Come to Dinner . . . A Meditation on Luke 14:15-24

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15 One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ 16Then Jesus* said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” 19Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” 20Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” 21So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” 22 And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” 23 Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you,* none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’

On a warm June afternoon in 2000 I was sitting at the entrance to the primary hotel in Vallejo CA.  I was waiting for a bus to come and deliver John to me who was coming from the Oakland airport. I could hardly contain myself, you see in just a few short weeks I would be retiring from my consulting job and moving back to Edmonds. John was coming to help me pack-up the apartment and drive with me back to WA.  We would be married in September.  This was the beginning of 6 months of celebration that has extended into nearly 16 years.

I had accepted an invitation, I said yes. I knew that in that acceptance I would now be living a new life and one that would require me to make the choice to change from a life of taking care of only me to taking care of someone else. Now that’s a huge change for someone who was 53 and never married.  But it was a choice that I have been grateful for ever since.  You see by accepting the invitation I was transformed from a stranger into a member of a community.  And, as a result I was blessed with a new life that has had its challenges and its joys. That’s what happens when you chose to transform your life.  Life can be a bed of roses, but what you must remember is roses have thorns and you can be sure you will sometimes get stuck with one, or more, of those thorns.

Today’s scripture is not only about choosing between accepting and refusing an invitation to a banquet given by an upper class gentleman, it is about choosing between accepting or refusing to live a transformed life of free grace in the way we were meant to live. It is choosing to live as a member of a community rather than being a stranger, and, to decide living a transformed life means accepting all of that life of grace.  It means we are to commit to live that life no matter what gets thrown at us or how many thorns we run into.  Living a transformed life of grace doesn’t mean there won’t be thorns, or potholes, or great sorrows on your path. It means we are given the strength to walk through them because we aren’t traveling the road alone.

Our story this morning is about a man who has invited his friends and, probably, business associates to a banquet.  In the first century preparing a large dinner was not an easy process.  Different items were served depending on how many people RSVP’d the invitation.  If only a small number accepted then chicken fish or duck may be the main course and a larger number would result in the host preparing anything from a one lamb or oxen to preparing many.

You have to remember there was no refrigeration so all of the food had to be prepared and eaten before it spoiled.  To help prevent food wastage two invitations were sent out.  The first invitation invited the guests to the dinner and they responded yes or no but the time of the dinner was not given.  When all is ready the host sends out a second invitation calling the people to the prepared dinner.  It was extremely rude to accept the first and not come for the second invitation because that meant a huge waste of resources for the host.

The householder has invited the guests and now sends his servants to call them to the prepared dinner. But despite accepting the first invitation all of his guests find excuses for not attending.  The first guest refuses because of business issues.  The second guest let’s his possessions take precedents over his social obligations, and the third puts his home and family above attending to a promise already given.  I suppose to us these don’t seem like unreasonable reasons for not attending but what if we look at the story from a different direction.

First of all this isn’t a story isn’t about an ordinary householder.  No, our host happens to be Jesus who is inviting his guests into a relationship that will transform their lives.   How does the story and the excuses change when we see that it is Jesus who is inviting us into a banquet that will transform us from strangers into the Children of God in order to live a new life?  How will that perspective change the way we hear this parable?

So here is how the story might sound if we told it as if Jesus was throwing this shindig? The guests Jesus first invites to his amazing banquet are those he expects will accept the invitation because they already understand, or he thinks they do, what it means to live the transformed life He is offering them.  Jesus wants them to come and celebrate with Him, to become part of the new life that only happens when we accept the Divine invitation.  An invitation of free grace to live the life we are meant to live in the presence of God, Jesus and Holy Spirit.  So he sends his disciples out to bring his guests to the party; the food is ready, wine is poured, the orchestra is tuning up for an all night event.  But his disciples come back and tell him all have refused, all are too busy with the details of life, the minutia of daily living.  So what does he do, after all he has a hall prepared, food on the table, wine chilling, and musicians waiting?  Well, Jesus did just what he told his disciples to do when he sent them out to preach and the invitations they gave were refused. He “dusted the dirt from His sandals” and turns his back on those who refused him and sends his disciples out again into the streets to bring in whomever they find to the party, the good and the bad, the worthy and the unworthy.  These guests are the disadvantaged of the Jewish people; tax collectors, prostitutes, the homeless, and the ostracized because they are different.  But still he has room so he sends out his servants again this time to the people from the roads and byways around the city.  These are the people normally not considered part of the ‘Jewish family,’ these are the gentiles, the ultimate outsiders for the Jewish people.

How would we identify these people with those from today, the 21st century?  Well think of who are our people of the streets and you might first of all think of “Nicholsville,” or the man or woman standing on the corner with a sign that says “Homeless vet, needs food and job,” and think of the shop keepers in the poorest parts of Seattle, or any town for that matter. It was people like these who were the ones who were welcomed into Jesus’ party. They were the nobodies of the town and here they were going to a big shindig given by the most important person in town.  Now think of those people outside the Christian circle of community, Muslims, Buddhists, Jewish, atheist, and agnostic. Those might be our version “gentile.”

Can you imagine how they all felt?  Can’t you just hear them as they walk to the mansion, “Jesus invited me, me, to his party,” “You too, I can’t believe it,” “I was invited too, and get this, the woman said come as I am, and it didn’t matter if I’m not part of the Christian faith.  He just wants me to celebrate the Divines presence in my life as you celebrate it in yours, how cool is that.”

