October 15, 2023
Exodus 32.1-14 — The golden calf
Psalm 106 — Praise for God’s great deeds, and confession that we have sinned. As Moses convinced God to spare the people, we seek God’s mercy.
Philippians 4.2-9 — C’mon, Euodia and Syntyche, work it out…. Rejoice always…. Let your gentleness show… Don’t worry, but pray…. The peace of God will guard your hearts…. Fill your consciousness with whatever is good.
Matthew 22.1-14 — The parable of the wedding feast
Moses has been up on the mountain a long time. You can understand the people’s anxiety. We’re not good at trustful waiting. We’re not good at trusting an unseen, untouched, unknowable God. We want something concrete. The temptation for us is not necessarily golden statues, but the idol of Something To Hang Onto. Especially something shiny. We’re reminded of the commandment we heard last week against graven images. We need to learn to live with mystery, with not knowing, with waiting. And we also need to let go of the idol of control, the idolatry of taking things into our own hands when it really is God’s work, not ours.
We can assume the gold they use to make the calf is the gold they took from the Egyptians (Ex. 12.3.5). So the fruits of their liberation become the source of their new bondage to a new idol. As they’ve complained so many times, now in their minds they’ve gone back to Egypt.
Did everybody in the camp participate? Didn’t anybody resist? Who knows. The golden calf, our golden calf, is a communal sin, a corporate wrongdoing. We are part of a culture that sins, even if we don’t like it, even if we actively resist it. We share the guilt. Racism, white supremacy, sexism, violence and consumerism are our golden calves. We have to keep confessing those sins and repenting, on behalf of the whole culture.
God has a hissy fit—but can be talked down. We have a picture of Yahweh as a very human, moody, reactive guy (especially in J’s telling). He gets mad and breaks things. God wants to torch the people. Moses intervenes, and will many more times, as Abraham tried to intervene on behalf of Sodom (Gen. 18.23-33). God seems pretty violent. He asks the people to kill each other (Ex. 32.27). He has even tried to murder Moses (Ex. 4.24)! If your people are attentive they’ll raise the question: Does someone have to intervene every now and then to save us from a vengeful God? This is a real question for folks in both testaments: God smites people in the book of Acts, too, and of course Revelation is, literally, a bloodbath. How do you respond? Here’s a thought. These are not stories about God. God remains mystery. They are about what it’s like to live with God. Sometimes when we’ve violated the laws of God—tried to write our own—it can feel like we’re being punished. When you try to defy the law of gravity no one will punish you, but you’ll suffer for it. This picture of an angry God is a personification of the experience of fighting against reality and losing. Internally you can feel it. Sometimes when I wrong someone my regret burns in me like God’s wrath consuming me. And, by the way, sometimes we need to be in the position of Moses, advocating against the violence of our own images of God!
Paul was not against woman speaking, or even leading, in the church. Euodia and Syntyche are examples of many women he names who were leaders.
— Side note: The notion Paul wanted to silence them comes primarily from 1 Cor. 14.34—but this is Paul’s quote from the church in Corinth—lacking quotation marks! His response is in v. 36: “Did the word of God originate with you men? Or are you males the only ones it has reached?” We lack the masculine “you” here, but it’s there in Greek: Paul is scolding the males for trying to silence women. He assumes women will pray and prophesy in church (1 Cor. 11.5). Paul’s radical egalitarianism (see 1 Cor. 11.11) is dulled and even contradicted by later Deutero-Pauline writers, but don’t blame that on Paul. (See Borg and Crossan’s The First Paul.)
As is often the case, Paul offers the seed of an entire sermon in each sentence: “Rejoice always…. Let your gentleness be known to everyone…. Do not worry but pray… The peace of God which surpasses all understanding… will guard your hearts…. Whatever is good, think about these things….” Throughout, Paul imagines not just a certain set of standards to follow but a transformed consciousness.
Notice how joy, gentleness and prayer are intertwined. We rejoice in God’s grace. And because we trust that grace, instead of worrying we pray. We are not troubled. And because we trust God’s grace, we don’t gel selfish, defensive, competitive or manipulative. We can dare to be gentle because God has been gentle with us.
