Sunday, October 9, 2011

Seventeenth after Pentecost

(Proper 23A2) Isaiah 25: 1-9, Ps. 23, Matthew 22: 1-14

Good morning. We begin with readings from the Old Testament that are familiar to many of us in part because they are so frequently appointed for use in the Burial Office.

The 23rd Psalm of course. After the Lord’s Prayer and perhaps John 3:16 perhaps the most memorized passage in all of the scriptures. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

And from Isaiah 25. Not as often known by heart, but nonetheless deeply familiar. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

So these to rest before us. Whatever the length of journey that brought us here this morning—wherever we began the day, and with all that we have carried in with us, to this place.

We never really check our luggage at the door. Old thoughts. Memories. Things we have lost. That have slipped away from us. Good intentions. The daily “to do” list. Ambitions. Hopes and dreams. Relationships. The things we wish we had said. The missing: words of confession, of reconciliation, of forgiveness. Questions we might have asked, but now the opportunity is past.

Sometimes thinking about what it would be like if we could hit the rewind button and go back a decade or two or three, and, knowing what we know now, giving it another try. Things done and left undone. Whatever the journey, it is to something I think quite deep in us that these words speak. Calling us scattered, isolated, hurting. Inviting us to his table, calling us to be gathered into the shepherd’s embrace.

I look at the figures on our Rood Beam, as they hover over us Sunday by Sunday—you see them there: the Beloved Disciple John and Mary the Mother of our Lord, as they stand wordless at the foot of the Cross. The jeering crowds and Roman guards and religious officials all fade into the background, and we see only these two. Looking for a moment, catching a glimpse in that Friday afternoon into the silent heart and center of meaning and purpose, the deepest reality of all the universe, in the very presence of God’s perfect offering of himself. And perhaps as well looking around and down and catching a glimpse of us here below.

Thou settest a table before me in the face of my enemies . . . .

Some time ago there was a visitor here I talked to who arrived about a half an hour early for a morning service. He said he lived in Friendship and had walked over. I asked him how long it took him. He paused, and he said: “honestly, about 25 years.” Which led to a very rich conversation, as I’m sure you might imagine. A life story.

But it has been for many of us, for all of us, quite a journey, to get here. How long did it take you? We could write a number of fascinating novels, I’m sure. Full of twists and turns, wild plots, adventures and misadventures, with all kinds of social and psychological and spiritual layers and levels unfolding along the way.

Until we arrive. Like John and Mary. An old stone church in a quiet neighborhood of the East End of Pittsburgh. We sing a few hymns, say a few prayers. And the Word is opened for us. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. It sounds like poetry, and it is. A song echoing generation after generation.

In any event, as he opens himself to us and for us, we would open ourselves to this all for a moment and take it seriously ourselves. Which we do, deep down. Finding our way here.

Perhaps it wasn’t the case that we were on the original guest list for this wedding banquet. And yet, unexpectedly, here we are. Gathered in from the highways and byways. As St. Matthew says, “both good and bad.” That in seeking him we might find him, and be found by him. Then the Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces. For all the distractions of the morning, and the jumble of kids and family and the usual busyness of chores and activities, conversations. Where we’ve been, where we’re going, where we are right now at this moment. That we wouldn’t be like the one who refused the invitation, who declined to don the wedding garment and become a part of the celebration.

The King is giving a wedding banquet for his Son.

It is by his mercy, which is so precious, his grace, and in his love, that we are here, that we draw breath. He knows our hopes, our frustrations, our steps and missteps, and every tear. And all that is such a gift. His love for us.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. That would be a word for us this morning, an invitation, heart and mind, body, soul, spirit, all that we are and all that God is in Christ Jesus. And a word of thanksgiving and assurance.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

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