Archive for consolation

Glad to Be in Matthew’s Church

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2017 by timtrue

Delivered on Sunday, October 15, 2017

Matthew 22:1-14

1.

I wish we were in the Church of St. Luke today.

The way Luke tells it, this parable is delivered in the house of a Pharisee who’d invited Jesus to dine with him on the Sabbath.

A person desires to throw a great feast, Jesus says. But one by one the invitees give excuses as to why they cannot attend.

“I just bought a field,” one says, “and must tend to it.”

“I just got married,” another says, “and you know how that is.”

“My father just died,” says a third; “I must go and bury him.”

And so on.

These excuses makes the host upset. He tells his servants to go out into the city and invite everyone—the poor, blind, lame, and so on. For that is what the kingdom of heaven is like.

“Let us fill these halls!” he exclaims.

God is merciful. And who in their right mind would want to pass that up?

Luke’s message to his Church is mercy.

But we’re not in the Church of St. Luke today. Instead, we’re in the Church of St. Matthew.

And here in Matthew’s Church the message doesn’t feel very merciful. With Matthew, instead, the message feels more like judgment.

Not only do the invitees reject the king’s invitation, some of them are also violent in their rejection. They beat and even kill some of the king’s servants!

And there’s that poor guy toward the end. What do we do with him?

The king sees him and says, “Friend”—seems a happy enough beginning—but then continues less affably, “how did you get in here without a wedding robe?”

And then, as we all know, it continues from bad to worse. This wedding-robe-non-wearer is bound hand and foot and thrown out into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!

Really? Is Matthew’s God about judgment?

Where’s the mercy? Where’s the love? Why can’t we be in the Church of St. Luke today?

2.

Okay, okay, surely, Matthew isn’t all judgment! Surely for Matthew there’s mercy and love too! Right?

Remember the beatitudes, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount? Blessed are the poor in spirit and all that? Well, that’s from Matthew.

Remember the feeding of the 5,000? That’s from Matthew too.

And remember the healing of the two blind men? They followed Jesus shouting, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” And so Jesus touched their eyes and said, “Let it be done to you according to your faith.” And they were healed. There’s mercy there! And this story shows up only in Matthew’s Gospel.

So, yeah, there is mercy for Matthew.

But why not here? Why does the message from today’s parable feel more like judgment?

3.

Good question. Let’s take a closer look.

Recall from the last few weeks that Jesus is addressing the temple leaders.

The temple leaders were settled and inflexible; they’d established for themselves a religion of control, manipulating the Jewish people often by means of fear and—especially noteworthy for today’s purposes—judgment.

The common folk were judged by how often they made or didn’t make pilgrimages to the temple.

The common folk were judged by whether or not they could afford a sacrificial animal without blemish.

The common folk were judged by how well or not they kept the 613 commandments.

And now, today, Jesus is addressing not the common folk but the leaders who seat themselves in judgment over the common folk.

They—these temple leaders—are the ones in the parable who find excuses not to attend the wedding feast.

They are the ones who rose up against the king’s messengers, prophets such as Ezekiel and Amos and John the Baptist; who beat or even killed them.

They are the ones who, when they do show up to the wedding feast, wear their own robes and not God’s.

So, is that it? Is Matthew saying what goes around comes around—that the temple leaders will be judged with the same manner of judgment they themselves pour out on others?

4.

But there’s another matter that lies beneath the surface of today’s parable: historical context. Let’s take a step back and consider it.

Matthew penned the words we hear today more than a generation after Jesus’ death.

More than a generation!

That’s a lot of time, enough for stories about Jesus to develop, circulate, and percolate.

By this time, communities of disciples had congregated—each with its own personality and peculiarities—communities like the Church of St. Luke and the Church of St. Matthew.

And thus, though these communities told more or less the same old stories, Luke’s main point might in fact be quite different than Matthew’s.

The specific community of Matthew was a lot like our congregation today: a group of people which shared a common life in Jesus Christ, a faith that Jesus’ message and mission would bring salvation to the ends of the earth.

But at the same time Matthew’s Church was much different than our congregation because of its specific cultural and historical context.

More to the point, when Matthew penned his version of the old story, I’m sure the destruction of Jerusalem was on his mind.

In 70CE, under orders of Caesar, the Roman military commander Titus razed the city, including and especially the Temple—the emperor’s special focus. You can read about this horrific event in Josephus.

My point for today is that Matthew wrote today’s parable in hindsight; and his hindsight told him a couple of things.

First, it told him that Jesus had been right so long ago. He’d been right to confront the temple leaders. He’d been right to challenge the status quo. And he’d been right in his mission to topple unjust systems.

The second thing Matthew’s hindsight told him is that God is looking for transformation. God invites all to the wedding feast. It’s only those who are unwilling to be transformed—only those who come up with excuses or are found not to have put on God’s clothes—who find themselves outside the doors of the banquet hall at the end of the day.

