Sunday, November 05, 2017

God's Holy Team


St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
November 5, 2017

Year A: All Saints’ Sunday
Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

God’s Holy Team
            On Wednesday night I watched a little bit of the seventh and final game of the World Series, between the LA Dodgers and the Houston Astros.
            If you follow baseball at all, you know that this was a particularly exciting World Series, with lots of twists and turns, but ultimately the Astros won, earning the first championship in the team’s history, and a good boost for a city that’s had a rough time of it lately.
            Watching the game, I thought about how much excellence was on display, as some of the best players ever to play baseball battled it out. Pitchers were hurling incredibly fast pitches, on average well over 90 miles per hour. Somehow, hitters were sometimes actually able to make contact with those balls, which must look like just a blur as they race towards them over the 60 short feet from the pitcher’s mound to the batters’ box. And, fielders were able to run, dive, throw, and catch, able to make exceptional and exciting plays.
            Thanks to extraordinary natural ability and a lot of practice, even the worst players on these teams are far more excellent than pretty much anybody else, at least when it comes to baseball,.
            In recent years baseball’s popularity has faded a little bit (for one reason, it’s probably too slow for a lot of people today), but when I was a kid it was still the “national pastime” and most of us boys played Little League baseball.
            Some of my teammates were really good, and a few even had dreams of playing in the big leagues. And, then there were others who were not so good at this at all. There were those who went out onto the field each game just hoping that they wouldn’t embarrass themselves too much.
            Want to guess which group I belonged to?
            Well, honestly, I think may have been the worst.
            I don’t think I had much natural ability but I did try, at least somewhat. I can remember playing catch in the park with my patient father, and practicing on my own in our backyard with a device called “Johnny Bench’s Batter Up,” which is a little hard to describe but was basically a ball tethered to a pole. The idea was you would whack the ball and then it would swing back in the opposite direction and you’d try again, and again, and again.
            But, despite giving it a try, and despite being told that I sure looked like I should be able to hit the ball (good stance, good swing), when it came time for a real game with another kid pitching to me, even at speeds much less than 90 miles per hour, my eye-hand coordination would fail me, and I just couldn’t hit that ball to save my life.
            And, eventually, with some embarrassment and regret, I quietly dropped out of Little League and put it behind me.
            Well, today is All Saints’ Sunday, the day when we give thanks for the holy women and men of Christian history, those who’ve been officially recognized by the Church, and also those unofficial saints who have been the holy people in our own lives, people whose saintliness may only be known to a few, or maybe even known only to us.
            And, you know, I love the saints. Growing up as a Roman Catholic, their images, their statues were all around me. I still love learning about them. I love preaching about them at our weekday services, sharing stories of their faithfulness, prayerfulness, generosity and their courage, awed by their excellence in Christian living.
            But, I wonder if there’s a bit of danger for us in honoring the saints – and that danger is thinking of them like they are kind of like the spiritual version of those major leaguers playing in the World Series, thinking of the saints almost like they’re super-humans, while meanwhile, you and I feel like we are the spiritual version of the uncoordinated kid in the backyard hacking away at Johnny Bench’s Batter-Up, trying, but with no chance of ever hitting the ball in real life.
            Honoring the saints is great, but there’s the danger of thinking that they are somehow in a different spiritual league, that their Christian excellence is beyond us, and, so we shouldn’t bother trying, and maybe even consider dropping out.
            But, the truth is, as children of God, we all have the natural ability to be saints.
            As children of God, we all have the natural ability to practice our saintliness in our everyday lives.
            And, the really good news is that being a saint is really about simply allowing God’s goodness and love – God’s excellence – to shine through us.
            You know, in baseball, or any other sport, or any other endeavor, our success is a result of some combination of natural ability and practice.
            And, that’s true in the Christian life, too.
            As children of God, we all have the natural ability to be saints. And, it’s through practice that we allow God’s excellence to shine through us.
            Practice when we’re on fire with our faith and, especially, when we’re not so into it.
            Practice in the good times and, especially, the not so good times.
            Practice is praying when God feels so very close and also when God feels very far away.
            Practice is giving of ourselves when we’re feeling full and generous and giving of ourselves when we feel like we have nothing worthwhile to offer and would really prefer to keep what we have for ourselves.
Practice is sticking close to one another, sticking close to St. Paul’s, especially when the foundations of our world seem to be shaking and cracking, even when violence and hatred are on the loose, even when we worry about health and money and work and our kids, and so much else.
            You know, this past week someone asked me about my vision for St. Paul’s.
            Although it’s a question I’ve been asked before, I don’t have a stock answer. But, I talked about the things most of you have heard me talk about a million times: a vision of St. Paul’s as a church that serves not only itself but offers itself in service to the community, a church that feeds people, feeds people with delicious food, good art, and a warm welcome for absolutely everybody.
            But, just like I used to replay my Little League strikeouts in my mind, I’ve been replaying that answer, too.
            And, if I could get a do-over, I would add that my vision of St. Paul’s is that we’re a team – a team with lots of different players each with our own strengths and weaknesses, a team where all of the players are encouraged and able to allow God’s excellence to shine through us, a team where we work together to build the downside-up kingdom revealed by Jesus in the Beatitudes, a team where all of us have the opportunity to be saints.
            So, today we give thanks for all the saints, the holy men and women who allowed God’s excellence to shine through them, the saints who’ve been recognized by the Church, and also those who have been saints in our own lives, people whose saintliness may only be known to a few, or even just by one.
            We give thanks for them and honor them and, yes, we stand in awe of them.
            But, meanwhile, we have all that we need to be saints.
            You and I.
            Right here and right now at St. Paul’s.
We have all we need to play in the spiritual major leagues
We have all we need to be on God’s holy team.
            Amen.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Religion of Love

