You, Lord, preside and gather us in to feast with you a branch of the vine.
Open my eyes let me see as we gather round the feast.
Open my mind let me know, let the Word of God be shown.
Welcome to the gathering of St. Mark’s Church (Sunday worship under one roof)
Sunday, October 11th 2020.
Isaiah 25:1-6, 9 O 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. On that day, it will be said: 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.
Together, gathered and enfolded by the love of God, we worship the God of Jesus Christ by whose grace saves us. As we worship, the God of Jesus Christ, together, let us resist false hope, false promise of quick fixes and demands for solutions we see in the rhetoric of power and strength and convenience. Rather let us wait actively for God to save us. For God’s salvation is a work of breaking down systems of injustice, and building up communities of sanctuary, whose fruit is like a feast we are invited to for joy, peace and love. The Holy Spirit of communion bring to taste today this feast to come to sustain us in partnering with God for building up communities of sanctuary for the feast of joy, peace and love.
I invite you now to a time of prayerful reflection.
Music: Gather Round the Feast by Jordan Redding
You, Lord, preside and gather us in
to feast with you a branch of the vine.
Open my eyes let me see
as we gather round the feast.
Open my mind let me know,
let the Word of God be shown.
Song: ‘First Set Your Mind’
Welcome and Notices:
Praying the Psalm:
We will pray a psalm together. Before we do, let me give an explanation. The words of this psalm arise out of hope in the presence of evil. Evil lurks. It is felt and there is no way around it. There is no escaping. Yet the proclamation is made that God will lead through this, through paths trailblazed for us, because God’s name is the Shepherd. No thing can be relied on but this God whose promise is rest and so we shall follow. If for a sheep rest means green pastures and quiet waters, for us we find it on the table prepared by God for us with our enemies, a holy communion in the house of God, our true home.
What is the evil that you are in the midst of? What feels like a dark valley in your life now? What are you grabbing onto to? Where have you placed your trust on? Are they false promises? Are they merely a distraction? Will you trust God our Shepherd who promises to be with and lead us through it, going ahead of us to paths that leads to life-giving spaces? Will you trust God who prepares a feast for you and those to be reconciled for true rest, a holy communion?
Please respond with the words in bold.
The Lord is my shepherd,
I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Prayer for others:
[Now we will be led in a prayer for others]
We respond by singing the Lord’s Prayer together [offering to be brought up during the chorus “Amen”]:
Offering and Dedication Prayer:
Song: ‘All That I Am’
Scripture: Matthew 22:1-14
1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 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.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 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. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 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.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Sermon reflection: Whoa! What a difficult passage to hear God’s voice in! Sure, Jesus is in the midst of a conflict. Jesus has occupied the symbolic place of religious power, the temple. Jesus and the religious authorities are at loggerheads with one another as to who God is and therefore who we are. Remember, at the end, in order to dislodge Jesus, he will be killed by the religious authorities shaking hands with the political authorities.
So it is in this intense circumstance that Jesus tells this parable. More importantly, for the people hearing this story, their experience of the world would have been very different to us. To a certain extent we are sheltered from a world that is outrightly evil and violent. They knew very well how kings acted towards his subjects. Herod is a mere minion compared to Caligula and Nero for those of you who know your Roman history or at least have heard of their notoriety.
Though to a certain extent this context explains something of the polemic and inflammatory nature of Jesus’ parable, it is really important that we understand that this is an allegory. It is a story that seeks to understand the nature of our world. To a certain extent, Jesus’ parable is a lament and a tragedy. It is a story that seeks to give account of the state of the world we see and experience. It’s incongruity, it’s absurdity, it’s disturbing reality. And more often than not, the best medium to deal with such tragedy of our world is through a form of comedic caricature of exaggeration.
Invitation goes out to a king’s subjects welcoming them to a wedding feast of the his son. By the way the subjects respond, you would have thought these are republicans. A good royalist would pack their bags and be on their way to Buckingham Palace. They reject the invitation. You would think that they are inviting trouble. Surprisingly, this king sends another convoy to invite them once more. If a king’s heir’s marriage isn’t already a good enough reason, this time this king sets out to persuade them with not threat but generosity and hospitality. He assures them it will be a great party with great food. There is hope that there will be a change of heart. How absurd this is. Who has heard of a fool of a king who would beg? However, they are unimpressed and go back to business as usual.
If this isn’t bizarre enough, there is another incredulous turn of events. A horror unfolds in front of our eyes as those who reject the invitation turn violent and murderous. Well that wasn’t expected. But perhaps we are not so surprised by the retaliation of a king, as we are accustomed to history of kings willing to show their absolute power through their arbitrary taking of life. We see powers taking lives to maintain their status quo. We see powers destroying lives to justify their existence.
While this horror unfolds, while a city lays in ruins smoldering away, while we are scratching our heads to understand the incredulity of what has just happened, in the mean time, elsewhere there is something else smoldering away. In a kitchen is the food for the feast being continued to be prepared, being kept warm, for the feast that shall be.