And, surely, Matthew cannot help but wonder if things would have turned out differently if those temple leaders had instead listened to Jesus, if they had put on his robes instead of their own.

If only they hadn’t continued to control and manipulate the Jewish common folk by means of fear and judgment!

If only they hadn’t continued to aggravate, frustrate, and rebel against the Roman rulers, thereby provoking Caesar to an act of war!

Then Jerusalem wouldn’t have been destroyed at all!

Then no one would have been cast outside into the darkness, where there was, among so many other horrors, weeping and gnashing of teeth!

5.

I’m not sure, then, that Matthew’s message is so much judgment as it is lament.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Matthew 23:37)

Whatever the case, whether destruction or judgment, in it and through it Matthew offers consolation to us today.

Matthew’s Church endured and survived nothing short of a massacre.

The temple leaders and the Jewish people had faced the horrors of war. Many of them were killed when Jerusalem fell. Many others—those who lived elsewhere and those who fled the coming destruction—survived but were dispersed.

Matthew’s Church managed to gather itself together in the aftermath of the destruction.

And today, magnificently, the Evangelist tells us the story of a wedding feast, a lavish table set for anybody and everybody—“for both good and bad,” he says—for both temple leader and commoner—for both Jew and Gentile—for both rich and poor—to come to and be transformed; a transforming banquet rising gloriously out of the ashes of the ruined city!

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad we are in Matthew’s Church today. For today Matthew reminds us:

Even in hardships; even when everything around feels like judgment; even in the midst of destruction, Jesus is there, inviting us all to his lavish banquet table.

Will you come to it and allow yourself to be transformed?

2014 Lent 35

Posted in Lent 2014, Reflection with tags , , on April 14, 2014 by timtrue

consolation

II Corinthians 1:1-7

Consolation.

There is a wonderful picture of consolation that comes from today’s reading in II Corinthians.

But first, I offer some background.

The word is related to solace, which is a kind of comfort in a time of affliction.  The prefix con- means with, or alongside; so putting them together we see a sort of empathetic comfort.  There’s community here: others are involved in comforting the one in affliction.

Think of a consolation prize.  It is given by one person, a judge, to another, a contestant, who didn’t place, but still to acknowledge the contestant’s hard work and participation.  The contestant supposedly draws some empathetic comfort from the prize (the judge, at least, knows how much work went into it) despite it not being a trophy.

(I think this is the idea behind a consolation prize anyway.  But it hardly played out that way for me when as a boy I came in fourth place in a piano competition.  Here the so-called consolation prize served more as a reminder that I wasn’t quite good enough!)

But here’s the thing: consolation goes both ways.  That is, when we’re in a time of affliction (as I was as a boy pianist), we want consolation, something from which we can derive comfort.  This can come from an object, such as a prize, or a person who offers consolation to us through words, a hug, whatever.

Yet on the other hand, when we’re in times of comfort, we can offer consolation to others who are experiencing some affliction or other.

Both sides of consolation are thus active: the afflicted reaches for it; the comfortable offers it.

Consolation, then, is a bridge between comfort and affliction.

Now here’s where my creative mind begins to take over.  For I picture a bridge that crosses a deep and swift river.  And on either side of the bridge sits a town.  One town, let’s say the one on the north side, is relaxed and easy going, characterized by kindness, goodness, and beauty.  The other, South Town, is stress-filled, perhaps overly dramatic, characterized by anxiety and hardship.

The people who live in this region really inhabit both towns.  That is, each resident has a house in North Town and another in South Town.  Everybody really wants to live and spend all their time in North Town, but certain obligations and responsibilities require them to travel back and forth daily over the bridge between the two towns.

Sometimes the obligations in South Town are many, so many, in fact, that a resident ends up having to spend the night there.  It happens to everyone, sometimes frequently, which is why all the inhabitants have residences in both towns.

Occasionally the obligations become so great, so burdensome, that a resident ends up spending a week or more in South Town, sometimes even losing hope that he will ever be able to get back across the bridge and do what he really wants to do–spend time with his family, tinker in the garage, read some books, maybe even write one, play a few musical instruments, play catch in the yard with his son, laze away a summer afternoon in the pool, and so on.  (Of course, this is my version of North Town.  You have every right to make up your own version.)

When this happens–when someone is overly burdened by the obligations of South Town–intervention becomes necessary; a team of volunteers, usually comprised of friends and family, but often of pastoral types too, must cross the bridge into South Town and rescue said obligation-buried resident by carrying him (or her) back over the bridge into North Town.

But it’s risky work.  For most times one of the intervention team falls away, turns aside, or otherwise suddenly remembers an obligation she (or he) must now tend to in South Town; and she ends up stuck there for a week or more until another intervention team must make a rescue.

And the cycle repeats itself.

Anyway, these two towns’ real names are Comfort and Affliction, and the bridge between them is Consolation.  May we console and be consoled by others.