Sermon for October 13, 2002
Isaiah 25:1-9, Philippians 4:1-9 and Matthew 22:1-14
Invitations. With things both small and large, God invites us
to see life more deeply and to live our lives more fully. Sometimes we do not
like the invitation. Sometimes we are not prepared to receive the invitation.
But the invitation to become more than we are is always there.
The story today is about invitations. In mid-October, as the greens give way to the brilliant yellows and vivid reds in the Wisconsin landscape, our invitation to participate in the deeper abundance of life may be found in the rhythm of creation. Or the invitation to the abundant life may be something else: the word of a friend, an event in the news, something we read, something in one of the lessons this morning, a thought that comes to us in prayer, a trip to the doctor, the way the sun shines on a yellowing leaf, the changing circumstances of a friend. With things both small and large, God invites us to see life more deeply and to live our lives more fully.
This month, my invitation into the abundant life is this cup, this Styrofoam cup. It is my invitation and my challenge, my challenging invitation.
As a Lutheran pastor, I drink coffee, a lot of coffee. I think it's part of the job description. Being on the go, I end up drinking a great deal of coffee from Styrofoam cups until last month I accepted the challenging invitation to use less Styrofoam.
Here at St. Johns we have a group focused on simpler living meeting the fourth Tuesday of the month. As part of the group each member was to find one small way to change so that his or her life would be simpler, better, and would use less resources.
In the meantime I was reading a book on anthropology that moved me to decide to make less trash. The anthropologist noted that full grown adults like me, living in an industrial society like ours, create each year on the average twenty-five tons of waste products, trash, by-products chemicals and things that need to be disposed of somehow. At first I doubted the figure, but that includes all the trash that is created by the production of all the things that I use, and probably the junk mail received by the church. Twenty-five tons. So I decided to use less paper and Styrofoam cups. I bought a travel mug, and began taking that with me and using it as I went through the day. Not that I am making a dent in the twenty-five tons of trash, but it's the principle of the thing, and I have to start somewhere. This cup is my invitation into a deeper, more responsible way to live.
But it turns out that even this small economy is a challenge. The cup is a challenging invitation. I had to buy a more permanent travel mug. I have to consistently use it. I have trouble keeping track of it. Like all challenging invitations to live more deeply it involves first some awareness, second some acceptance, and third some engagement or commitment. Awareness, acceptance, commitment.
So it is in the gospel today in the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of the sky. In the story of Jesus, people are issued a challenging invitation. They are invited to a wedding. Some of the people are really not aware of the importance of the invitation. They shrug it off. They are too preoccupied with the details on the surface of their lives to become aware of the invitation being offered.
Others do become aware of the invitation. These people of the streets come. They accept the invitation.
But some of those who accept the invitation are not ready to be a part of the wedding. They are not engaged in the wedding, and are not committed to the invitation. They are simply there for a good time. They did not accept the challenge that is embedded in the invitation.
Our lives echoes through the details of this story. Things as small as paper cups and as large as The Great Depression call us to look more deeply into life. We become aware of God's voice calling us to accept the invitation. to live life more fully and to commit ourselves in longer-term struggles.
The envelopes in which these invitations come vary from person to person. For some the invitation comes to reconstruct a relationship in which things have gone badly. We become aware of the pain of our friend. We accept the challenge to work on the relationship. And we commit ourselves to rebuild what has fallen apart. That is responding to the invitation to the abundant life.
For some the invitation comes to lead a more spiritual life. We become aware of the shallow we we usually live. We accept the challenge through prayer, meditation, and community worship to be more open to the spirit around us. And then we commit ourselves, rebuilding the sense of the spirit one prayer at a time. That is responding to the invitation to the abundant spiritual life.
For some of us the invitation comes to do a good work or to help someone. We become aware of the need of another person. We accept the challenge to meet the need. And we then engage in the task of meeting the needs and accomplishing our purpose. That is accepting the invitation to the abundant life.
For some of us the invitation comes to speak for peace. We become aware of the pain at the core of all violence as recall from our own past wars how horrible war is. We accept the challenge to speak for restraint and peace. And we engage in that challenge over and over again. That is accepting the invitation to the abundant life.
For some of us the invitation comes to limit our use of resources. We become aware of what we consume. We resolve to consume less, and we do commit ourselves in building new ways of living using less. That is responding to the invitation to the abundant life.
For some of us the invitation comes to do better with something at school. We become aware of a problem with a class or teacher or course. We accept the challenge to do better. We actually do our homework. For some of us that is responding to the invitation to the abundant life.
And for all of us, the invitation comes to be disciples of Jesus. We become aware of our need to feel peace, freedom, love, and forgiveness. We dedicate ourselves to living, as God would want us to live. That is what happens in Holy Baptism. We look forward to the coming kingdom, and then we engage ourselves in the everyday challenges of life as a Christian, in the daily renewal of baptism every day of our lives.
Becoming aware of the invitation, accepting it, committing ourselves is always a challenge. It is difficult. The invitation to the feast in the lesson from Isaiah this morning comes at a time of destruction. The story of Jesus includes struggle and pain, sometimes some wailing and gnashing of teeth. Growth, change, reaching for the kingdom of the sky, digging more deeply into our life, our relationships, accepting God's invitation to be the best we can be; well, those things are always hard and painful. It does take some work to wear the clothes of righteousness. The pain of these stories is a reminder of the cost of each challenge.
But before you roll up your sleeves to renew your life this Monday in some small way, accept the invitation of the cup, not my Styrofoam cup, but the cup on the table of the Lord, the cup of forgiveness and hope, shared with the bread of unity: the cup that continues the acceptance begun in Baptism. Come to the table of the Lord. Be refreshed for the difficult task of accepting the invitation to the abundant life. Eat and drink the fortaste of the feast to come.