Behold the Blessings - Week 3
October 15, 2023: Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
“A Feast for All”
Behold the Blessings: Week 3
Romans 14:1-12 (Cultivating Healthy Relationships in Church) | Matthew 18:21-35 (Jesus tells a Story about Forgiveness)
Welcoming Words (Liturgist)
Today, we continue to “Behold the Blessings” by entering into a vision where people from many different backgrounds, many different cultures and many different beliefs all come together for a wedding banquet. Jesus tells a story about a wedding feast where the original guest list is tossed out the window and the doors are opened at once for all. This is the dream of the Beloved Kin-dom of God, where all people are welcome, and everyone has a seat at the table, no matter their background or current circumstances.
Can you imagine celebrating at such a gathering? What do you notice in your body as you consider sitting next to someone from a different background than you? What about if they speak a different language? Or have a different faith tradition? What if they are wearing clothing that hasn’t been washed, or they have piercings or body art?
Jesus invites all people, from all traditions and backgrounds, to gather around His table, and to participate in the Journey of Grace and Provision. We are called to welcome everyone. Can we answer that call?
Let us join together now in our Call to Worship.
Call to Worship (liturgists)
(Based upon Isaiah 25:1-9)
One: O Lord, our God. We exalt you and praise your name,
for you have done wonderful things.
Many: You have toppled the ruthless powers that oppress and destroy, and You are a refuge and shelter for the poor and needy.
One: You invite us all to feast on your abundance,
destroying all that clouds our vision and swallowing up death forever.
Many: This is our God, for whom we have waited.
Let us be glad and rejoice in God’s salvation!
-- Brittany Stillwell
GATHERING PRAYER (Join together in one voice)
(Based upon Psalm 23 and Philippians 4:1-9)
Good Shepherd, we come to you today from our scattered places: valleys and hills, mountains and pastures, seasons of drought and tables of abundance. Draw us together today; help us to be of the same mind in you, so that we might feel you near.
Inspire our songs of praise, calm our anxious hearts, and hear our prayers—the ones we say aloud together and the silent cries from the depths of our souls. Fill us with your peace and center our minds. Help us to focus on what is true and honorable and to fight for what is just and pure. May our thoughts and actions be pleasing to you. Be with us now and in the days ahead, oh God of peace. Amen.
CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE OF PARDON
(Based upon Psalm 23 and Isaiah 25:1-9)
One: Good Shepherd, with you as our shepherd we lack for nothing and yet there is so much we want.
Many: Forgive us when we doubt your provision. Subdue our restless hearts.
One: The world feels chaotic and unstable and sometimes we can’t help but scoff at the thought of green pastures and still waters.
Many: Forgive us when we allow the valley to consume us. Remove the shroud that inhibits our imagination.
One: You have prepared an abundant table for all your people and yet sometimes we make light of your invitation and even greet it with violence and hostility.
Many: Forgive us when we reject your call to unity and peace. Swallow up our pride and shame.
♦ ♦ ♦
One: Even as we wrestle with all that keeps us from you, you are at work.
Many: You prepare a table before us in the presence of our enemies.
You anoint our heads with oil. Our cups overflow.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life,
and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord our whole life long. Amen.
Isaiah 25:1-9 (NRSVUE)
Praise for Deliverance from Oppression
25 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. 2 For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of foreigners is a city no more; it will never be rebuilt. 3 Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you. 4 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, 5 the noise of our invaders like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled.
6 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. 7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the covering that is spread over all nations; 8 he will swallow up death forever. Then you, Lord God, will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of your people you will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. 9 It will be said on that day, “See, 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.”
*Choir Music Between Readings *
Matthew 22:1-14 (NRSVUE)
The Story of the Wedding Banquet
22 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.”
Prayer Following Scripture: (spoken in unison)
(Matthew 21:23-32, Philippians 2:1-13)
Leader: We believe in unity. Yet we are swayed by selfishness, greed, and pride. We don’t live in harmony with each other.
All: We believe in unity. May we believe in our hearts and with our actions.
Leader: We believe in compassion. Yet we ignore needs around us, abandon each other, and participate in systems and structures of oppression.
All: We believe in compassion. May we believe in our hearts and with our actions.
Leader: We believe in love. Yet we get caught up in the hate around us, the fear that drives us to lash out, and the constant striving for more. The self-giving love of Christ is hard to emulate.
All: We believe in love. May we believe in our hearts and with our actions.
Leader: God of unity, compassion, and love, we believe in you.
All: May we believe in our hearts and with our actions.
(based upon Psalm 23 and Philippians 4:1-9)
As you go to your scattered places, keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in this place — open wide the invitation, share in the feast of abundance, be still and rest beside the quiet waters — and know that the God of peace is with you always. Amen.
Reflecting with Pastor AJ
The invitation has arrived! All is prepared. The feast is ready, and the tables are all decorated. And yet… no one has RSVP’d. Even though the banquet is out of this world with all of its extravagance. This is elegance to the max! Special clothing is even offered to anyone who is willing to receive it. So, everyone can come. And yet, even with the open invitation, and all of the offerings being made, there are still those who have decided they have other things that they must tend to.
Have you ever thrown a party where nobody showed up? What was that like for your spirit?
Now, imagine that not only does nobody show, but you find out that your invitations, which you personally took the time to hand-make out of a very expensive material, were being used as coasters. And the person you had hired to hand-deliver the invitations had been terribly mistreated, or worse! We can only imagine the shock and dismay and anger that would shake us to the core.
Jesus’ parable is a surprising one indeed! Of course, his listeners are hanging on his every word. This is getting intense!
And then, the invitation is extended again, this time to anyone who will listen. And everyone is welcome! The shoeless person is given rings on their toes, offered a bath in rose water, and dressed in fine linens. The mightiest to the weakest, and the most elegant to the poorest of the poor – all receive an open invitation. The doors are open wide. This is a welcome table for all!
And yet, even with the best of clothing and the finest of shoes, there is someone who refuses to receive. He thinks he can just show up any way he wants, veritably thumbing his nose at the one who has provided everything for him. But at some point, during the celebration evening, the king enters the scene.
How is the generosity being received? Well, it sure isn’t! The guest in their own clothing has rejected the invitation, even though they are present at the table. And this is utterly distressing to everyone, most of all to the king.
It makes us wonder what this clothing is all about. Is this parable about how we dress when we come to church?
No, for sure this has nothing to do with our physical clothes. It has everything to do with how we are acting when we are in the world.
“25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:25-28)
Coming together at the wedding banquet is about unity, about accepting the invitation, about welcoming the new life that is offered to us in Christ Jesus. We cannot act for our own selves, but always with the benefit of those around us in our hearts.
And so, we close today with these words from Colossians:
“12 Therefore, as God’s chosen [read: openly invited] ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17)