Sermon Archive

SERMON: 3 Advent (Dec 14)

Category: News, Sermon Tags: December 14, 2014 @ 9:00 am

The Rev. Brad Pohlman

The Rev. Brad Pohlman

Readings

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

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2 Advent (Dec 7)

Category: Sermon Tags: December 7, 2014 @ 8:00 am

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

Readings

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

Text

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”.
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

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In Advent we hear Isaiah say, “…make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”  But Mark says, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”  Both words concern a highway or path for the Lord God, and both involve a desert or wilderness.  But who do the words address?  The first seems to speak to Isaiah the Prophet.  But the second?  By Mark’s time, Isaiah’s been dead for several hundred years and far from the one addressed, Isaiah is now Mark’s reference point: a biblical landmark on the horizon of Israel’s troubled history.  In Isaiah’s age, Israel suffers on the cusp of liberation from Babylon; in Mark’s time, Israel’s back “home,” resident in a land occupied by a foreign force, imperial Rome, and the prophet in question is no longer Isaiah, but a wild country preacher who eats a Willy Street diet and sports attire odd enough to make a Co-op shopper blush: camel’s hair (likely not woolen) and leather.  One wonders if the Baptist could have passed a credit check, to say nothing of a background.

More to the point, by the time our eccentric preacher, took to his wilderness pulpit, he was not preaching liberation from Rome or any other political foe; he was preaching against an enemy far more sinister, an embedded terror far more durable than Rome, Babylon, or ISIS.  Mark names John’s adversary as “sins.”  John was proclaiming “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  But here’s an impressive thing: everybody “went out to [John], and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”  Not just a few responded to John’s preaching and baptism, but everybody.  Imagine that.  John’s ministry was so successful that everybody answered the call.  Everybody was baptized confessing their sins.

But there’s more.  It appears from Mark (and from the other gospels as well) that John’s success wasn’t sufficient to make things right with God.  John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins may have been sufficient for a successful revival, but it didn’t fulfill the Kingdom of God.  John’s preaching and baptism, the peoples’ confession and repentance, didn’t make them right with God—it may have made them ready for God, but not right with God.  For that, it would take another—“a stronger One”—and that more powerful one is Christ Jesus.  John says, “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.  I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John brought a religious experience.  Jesus provides the Holy Spirit; that is, Jesus provides something more than religion, something more than religious experience, more than human emotion and feeling.  Jesus provides very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father: “salvation,” “justification,” the forgiveness of more than wrong actions, the things for which we feel bad.  Jesus provides the forgiveness of sin—forgiveness for the way we are.  And sin (the way we are) is a demonic occupier far more durable, far more subtle, and far more dangerous than any and every other force, whether then or now.

There are worse things than feeling bad about the things we do or don’t do, and worst of all is feeling good because we’re religious, because we’ve felt bad about bad behavior or good about good behavior.  Feeling good or bad may or may not be good or bad—but either way we remain, as the Confession says, “captive to sin and unable to free ourselves.”  Religion has its limits, and chief among them is the inability to free ourselves from sin.

Isaiah tells the truth when he says, “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass.”  We are grass, but Christ is more than a gardener.  He comes not to baptize with a lawnmower and fertilizer.  We need more than a trim, more than a chemical boost, even more than re-seeding and some fresh sod.  We need death and resurrection.  Therefore, “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

“The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon is….”  The Holy Spirit is the breath of God; but God’s breath does more than enliven.  Before the Holy Spirit can enliven us, he must wither us, kill us, make us fade; or, in the words of Luther, he must make us die every day to sin that we might be raised to live with Christ in righteousness and purity forever.

Advent does more than prepare us for Christmas.  In fact, the merry holidays that surround and engulf us with the fatness of a perennial feast threaten to kill Advent’s word—the very Word in whom we have any hope of true and eternal life.  In saying “the people are grass,” Isaiah does more than make us feel bad; he gives us hope.  The very God who creates life (grass, and all things) will raise us from death—will raise us in spite of ephemeral holiday spirit—but only when he has put us to death that we might live in the newness of Christ’s baptismal promise.  For this we pray, Come Lord Jesus.  His cross is our straight path, his resurrection our highway in the desert, our Lord, our God, and our hope in every season of life and death unto eternal life.  Hear the Baptist’s cry: the Stronger One comes.

