Sermons & services
Sermon for the 20th Sunday after Trinity
Published Monday 26th Oct. 2020, at 4:48 p.m.
Sermon for the 20th Sunday after Trinity
We definitely seem to have hit a wedding theme in our latest sermons. Father Tim referred to the analogies to the marriage of God and Israel in the Book of Ezekiel last week, the week before that I referred to my son’s wedding and the analogies of marriage throughout the Old Testament and here we are again. But this time this analogy of a wedding comes with a sharper edge to it. It ends on a very sombre note. I, for one have yet to go to a wedding where one of the guests is thrown out into the outer darkness “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. It would certainly make for a very memorable wedding.
This passage comes in the middle of a verbal joust which Jesus is having with Pharisees who wish him no good whatsoever, itching to get him arrested at one point or trying to catch him out to discredit him at another. Their anger is certainly not smoothed out as they realise that the parables he is using are aimed squarely at them. For in their hostility and hatred for Jesus they fit perfectly those guests in the parable who, when invited to the Wedding feast do not accept, but instead turn on the messengers and try to kill them.
We hate what we fear and the Pharisees feared Jesus. And they feared him because they saw him as a threat to their freedom. Freedom is certainly something in 2020 we would like more of, as we are constrained and confined from doing what we want by the waves this pandemic. But these constraints have the merit of highlighting how precious is what we have lost. The simple freedom to go to meet a group of friends, to go the cinema, to a restaurant or travel abroad are now a growingly dim memory. Freedom is precious. It is precious simply because it is God given. But is it ultimately precious? In 21st century Britain and indeed pretty well all of the Western World, it certainly feels that way. The whole structures of society; our laws, our political debates and the central message of films, adverts, music, books and internet chatter seems to revolve around the cardinal virtue of freedom. Choice. Choice is all. We must be protected so that we can choose. It’s seems to be ultimately important.
And here, 2000 years ago, the Pharisees looked upon Jesus, heard Jesus, witnessed Jesus doing miracle after miracle and they saw a threat to that cherished freedom. So they hated him. Because they feared him. For they had made their choice. They had made use of their freedom and that choice bound them hand and foot as securely as the guest in the parable who is “thrown in the out in the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. For what is the choice before us? We all start with that same infinite desire in our hearts. That infinite desire planted in the human heart. That infinite desire pointing us and drawing us to God. That yearning for complete and total happiness. That is what we all hold in common. That is what unites us all. This desire for happiness. But then God gives us freedom, because God is Love.
It is often said that there are 4 great temptations in Life. To choose as our ultimate aim in life one of these 4 baubles to set our hearts on: Honour, Wealth, Power and Pleasure. Due to our make - up and experiences of life, each of us will find one or the other more or less attractive. I think it is often the case that people growing up with a genuine lack of any of these 4 goods in their youth can often spending the rest of their lives pursuing that particular good. For each of these 4 things are good in themselves, because made by a God who create the world out of nothing to bless us. But they are not the ultimate good. They are not what our freedom is made for. For “Freedom exists for the sake of love” as one theologian puts it. It turns out that freedom is not the ultimate good, the ultimate end but a means to another end which is Love. And what happens when you Love? Going back to that joyous day of my son and daughter in law’s wedding, when you Love you want to surrender your Freedom. You want to give yourself to the other. It’s as if freedom is the Chrysalis from which the butterfly of Love emerges. At a wedding you surrender your autonomy willingly. The bridegroom and the bride no longer wish to be their own exclusive property, but instead to become the property of the other. It is a mutual gift of self and sacrifice of self. But the odd thing is that in that sacrifice of our freedom, by surrendering ourselves and our freedom, we find true freedom. The freedom which comes from being loved as a person. Not as a sentimental fantasy, but as the unique person we all are.
That is what the King in this parable is offering. God the Father is hosting the wedding of God the Son where he gives himself and all he has to his Church. The creator of all that exists, seen and unseen. The Love that is the cornerstone of all that is real is freely offering to his church, to all of humanity to be bound in an everlasting covenant of love which includes each and every one of us into the Love of God for all eternity in bond of personal Love.
No thanks say some. I have work to do. I have a field to till. I have pots to clean. But it doesn’t stop there. When the king renews his invitation, some treat his messengers shamefully and kill them. Why? Because they are frightened. They see God’s offer of Love as a threat to their freedom. If freedom it is. For their version of freedom requires no sacrifice. It calls for no surrender. It is inward looking, not self-giving freedom. For what do we do when we choose to make one of those 4 temptations – Honour, Power, Pleasure or Wealth - as the aim of our Life? It is a choice with us at the centre. Our own ego and our own Pride is the aim of these choices. But the problem with choosing one of these 4, is that none of them will be sacrificing themselves for us. For though we may believe that we are freely choosing them, we are in fact steadily sacrificing and surrendering all that we have in pursuing a mirage. We end up “bound and foot”, enslaved to nothingness.
And why are we tempted by these dreams, by these idols, this empty void? Simply because we don’t trust God. We don’t believe that God truly is God. The only God worthy of the name is the one who created the whole cosmos out of nothing, who is the ground of all being. Who the Psalmist rightly describes as he questions :
“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol you are there! IF I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the Sea, even there your hand shall lead me.”
Everything that is, exists by the will of God and is good because God wills it to be. So nothing good exists independently of God. So when we react in fear to God’s good news, it is often because we do not trust God. We do not trust God because in words best captured by a famous Christian book from the 1950’s “Our God is too Small”. He is not the God of the Genesis creation. He is at best a sort of good angel battling the forces of evil which are not fully under his control. And such a God is not one we can fully trust. And so we seek goodness elsewhere than from Him since we do not really believe that he is sovereign and that all good things in this life, including Wealth, Power, Pleasure and Honour are good things which are signposts to him, not ends in themselves. We believe instead that they are independent sovereign powers which we can turn to for fulfilment instead of the God who created them.
And So we ignore him, go about our daily business, viewing God at best as one source of goodness amongst many others which might be good for you, but not for me, or at worst as a threat to OUR choices and OUR Freedom.
Yes this parable is startling and unsettling and describes a marriage feast like no other. But It is stark simply because Jesus is the Truth and he is Love. And when the God who is Love sees those he loves so blindly, proudly kicking against his Love, then the gentle tone he uses with the woman caught in adultery – “neither do I condemn you” – is not enough. He needs to shake them up. To point out that in Life there is ultimately only one of two choices to make, and they have chosen the wrong one. They have given their hearts to idols which leaves them helplessly bound, hating and fearing the God who wants to offer them everything.
Yes we are Free. Yes we do have choice. But that free will is a good gift which has a purpose. It is a means to an end. To another purpose. And that is for us to grow into who we truly are and to find true freedom. To find true freedom by giving ourselves, by surrendering our wills for the one who created us with one aim: Bliss. The complete happiness and fulfilment which we crave and which comes from surrendering to the Love of the one who surrendered his Life for us to be part of the Truth: The Alpha and the Omega of all that was, is and will be: The God who IS Love.