole “loving our neighbor” thing, and rather than loving God, we throw exasperated questions in the heavenly direction, “Where are you on all this stuff?”

But it is precisely these times that we must cling to those two commandments…love the Lord with all you’ve got, recognizing that maybe today “all you’ve got” isn’t as strong as it was last week, nor is it as strong as it will be a year from now. And at the same time loving our neighbors…all of them, and I don’t just mean the people that live around the corner from you.

In times like this, I find it helpful to return to John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…” And funny enough…that means all of it. The world includes all of the people in constant conflict with one another. It includes the politicians cutting each other down to try and grab one more vote. And the world includes you and me, even in those times when the negativity present in life gets the better of us.

Interestingly enough, when we think about all that conflict going on “out there,” the fighting and the battling, and the terrorism and the atrocities happening all over the world, we begin to realize that despite our differences, we’re fighting a simple family squabble. Jesus’ commands remind us of our connection with the Jewish faith which traces all the way back to Abraham. And if we look back at the story, we realize that he was also the father of Ishmael, considered to be the patriarch of the Arab nation, what we would call Islam today.

And so, if all the conflict and tension in the world really can be sifted down into a family squabble, then maybe it’s time we all start taking Jesus’ command to love our neighbors seriously…because everyone out there is our brother or sister. What might happen if everyone started believing that, and seeing one another as God see each and every one of us; as beloved children of God.

In Christ
Pastor Scott

Don’t Forget Your Robe 10-12-14

Today’s sermon is based on Matthew 22:1-14. This is the parable of the wedding banquet. Its a difficult and strange story, but yet there is hope to be found. I also explore this passage through the lens of a baptism which occurred in worship.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/dont-forget-your-robe-10-12-14

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here.

Grace and peace to your from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Social decorum seems to set a certain benchmark in different situations regarding the proper mode of dress doesn’t it? In a given situation there is usually an expected way to present ourselves…and yet at times, when we are entering into an unknown situation, sometimes we have to ask.

I’ve found that to be the case when helping out in different congregations in recent years…most recently just a few weeks ago when I helped out a neighboring congregation on a Saturday night…and typically when I am faced with one of these unfamiliar situations I’ll ask the question “What’s the mode of dress?” That way I have some idea and I don’t show up wearing something inappropriate for the given situation. (pause)

But I had to learn this the hard way…on both sides of the coin. For instance…a number of years back…probably been about 9 or 10 by this point…I was a young wiseguy serving as Council Secretary for the congregation of 1st Lutheran Church in Milford, IA. Our congregation was coming towards the end of a building project…as we had outgrown the current building, and so we were constructing a much larger facility.

Now we were blessed enough to have identified a small fledgling congregation, Wisconsin Synod Lutherans, who were interested in purchasing our old building. Considering that the building would continue to be utilized as a place of worship, we were ecstatic…and so the day arrived when the leaders of both congregations would gather and sign the paperwork, making the sale official. The meeting would involve the pastors of both congregations as well as the council presidents and secretaries…and so, it would fall to me to be there.

Now you should know, at the time I was working in a local factory, and my attire on a daily basis included heavy steel-toed work boots…old greasy blue jeans…and a company t-shirt that picked up gobs of grease and dirt throughout the course of the day. (pause) It never occurred to me that I should allow myself enough time to run home after work and grab a shower…much less to bring a change of clothes…and so I walked into that meeting, where everyone was in suits and sports coats…and I could only think to myself. Wow…I am underdressed…and of course there was a picture in the paper from the meeting as well…Figures.

Now on the flip side, I’ve also overdressed…I once showed up to a job interview…thinking that it was going to be a slightly more high scale job…and so I was decked in a full suit…only to discover that this job was a phone sales position…and my soon to be boss, was wearing jeans and a polo. Awkward to say the least.

Based on the extremes of both of these instances, I have learned to think carefully about what to wear in given situations…though sometimes…a unique situation still arises…and that’s the case that we find in today’s story.

Another parable…Jesus is fond of them isn’t he? And today, he shares a doosy…a wedding banquet…that seems to be full of odd situations…Call me crazy…but doesn’t pretty much every detail of this wedding banquet seem strange…ludacris…almost laughable in the way that Jesus presents it? (pause)

Let’s think about this…a king throws a wedding banquet…the invitations have all gone out…the preparations are completed…the food is ready…everything is good to go…and so he sends out his servants to fetch the guests…and the guests…blow it off. (pause)

There’s craziness #1 right there…this is the king…social decorum would state that you would NEVER say no to the king…he invites…you go period…but yet these folks have something better to do…and they ignore the servants…at least the first few do…some of the other guests seem to be irritated…downright enraged at the interruption of the invitation…and they mistreat the servants…and some of them flat out kill them…WHAT? Kill the servants of the king? I don’t know about you but that sorta sounds like treason to me? No wonder the king gets mad and sends out his army…and that’s the next crazy point. Perhaps its understandable that he orders his army to kill the killers…but in an even stranger situation he also orders them to burn the city to the ground…hold on a sec King…this is your territory…that’s your city you’re burning down there…crazy…none of this makes any sense does it?