In the midst of horror and terror, there is something hopeful about the smoke smoldering from a kitchen. The smoke of a ruined city through war and the smoke of a kitchen preparing for the coming of people together round the table are a great contrast. Many would scoff at the inconsequential space of a kitchen, what difference does it make? If hope is to be found at all, it is not at the war zone, whether it is a war of weapons, war of words, war within our minds. Rather hope is found at the preparation of coming together round a table sharing food, sharing life, with one another.
After the seemingly comedic elements, the tragedy sets in as we see the reality of our world’s absurdity, that this is a reflection of our own world. We ought to ask ourselves: Why does our world rather go to war than to gather round the table? Why would we reject God’s call to love God and love our neighbour?
God comes to us with his claims, that life is in loving God and loving our neighbour. Though we know it, we live it otherwise. As we are invited to rejoice with God for the salvation that is to come, we are indifferent and defiant. Because when salvation is real, it might just mean we have to let go of our business, our profit making, what’s important to us for the sake of common good and rejoicing together.
When we are invited to a party to celebrate a wonderful occasion, it means that we do need to count our cost. It may mean we might need to shut up shop for a day to celebrate with them. It may mean we might need to let go of a task that needs to be done for another day. There is a cost. But when it is our family, when it is our friends, we don’t dwell on the cost. Rather we dwell with the people we love and we rejoice together. We don’t pretend to rejoice that afterwards you are annoyed or upset about the sacrifice you made. We actually become joyful ourselves. In other words, God’s invitation is that we rejoice with those who rejoice.
So people accept the king’s invitation to rejoice with one another. The gates to the wedding celebration is thrown wide open. From the streets people are gathered up. They enter into the important occasion of a wedding feast of the king’s son to celebrate. Then another strange event occurs. The king in the midst of the people finds a person without the wedding party attire. For this reason, this person is booted out in a way that sounds horrid and tortuous.
This allegory is a warning against self-satisfaction, that we need to guard ourselves from complacency. There is something about an occasion and a fitting attire. It becomes a metaphor for what the occasion of the kingdom of God is. Not to wear a fitting attire is referring to not living to the standard of the occasion. There is a standard to God’s kingdom of heaven. To this inclusive community the fruit of the Spirit is the standard for our being together – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We can not to take our belonging for granted. We can not to take our communion, our fellowship for granted.
Despite the seriousness of the parable accentuated by the comedic exaggeration of absurdity, what is punctuated about the kingdom of heaven is not so much about the seriousness. Rather the problem for both the first set of invitees who reject and the person who does not wear the right attire is that they do not join in the party. The kingdom of heaven is a banquet, after all, and you’ve got to put on your party dress and get with the program. The kingdom music is playing, and it’s time to get up on the dance floor. One theological commentator says: “In the last resort, it all boils down to the fact that the invitation is to a feast, and that he who does not obey and come accordingly, and therefore festively, declines and spurns the invitation no less than those who are unwilling to obey and appear at all.”
The Gospel is then we are invited to rejoice with those who rejoice, will you receive the invitation to come round the table of joy?
Holy Communion Song: ‘We Come To Your Feast’
With the angels and archangels who envelop us,
With all the saints before us and beside us,
With brothers and sisters,
east and west,
north and south,
We sing to you.
Blessed is your son, Jesus,
who emptied himself of power
and became foolishness for our sake:
Heaven’s child laid in a manger;
God’s anointed laid in a tomb.
Born again from the shuddering earth,
he is embodied forever in his living creation.
And in these, its fruits of bread and wine.
In the same way also
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
whenever you drink it,
to remember me.”
So, as we eat this bread
and drink this cup,
we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
Christ has died;
Christ is risen;
Christ will come again.
Come now, O spirit of Christ,
Brood over these bodily things,
This bread and this wine.
May they be for us
your body and blood.
Vibrant with life.
and making us whole.
And embrace us
with your life-giving power,
that as bread and wine are made one with us,
we may become one with you;
bone of your bone,
flesh of your flesh,
living our prayer and praying our life
until love and fidelity embrace,
peace and justice kiss,
and all are free as Christ is free.
We shall break it.
We shall take it.
Come, for all things are now ready.
Come to the table and share with all in need:
the gift of healing
the gift of forgiveness
the gift of assurance
and the gift of hope.
May we who share these gifts,
share Christ with one another
and all our kin.
Sharing in the feast of Christ.
May you know the peace which the Spirit brings: a peace grounded in love, patience and self-control, shaped by kindness, generosity and faithfulness, marked by gentleness,
and crowned with joy.
May the peace of the Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Sharing the Peace of Christ: Peace of Christ be with you
Song Of Sending: ‘We Shall Go Out With Hope Of Resurrection’
Benediction: The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and forever. Amen.