Proper 23A

October 9, 2011
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Exodus 32:1-14
Reading 2: 
Psalm 106:1-6
Reading 3: 
Philippians 4:1-9
Reading 4: 
Matthew 22:1-14
Alt Reading 2: 
Pslam 23
Alt Reading 1: 
Isaiah 25:1-9
By Rick Marshall

Discussing the Texts

It seems to be “party time” with two of the texts. The text from Exodus is the famous telling of the Golden Calf incident. The other text is from the Matthew, the parable of the Wedding Banquet. But the two stories couldn’t be different and so it would be fruitful to compare them. Even the text from Isaiah is joyful, as is the text from Philippians. What are all the texts celebrating? For one thing, they all celebrate a change in future prospects when the divine presence is taken into account.

The recently freed slaves from Egypt are now at the foot of the mountain of God. Moses has gone up to meet with God and he’s been up there for a long time. He and God have been busy, though, as much of their meeting is described in the previous 8 chapters. God has been doing most of the talking and Moses listens. God is fleshing out what it means to be in a covenant relation with God. The conversation is heavy.

Meanwhile, those waiting at the foot of the mountain get impatient. Where is Moses? When is he coming back? Will he come back? Are we on our own? If so, then we need to plan for our future on our own terms. They turn to the second in command, Aaron. They need a god to lead them. So they go about collecting jewelry and fashion a gold calf. Aaron presented the gods to the people and they said: “‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt!’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said ‘Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord. They rose the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.”

One of the ironies of the story is that they brought sacrifices of well-being. It begs the question: from where does well-being come? This is often the question that lies behind much of the conflict of the covenant between God and people. God promises well-being, but the people, usually out of fear or arrogance, want to create well-being on their own terms, without God. Efforts of the people to secure their own future is often a path to trouble and ruin in the Exodus story. Who shall we trust, ourselves or God? This is still a question that is as urgent today as it was then.

Then the scene switches back to the meeting between Moses and God. God says, “Do you hear them? Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely.” God in divine anger wants to breathe fire down upon them. God seethes with rage and want to act. God says, “Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them.” Moses reasons with the Lord and the Lords mind is changed. Divine wrath will not come.

The text from Matthew is a parable about the kingdom of God. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.” The invitations were sent but those who were invited made excuses for not coming. The king was angry. He sent troops to destroy those who snubbed him. Then he instructed his servants to throw the doors open and invite everyone.

The focus is on the king and his desire to celebrate with those whom he invites to his son’s wedding feast. Anger is an issue, as it was in the Exodus story. In this case, no one was there to reason with the king. He acted on his anger and sent his troops to seek revenge. The king invites everyone. How is this like the kingdom of heaven?

Process Theology and the Texts

It should be no surprise, from a process perspective, that God changes God’s mind and that God is influenced by human behavior and can be reproached for seeking revenge. Moses speaks up for his people. “Moses implored the Lord his God.” Moses reasons with God and God decides to not act on divine anger. The texts from Exodus and Matthew are about relationships and the dynamics and parameters that define them. After all, it is the field of relationships on which the human/divine drama is acted out.

Preaching the Texts

A sermon could focus on either the Exodus text or the Matthew text. It might be fruitful to think through what it means to be God’s people as that relationship is hammered out between Moses and the Lord. What are the benefits and the costs? Where are the boundaries? How are violations handled? What alternative do these people have, being out in the wilderness with a completely open future? The image of the golden calf can be used in several ways. Why did these people think such a thing would lead them? What does the golden calf represent for these people at this moment? A sermon could focus on the relationship between Moses and the Lord. There seems to be a lot more flexibility between them. What kind of God would allow a person to argue with them and confront them, even taking the higher ground. The Lord seems to be a less likable character than Moses.

The king in the Matthew text isn’t much more likable. He seems moody, impulsive, angry. What is this story about? It can be about the king and his desires. It can be about the fact that everyone ends up with an invitation. It could be about the invitation itself: what it means to refuse or accept an invitation. It could be about the one who gives invitations. There are all kinds of social dynamics involved with invitations. Pastors are especially aware of the potential difficulties involved with weddings and funerals. Who gets to be there; who is not allowed? Promises are made between people all the time. Promises involve trust. The legal system recognizes the reality of breaking trust.

The text ends with a grim little story about a man who showed up without the proper clothing. Then “For many are called, but few chosen.” If this is the conclusion to this text, then how do these last words “spin” the parable? I’m not sure I would want to go to this party. Where is the “good news” here?

We can learn just as much about relationships in their dysfunction as we can with the ways they work well. Many things can be said about the relationship between the Lord and the people, but “perfect” is not one of them. If that relationship is so dysfunctional, then we talk about grace and forgiveness. The perfect person needs no absolution. But who has a perfect relationship? Not even with the Lord.