October 11, 2020 | Pentecost +19
Collect for Proper 23
Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. ~BCP 234
Isaiah 25:1-9 NRSV
In our Old Testament lesson the prophet praises the Lord for destroying the cities of the ruthless and for providing a refuge for the poor. Now comes the banquet of the Lord’s salvation.
1 O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. 2 For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of aliens is a city no more, it will never be rebuilt. 3 Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you. 4 For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, 5 the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled. 6 On this mountain 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. 7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; 8 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. 9 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.
Philippians 4:1-9 NRSV
In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul invites the new disciples to exult in joy in the Lord who is near at hand, and he thanks them for their most recent gift.
1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters,whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion,help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoicein the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, beloved,whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think aboutthese things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Matthew 22:1-14 NRSV
Our gospel reading presents a parable about those who declined invitations to a marriage feast and others who were then invited, followed by the story of a guest who came without wedding clothes.
1 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. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again 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.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those 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, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then 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.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Psalm 23 BCP 612
The Psalm expresses our trust that the Lord is shepherd and guide. God is present in time of danger and spreads a table for the one who needs comfort.
1 The Lord is my shepherd; * I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures * and leads me beside still waters.
3 He revives my soul * and guides me along right pathways
for his Name’s sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; * for you are with me; your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; * you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, * and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 NRSV
Philippians 4:1-9. A Theological Perspective
By David B. Burrell, Professor of Ethics and Development Studies, Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi, Uganda
Paul’s radical revision of the terms of observance of the covenant was bound to elicit some hard questions. Just what is required of followers of Jesus? One hears a similar complaint from some observant Jews today: this “love-stuff” is all well and good, but what difference does becoming a follower of Jesus make to one’s daily life?
A follower familiar with the Gospels would, of course, readily cite Matthew 25, the charter of the Christian life, yet Paul is even more specific: “help these women, [Euodia and Syntyche], for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my coworkers, whose names are in the book of life” (v. 3). So followers of Jesus are enjoined to assist one another “in the gospel,” that is, to encourage each other to follow in the footsteps of Jesus as outlined in Matthew 25.
As with the original covenant, a distinct path is indeed offered, though it is not prescribed. It will unfold before those who take the initial steps indicated to help others negotiate the travails of ordinary life. Beginning with knowing one another by name, each calls the other forth to a shared life in Jesus, where attempting to live “in Jesus” evokes an immense gratitude for the community that results in rejoicing: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice! Let all know your forbearance” (vv. 4–5 RSV, NRSV “gentleness”).
Benedict, whose Rule spelled out some implications of “living in Jesus” in greater detail, speaks often of forbearance, as would spouses who have been together for decades. “Living in Jesus” means living together with others, and persons living together can easily grate on each other.
Peter counsels those engaged in the communal task of following Jesus: “like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). So the ongoing task of building this community of followers of Jesus takes on the proportions of building the temple itself, comparing the stone edifice with a human construction in which “living stones” grate on one another as stones would were they brought together to make a single building. People engaged in a common pursuit will inevitably jostle one another, often employing their sharp edges to find space for themselves. Like Peter, Paul suggests that this very jostling can lead us toward shared prayer in “the Lord [who] is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (vv. 5–6).
Such a spirit of cooperation will emerge only as we develop that crucial “forbearance” toward one another. Surely this is more than “love-stuff.” In fact, it describes the daily grind of living together, which Peter elevates to the constructive communal task of rebuilding the temple of God in Jerusalem, always considered by the people of the covenant to be the “dwelling place of God with us.”
Although that edifice had recently been destroyed by Rome, the occupying power, this community, now incorporated into the original covenant, will be called to offer a counterwitness to the destructive powers that surround it (the very powers that put Jesus to death) by living out “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (v. 7). The key to attaining that peace will again be mutual forbearance, the exercise of which will perforce “guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (v. 7). Paul culminates his exhortation, implicitly contrasting the separations he associated with the original covenant with the fruits of forbearance: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (v. 8). Nothing short of forbearance will succeed in eliciting so constructive an ethos from us, as our natural propensity is rather to render harsh judgment on one another, as the least demanding way to exalt ourselves! In a kind of solipsistic jujitsu, denigrating others can lift us above them without our having to undertake anything ourselves.
Continuing his teaching, Paul calls those who follow Jesus’ example to follow his as well: “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you” (v. 9). “The God of peace” is, of course, shorthand for the presence of Jesus among us, partaking in those very travails that demand we be forbearing toward one another. So we are carried from Peter’s exalted image of the temple to a humble one of family, recalling how the Jesus we follow was born into and emerged from a family, to offer a humble yet unerring path to the entire human family.
As Jesus’ mother Mary and his foster father Joseph assisted one another in the commonest of human tasks, so Paul engaged in a panoply of tasks to help forge a family of followers of Jesus. So it has ever been: beyond the ever-present forbearance toward one another, what followers of Jesus consistently enjoy is the gift of following one another along the path offered. That has of course been the witness of holy women and men throughout the history of this community, as those who are forbearing toward one another also call each other forth to live faithfully to the call of the “God of peace,” who is ever living in their midst, recognizable in their fellow travelers.
So we can respond to the challenge of our observant Jewish brothers and sisters by reminding them and ourselves that the work of followers of Jesus is ever present and “never done” (as is sometimes said of women’s work). It is that of building a community of people who can sustain one another in the journey of faith, reminding each other of its goal, but even more of the joys attending the journey itself, no matter how arduous.
Source: Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A, vol.4, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011).
NRSV: Bible Gateway website
Book of Common Prayer (BCP): justus.anglican.org
Introductions to the Readings are from the book Introducing the Lessons of the Church Year, 3rd Ed. (Kindle Edition) by Frederick Borsch and George Woodward.
Image: Communications Resources