Unlike Jesus’ first guests these guests weren’t concerned about who they would be sitting next to at the table or who might make a big splash in the news media.  It didn’t matter to them that the person next to them was a drug addict, a thief, a prostitute, a shop keeper, a prosperous business person or followed a different faith, they were all children of the one God. They didn’t care if Jesus was failing or succeeding in life. They were excited about being invited.  They understood the importance of being invited to this banquet, this table.  They wanted to have new lives.  Unlike those first invited they knew their old lives weren’t working for them and they were willing to change and live new lives, transformed lives of grace that had meaning and where all people are recognized as family and community despite who they were or how they walked their way to God.

What Jesus was offering wasn’t a new idea for his banquet.  For centuries the Prophets of Israel were telling the people the same thing. Moses says in Deuteronomy (30:19b) “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”  In Proverbs 9 Wisdom calls to the people:

4“You that are simple, turn in here!”
    To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
    and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
    and walk in the way of insight.”

And through Isaiah God tells the Jewish people:

“ the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
    of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.”

In the New Testament James writes:

“God opposes the proud,
    but gives grace to the humble.”

God has been inviting us to the table of grace since the beginning.  She spoke through the fathers of the Jewish people, through the prophets, sent her Son and spoke through the disciples.  But we have let greed and self-centeredness takes precedence over the original message of grace.

But what does it mean to choose life?  Well “When you say ‘Yes’ to life you say ‘Amen’ to all of life as a package deal. Thereafter the so-called problems you have with personal injustice do not arise. You renounce your concept of victimhood and the old impulse to complain about being unfairly treated.” A “commitment to life  . . . refuses to make any distinction between your outer life and your inner life, or between secular and sacred spheres of life, or between loving God, loving all of life, or loving one’s neighbor, no matter who they are. Nor does it distinguish between your current life concerns or your eternal concerns. On the contrary, it simply calls for an unhesitating and unreserved ethical response to the call of life, the call of Jesus, God, and Holy Spirit – right where you are at this moment in time, at this point in your life,” to live a life where you defend justice for all and refuse to accept injustice for anyone as an expedient to living.[1] That is what Jesus taught, that’s grace. It’s not new information, its old stuff we haven’t listened to, at least not for long time.

No matter how you tell today’s story it’s about Divine invitations, the acceptance of grace, and how you live once you’ve accepted God’s grace. When John asked me to marry him, I had a number of options.  Like the first invited guests I could have refused and that would have been that.  I don’t know where I would have been 16 years later but I am quite certain it wouldn’t have been here.  But I did say yes and again to that yes I had options as to how I was going to live within this new relationship.  One way was I could continue to behave as I have always behaved, just as the first guests invited to the banquet.  Taking care of me, making sure I had what I wanted and what I needed.  Yes John would be there but our relationship would not have been very deep because I wouldn’t have let him into the deeper part of me, the part of me that would have built the relationship where both of us would have lived a transformed life.  But I chose to say yes and I chose to attend my life banquet. I let John into my heart and said we are partners and what I do and what you do will affect and change who we both are.  We looked at the covenant of our marriage and said we do this together as one, not as two people living their own lives in one house.  When I accepted John’s invitation to marry, when I accepted that covenant, I had no clue as to what that might look like, but I knew I was going to have to change if I was going to make my life with John. And yes it hasn’t always been sunshine and flowers.  Sometimes we have had our thorny moments. But it was because we chose to live a life together as one that we had the strength to overcome all thorns and rocks in our path. While my wedding story wasn’t about God’s grace specifically, by accepting my invitation I discovered grace in a way I did not expect, and that is how it sometimes work.

As many diverse faith community’s we are given a Divine invitation to free grace every time we choose to come invite to our tables all people no matter who they are. We have heard this invitation before and we accepted it with our desire to be who we, as individuals and as communities, were meant to live. We are invited to a banquet of grace, welcoming every single one of us to the head table, and No  questions asked about our past or how many times we haven’t understood, if we believe a certain way, or look a certain way. No the Divine wants us to come and join Her. To laugh and sing and eat together, to tell jokes, and play games.  To dance to the music that life brings us, and cry together when life brings us sorrows. We are asked to change who we are at our deepest level and live grace filled lives that do not see differences between us, whether they are gender, racial, religious beliefs, cultural, social, or political. He asks us to live a life where we see only brothers and sisters and not people of different abilities, colors, faiths, or cultures.

We can change the world we live in, we can change the world by being the people we are meant to be, a people of grace, by being a people who refuse to accept evil, greed, and self-centeredness as the status quo.  We can change the world by refusing to accept war as the only solution, or that homelessness and hunger is just part of life.  We can change the world by seeing each other as the Children of God, living the life God meant us to live.

The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted, wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers. . . .  Jesus goes to town, stands on the street corner, and invites everyone within the sound of his voice: Come, rich and poor alike, come the worthy and the unworthy, come with me, oh come, and celebrate the joining of our spirits! I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread, carefully selected wines. Leave your lives of self-centeredness, loneliness, fear, poverty, greed, and come, celebrate with me! Come celebrate a life with meaning, a life of grace. Come change your lives, remember to live transformed, not only your inner selves, but also your outer selves.  Put on your cloak of joy and celebration and come, walk up the street to a life with meaning.”[2]

Amen

 

[1] Cupitt, Don: Life, Life, Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, CA, 2003, pg 6-7.

[2] Proverbs 9:1-6

Trust in God? – Prayerful Tuesday

Exodus 14:10-11, 13-14, 21:  10As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 11They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt?

13But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

21Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided.