1 Advent (Nov 30)

Category: Sermon Tags: November 30, 2014 @ 9:00 am

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

Readings

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

Text

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down….”
“[God] will strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful…”
“Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come.”


Advent has come, but Christ has not; or at least not yet.  But Christ shall come, because he will come.  He has promised.  And what Christ promises, what he wills, Christ does—though not yet.  But he will.  He shall.  It’s not a question of “he must.”  It’s a question of love, his faithful love against our feckless love.  He comes to judge in love, to condemn and forgive our feckless selves.  He comes for our sake, to deliver us from us; he comes to “unself” us.  This unselfing begins in Baptism and culminates in judgment day.  Therefore the Church prays, “Come Lord Jesus.”  For this we watch and wait.  This is the church’s vocation: to watch and wait for Christ.

Of course, Christ comes now in the Eucharist, in the bread and cup of the Supper, as our Bishop assured us last Sunday.  And Christ comes among us now in our enemies, strangers, beggars, prisoners, the homeless, and hungry of our streets.  Anyone who has ever come face to face with a winter-weary mother of children living in a car must realize both the judgment and promise of the Christ who comes now, and continues to come in the persistent and unnerving forms of the poor who confront us with our own comfortable weakness, suffering and death:  the Crucified lives in the poor that he might convert the rich—the poor in spirit.But the Christ of Advent comes of another order.  He comes not in weakness alone, but in power and great glory:  as the Creed says, he comes to be our judge.  And, whatever else a judge may do, she or he does not beg—or at least does not beg from us.  Such a judge begs from the Father, beg before the heavenly throne.  The eternal judge, begs for us, but not from us.  He comes to place all things—including us—under his feet, that at his name every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth.  Beneath him we are safe; above him, we are lost.

This is the Christ for whom St. Mark bids us watch and wait—not only for the Christ who is perpetually among us in the faces of the lowly poor, not only for the Christ who is ritually among us in Baptism and the Holy Supper, but also (and most especially in this season) for the Christ who comes to judge the whole creation.  This Christ—this terrible and merciful cosmic Judge—has not yet come.  But come he will.  We cannot escape him and his judgment any more than we can escape gravity, breathing, or death.  Therefore St. Mark bids us “Watch!  Keep awake!”

But, of course, we don’t.  We’re too distracted to watch for Christ.  We’re too busy to wait for him.  We’d sooner wait for the turkey to get done, or the store to open, or he next game to begin.  A week ago last night, my wife and I were driving home from having had dinner with our son and daughter-in-law in their home off Speedway—not far from the Village Bar.  It’s not a long drive for us—a distance of two or three miles, depending on the route taken.  In any case, around 8:30 we headed down Speedway toward town, turned onto Regent and then took a left on Randal.  As we approached the light and turned right on Dayton we began to see numbers of people walking west.  As we approached Mills and then Park, large crowds were crossing the street and walking along it.  Only then did we notice the “Full” signs posted at the parking lots.  By the time we reached Marion and Frances streets, the crowds were so thick, we could hardly move.  Uncertain as to what was going on, I rolled down my window and asked some people what they were doing—where they were going at 8:45 at night.

“It’s the Badger men.  They’re playing another undefeated team: Boise State,” called a young man, as the crowd made its serpentine way toward the Kohl Center.  “Wow,” I thought.  “It’s going on 9:00 pm, and 17,000 people are walking through the cold and darkness to watch Wisconsin throttle yet another pre-season victim, and this one from the lowly Mountain West.”