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
October 29, 2017

Year A, Proper 25: The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18
Psalm 1
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

Religion of Love
            I’ve mentioned to you before that about seven years ago now Sue and I spent a year living in Gainesville, Florida, where I served as the Episcopal chaplain at the University of Florida and rector of a small suburban church.
            That year away was a challenging experience, for sure, one that has continued to shape my ministry, my priesthood, ever since.
            We didn’t really prepare for the big changes involved in moving from New Jersey to Florida, but even before we left we got some pretty strong clues that we were about to enter a different world.
            Just before we moved Gainesville was in the news.
            Some of you may remember that there was a so-called Christian minister in Gainesville who gained national and even international attention because of his announcement that on the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks he was going to burn many copes of the Koran, the holy book of Islam.
            Obviously burning the book considered holy by millions of people was designed to be a provocative act, and sure enough, it provoked lots of controversy – and it stirred up lots of concern among our families, friends, and parishioners who worried about what kind of mess we were about to get into.
            In the end, this so-called Christian pastor ended up canceling the Koran-burning, and I’m happy to say that he did not represent any of the many people we met and got to know in Gainesville.
            In fact, one of the highlights of my time there was the opportunity to work with other campus ministers, a surprisingly diverse group that included all the “usual suspects,” Catholics and Protestants, Jews, Mormons, and…the Hare Krishna.
            Before going to Florida, I hadn’t thought about the Hare Krishna for years and I guess I had assumed that they had been kind of a fad from the 1960’s and 1970s that had pretty much died out. As far as I knew, they were no longer seen chanting and handing out flowers on city streets and at airports.
            Well, I don’t know why, but it turns out that Gainesville and the surrounding area has the largest population of Hare Krishna devotees in the whole country!
            We would often see them dressed in their colorful outfits, happily chanting away outside the university gates, chanting away in rain or shine, chanting away as passing drivers honked their car horns in support or in mockery.
            They had a thriving campus ministry called “Krishna House” that was just a few blocks away from where we lived and each weekday on campus they served a cheap vegetarian and very popular lunch called, you guessed it, “Krishna Lunch.”
            I had it a few times and can tell you that it was delicious.
            The Hare Krishna campus minister, whose given name was Carl, became a friend – and was a friend to all of us, no matter our religious affiliation.
            I remember one time he came over to our place to check out Morning Prayer (which must have seemed really dull compared to the worship he was used to!). After the service, some of us sat around talking and somebody asked him how long he chanted each day.
            He gave a sly smile and offered a very wise answer: “As much as I need.”
            The Hare Krishna seemed to be pretty well accepted in this Southern city, though I do remember one time when a couple of devotees were beaten up after a football game by some guys who were probably pretty drunk.
            All of the campus ministers and I rallied around our friend Carl and his shaken community.
            Now if you Google the Hare Krishna you’ll see that like every religious organization they’ve suffered their share of scandal and division, and there are some who think of them as a cult.
            I don’t know anything about that, but I have to tell you that from the outside they looked like the most joyful and peaceful people I had ever seen – it looked to me like they were practicing a religion of love.
            A religion of love.
            And, frankly, I thought then, and have thought many times since, that if you and I looked and acted like they do, we’d probably have a lot more people in church, or at the very least, we’d be living the kinds of lives that Jesus calls us to live.
            Real Christianity is a religion of love.
            In today’s Gospel lesson once again a religious leader, this time it’s a Pharisee who’s also a lawyer, asks Jesus a question (to test him, we’re told, but maybe he just wanted to know what Jesus would say.)
            “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
            Now, this was a good Jewish question – a necessary one in a religion with 613 commandments covering most areas of life – a good Jewish question that was asked a lot.
            And, sure enough, Jesus gives a good Jewish answer:
            He quotes Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
            And, he quotes Leviticus 19:18,  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
            We’re not told how the Pharisees responded to Jesus’ answer but there couldn’t have been any objections to this very Jewish answer:
            The greatest commandments are to love God and love one another.
            Though I wonder how we look to outsiders, the truth is that both Judaism and Christianity are meant to be religions of love.
            St. Paul often gets a bad rap but in many ways he was an apostle of love, traveling around the known world sharing God’s love that he saw so clearly in Jesus, and calling his new Christians to love one another.
            Recently I met with a couple to talk about their wedding and when it came time to talk about the readings they were clear they don’t want Paul’s great hymn of love from First Corinthians, not because they don’t agree with Paul but because it’s read at nearly every wedding.
            And, they’re right, it is read at nearly every wedding, and for good reason, because even two thousand years later, the words of Paul still touch us:
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
We may have forgotten it. We may not always behave like it’s true, but we Christians belong to a religion of love.
And, Christian love is not so much an emotion or a feeling but an action, or a series of actions.
Love is a way, the way, of life.
And, to live a life of love it’s not necessary to dress up in an unusual outfit and chant on the street, like the Hare Krishna.
(Which is good because I’m self-conscious enough already!)
But, to live a life of love it is necessary to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked.
And, sometimes, it means responding to evil and hatred not with more of the same, but with love.
Gainesville has been on my mind lately because, as some of you probably saw on the news, a little more than a week ago a Nazi by the name of Richard Spencer spoke at the University of Florida.
In the days before his appearance there was a lot of understandable concern that we’d see a repeat of the violence that happened in Charlottesville. So, the governor declared a state of an emergency and the different levels of government spent more than half a million dollars for tight security.
Unfortunately, there was one shooting off campus, and few fights did break out, but the good news is that the counter-protestors far, far outnumbered the people of hate, the people who wanted to hear words of hate.
But, here’s my favorite, most loving, response to this evil and hate.
While the Nazi was speaking, a University of Florida music professor climbed eleven flights up into the university’s carillon tower and proceeded to play “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
As the bells rang out the familiar tune of the Negro national anthem across the tense campus, it was not so different from the Hare Krishna chanting and dancing in public no matter what - it must have been a reminder for everyone who recognized it – certainly many Christians and, who knows, maybe even a Hare Krishna or two, that we are called not to hate but to love.
Real Christianity is a religion of love.
But, is that what people see when they look at us?
Amen.



           
           
           
           
            

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Occupation of Our Hearts

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
Church of the Incarnation, Jersey City NJ
October 22, 2017

Year A, Proper 24: The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 45: 1-7
Psalm 96:1-13
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