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I have begun a yearlong meditation discipline with the book A Year with God[1] by Richard J. Foster and Julia L Roller, which I am very excited about.  Yesterday the above Scripture from Exodus was my morning reading.  As I read it I thought about what it means to trust in God.  In Speaking Christian[2] Marcus Borg says trust and faith mean essentially the same thing.  So Moses was asking the Israelites to have faith that God would provide help.  What Moses wanted the Israelites to understand was they needed to let go of their idea of planning ahead and of knowing what will happen next. God may have a plan but we don’t know what that is and God is not going to tells us what the plan is, until the moment it happens. In this case God’s plan was to divide the waters of the Red Sea, which allowed the Israelites to escape the Egyptians.  Fundamentally to have faith/trust in God means we must let go of the control of our own lives and let God provide, for most people that is a scary thing to do. Usually we only let go when we are at a point when nothing else has worked.  All our plans have fallen through, and we are at a dead end with no place to go except call on God.  For most people God is the safety net we rely on and I for one am grateful of that net.

The meditation questions provided with the lesson brought back uncomfortable memories in my life when I had reached my own dead ends and didn’t know where to turn next.  I remember feeling lost, frightened, terrified really, at the prospects I imagined lay before me.  In the dark night of my soul I called out to God and said “I give up, I can’t do this anymore, help me.” I wanted God to be there, I needed God to be there, because I felt alone.  For me giving up and trusting in God and letting God plan the next move was scary but not as scary as the alternatives.  Letting go of the reins of my life released something inside of me and eventually things improved.  I can’t say what I experienced will happen for everyone but I can say giving to God what stresses us and beats us down improves the way we see the world.  Faith and trust are hard spiritual practices but are the foundation of all spiritual practices.  It doesn’t matter how you envision God, or what name you call the Divine letting the All Encompassing Presence be your safety net when you are troubled will give you hope in life.  The process may be slow; God works in God’s own time, but slow is better than not moving at all.

Spiritual Practice:  this week reflect on when in your life you have been able to trust God wholly when things fall apart.  If you haven’t had one of those moments do you think you could stand back and let God take over provide the solution?

As you journey on your path this week, may Christ be there to give you courage, may the Holy Spirit smooth your road, and when you are weary may God hold you in the palm of God’s hand.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 5, 2016

[1] Foster, Richard J. and Julia L. Roller editors, A Year With God, Harper One, New York, NY, 2009.

[2] Borg, Marcus J: Speaking Christian, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY, 1989, pg 120-123.

You Are Invited . . .

Matthew 22:1-14 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so 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 a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The above text is about how we are invited into God’s grace. However, what we do with that grace is entirely up to us.  We can ignore it, accept it but only on our terms, or completely live into the gift of grace.  What we do will be our choice and that choice will determine how we live our lives.  The following is the text of the sermon I preached on August 23, 2015, at my home church, Queen Anne Christian Church, Seattle, WA.

On a warm June afternoon in 2000 I was sitting at the entrance to the primary hotel in Vallejo CA.  I was waiting for a bus to come and deliver John to me who was taking the bus from the Oakland airport. I could hardly contain myself, you see in just a few short weeks I would be retiring from my consulting job and moving back to Edmonds. John was coming to help me pack-up the apartment and drive with me back to WA.  We would be married in September.  This was the beginning of 6 months of celebration that has extended into nearly 15 years. I had accepted an invitation, I said yes. I knew that in that acceptance I would now be living a new life and one that would require me to make the choice to change from a life of taking care of only me to taking care of someone else. Now that’s a huge change for someone who was 53 and never married.  But it was a choice that I have been grateful for ever since.  As a result I was blessed with a new life that has had its challenges and its joys. That’s what happens when you chose to transform your life.  Life can be a bed of roses, but what you must remember is roses have thorns and you can be sure you will sometimes get stuck with one, or more, of those thorns.

The scripture from Matthew is not only about choosing between accepting and refusing an invitation to a wedding banquet given by a King, it is about choosing between accepting or refusing to live a transformed life of free grace in the way we were meant to live. And, to deciding to live a transformed life means accepting all of that life of grace.  It means we are to commit to live that life no matter what gets thrown at us or how many thorns we run into.  Living a transformed life of grace doesn’t mean there won’t be thorns, or potholes, or great sorrows on your path. It means we have the strength to walk through them.

Matthew’s version of this story, which is also found in the Gospel of Luke, is actually two parables about invitations. It’s a story about a king, who wants to invite people to celebrate the wedding of his son with a banquet.  Matthew adds two additional details to the story; the first is when some of the king’s friends’ killed his slaves and he attacks and wipes out the kingdoms of those who committed those atrocities.[1] It is accepted by most interpreters that this part of the parable, Verses 6 and 7, are an interpretation of Matthew’s who is reading back into this parable the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Matthew adds it because within his community he has people who are struggling with the loss of their ancestral home.  It is not believed to be part of the original parable from the time of Jesus, the oldest version of which is found in the Sayings of Q. Actually these verses are much more characteristic of an interpretation of God from the Hebrew Text rather than the life and teachings of Jesus.[2],[3] Matthew’s second addition are the last 4 verses, verses 11-14,  of the story where Jesus tells one more story of the banquet[4] and this addition is very important in the way Matthew wants us to understand and respond to the divine invitation to a new life.  Together these two parables are stories about the life choices we make and what we do with those choices.

So here we have a story of a King, who traditionally is identified with God, and throws a wedding party for his son, Jesus. Those are the traditional interpretations of Matthew’s King and Son.  But I want to you think about a what if.  What if we look at this story from a different perspective? What if we turn it upside down? What if instead of the King being God the King is Jesus who’s throwing a wedding banquet for the Children of God who he invites to live a new life?  How will that perspective change the way we hear and see these parables?