This is not just “the power of positive thinking.” We align ourselves with grace. Some people are obsessed with resisting the devil, avoiding hell, atoning for their sin, and in general consumed by thoughts of evil. Unfortunately we tend to become what we think about. It’s no surprise those folks often end up mean, tense, judgmental and rigid. But Paul counsels us to take on the mind of Christ. Whatever is good, let that fill your consciousness.
The first thing we encounter in this story is the easiest to overlook: The realm of heaven, that is life as God intends it, is a party! And not just a cocktail party, but the celebration of faithfulness: a wedding feast. Every communion is one. Every day is one. Come to the party!
The next thing we encounter is the disdain people with power of privilege have for that feast. How do we spurn God’s invitation because we want to think we’re better than that, that we don’t need it, that we’re OK on our own? How comfortable are we when dirty losers show up in church?
And then it’s a story about God’s radical inclusion of everyone, “both the good and the bad.” How often do we count ourselves in one group or the other, as if it matters? To God it doesn’t matter. Seriously, whether you’re good or bed doesn’t matter to God. Come to the table. Of course God prefers that you be good, but it doesn’t affect the invitation. How do we shed our attachment to our judgments of “good and bad” and just sit with everybody?
Matthew has radically altered Jesus’ original tale. And he’s added some bizarre bits. One is the murderous response of the invitees, and the king’s retaliatory attack. Seems like a lot to get done while the caterers are standing there. I’m not sure what Matthew is getting at there other than maybe an allegory about people who reject Jesus, with reference to the sacking of Jerusalem. Not fertile preaching ground.
The second detail is also both bizarre and deeply Matthean: the king kicks a guy out for not being dressed up—after just hauling him in off the street! This fits Matthew’s theme that the church is full of worthy and unworthy people, but God will sort them out in the end. The tag line is surely Matthew’s and not Jesus’: “Many are called but few are chosen.” Well, I’m not convinced: the people Jesus not only called but chose were not so choice… Scripture is full of stories of how God accomplishes miracles through outcasts, rejects, losers, misfits, and folks who are generally deemed “unworthy.” I don’t buy the “worthy/unworthy” dichotomy (it’s so unlike Jesus)… but. What might it mean to be properly dressed? Maybe it’s not a matter of having the right qualifications, but being prepared for a wedding party: being ready to celebrate, to honor and give thanks, to recognize God’s gift. Maybe it’s not about being right, but being joyful.
Call to Worship
Leader: Hear ye, hear ye! God, the sovereign of the universe says,
“I proclaim my love, bound to you in faithfulness.
I proclaim the wedding of my Beloved son to the world.
Come and celebrate with me.”
All: But we are not worthy. We’re not the pious ones.
We’re not good enough. Others are the saints and heroes.
You are invited. Not the great and mighty, but you, as you are.
We come, then, to celebrate God’s love, to celebrate faithfulness.
We come, not because we are either either worthy nor unworthy,
but because we are invited.
We come to give thanks, to rejoice, and to feast on God’s grace. Alleluia!
Leader: Loving God, you have called us to your table, and we come to feast.
All: You have gathered us with siblings and strangers
and made us into a new community.
You have created us anew by your grace, and we thank you.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Amen.
Leader: Beloved people of God, come to the wedding feast of life.
All: God has married the world in love!
Leave your labors and burdens, and come.
We come as we are, well and unwell, wounded and whole.
There is no worthiness or unworthiness, only that you are invited.
We come hungry for grace and ready to celebrate.
We come with joy to worship. Alleluia!
Leader: Joy of God, you call to us.
All: Faithfulness of God, you include us.
Celebration of God, lift us up!
Feast of grace, nourish us!
We are here to celebrate.
We are here to be loved.
Feed us with your presence,
that we may be joyfully loving. Amen.