The Occupation of Our Hearts
            A couple of weeks ago there was a story in The New York Times about the decline and fall of stamp collecting.
            It seems that kids today just aren’t interested in collecting these little bits of paper and gum, these small works of art, so the average age of stamp collectors is steadily rising, and the market for all but the rarest of stamps is drying up.
            In the age of email and the Internet and all the rest of it, stamps and stamp collecting have become quaint relics of the increasingly distant past.
            This article caught my attention because as a kid I was a very avid stamp collector, spending many happy and solitary hours arranging and poring over my collection.
            I was the kid who went to the post office the first day a new stamp was issued, the nerd who pestered the clerk for a rarely used stamp in an odd denomination.
            Some of my happiest childhood experiences were when my parents would take me to Gimbel’s in Herald Square, which had a remarkable Stamp Department (Macy’s did, too, but it was nowhere near as good!).
            I would look longingly at the many cabinets filled with interesting stamps from all around the world – and, usually, my parents would let me buy a set or two so I could fill a gap in my collection.
            Good times.
            For whatever reason, I was especially interested in stamps from the many British colonies, large tracts of land in Africa and the islands dotting the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
            For the most part, in the British Empire the stamps were very similar. Often they would depict some local landmark or some example of flora and fauna, but a good bit of the stamp’s real estate was taken up with an image of the Queen, either her picture or her silhouette.
            For some of you, these are the stamps you grew up using, right?
            I didn’t think about this as a kid, but each time that somebody in one of the colonies licked one of these stamps and stuck it on an envelope, they got a little reminder that they were not in control over their own land, a reminder that they were occupied by a faraway foreign power, a power that cared more about its own wealth and prestige than the well-being of colonial peoples, a power that was represented by the monarch’s face right there on the stamp.
            And, the same was true of the coins, too.
            As we heard in today’s Gospel lesson, there’s nothing new about this strategy.
            For example, the Romans put the image of the Emperor on the coins that were used throughout their vast empire, in lands stretching from Britain itself all the way to Judea, to the land of Jesus and his fellow Jews of the first century.
            The Gospels were written by people living in the Roman Empire.
The Gospels were written by people who wanted to survive living in the Roman Empire, and wanted their new faith to survive, too. So, they tend to downplay Roman brutality (think of Pilate washing his hands of responsibility for the death of Jesus). The Gospels instead tend to turn the priests and the Pharisees into the villains of the Jesus story, unfortunately and tragically setting the stage for two thousand years of Christian hatred and violence against Jews.
            But, the truth is that the people of Israel, the people that Jesus lived among, chafed under Roman rule – they didn’t like it one bit.
            They resented the Roman occupation of the land given to them by God.
            They despised paying taxes, giving their meager resources to the faraway emperor and his government, who ruled brutally and selfishly, completely lacking in empathy for the suffering of ordinary people in their vast Empire.
            This is why the tax collectors were so bitterly despised in the time of Jesus – they were Jews working for the occupiers.
            And, the Jews hated using coins bearing the image of the Emperor, these little idols that reminded them over and over that they were an occupied people.
            From time to time the Jews rebelled against Roman rule and each time the Romans crushed these rebellions and executed those who had dared to rise up, a warning to others who might get ideas about challenging Rome.