Now even though the Matthew’s setting of the parable is Jesus defending himself before the religious authorities Matthew wasn’t referring to “the Jewish authorities” as the ones who refused to attend, or that the ones who came were only “Gentiles.” Rather, most interpreters now believe Matthew was addressing his own conflicted community who he wanted to live a transformed life.[5]  The Jewish Jesus followers of Matthew’s community were struggling with the loss of the temple and his Gentile Jesus followers were struggling with whether they should or should not become Jewish. All this would have made for many conflicts between the different factions and Matthew is trying to bridge the gap between them.  I too am not suggesting that there are specific groups being discussed in these parables. So depending on which version you like the best, think of the players in the 1st century as Matthew’s neighbors or in our very own community as our neighbors right now in the 21st century.

So here is how the story might sound if we told it as if Jesus was throwing this shindig? The guests Jesus first invites to his amazing banquet are those he expects will accept the invitation because they already understand, or he thinks they do, what it means to live the transformed life He is offering them.  Jesus wants them to come and celebrate with Him, to become part of the new life that only happens when we accept the Divine invitation.  An invitation of free grace to live the life we are meant to live in the presence of God, Jesus and Holy Spirit.  So he sends his disciples out to bring his guests to the party; the food is ready, wine is poured, the orchestra is tuning up for an all night event.  But his disciples come back and tell him all have refused, all are too busy with the details of life, the minutia of daily living.  So what does he do, after all he has a hall prepared, food on the table, wine chilling, and musicians waiting?  Well, Jesus did just what he told his disciples to do when he sent them out to preach and the invitations they gave were refused. He “dusted the dirt from His sandals” and turns his back on those who refused him and sends his disciples out again into the streets and to the city gates to bring in whomever they find to the party, the good and the bad, the worthy and the unworthy.  With the diligence of his disciples the hall is soon filled to overflowing.

Who were the people from the streets? Well if we think of who are the people of the streets in the 21st century you might first of all think of the homeless tent encampments, or the people living under a bridge, or the man or woman standing on the corner with a sign that says “Homeless vet, needs food and job.” And think of the shop keepers in the poorest parts of any town. It was people like these who were the ones who were welcomed into Jesus’ party. They were the nobodies of the town and here they were going to a big party given by the most important person in town. Can you imagine how they felt?  Can’t you just hear them as they walk to the mansion, “Jesus invited me, me, to his party,” “You too, I can’t believe it,” “I was invited too, and get this, the man said come as I am, how cool is that.”  Unlike Jesus’ first guests these guests weren’t concerned about who would be attending.  It didn’t matter to them that the person next to them was a drug addict, a thief, a prostitute, a shop keeper, or a prosperous business person. They didn’t care if Jesus was failing or succeeding in life. They were excited about being invited.  They understood the importance of being invited to this banquet, this table.  They wanted to have new lives.  Unlike those first invited they knew their old lives weren’t working for them and they were willing to change and live new lives, transformed lives of grace that had meaning.

As the guests enter the hall they see the banquet tables set up with every food imaginable, roast lamb, poached fish, pastries, bowls of fruit, cool drinks, and wine, good wine, not the cheap stuff.  In the corner an orchestra was playing, with real instruments not a wash tub and jug band. Everyone was celebrating, drinking, eating, and dancing to the wonderful music. That is, everyone except this one guy who had piled his plate up with everything it would hold and was eating it in the corner telling anyone who would listen, “well it’s about time this Jesus dude recognized just who makes this town what it is.”  “I deserved this invitation, but don’t expect me to go overboard for him; this is what we should have had all along. In fact I think I will just take everything I can. And I’m going to let this Jesus person know that I’m not going to do anything unless I really want to just because he invited me to this party.”

When Jesus comes in to join his guests he sees this guy in the corner and he says “Ah, excuse me, why aren’t you celebrating. This is a joyous occasion, you come expecting to be fed but you won’t celebrate your new life.  You come in and can’t see the joy of living a life of peace, and justice.  You blame me for your suffering but you did nothing to help those who suffered as well. I was there to help but you wouldn’t come out, is that my fault? You accepted my invitation to grace but only on your terms? It doesn’t sound to me like you understand what it means to come to one of my banquets; I don’t think you belong here, yet.  Show this guy out until he understands what it means to come celebrate a transformed life.”

Jesus knew people had options in their lives. The trouble was those options weren’t working for the majority of the people. True the religious authorities and the Roman authorities were doing ok, but if you look at the number of people who were killed in order for someone else to advance socially or politically their options weren’t working for them either.  So along comes Jesus with an alternative way of living a life that didn’t involve beating up, or tearing down someone else. But Jesus wasn’t offering a new idea.  For centuries the Prophets of Israel were telling the people the same thing. Moses says in Deuteronomy (30:19b) “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”  Every Prophet since Moses, including Jesus, has said the very same thing and the people listened and accepted life, for little while, then the ‘easier’ way of greed and self-centeredness takes precedence and the original message of grace goes by the way side.

But what does it mean to choose life?  Well “When you say ‘Yes’ to life you say ‘Amen’ to all of life as a package deal. Thereafter the so-called problems you have with personal injustice do not arise. You renounce your concept of victimhood and the old impulse to complain about being unfairly treated.” A “commitment to life  . . . refuses to make any distinction between your outer life and your inner life, or between secular and sacred spheres of life, or between loving God, loving all of life, or loving one’s neighbor. Nor does it distinguish between your current life concerns or your eternal concerns. On the contrary, it simply calls for an unhesitating and unreserved ethical response to the call of life, the call of Jesus, God, and Holy Spirit – right where you are at this moment in time, at this point in your life,” to live a life where you defend justice for all and refuse to accept injustice for anyone as an expedient to living.[6] That is what Jesus taught, that’s grace. It’s not new information, its old stuff we haven’t listened to, at least not for long time.