By such comments, I don’t intend to demean basketball, or diminish the fun of watching athletic competition.  I myself played a lowly brand of hoops in college—played on teams Boise State would have killed the way Wisconsin killed them, and probably worse.  But I choose this unpopular example for two reasons.  First, because in our age “the games” are such a dominant distraction—even as they have often been.  It doesn’t take an historian to tell us that human beings live for distraction; if not war, it’s a game, gladiators, a crucifixion, the quarterback match-up, Ho-Chunk, Fantasy Football, the office pool; you name it, we live for it.  But, second:  imagine what church attendance might be like if we charged $15 to park (a half mile or more away), $25 for nave seating, and then scheduled the liturgy at the behest of television schedules.  Under such circumstances, would we improve participation?  Increase attendance?  What would it take to pack this place at 9:00 on a Saturday night?  Say what you want about Advent, but most of us are watching and waiting for something else, and we gladly pay buckets of cash to do so.  We crave distraction: a game, an execution, a war, the next catastrophe.  But Advent’s not a distraction; it’s the vocation we detest, and the Judge who comes knows it.  He knows we crave a winning distraction, and yet he wins by losing; his judgment is death; but his gift is life.  When he comes, he will convict us of our fickle devotion, our delight in ease, our self-love, and our disdain for the suffering poor.  He will convict us and welcome all—on his own terms, in the Father’s time, for all time, beyond time.  We watch and wait for more than Boise State.  The Green and Gold play at 3:25.  “Keep awake!”  Come Lord Jesus!

Christ the King (Nov 23)

Category: Sermon Tags: November 23, 2014 @ 9:00 am

Bishop Mary Froiland

Bishop Mary Froiland

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

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Pentecost 23 (Nov 16)

Category: Sermon Tags: November 16, 2014 @ 9:00 am

The Rev. Brad Pohlman

The Rev. Brad Pohlman

Readings

Zeph 1:7, 12-18
Psalm 90:1-12
1 Thess 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

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Pentecost 22 (Nov 9)

Category: Sermon Tags: November 13, 2014 @ 10:13 am

The Rev. Eric Jones

The Rev. Eric Jones

Readings

Amos 5:18-24
Psalm 70
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

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All Saints Sunday (Nov 2)

Category: Sermon Tags: November 3, 2014 @ 9:00 am

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

Readings

Joshua 3:7-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

Text

“…the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap…”
“…we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…”

 

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Dayton Street has been of late a locus of revelation.  It happened again on Thursday.  This time, it wasn’t a student picking up trash, but a brand spanking new SUV, sparkling white, pure as the driven snow.  The bumper caught my eye—to be more precise—the bumper sticker: “Do not Mistake Authority for Truth.”  “Yes,” I thought.  “Yes, I agree with that.”  But, then, I thought, “No.  No I don’t.  I don’t agree.”  I mean, it depends, doesn’t it?  An authority may or may not be true.  Some authorities are true and others false; the trouble is, it’s often difficult to tell the difference.

My initial reading of the words sprung from my undergraduate days when we repeated the oft-quoted, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.”  No student I knew then would even remotely have mistaken authority for truth; chiefly because we only trusted ourselves, and (Thank God!) we were not in Authority.  In our minds, we were truth tellers demonstrating to Authority the error of its ways; in some sense, I guess I still think that Authority in those Namish days was, to some degree, mistaken.

But, reading the sticker a second time, I realized this isn’t Nam, there are rules:  it’s not 1969, I’m no longer a student trapesing to class.  Looking in my rearview, I saw “authority” staring back: black shirt, clerical collar, grey hair, wrinkled face, and tired eyes.  Given what I know of myself (and more frightening still, what I don’t know of myself, which is probably most of myself), I wondered, “Am I wise to wear signs of antiquarian authority?  Is it wise to vest frail human beings in authoritarian garb?”  No wonder sparkling new SUV’s bear confident warnings on their immaculate bumpers:  “Do not Mistake Authority for Truth.”  The pure white SUV made me think of the Pope Mobile, and I thought what if Pope Francis were to place that particular message on the Pope Mobile’s bumper.  What if the Vicar of Christ on Earth were to warn against mistaking Authority for Truth.

We human beings have a difficult time with both authority and truth: we generally rebel against authority and doubt there is any truth beyond our selves.  Oh, we may assent to the possibility of someone “telling the truth,” or, at least, a person telling the truth “as they see it.”  But we will likely doubt the possibility of universal Truth—that is, we will have learned to view truth as a culturally conditioned construct imposed by human beings on the tabula rasa of the mind—whatever that is.  In other words, we will have been trained to consider truth in merely subjective terms—and, of course, there is some truth to the subjectivity of truth, but not the subjectivity of all Truth.