            In first century Jerusalem, crucifixions were not uncommon at all.
            So, that’s the unspoken but very real and harsh backdrop of today’s gospel lesson.
            As usual, there’s tension between Jesus and other religious authorities. This time we’re told it’s the disciples of the Pharisees and also a group called the “Herodians,” who presumably supported Herod, Rome’s puppet king.
            They ask Jesus,
            “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?”
            The author of the Gospel tells us that they asked Jesus this question to trap him, and maybe so, though I always wonder if maybe they just honestly wanted to hear his opinion on this sensitive issue.
            Anyway, if they were trying to trap him they fail because Jesus holds in his hand one of the Roman coins, one of these little idols, and replies with a very Jesus-like answer:
            “Give (therefore) to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
            We’re told that his questioners were amazed by this answer and get away from him as fast as they can.
            Jesus of Nazareth was a first century Jew, so I’m sure that, like his Jewish brothers and sisters, he was unhappy with the Roman occupation.
I’m sure that he was horrified by his countrymen crying out in agony from crosses, that he was angered by the indignity of Roman troops and officials in the land of Israel.
            The Roman occupation was brutal, but, the truth is, that Jesus the Son of God is much more concerned with the occupation of our hearts.
            So, yes, send the coins to the emperor, the brutal man in the capital city who fancies himself a god and cares nothing for our suffering, send him his coins for as long as the Romans occupy our land.
            But, here’s the thing: despite the very real suffering and indignity, despite the bloody cruelty and violence, despite his image being all over the place, don’t let the emperor occupy your heart.
            Instead, give your heart – give all that really matters - to God and God alone.
            Because, someday the emperor will be gone, and someday even his whole empire will vanish, but, after all that and much more, God will continue to reign.
            What Jesus knew was that God is hard at work building a kingdom, a kingdom founded not on violence and greed, but a kingdom based on love and generosity.
            And, you and I are invited to help build that kingdom.
            We build God’s kingdom each time we open our doors and feed people who can never repay us, maybe even people we don’t like or even trust.
            We build God’s kingdom each time we pray for others, people we know and those we don’t, people we love and those we may despise, and, yes, even the person who may think he is the emperor of today.
            We build God’s kingdom each time we break down the barriers that divide us, black and white, haves and have-nots, Democrats and Republicans, lifelong Christians and those who don’t believe a word of it, …
            And, yes, Incarnation and St. Paul’s.
            We help to build God’s kingdom each time we love and take the side of the oppressed and the outcasts, the colonized people of today, the people of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, so many of whom are still without water and electricity, the people of color harassed day after day by those in charge, the worker whose labor isn’t respected or properly compensated, and, yes, the tiny minority of our fellow Americans who volunteer and are sometimes sent to faraway lands most of us have never heard of, to fight and die in wars most of us don’t understand.
            Yes, Jesus was well aware of the brutal Roman occupation of his homeland, but he recognized that the emperor’s power was only temporary.
            So, go ahead, pay the tax.
            But, Jesus was much more concerned with not letting the emperor occupy our hearts.
Jesus teaches us that, no matter who may seem to have the power in this moment, loving God and doing God’s work must be the occupation of our hearts.
Amen.
            