That is what happened to our disgruntled guest.  He may have accepted the Divine invitation of free grace to attend the banquet, but his acceptance had no depth to it, it never went beyond saying I’m here, thanks for the food, see you later. He was glad to accept the invitation to grace but on his terms only. He never truly transformed his whole life.  He never saw that living in the presence of Jesus meant he had to let the inner life make its way to the outer side of who he was.  It meant he had to share the love, peace and abundance of grace with everyone he met, not hoard it. He came to the banquet not because he wanted to live a life transformed but because he wanted what he could get and then live as he always had.  That’s not change, it is not celebration and it’s not joy, and it is not committing to living a transformed life. It’s keeping the old life and saying it was good enough in the past it will be good enough now.

No matter how you tell today’s story it’s about Divine invitations, the acceptance of grace, and how you live once you’ve accepted God’s grace. When John asked me to marry him, I had a number of options.  Like the first invited guests I could have refused and that would have been that.  I don’t know where I would have been 15 years later but I am quite certain it wouldn’t have been here.  But I did say yes and again to that yes I had options as to how I was going to live within this new relationship.  One, I could continue to behave as I have always behaved.  Taking care of me, making sure I had what I wanted and what I needed.  Yes John would be there but our relationship would not have been very deep because I wouldn’t have let him into the deeper part of me, the part of me that would have built the relationship where both of us would have benefited.  These two options were not the ones I chose.  Instead I let John into my heart and said we are partners and what I do and what you do will affect and change who we both are.  We looked at the covenant of our marriage and said we do this together as one, not as two people living their own lives in one house.  When I accepted John’s invitation to marry, when I accepted that covenant, I had no clue as to what that might look like, but I knew I was going to have to change if I was going to make my life with John. And yes it hasn’t always been sunshine and flowers.  Sometimes we have had our thorny moments. But it was because we chose to live a life together as one that we had the strength to overcome all thorns and rocks in our path. While my wedding story wasn’t about God’s grace specifically, by accepting my invitation I discovered grace in a way I did not expect, and that is how it sometimes work.

Jesus invites us to a banquet of grace, he welcomes every single one of us to His table, and He doesn’t ask questions about our past or how many times we haven’t understood, He wants us to come and join Him. To laugh and sing and eat together, to tell jokes, and play games.  To dance to the music that life brings us, and cry together when life brings us sorrows. Jesus asks us to change who we are at our deepest level and live grace filled lives that don’t see differences between us, whether they are gender, racial, religious beliefs, cultural, social, or political.

We can change the world we live in, we can change the world by being the people we are meant to be, a people of grace, by being a people who refuse to accept evil, greed, and self-centeredness as the status quo.  We can change the world by refusing to accept that war is the only solution, or that homelessness and hunger is just part of life.  We can change the world by seeing each other as the Children of God, living the life God meant us to live.

The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted, wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers. . . .  Jesus goes to town, stands on the street corner, and invites everyone within the sound of his voice: Come, rich and poor alike, come the worthy and the unworthy, come with me, oh come, and celebrate the wedding of our spirits with me! I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread, carefully selected wines. Leave your lives of self-centeredness, loneliness, fear, poverty, greed, and come, celebrate with me! Come celebrate a life with meaning, a life of grace. Come change your lives, remember to live transformed, not only your inner selves, but also your outer selves.  Put on your cloak of joy and celebration and come, walk up the street to a life with meaning.”[7]

Moses said: “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”

Ruth Jewell, ©August 28, 2015

[1] Hare, Douglas R.A.: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Matthew, John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, pg 251-252
[2] Miller, Robert J; Editor, The Complete Gospels, Annotated Scholars Version, Polebridge Press, Sonoma, California, 1992, pg 98
[3] Hare, Douglas R.A.: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Matthew, John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, pg 251-252
[4] Allen, Ronald J. & Clark M. Williamson; Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2004, pg.76-78
[5] Hare, Douglas R.A.: Interpretation A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Matthew, John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 1993, pg 251-253
[6] Cupitt, Don: Life, Life, Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, CA, 2003, pg 6-7.
[7] Proverbs 9:1-6

Prayerful Tuesday – “I the God of Israel will not forsake them”

 

God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform; by Wm Cowper Picture by NASA
God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform        words by Wm Cowper
Picture by NASA

Isaiah 41:17-20
17
When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them,
I the God of Israel will not forsake them.

18I will open rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
and the dry land springs of water.

19I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive;
I will set in the desert the cypress,
the plane and the pine together,

20so that all may see and know,
all may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it. 

Advent, a time of waiting, a gestation time of new beginnings, I have heard those words many times over many Advents.  And, while all this waiting is important I have a confession to make, I hate waiting!  Yes, my impatience frequently gets me into trouble, with G-d and with those around me.  I begin before the preparation has been completed and my task, while not a total failure, does not live up to its potential.  Patience is not one of the gifts G-d has seen fit to give me. It is something I have been trying to learn for 66 years and I am still not very good at it.

I admit to being one of those thirsty people in the desert who wants to have water and I want now!  If I had been with the Israelites in the Sinai I would have marched right up to Moses and said “I’m thirsty, I need water and I need it now!”  And I am sure Moses would have looked at me with a jaundiced eye and said “get a grip; learn some patience for crying out loud.  You are out of Egypt so be grateful for what you have and quite complaining!”  Yep that would have been me hearing those words.   Yet in Isaiah we hear that G-d will provide water and more to those who are poor and in need and it is not lost on me that G-d came through with food and water during the Exodus.  So yes I do believe G-d, in Her own good Time and Way, will provide.