But after all of this, the king takes a look in the banquet hall…see’s the bbq all prepped and ready and thinks to himself…well…someone needs to eat this…and he sends his servants out to collect anyone they can find…good, bad, or otherwise…gather them in…bring ‘em on in…and that’s exactly what happens.

And now…despite all the craziness that has gone on to this point…its time to party…and the king…despite the earlier snubbing of the invited guests…goes into the party to welcome his new guests…and out of the entire banquet hall…his eyes fall on this one…random…guy.

This guy…without…a wedding robe….and the king…is…shocked. “Friend…how did you get in here…dressed like that?” (pause) And the man…has no answer…and he is thrown out. (pause)

Truly…this is a strange wedding that we’ve got going on here. What was this man’s crime? Was it that big of a deal that he wasn’t wearing a robe? Were the clothes you wore really that important in those days? Or is there something else going on here? (pause) Maybe, just maybe, what truly offends the king is the lack of preparation on the part of the man…everyone else seems to have taken the time to dress up…even if there were simply gathered in from the cross roads…but not this guy…it seems that he failed to take the invitation seriously…and he is punished for it. (pause)

Now…let’s remember for a moment that we are talking about a parable…and typically when faced with a parable we must ask ourselves just who are we in the story…because Jesus has this uncanny way of telling a story that points out our failings…and let’s us know that the kingdom of heaven is not gonna operate in a way that makes any sense to us…and considering the various oddities in Jesus’ story about this banquet…we can see that point is true today…

And so, we bring our minds back to the question of just who are we? (pause) Are we the king? Probably not…I’m pretty sure the king is God…so we can cross that one off the list…but what about the guests…those originally…invited? Do we fall in that category? Perhaps…I’m guessing at one time or another we have all ignored the invitation to come into God’s banquet…its in our flawed human nature to do so. (pause)

Well what about the servants…the ones sent out to gather the guest, the old and the new…are we the servants? (pause) Maybe? Probably, at least at one time or another…we are sent out to gather in more for God’s banquet table. (pause)

How about the new guests…those gathered…those brought in…good and bad alike…I think we all fall in that category as well…invited…brought in…just as each and every one of us was, at one time…invited to come and see this Jesus guy…and to hear the good news. (pause)

But what about that last guy…the one without a robe…the one…deemed unacceptable…the one cast out…excluded…the one, who wasn’t good enough? (pause) What about that guy? Can you relate to him? (pause) As this week went by…I had various conversations in and around this passage…and around general matters of faith as well…and throughout the course of those conversations, I kept coming back to this one guy…and the questions that surround him.

How did he get in? Did he sneak in? Was he there dishonorably? And really…in the long run, what’s the deal with this robe? (pause) And as I thought about all that…I felt a little bit of fear creep in…a little bit of doubt…and then the question…AM I…THAT GUY? (long pause)

Don’t we all fear that…being that one individual…the one deemed unacceptable? The one that catches God’s eye for all the wrong reasons…who hears the words of accusation…and worse yet, knowing full well that those accusations are true. (pause)

Ever been there? Ever stood in front of someone, knowing full well you’re guilty…and knowing that whatever they say, you can’t say a word…and you have to stand there…speechless…and take it? (pause)

That’s what I kept coming back to this week…the what if’s…the doubts…the fears…and I kept asking the question, “What…is…this…robe?” (pause) What is it that we are supposed to be wearing when we enter into the heavenly banquet in the age to come? What is it that will ensure that we are welcomed and not cast away…welcomed…and not thrown into the darkness? (pause)

And the answer…the only thing that I could come with is Christ himself…the son…the one that God throws the party for…we must be clothed with Christ…and then I found myself asking just how we do that…and low and behold the apostle Paul told me how…in the book of Galatians Paul writes As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself…with Christ. (pause)

And it hit me…the meaning of a sacrament…when God uses regular day to day things like water or bread or wine…together with a promise…and comes to us…and today…at this font…we celebrate this very thing for small boy named Elliot Johnson. (pause)
In just a few moments…Elliot will be washed with the water in this font…and likewise, he will receive the promise that God claims him as his own…that God names him his beloved child…and that God marks him with the cross of Christ and seals him in His divine love forever.

And each and every one of us shares in this same promise…that in the waters of our baptism we are clothed with Christ…and one day…one glorious day we too will be gathered into the heavenly banquet, where the robe of Christ will ensure that we are welcomed in the love of God…expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord…and as the Apostle Paul goes on to tell us, if you belong to Christ, then you are heirs according to the promise. (pause) Heirs of what? Well…heirs of a place in God’s banquet hall…a place at God’s table…but most importantly, heirs to the name…beloved child of God…and that…is something to celebrate.

So when God calls…and the banquet is prepared…don’t forget your robe…your robe…of Jesus Christ. Amen.