Today’s readings—and in fact, the Lutheran tradition —would agree that some truth is subjective.  But subjective truth only exists in relation to and in light of objective Truth.  Subjective truth is the stuff of our every day lives, the truths to which we testify, for instance, in a court of law, or the truths we seek in a scientific investigation—the so-called “truths” of the material universe, mathematics, and why we call red “red,” and black “black.”  By all these lights and data, truth will depend to some degree on subjective point of view, context, and all manner of contingent “facts.”

But, what about objective Truth?  Consider Joshua’s story:  preparing Israel to re-enter the Land, God instructs Joshua, and does so, “that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses.”  God goes on to tell Joshua that he must command the priests carrying the ark of the covenant to stand still when they cross the River Jordan, and that when they stand still at the river’s edge, their feet touching the water, “the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.”  As the water obeys God’s presence, so also the resident tribes will be driven out, and the land returned to Israel.

The story may be read in a number of subjective ways; but it may also be heard as witness to Objective Truth, and its authority.  The story isn’t merely a lesson in dubious hydraulics, nor a primer in ethnic cleansing (though it might be read as such), nor only an example of antique cult rubrics.  It’s also a witness to the objective authority and truth of “the living God,” an authoritative truth so obvious as to make “the waters stand in a single heap,” and enemies flee.

Of course, absent extended periods of freezing temperatures, gale force winds, or obstructions (natural and otherwise), waters “do not stand in a single heap.” Waters either lie flat (as in a lake), form multiple waves (as in an ocean), flow (as in a river) or form vapor (as in fog).  The ancients knew these things as well as we: waters do not stand in a single heap.  Unless, of course, they encounter the living God—himself a single Trinitarian heap.  Then, as in the Exodus passage through the sea, the waters honor and obey the objective truth of the living God’s singular authority: they stop doing what they naturally do, and behave as one.  The waters obey, as we seldom do.

So, at All Saints, we mark graves of the saints with baptismal water, in anticipation of that day when once more the authority of objective Truth will be made manifest: the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come—the waters standing in a single heap.  Then, as First John says, “We will see God as he is, and we shall be like him.”  John goes on to say, “And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”  It’s a different kind of “pure”—God’s purity—not ours, the plural many as one.

Last Sunday, following evening prayer, as confirmation began, the confirmands gathered at the font.  We began then as we begin each week, reciting words from the baptismal liturgy: “In holy baptism our gracious heavenly Father frees us from sin and death, by joining us to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  We recalled the confession we say each Sunday.  I told them that I’ve lately been confessing that I myself am the problem; that I ask to be forgiven of myself.  One of the confirmands then asked, “Do you hate yourself?”  And I replied, “No.  That’s the problem: I love myself more than I love God, and my neighbor.  I, myself, am the problem.”   It’s a depressing thought, but it bears witness to the authority of God’s objective truth, and my essential objection to and of him.  Therefore:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  At All Saints, we confess the subjective truth of our self-love even as we celebrate the objective truth of the God who forgives all the saints.  We are the problem, Christ the solution.  In Christ, “The waters [rise] in a single heap.”  This Authority—this Truth—forgives all our mistaken authority, forgives all our self-love.  Put that on your bumper: in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Reformation Sunday (Oct 26)

Category: Sermon Tags: October 26, 2014 @ 9:00 am

The Rev. Scott D. Anderson

Readings

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 46
Romans 3:19-28
John 8:31-36

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Pentecost 19 (Oct 19)

Category: Sermon Tags: October 20, 2014 @ 9:00 am

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

Readings

Isaiah 45:1-7
Psalm 96
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

Text

“…I am the Lord, there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make weal and I create woe; I am the Lord who do all these things.”
“…And you became imitators of us and of the Lord….”
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Listen