The key to this waiting is “in Her own good Time and Way” G-d will offer the drink and food we need and it’s always in that perfect moment.  The moment when we not only need it the most but the moment when we are open the widest for hearing G-d’s voice speak the Word we so desperately thirst and hunger for.

For the last two and half years I have been in my own time of Advent, walking in a wilderness of my own making as I waited for G-d to give me a Word I could respond to about where my ministry would take me.  And in that time there have been many impatient moments.  Many times I have tried to hurry G‑d.  I have tried to guess what She will speak and tried starting a task with no direction from Her.  It rarely works out because you cannot hurry G-d.  G-d will speak when the time is right, when my heart is open the widest to hear G-d speak and not before.

Through out this time G-d has been allowing a ministry to begin gestating within me.  To grow in concept piece by piece, step by step while at the same time letting G-d open me up to whom I am and who She is. I am learning that G‑d is my greatest counselor, friend, lover, supporter, confidant, comforter, and confessor.  All I have to do is live a life that puts G-d first, keep our relationship strong and allowing the counselor, friend, lover, supporter, confidant, comforter, and confessor work through me in a working partnership with Her.

It seems as if it would be easy to do what G-d asks of us doesn’t it?  But it is not.  Ask the Israelites how hard it was to follow the path G-d laid before them.  Ask the disciples how hard it was to walk the path Jesus laid before them.  Each one will tell you it is not easy.  Yes G-d will provide for the poor and needy but verse 41:20 of Isaiah says it best.  We are to “… see and know … consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.” We fail hopelessly in that understanding.  All too often we take G-d’s handiwork for granted and do not see what the Lord does for us.  I, just like the rest of the human race, all too often think we are entitled to the abundance we see around us.  We forget just where and who it comes from, where and from whom we come from.  It has taken me a life time to understand in a small way the meaning of verse 20.  And, it has only been in the last year and half that I have worked hardest to be patient and to let G-d speak when She is ready and not me.

And now G-d is bringing me closer to an understanding of what my role as Her partner will be.  And, somehow I feel it is appropriate that G-d picked Advent for this to happen, the time for me to begin to feel the movement of a baby ministry within me.  I am excited and scared about bringing into reality this ministry of my very own.  It takes courage for me to step out and claim my role as G-d partner a courage I do not always have.  I have many fears; will I be worthy of G-ds trust, will I hurry this up and as a result rush to completion what needed time to grow, will I give up saying “sorry G-d this to hard for me,” will I simply not be enough for the task.  There are so many fears, so much excitement, and so many hopes.  The future I do not know, only G-d does, so I will keep waiting, and listening, and moving with G-d’s time and moments.  Patience is really hard but I continue to learn to lean into the open arms and let G-d teach me.

This Week’s Spiritual Practice

Do you have something waiting to emerge from you?  Waiting is hard (just ask any 4 year old) but it can be done. So this week I simply ask that each day you find yourself a quiet place and sit in silence for 5 to 20 minutes.  Listen for a Word from G-d.  It might be a Word about doing something, or it might be G-d whispering “I love you.”  Just remember whatever happens let it happen in G-d’s time not yours and be grateful for the time spent with G-d.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 10, 2013

Prayerful Tuesday – Through Acts of Faith

DSCF0547a

Reflection:  Hebrews 11:32-34 (The Message) 

32-34 I could go on and on, but I’ve run out of time. There are so many more—Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets. . . . Through acts of Faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves.  They were protected from Lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed alien armies.

I have always found this chapter of Hebrews somewhat difficult and these 3 verses when read outside the context of the whole chapter are, I think, somewhat confusing. These 3 verses are also often used to justify the idea of “G-d is on my side in this war because I am more faithful than you are.”  But I do not believe that is what the author had in mind.

The writer of Hebrews is making a case for faith, a faith in what we cannot see.  Now that I get, and, for me the writer could have stopped at verse 3 of chapter 11 and his argument would have been made.

Hebrews 11:1-3 – The Message (MSG)Faith in What We Don’t See  1-2 The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd. By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.

But he didn’t and so now I am left with chapter and verse that could be problematic when read outside the context of the whole chapter 11 and in fact the complete Letter to the Hebrews.  My difficulty isn’t with its premise it is with how it is interpreted and used in today’s world, the 21st century.  Yes Gideon, Barak, Samson, and the rest had faith in G-d and they used that faith to give them the courage to defend themselves and fight for a place to live.  Yes they are told by G-d and Moses they are G-d’s chosen people and that G-d would be right there beside them through thick and thin.  At least that is what is told in the Pentateuch, which was written during the Babylonian Exile sometime between 600 BCE and 580 BCE and not by Moses.

Now don’t get me wrong I actually love the Letter to the Hebrews.  The Letter’s central idea of Jesus as the High Priest, our representative who stands before G-d in our name as our advocate means we have a spokesperson on our side, something the disadvantaged throughout history rarely have.  That is an important metaphor to keep in mind.  It is also the root meaning of Chapter 11.

