Getting Ready for Sunday by the Rev. David Thompson

Is. 25:1-9; Phil. 4:1-9; Matt. 22:1-14

Growing weary of kingdom parables in ordinary time is common, I suppose. Like working a crossword, I eventually tire from looking for buried meaning and uncovering clues to riddles. My interest wanes and I tend to want to move on. Which is fine if it’s a crossword, there’s a time to put it down and you won’t miss out on much. But we are talking about the kingdom of heaven here! Part of my brain fatigue stems from losing focus on this very point, this goal. The pursuit is intriguing for a time, but won’t be sustained without arriving at some sight of the kingdom, which is not a game, but an end and resting point.

Losing sight of the kingdom seems to loosely parallel the loss of sight in this parable Jesus offers about a wedding feast (Matt. 22:1-14). The first-round guest list chooses to ignore the invitation, as though they have better things to do. They do not see the joy to be had in coming to celebrate the beginning of a new relationship in the community. They would rather gain and get ahead of their peers in business and commodity dealings than give the gift of each other’s presence in celebration of a communal centered marriage. The invitation is to enter into joy in fellowship and union, yet they go to their jobs in isolation (v. 5). They have lost touch with God centered priorities, which is a fundamental point of intersection with our day. It’s not that jobs and daily affairs are bad, but when they become the supreme focus, over and against joy in God and the feast he prepares and invites us to come and share, then we have a perspective problem.

St. Paul addresses the same problem in Philippians 4, though more explicitly. There is no puzzle to piece together and find yourself in here in this epistle reading, but a clear admonition to simply “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). Rather than a parable, it’s plain speech. And we need it sometimes. He says it twice because he must know we need the double reminder, again and again. “The Lord is near,” he goes on to say, and the invitations have gone out; let nothing get in the way of this invitation to rejoice in and with God. Again, a connecting point with our ways of living today. Our busy lives let so many things come between us and the joy of God. The temptation is to let the things of time, even good things, get in the way of the things of eternity.[1] Paul goes on to list things worthy of setting our minds and time on, whatever is “true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, etc.” (v.8). But notice how all such things follow our rejoicing in the Lord. Joy in God is the umbrella, out from under which we end up flooded in the anxieties and frets of the world, whether that be our jobs, families, finances, relationships, etc.

All such things will become like the heat of the day that Isaiah speaks of in 25:9. If we come out from under the shelter of our God, his stronghold of joy, then we will go and build in all the wrong places. We’ll forget how and where to seek his kingdom, preferring to build our own “palaces” (Is. 25:2). But all such fortifications will come down in the end, becoming nothing more than a “heap” (v. 2). And that is something to rejoice in! Along with Isaiah, “I will praise your name for you have done wonderful things…for you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin” (vv. 1-2).

In these lessons, what comes through is the joy that comes when we find the kingdom of heaven, and decide to leave our palaces for it.  

[1] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2, p. 296

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Getting Ready for Sunday by the Rev. Erin Jean Warde

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Getting ready for Sunday (1 Thessalonians 2:1-8)

In this Sunday’s reading from 1 Thessalonians, we hear an explanation of what evangelism might look like.  We hear how the gospel approaches us, on the lips of servants.  We read this: “… though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.”

I have both been a recipient of the care of a nurses and doctors, and I have visited enough hospitals to see others receiving the care of nurses and doctors.  Yes, this care can be tender, but can also be quite firm.  While a nurse may have a gentleness of spirit, an ease in conversation, and a true care for their patient, they have a directive to give the medicine and care prescribed.  And it is not prescribed by the patient, but by the doctors and nurses, who—in this situation—are trusted to know best.  In many cases of illness, we learn the adage “it will get worse before it gets better” in bodily form. 

The gospel can also approach us in this way.  The gospel is tender in its eternal love and comfort, but it is also quite firm in its conviction and call.  While we might be approached with gentleness of spirit, ease in conversation, and true care for one another, the gospel is not shy in its directive to transform the hearts of the world through the powerful truth of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  It is equally clear in its proclamation that we, too, face death before our resurrection.  And our baptismal covenant is not shy to call our entire lives, as individuals and as the Church, into this powerful and challenging gospel work.

1 Thessalonians also reminds us why—with all its challenges, with all its history, with all its complexity—we would continue to share the gospel at all.  Because “so deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves.”

True evangelism, then, is a sacrificial act.  We continue to share this gospel, because we share in the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ, like we also share in the great resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Evangelism is not a conversation, it is a conversion, but within it all parties are changed.  If we want to be evangelists in this age, encouraged by the weight of the water on our foreheads, we will have to be ready to give our own selves, knowing that when we share this profound gospel of love, it is because we need this gospel just as much as anyone else.  

We also must recognize that the gospel is not an empty collection of words; like Jesus became incarnate, the gospel must show up in our lives in both word and deed.  God calls me to share the truth of Jesus Christ, because I always need to hear it myself.  I cannot share the gospel if I do not confess my own sins, know my own brokenness, and recognize all others around me as my equals.  To do anything less would be giving, but not with my whole self.  I, too, need this tender gospel care, but I need the firm direction of the gospel just as much.  1 Thessalonians reminds me to love fiercely and to share out of that love sacrificially, and I must do so with the humility of a woman who first had to hear the gospel herself.

Posted by The Rev. Erin Jean Warde with

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This is a blog of essays meant to prepare parishioners for an upcoming Sunday reading.