The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 23, 15 October 2017

Track One:
Exodus 32:1-14
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23

Track Two:
Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 23

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

Background: Ancient Wedding Feasts

Unlike contemporary weddings, where the banquet follows the ceremony and the consummation of the wedding is a private affair, often totally unassociated with the legalities of the wedding, ancient wedding feasts followed the legal or contractural rites and the consummation of the wedding. Of course, these ceremonies and rituals occupied several days. The wedding feast was in the home of the groom, to which the bride and groom, accompanied by their companions, moved in procession following the consummation of the marriage in the chuppah room. Both the feast and the consummation were celebrated by those invited to the marriage ceremonies. It was the end of the rites, not the center of the rites.

Track One:

First Reading: Exodus 32:1-14

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.
The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!< The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”

But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’“ And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

There is a difficult situation that lurks just below the surface of the experience expressed in this pericope. One is the absence of the leader, Moses, and the perceived absence of the God who made for the spectacular miracle at the Sea of Reeds. What becomes evident beyond this is the persistence of the polytheistic culture in which these people have lived for a long period of time, Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us.” God’s appointed, Moses, is absent as well as God’s own presence. There is need for a leader in this wilderness, and neither seems evident, and so other options are sought. The calf that Aaron fashions is not the god itself that Israel sought. As was the manner in most ancient near eastern religions, the calf (or bull) represented the throne of the diety, not the god itself. We will see this again when the ark of the covenant is crafted, with the cherubim serving as the throne of YHWH. What is clear, however, is that the people have moved away from the God who brought them out of Egypt. Aaron thinks that he has made a throne for YHWH and we hear this in his proclamation, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.”  The people, however, have a much different idea, an idea that incurs God’s wrath. Moses argues against their destruction, for it would diminish God’s glory seen at the Sea of Reeds. He furthers the argument by citing the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God relents.

Breaking open Exodus:
1.      When have you experienced an absent leadership?
2.      What did you do about that?
3.      What were your options?

Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 Confitemini Domino, Et fecerunt vitulum

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, *
for his mercy endures for ever.
2      Who can declare the mighty acts of the Lord *
or show forth all his praise?
3      Happy are those who act with justice *
and always do what is right!
4      Remember me, O Lord, with the favor you have for your people, *
and visit me with your saving help;
5      That I may see the prosperity of your elect
and be glad with the gladness of your people, *
that I may glory with your inheritance.
6      We have sinned as our forebears did; *
we have done wrong and dealt wickedly.
19    Israel made a bull-calf at Horeb *
and worshiped a molten image;
20    And so they exchanged their Glory *
for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.
21    They forgot God their Savior, *
who had done great things in Egypt,
22    Wonderful deeds in the land of Ham, *
and fearful things at the Red Sea.
23    So he would have destroyed them,
had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, *
to turn away his wrath from consuming them.

The psalm is a rehearsal of events that follow on the experience at the Sea of Reeds. However it is really more than that, the elided verses reviewing history well beyond that of the golden calf and into the history of Israel’s dalliance with the ba’alim. You might want to read the entire psalm so as to see how often Israel went down the path of forgetting the Lord.

Breaking open Psalm 106:
1.     What have been your golden calves?
2.     Who called you back to God?
3.    How did you make your return?


Track Two:

First Reading: Isaiah 25:1-9

Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you, I will praise your name;
for you have done wonderful things,
plans formed of old, faithful and sure.
For you have made the city a heap,
the fortified city a ruin;
the palace of aliens is a city no more,
it will never be rebuilt.
Therefore strong peoples will glorify you;
cities of ruthless nations will fear you.
For you have been a refuge to the poor,
a refuge to the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.
When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm,
the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place,
you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds;
the song of the ruthless was stilled.
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Once again we see God active in human history. Here Isaiah sees God as a protector of the poor and needy, but also a God challenging and putting down the power of Israel’s enemies. Beginning at verse six we see a heartening vision – a banquet “for all peoples.” The full extent of the prophet’s meaning in citing “all peoples” is not easily discerned. At the least it is for the believers, both Jewish and not, who have come to accept and to worship the God of Israel.  Perhaps others who have been discouraged by the power of Israel’s enemies are included here as well. What will be gone is the pall of sorrow and disappointment that comes with a world in upheaval. Isaiah urges the people to “be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Breaking open Isaiah
1.     What words of despair do you hear in Isaiah’s message?
2.     What words of hope?
3.    How is our world like Isaiah’s world?

Psalm 23 Dominus regit me

     The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2      He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3      He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.
4      Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5      You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
6      Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

The popularity of this psalm makes it difficult for the person praying with it or meditating on it to wrest new meaning from its familiar verses. It is comforting, and that is perhaps why the framers of the lectionary chose it to accompany the reading from Isaiah. It shares some of the same elements, God as a guide and leader, God as a protector from enemies, and God as the provider of a magnificent feast. If there is a concept of time in the Hebrew Scriptures, it can often be one that looks at the entire scope of God’s care for and relationship with humankind, the created. So it is here as well, “dwelling in the house of the Lord for ever.”

Breaking open the Psalm 25:
1.     How do you use the 23rd psalm?
2.     What new insights have you gained?
3.    What understandings do you rely on?

Second Reading: Philippians 4:1-9

My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

The readings in both tracks that have preceded this one have anticipated Paul’s themes here – themes of relationship and reconciliation. It the earlier readings focused on our relationship with God, and God’s good things given to us, this pericope from Paul extends that relationship of kindness and well-doing beyond the relationship with God to the relationship we have with one another as well. Two names, of which we know little, Euodia, and Syntyche, remind us the very human aspect of this reading and the relationships that Paul encourages. It is the peace of Christ that informs these relationships so both heart and mind are formed in Christ. How we treat one another is modeled in how we have been treated in Christ.

Breaking open Philippians:
1.     What treasured relationships do you have?
2.     What threatened relationships do you have?
3.    What would God have you do?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 22:1-14

Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

In this parable, as in last Sunday’s Gospel, we have a model of God’s activity with us in Christ Jesus. It is a parable of the Kingdom of Heaven, and its symbolic device is the wedding banquet. At such banquets which could involve more than the entire family, perhaps even an entire town or village, a sense of the good and righteous community was to be seen in action. The banquet was known in two stages: the invitation stage – sort of penciling it in on a social calendar, and finally the announcement that the banquet was actually going to be celebrated. We see in these two stages the role of the prophets, and the role of the bridegroom present at the banquet. The reaction to this announcement allows Jesus to address how he had been received, and to foresee all who would eventually be invited into the banquet. Regardless of when the individual was invited (and here we have a glimpse of St. John Chrysostom’s magnificent Easter sermon) or when they actually attended there was yet an expection of righteousness. Washed and clearn, or in filthy clothes, the guests were expected to make themselves ready for the visitation.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     How have you been invited by God?
2.     What has been your response?
3.    What is the condition of your preparation?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller


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