In the first three verses of Chapter 11 the author of Hebrews lays out the important points he wants to make: “By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.”  The remainder of this chapter is a litany of heroes from the Jewish Bible.  They are examples of faith, combined with trust, obedience, and hope that supports the desire for a better place to live, a place to call their own where G-d is the planner and builder, a place where G-d is the central focus.  The memory of the prophets, kings and soldiers the author invokes is not about “whose side G-d is on,” it’s about being true to G-d’s teaching and message.  It is not the act of fighting or going to war that the author is writing about. The important point it is the faithfulness of those who were fighting to build a homeland and country.  Would Gideon have lost if they hadn’t had faith?  That is a possibility because they might not have had the courage to stand up for what they believed in. And, by invoking the heroes  of his Jewish faith the author is placing Jesus among the great and small who throughout history have listened  to G-d’s  call to stand up and speak G‑d’s message of justice, mercy, and  compassion (Micah 6:8).  To walk with G-d does not mean the road will be easy rather it means G-d walks with us into the “lion’s den” offering support and not making smoothing out the potholes.

As I contemplate these verses at  the dawning of Advent I am hearing G-d’s call to respond as Isaiah, Moses, Jesus, Paul, and the author of Hebrews to speak out in G-d’s name for justice, mercy, and compassion for those who cannot speak for themselves.   In the next 4 weeks as I, we, wait for the celebration of the birth of love in human form we need to remember why Jesus came.  He didn’t come so we could give gifts, or eat ourselves sick, or spend money with no thought of consequences.  Jesus came to bring us a way of life.  We are called by G-d to respond to those who are in need, to give out of our abundance. Because we have enough to live comfortably it is our responsibility to ensure that everyone has enough to live comfortably.   To give joyfully and generously, whether it is material, monetary, or spiritually is to practice the teaching of Jesus when he walked among us.

Spiritual Practice

So this week’s spiritual challenge is not an easy one but one worth doing.  What would you life be like if you examined where you are on your spiritual journey and choose what you can give, how you might serve or where you can answer G-d’s call of service and walk in the path of Jesus?  In what acts of faith will G-d recognize your footprints

Ruth Jewell, ©December 3, 2013

Prayerful Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Into the Wilderness
Into the Wilderness

Into the Wilderness

An old Hebrew root for wilderness means “to speak,” {dabar – meaning “to speak” is a primitive root of midbar – meaning wilderness, a place where you can hear G-d speak}.  Those who traveled into the wilderness were outsiders, minorities, women and Judean peasants and they were the ones that heard G-d speak.  All too often we believe we have to be on the “inside” to hear G-d’s voice, we must “do it the right way” in order for G-d to notice us and accept us.  Yet that isn’t the way I’ve observed G-d work.  It is the outsider, the minority, the woman, the one who seems to be doing it all wrong that is called by G‑d.

How often do feel as if you are on the outside?  Might G-d be calling to you, inviting you into the wilderness, to hear the voice of the Creator? Today I invite to take this moment and breathe deeply.  Breathe out your burdens, worries, your cares and the responsibilities that weigh on you.  Sit in stillness and open up to G-d’s voice.  G-d will take your concerns and tend to them while you rest in G-d’s loving kindness and grade.  Breathe in G-d’s presence and love for you.  Remain still for 5 or 10 minutes in your inner silence and breathe the breath of G-d.

My prayer for you this day is that the stillness of this moment will remain within your heart all day letting you see G-d’s grace and blessings in all of the days tasks.

The Peace of G-d be upon you.

Ruth Jewell, September 10, 2013

 

Come Follow Me

Matthew 19:16, 21

16 Then someone came to him and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’

21Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’

This scripture has its roots deep in mosaic history, for it is Moses who tells the children of Israel to choose life over death (Deuteronomy 30:19).  Jesus is also asking the rich young man, and me, to choose life over death and as the sadness of the rich young man demonstrates that choice is a lot harder than what it seems. 

Choose life or come follow me, same request different words and the rich young man had as much difficulty with that choice as the children of Israel did.  One important question left unspoken is “if I choose a life in which I use the best of who I am, will my choices ask a lot of me?”  Ah, now I’ve stated the real question and have come to the hard part; if I choose to follow Jesus, and as a result choose life, what do I have to give up?  I ask myself will what I choose be what I want or what the Spirit wants.  And, if I choose the Spirits path will I have to work hard at it?  You see we humans, no matter who we are, will nearly always choose the easy route and the easiest path isn’t always the best one to take if we want to be the best we can be.

I have had two angels who have followed me every day of my life, often sitting on opposite shoulders whispering in my ear.  The Angel Ego always tells me take the easy path, why work hard when you don’t have to.  “See there are no rocks in this path and you don’t have to expend much energy to be happy.”  On the other shoulder sits Angel True Self who is also whispering in my ear and that one asks me what really makes me satisfied an easy life or one that challenges me and leaves me honored to have lived it?  Do you see the difference between the two angels, Ego is telling me what to do and I don’t have to think about what my actions will be.  True self asks me what I think and leaves the choice up to me. I have to choose, to make a decision and decisions take work, just like taking the path that is difficult.  I have to choose what is rewarding and what is not; life over death. 

Jesus doesn’t tell the rich young man which is easier rather he offers the hard choice “if you wish to be perfect …,” to have eternal life, this is what will help you reach your goal.  It’s a simple statement but the choice is left up to the young man.  We don’t know what he chooses in the end, I am hoping that life was his choice and he sold his belongings and followed in Jesus footsteps, but I will never know. 

That’s what makes this scripture so important and why, I think Matthew left me hanging.  I too have asked Jesus what I must do to have eternal life and Jesus has given me the same answer.  Choosing to give up all that you have to follow the life of Jesus in today’s world is never easy.  All of us are inundated with advertisements and peer pressure to be some kind of plastic person that has the latest everything.  Having ‘stuff’ and being ‘young’ is more important than being a person of integrity.  All of us are susceptible to the junk that bombards us daily. 

I have had to develop questions to ask myself before I buy anything; is this necessary, do I really need it to live, and the two most important, how much space will this take up in my life and do I have to dust it.  I can tell you right now if I have to dust it, it ain’t coming home with me! 