Collect / Prayer of the Day
Gracious God, we thank you for the feast of Creation, the gift of the human household, and the miracle of your grace. We thank you fort all the ways you invite us to feast, to celebrate, and to share. You welcome us to find our place among your beloved, and feast at the table of your Word. Feed us with your Spirit, and make us yours once again. We pray in the name and the company of Christ. Amen.
Loving God, you invite us all to your table. There is no rank or privilege, only our hunger and your grace. Help us find our place among each other, rich and poor, confident and hesitant, those who own the place and those who feel out of place. Here we are all equally your family and your guests. You welcome us. We open our hearts tp you. Feed us with your Word. Amen.
God of blessings, in our worship we feast upon your Word; and each day is a banquet of your grace. You invite us to celebrate with you, and yet we turn away. So often it seems our heart is not in it. We repent of our dull hearts, God. Transform our spirits, and invite us once again, so that all our lives may be a celebration with you. We pray in the name of Christ. Amen.
(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
For your love we give thanks
For your faithfulness we celebrate.
At the table of your Word we listen,
Prayer of confession
Pastor: The grace of God be with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
God of love, we confess our sin and the sin of our world.
We confess our racism and violence as a people;
they are our golden calf.
And we confess that we do not know how to repent;
we do not know how to resist evil, injustice and oppression.
Forgive our sin, heal our souls, heal our nation,
and lead us by the grace of Christ in your Way.
Silent prayer…. words of grace
[from Psalm 106, paraphrased]
O give thanks to the Beloved, who is good,
whose steadfast love endures forever.
Blessed are they who do justice,
whose lives are full of goodness.
O Power of Love, include me
as you set your people free.
Like our ancestors, we have done wrong;
we have strayed from your delight.
Our forbears, when they were in Egypt,
distrusted your steadfast love.
God prodded the Red Sea and it dried up;
God led them through the deep as a desert.
But they made a calf in the desert,
and worshipped an image they themselves had made.
They went along with everybody
and served the popular idols.
Save us, O God, from among those who clamor,
that we may honor you alone.
[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]
God be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.
God we give you thanks, for you call us all to your table.
We are here with those who are at home and those who are uneasy,
those who think they belong and those who think they don’t.
We are all here by your invitation.
You have declared your faithfulness to the world,
your covenant of love, and we feast at the wedding.
And with all you have gathered, rich and poor, friend and stranger alike,
we sing your praise with one voice:
[Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
Hosanna in the highest.
[or alternate version]
Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
He fed the hungry and invited the poor,
he included the outcast and honored the stranger.
He transgressed all our divisions, and for that he was killed.
But he also transgressed the bonds of death, and rose again.
And still he invites us to feast on your grace.
(The Blessing and Covenant)
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
[Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
Christ will come again in glory.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us, that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
rejoicing in your faithful love,
and sent out into the world to gather those who have been left out,
that all may feast on your grace.
[Spoken or sung]
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]
On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion
[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) With faithful love you have married us in Christ. You have made us all one. You have fed us with the joy of your love. You have feasted with us at the table of your delight. Send us into the world to share the food of your grace with those who are hungry, and to gather others to your table, so that we may celebrate as one at your banquet of justice and peace. We pray in the name of Christ, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit forever. Amen.
(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)
We Feast On Your Love (Original song)
Chorus: We drink from your presence.
We feast on your love.
This is the banquet we’ve been dreaming of. (Repeat.)
You gather us: no one’s unworthy,
and no one is “greatest” or “least.”
You multiply what we offer,
so multitudes may feast. — Chorus
We hunger and thirst for your spirit,
we open ourselves to your grace.
In flows the mercy you offer
in every time and place. — Chorus
We taste the sweet wine made from water,
our bread is your body you give.
“Drink of the water I give you,
so you may truly live.”
Whatever Is Pure (Original song)
Whatever is pure, whatever is good,
whatever is honorable, think on these things.
Whatever is just, whatever is beautiful,
whatever is worthy of praise, think on these things.
Keep on doing what you have learned is good to do,
keep practicing a noble way,
and the grace of God will guard your hearts and minds,
the God of grace will be with you.