Sunday, October 15, 2017

God Risks Rejection

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
October 15, 2017

Year A, Proper 23: The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

God Risks Rejection
            Well, another week and, sure enough, there are more disasters in the news – the continued struggles in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and elsewhere in the Caribbean to recover from the recent devastating hurricanes – the seemingly nonstop drama of our government in Washington – and, now a Category 3 hurricane is, unbelievably, about to hit… Ireland!
And, there have been the ferocious wildfires in California.
            That one has especially moved me because, as some of you may remember, Sue and I were out in the California wine country this past summer and it’s so hard to accept that such beautiful places, and the lives and livelihoods of people who live and work there, are being destroyed.
            So, it’s been a lot, right?
            There have been a few bright spots recently, though, and one of them has been the fact that the five living former presidents – from Carter to Obama – have joined together to raise funds for the places and people affected by the recent disasters.
            Maybe you’ve seen the commercial that they’ve made.
            Whatever you might have thought about their politics and their presidencies, it’s pretty moving to see these old competitors setting aside their differences, uniting to help people in need.
            It’s true that, like all of us, they had their strengths and weaknesses, certain characteristics that shaped their time in office.
            Bill Clinton was a controversial president, and certainly a very flawed person, but I think one of his more endearing traits was his obvious and extreme need to be liked. I remember reading about him that he could be in a room filled with people applauding and cheering for him and his policies but if he knew that there was even just one single person he hadn’t convinced, one person who maybe just didn’t like him, Clinton would stay for as long as it took to win over that one person.
            Despite all his success, despite his high office, he just couldn’t bear rejection.
            And, it’s true, being rejected really is one of the hardest experiences of life, isn’t it?
            I remember how much it hurt when the first girl I asked out on a date rejected me – yes, I know, hard to understand, right?
            And, later there were jobs that I wanted and was absolutely sure I’d be perfect for, but they’d choose someone else – crazy, right?
            And, even here at church, I’m always inviting people to different programs and events and, obviously, just inviting people to come to church. Some accept the offer, but many more say very clearly through their words and actions, “no thanks.”
            And, the truth is that when people come here for a while and then stop coming, although I try to not take it personally, I’ll admit that it does feel pretty much like rejection.
            The unfortunate truth is that, unless we never take a risk, unless we never stick our neck out, we all experience rejection.
            And, that very much includes God.
            Throughout the Old Testament, God risks rejection each time God invites people into a relationship, each time God invites people to the wedding banquet, each time God invites people to the big party. It’s very simple:
God wants to be their God, and wants them to be God’s people.
            And, over and over again, God is rejected.
            The people refuse to follow God’s Law and, even worse than that, sometimes the people of little and not very powerful Israel would look around at the big and powerful empires of their day and choose to worship their gods, understandably reasoning that must be the way to more success and riches.
            You know, it’s always theologically risky to talk about God experiencing pain, but I think we can be sure that God doesn’t feel good when faced with our rejection.
            Yet, despite that, God continues to invite us, continues to risk and, yes, experience, rejection.
            So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Jesus faced rejection, too.
            Back in the first century, most people who encountered Jesus during his earthly lifetime rejected his radical message of repentance and love; rejected his call to love everyone, even those who hate us; rejected his insistence on welcoming everybody, even the outcasts, the tax collectors and prostitutes; rejected his demand that we give away what we have to the hungry and the naked.
