Sunday, October 12, 2014


St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
Church of the Incarnation, Jersey City NJ
October 12, 2014

Year A, Proper 23: The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Exodus 32:1-14
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

            For a couple of reasons, lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Fr. Frank Carr, who was rector of St. Paul’s in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
            I wasn’t a member of St. Paul’s back then, but did get to know him very well during the last eight years or so of his life, when I spent a lot of time visiting with him in his apartment just across the street.
            I think of him as my “spiritual grandfather.”
            When I consider my ministry here with you, I often hear his booming voice in my head. And, truthfully, his fingerprints are all over the work I do as rector.
            He used to tell me lots of stories about his priesthood in the various places he served. He told those stories in part because he liked to reminisce but also because he wanted to teach me what he thought was most important about being a priest and leading a church.
            One theme that he used to hit on a lot was that in Jersey City back in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, there was great collegiality among the clergy from many different denominations. It seems that back then priests and ministers knew each other and worked together.
            I’m pretty sure that Fr. Carr would be surprised – and very pleased - by the friendship that’s developed among the three Jersey City Episcopal churches. He’d be delighted by the work that we are doing together. And, I know he’d love the different ways that we’ve been serving alongside the clergy and people from many different faith communities throughout the city, from the Good Friday Stations of the Cross to our upcoming second annual interfaith Thanksgiving service.
            And, actually, back in the day, Fr. Carr and his wife Lee were very much responsible for the warm relations among Jersey City clergy.
            Whenever a new clergyman (they were pretty much all men back then) arrived, he and his wife would receive an invitation from Fr. Carr and Lee to a beautiful dinner in the rectory.
            And, it wasn’t just clergy. I’m told that Fr. Carr and Lee were famous for their hospitality, inviting all sorts of people into the house for elegant and delicious meals, welcoming people into their home for feasts, for banquets.
            Now, here’s where I’m afraid I’m not going to be imitating Fr. Carr.
            The truth is that Sue and I are a very different couple from Lee and Frank. I’m pretty sure that neither of us has the energy or time to throw even one fancy dinner party let alone to entertain regularly.
            And, we have too many cats!
            So, if you’ve been waiting for an elegant banquet in the rectory, I’m sorry!
            And, you know, even if we rallied and found the time and strength to throw a Carr-style party, I really wonder how many people would even come.
            Maybe I’m just rationalizing, but the world has changed so much and so many of us are so busy, I wonder how many people would want to give up that much time to eat and to socialize.
            Now, in my defense, I may not throw a dinner party but I do send out lots of invitations to all kinds of events – most recently the IMA banquet, our community supper, the Men’s breakfast, and lots of other church events and activities.
            Sadly, most people never reply to my emails of facebook invites.
            Most sign-up sheets remain nearly blank.
            Most of us – out of busyness or distraction or lack of interest – never respond to the invitation.
            It can be frustrating and disappointing, but I don’t take it personally (at least not usually!). (And, talking to my colleagues, I know they have the same experience.)
            And, I confess, I’m guilty of it myself – more than once I’ve conveniently let an invitation get buried under a pile of mail or failed to respond to an e-vite or facebook invitation.
            Sometimes I don’t respond to the invitation, either.
            Well, God knows all about sending invitations. God’s been inviting us all along. Unfortunately, God also knows all about what it’s like to have invitations ignored or even rejected.
            Let’s take a look at today’s gospel passage, where we pick up right where we left off last week.
            Jesus is in Jerusalem, in the midst of a dispute with the chief priests and elders. They’ve been, let’s say “concerned,” by some of Jesus’ actions – chasing the moneychangers and other businesspeople out of the Temple and healing the sick and the disabled.
            They are troubled that at least some people in the capital city have welcomed Jesus as a king.
            The chief priests and elders want to know where – or from whom – Jesus gotten this amazing power.
            In reply, Jesus warns the religious leaders that they are making a big mistake – that they are rejecting God’s invitation just as their predecessors rejected the prophets who came before.
            Jesus replies to the religious professionals who aren’t responding to God’s invitation – who are in fact rejecting God’s invitation – with another parable. In this one, Jesus – who, it’s clear, enjoyed a good party - uses a favorite image, comparing God’s kingdom to a feast, a banquet, a wedding banquet.
            The kingdom of God is like a wedding banquet given by the king for his son.
            No surprise, the king pulls out all the stops for this royal wedding, inviting his guests to a sumptuous feast.
            You’d think that anyone would jump at the chance to attend a royal wedding, but in this case we’re told that the invited guests “made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized (the king’s) slaves, mistreated them and killed them.”
            The rest of the parable seems to deal with the fact that many Jewish people back in the First Century did not recognize Jesus as the messiah, which is one of the reasons that “other guests” – non-Jews – Gentiles - were eventually invited to the banquet, filling the wedding hall.
            But, I want to back up and focus on the first round of invitations.
            The king sends out invitations and we’re told that the invited guests “made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them and killed them.”
            God is still sending out invitations – all the time.
            God invites us to the banquet.
            How do we respond?
            I doubt that anyone here is going to mistreat or kill anyone, let alone God’s messengers.
            But, I can certainly see myself making light of God’s invitation. I can see myself ignoring God’s invitation and instead focusing on my own stuff – all the many items on my to-do list, all the ways I keep myself busy with things that seem important and even things that are clearly not so important.
            God invites us to the banquet.
            God invites us here week after week to get the best taste of the kingdom of God, taking the Body and Blood of Christ into our bodies and souls.
            God invites us to the banquet.
            God invites us to fellowship with each other – at the community supper or the Men’s Breakfast or the craft guild or the Thanksgiving meal we’re going to offer to the community, or by just taking the time to keep in touch with family and friends, the relationships that give joy and meaning to life.
            God invites us to the banquet.
            God invites us to serve each other – by remembering to bring an item for the food pantry or to bring a can or two of infant formula – God invites us to serve each other by picking up the phone and calling someone we know is sad, frightened or lonely – God invites us to serve each other by giving not just out of our extra but to give as a real sacrifice.
            God invites each of us to the banquet.
            Are we too busy and distracted to reply to God’s invitation?
            Or are we those who say yes to God and are gathered into the wedding hall for the best party of all time?
            God invites us to the banquet.
            How do we respond?