My one truly great weakness is books.  Not e-books (I still don’t know how people can read on a tiny lighted screen, the light hurts my eyes) but real books, paper or hardbound, I can hold in my hand and feel the weight of.  I love the smell of books, the way they feel when I hold them as I curl up in front of the fire place and the connection I feel with the author as I read the printed word.  E-readers simply leave me cold and yes I know I’m in the minority but that is OK with me. So I have been known to buy a few books, Ok, a lot of books, and now that I’ve made my confession to my addiction I am at peace and I can continue to buy books.

So we all have our weaknesses and I admit If I had to choose between life and books I would be hard pressed (sorry for the pun) to choose.  Think of it this way Jesus isn’t asking us to give up our lives (well he is but not in the way you think) rather he is asking us to make careful choices that enrich our lives and allow us to be open to giving compassion, doing kindness, and working for justice and peace. 

Books add meaning to my life and help me see the world through different eyes.  That different view helps me see injustice and unkindness in new ways, ways that encourages me to be more like my true self.  It is when books become the idol I worship that the problem occurs, then I am blinded to what is wrong in the world and want only to feed my own desires.  I hope if that ever happens to me that someone will intercede and help me see the light. 

Choosing life or following Jesus doesn’t mean we abandon the world around us. Rather it means we embrace and engage the world just as Jesus did. Jesus loved a good party, good food and fine wines and we too are called to share our parties, food and wine with the world, just as Jesus did. It does not mean we are to become paupers, rather it means we are to use what we have for the good of the community.  That is what Jesus meant when he told the young man to sell his goods and give to the poor.  Quit being selfish and share your good fortune with those who are in need.  God gave each of us the gift of grace and God expects us to pass that gift on to those who are in need of comfort.   

It is the concept of “paying it forward.”  If you have received help in any way from someone then you are obligated to give help to someone else.  Jesus wasn’t the first one to propose paying it forward, all of the prophets before and since have done the same, but, I think his was the most eloquent in stating it. 

So what do we do we need to do to have “eternal life?”  Well, we pay our lives forward, care for those in need, fight injustice and work for peace.  It will require us to give up many of our riches. But at the same time we will be enriched, not with stuff, or pride, but, with knowledge that we have passed on the grace we’ve been gifted and multiplying that gift many times over; just like Jesus did when he broke the loaves and fish. To me that feels like eternal life, peace, happiness and joy all wrapped up in one glowing package.  

Ruth Jewell, ©February, 19, 2013

JOB’S WIFE

Scripture: Job 2:9-109Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.”10But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

I am taking a class on “Job and the Mystery of Suffering” this quarter and when we were assigned this passage to write on for this week I found it way more interesting than I thought I would.  The book of Job is a difficult book at its best and when I read it the first time I started having questions about Job’s wife but couldn’t find anything about her.  She is mentioned only twice and is never named and in a culture where remembering your name when you’ve died is your immortality that is complete death.  So I want to take her part, I want to be her advocate, I only have questions

I get the feeling here that Job’s wife is feeling real pain; she has after all, just like Job, lost everything and is grieving deeply.  While this may be the story of Job his wife, who is allowed to live through this experience with him, is always forgotten.  You can hear her frustration and pain most clearly in the paraphrase bible, The Message, where she says:  “Still holding on to your precious integrity, are you? Curse God and be done with it!”  Here is a woman in pain whose feelings are being ignored not just by Job but by God as well.  Job tells her to quit talking like a “Shameless, Harlot, Fool,” and accept whatever God hands them.  (Mind you he is kind enough not to call her those things, just stop talking like them.)  She is a side effect of the Adversaries bet with God, and if Job doesn’t deserve such suffering, she certainly doesn’t.  According to the bet with God the Adversary was to test Job not his wife, so why is she being tested along with him?  Or is this one of those patriarchal editorial jobs that just manages to forget to add that Job’s wife was just as faithful to God as Job was and she too was being tested?  I have only questions because there is no information on this forgotten lady, even her name is gone and in a name forgotten was true death.

One of the reasons I am asking these questions is because of what Crenshaw (Crenshaw, James L.; Reading Job, a Literary and Theological Commentary, Smyth & Helwys, Macon GA, 1984, pg 45) says concerning the Hebrew word for curse, barak, which he says is difficult to interpret and may actually mean blessing, which changes the meaning of the wife’s words to “Bless Elohim and die victoriously.” Now that is interesting, because the wife in that version seems to be saying just be done with it, if God wants Job dead, then be done with it and die a virtuous man.  Job, on the on the other hand, tells her I’m not giving up, I will accept what I’m given, if I’ve done anything to offend God then I deserve what I’ve gotten.  Job doesn’t know what he did but he’s going to stick around and demand more information.  As I looked for reasons for Job’s stubbornness I looked back at the Pentateuch and found in Deuteronomy 28:1-68 something rather interesting.  In this chapter Moses tells the people of God that if they follow all of God’s commandments they will be blessed and if they don’t then they will be cursed.  In fact, Deuteronomy 28:38 (“The LORD will afflict you at the knees and thighs with a severe inflammation, from which you shall never recover—from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head” [italics mine]) describes exactly what the Adversary does to Job in verse 2:7 (“The Adversary departed from the presence of the LORD and inflicted a severe inflammation on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” [italics mine]). If Job is as faithful to God as the prologue says then he knew full well what was said in Mosaic Law and that meant he must have done something wrong, he just doesn’t know what it was.  Job’s wife is ready to give up and go to her rest, Job is not.

©Ruth Jewell, January 25, 2012