            Back then, most people, most especially including the religious authorities, flatly rejected that divine invitation, condemning Jesus to die nearly alone on the cross.
            Yet, despite even that rejection, God continues to invite us, risking even more rejection.
            Today and last Sunday, we’ve heard some pretty hard parables from Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.
            And, we need to remember that this is Jesus as remembered and understood by a particular community, by Matthew’s community, probably a Jewish-Christian group living near the end of the first century, fifty or sixty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
It seems that Matthew’s community faced a lot of pressure, a lot of tension, as people found it increasingly difficult to be both Jews and followers of Jesus.
            Some remained part of the Jesus community while others abandoned it, which to those early Christians must have felt like quite a rejection, a rejection which hurt much worse than what you and I feel when a St. Paul’s parishioner starts going to another church, or even when someone drops church from their lives altogether.
            So, the parable we heard today works on at least two different levels: the rejection of Jesus during his earthly lifetime; and the rejection of people abandoning the early Christian community.
            And, we can certainly hear the pain of those long-ago rejections, right?
We can hear the pain of rejection as the enraged king sends in the troops and kills those who rejected his wedding invitation, burning down their city in a murderous rage.
            The king then extends the invitation to others, to all different kinds of people.
            For Matthew’s community, the meaning of this parable was probably pretty clear:
            The Jewish religious leaders failed to accept God’s invitation, so now they’re excluded from the banquet and instead God extends the invitation beyond the people of Israel, to the gentiles, to all the peoples of the earth.
            But, what does this tough parable mean for us here today?
            Well, first, especially considering the centuries of horrendous Christian hatred and violence towards Jews, we must remember that God has never broken the covenant with the people of Israel – God continues to extend the invitation to our elder brothers and sisters in faith.
            Second, the good news is that, at least at this moment, you and I, we’ve accepted God’s invitation, we’re here at the banquet, and what a feast we’re enjoying as we pray and sing together and embrace one another and receive the Bread and the Wine!
            And, that’s beautiful and great, right?
            But, for me anyway, it’s the strange conclusion of today’s parable that kind of haunts me, that weird little bit about the guest without the wedding robe being cast into the outer darkness.
            Did you pick up on that? Scary, right?
            And, at least as I read it, it seems that this improperly dressed person is like someone who superficially accepts God’s invitation to the banquet, who shows up, but is not willing to even try to accept the deeper and more challenging invitations to love, and to welcome, and to share.
            And, as I watch the news and even when I talk to some people, it seems like a lot of so-called Christians, people who seem to have accepted God’s invitation to the banquet – they are giving into the old temptation to not worship God but instead to worship the gods of the Empire, the gods who seem like they will bring success and wealth, the gods who maybe even make us feel good for a little while, but, ultimately, always bring suffering and destruction.
            Maybe some of us are giving into that old temptation because, like Israel long ago, we feel so weak and powerless today.
            But, for what ever reasons, unfortunately, there are a lot of “improperly dressed” Christians who are ready and willing to choose hate over love, greed over generosity, resentment over forgiveness, suspicion over hospitality – there are a lot of “improperly dressed” Christians choosing tribe and nation over the kingdom of God – rejecting God, yet again.
            Long ago, Matthew’s community faced a lot of tension, a lot of division.
            And, today, here in America, struck by one disaster after another, we face a lot of tension, a lot of division, too.
            The very good news is that God must really love us because God continues to risk the kind of rejection that God has experienced so often.
God continues to invite us to the banquet.
            The response is up to us.
            Amen.