First Congregational Church
October 15, 2017
19th Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 22:1-14 & Philippians 4:1-9
“think about such things”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
My favorite way to dress is in all black. My fashion sense is second to nun. I always get really frustrated trying to put clothes in my wardrobe. Think I could do with some Hanger Management. I've never understood the fashion industry, those people are so clothes minded.
This morning’s gospel passage is a little bit tough. Actually, it’s a lot tough, in my humble opinion. But, before we get to it, I discovered a little clue to the passage from a sermon by John Gaston, pastor at First Assembly of God Church in Huntsville, Texas.
He said, “Among the Wealthy of the Near East, it was a common custom for wedding guests to be given garments to wear to Wedding Banquets. This may have been to have certain colors, to make sure it was festive, to de-emphasize distinctions between rich and poor, or simply to show off how wealthy they were. If someone refused to wear one, it was an insult to the host and they were thrown out.” So, as we hear our morning passages, keep that little nugget in mind.
On top of that, I want to set the panorama of the gospel passage. The one for today is from the first fourteen verses of chapter 22. Chapter 21 starts with Jesus going into Jerusalem on that infamous Palm Sunday. Then he chased the money changers out of the temple, left Jerusalem for Bethany, just a mile and a half down the road and back to Jerusalem the next morning. While on his way to the temple, he cursed a fig tree for not having fruit on it when he was hungry.
He finally made it to the temple, where he was going to do some teaching, but the chief priests and elders interrupted him, asking him who gave him the authority to do what he was doing. Jesus embarrassed them by challenging their understanding, then went on to give the parable of the two less than perfect sons, and then on to the parable from last week where the landowner lost his servants and his son to the ruthlessness of the lousy tenants.
Granted, Jesus probably knew that his time on this earth was limited, and he probably wasn’t getting any real, good rest in those days before his crucifixion, but one could surmise that he was in one foul mood. And as much as he was trying to prepare the people - all the people - for life after his death, the authorities were trying to figure out a way to get rid of him.
Matthew 22:1-14 (NIV) The Parable of the Wedding Banquet
22 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and 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 wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Philippians 4:1-9 (NIV) Closing Appeal for Steadfastness and Unity
4 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Thank you, Marti. Those of you who were here last week, or read the passage from last week, doesn’t it strike you as interesting that the gospel writer of Matthew put these two parables back-to-back? In some ways, they are nearly identical. There’s the landowner and the king, the harvest and the banquet, the representation of hope in a good, full life in the harvest and in marriage. There were message-bearing servants in both parables, although one set was seeking payment while the other sought guests. There were people beat-up and people killed, innocent people doing their jobs and I don’t know about anyone else, but that really irks me! But such is life, and life is uncertain and if you think about all the “near-misses” we have in life, it’s actually quite astounding that there are as many people alive as there are.
But then, the writer of Matthew ends the similarities of the two parables about tenants and seeking guests, and he throws in this equally infuriating culmination of the Parable of the Wedding Banquet with the bit about the guest who wasn’t wearing the correct wedding attire. The king, desperate for wedding guests, even to the point of searching the streets for any stranger that would come, ostracizes one of those he called in the first place! What’s up with that, God?
It just doesn’t seem congruous - the merciful king - taking back his word, so to speak. And like it or not, God is God and can do whatever God wants, even to the point of being incongruous in his actions, but it just doesn’t seem right. But then, we have to remember that God is congruous in all God’s ways, even if it doesn’t seem like it. And the parable is not an actual event, but a made-up story that seeks to make a point. I now ask you to leave that whole scenario, for the time being, as we go to the passage from Philippians.
Despite all the academic endeavors, we still don’t have a good clue as to who Euodia and Syntyche were, but it seems likely they were prominent, active members of the church. Perhaps they were deacons, perhaps they were the founders of the Women’s Bible Study program, perhaps they were the chairpersons of the Philippian inner-city soup kitchen. Whoever they were, they were among the core of the congregation, but lately they’d had a falling out. Maybe it was doctrinal, maybe it was personal. Maybe they’d disagreed over the best way to run the soup kitchen, maybe one of them had insulted the other’s child-rearing techniques. Whatever the dispute was, it soon became known that these two women were at odds.
For those can remember Euodia and Sentyche at all, you might remember their disagreement. But remember how I spent all that time in the first part of this message setting up the relationship of gospel sections with each other? It’s important here, too.
For whatever reasons, I, like so many others, thought about the passage from Philippians as two rather separate units: the part about telling the church ladies to get it together and the part about good character listed in verses 4-9. I had never really thought about the necessity of treating those two units as one until good, ol’ Scott Hoezee of Calvin Theological Seminary pointed it out.
Mr. Hoezee also pointed out that “Because of the paragraph breaks that were imposed on the text by translators, it’s easy to read verses 4-9 in isolation from verses 2 and 3. We chop up Philippians 4, severing Paul’s words about rejoicing from their true context: namely, Paul’s attempt to end an argument!”
Some of you have figured out that one of my favorite ways to change the topic is to throw out the question, “How about those Lions?” or “How about those Vikings?” Paul does it with much greater intention and goodness, “Rejoice! And in case you have forgotten about that over which you can rejoice, try gentleness or prayer and petition, thanksgiving. Or how about - instead of the Vikings - how about whatever is noble, right, pure, lovely and so on?
Maybe it’s a stretch, but why not take Jesus’ admonition to “think about these things” as a directive to our brain and head, and you know, if the hat fits, wear it. Or how about cloaking yourself in whatever is true, praiseworthy, excellent and admirable. Put on that which is noble and right - one leg at a time.
It’s interesting that Paul mentions the word “peace” twice in these nine verses. In the first one, it’s the peace that transcends all understanding. If you’ve not been there, perhaps you know someone who has been in a hard or bad place, and yet, there is that sense - that sense that is surely God-given - that everything will be okay - despite all that seems logical or practical.
I’m sure God would have been much more straightforward if his intention for us was about being properly clothed with such things as nobility and righteousness - at least more straightforward than trying to bridge two such distant passages as these two from Matthew and Philippians. And yet, there they are, in the lectionary for our use and edification. And if the shoe fits, they why not wear it as we pray?
Kind and Respectful God, we thank you for giving us such respect as brains to think and hearts to feel. When we have not thought or felt as you know we can, forgive us, and give us other opportunities to show you just what we’re made of. For those who have felt attacked or maimed in what we think is our job in pointing out errors, forgive us our self-righteousness as well. And help us all to think about that which we can be - in you - people of virtue and character - such that others wish to draw closer to you because of our witness. For all the gifts with which you bless us, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.