Given that today is Pledge Sunday, you may think that I, or the Staff, or the Council, or the Administration/Finance Committee, or the IRS chose today’s readings.   They didn’t; nor did I.  They’re simply appointed in the Revised Common Lectionary—the tri-annual series of readings appointed for seven participating Christian traditions.  Nor did we (as we probably should have) choose this day as Pledge Sunday based upon the appointed readings; to my knowledge we didn’t even look at the Lectionary.  It had more to do with the Fall schedule:  Pig Roast, Confirmation Retreat, Reformation, All Saints, and the like.  The Badger’s Football schedule may have come into it and, for that matter, the Packers as well.  They usually do.   So, miracle of miracles:  here we have Jesus—on the Day we ritualize our Fall Stewardship emphasis—here we have Jesus saying, “Give to the Emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

I suppose stranger things have happened.  For instance, last Thursday morning at 8:46 as I was driving to work on Dayton, approaching the intersection at Park, just as I was cresting the rise with Gordon Commons to my right, I saw a male student pick up a piece of trash, take a few steps, stoop, pick up a second larger piece of trash (an empty Natural Light case?), walk deliberately to the trash bin at the corner of Park and Dayton, place both items in the bin, and then continue down Park toward Johnson.  I was stunned.  It was the first time in six years at Luther Memorial that I could remember seeing a student pick up trash and not one pieces but two!  I said out loud to myself, “Mark this day: a student put some trash in a garbage bin!”  As I rolled to a stop at Park, pondering what I had just witnessed—another male student walked through the crosswalk taking the last bite from an apple.  Baseball cap in reverse, ear buds pounding entertainment, Badger shirt- flip-flops flapping, he proceeded through the crossing, went out of his way, and (as though in routine) calmly dropped the apple core into a trash bin at the corner!

I was astonished.  For the second time in less than a minute, I had observed two events I thought impossible.  Two thoughts entered my mind.  The first, and more obvious, was that I’m stupid:  if all 43,000 students on this campus behave as I routinely imagine, there’d be so much garbage on the ground we couldn’t see streets, crosswalks or sidewalks.  Judging by the trash room in the bottom floor of where I live, students behave no worse than people my age, and probably better.

As I reviewed the course of events, a second thought appeared:  “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord….”  That’s Paul writing to the Thessalonians.   Imitators.  Was the second student imitating the first?  Was the first imitating somebody else?  A teacher?  A parent?  A custodian?  A city employee?  Another student?  Of course, I realized he probably wasn’t imitating me, as I had (only a few yards back) tossed a used piece of chewing gum out the window of my ancient Volvo, the car I proudly drive as a not so subtle sign of my faux humility and pseudo environmental concern.  The car probably gets fewer miles to the gallon than the late-model Audi for which I lust—the silver one past which I drive on my way to my parking place on the third floor of our condo garage.

Lest you think this is all about the latest issue of Car and Driver or merely an old man’s simplistic view of a complex world, I should probably come out of the closet and admit it’s all about stewardship—everything from the moment we are baptized until our funereal ashes are safely tucked away in the columbarium—is all about stewardship, our care (or lack thereof) for that which belongs to another.

And who is the “Other” to which all things belong?  Isaiah the Prophet reminds us as he tells the ancient Persian emperor, Cyrus: “From the rising of the sun and from the west… there is no one besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.  I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the LORD do all these things.”

The LORD is the owner, and whether we put our trash in the bin or toss it from a moving car, we are his stewards—managers of that which belongs to another.  We are answerable to him as we are to none other.  Oh, the campus police might rightly cite me as the lazy slob I am, and some day they probably will, even as I look down my nose at the younger members of our community who occasionally either in a fit of youthful joy or drunken despair toss their cookies or an empty pizza container on the ground for someone else to clean up.  But the truth is, like it or not, we are all stewards; whether faithful or unfaithful remains to be seen.  Even Cyrus, the pagan emperor, is called to serve the one LORD, even though he does not know the God of Israel!  Stewards do not choose their master, but their master chooses them.

“I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the LORD do all these things.”  In the age of Ebola, and ISIS, drone strikes, starvation, global warming, droughts, earthquakes, and storms, this word of the LORD is a terrifying message.  As it is now, so it was in the age of the Plague, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, and countless crucifixions—of which our Lord’s was but one brief example.  “I am the LORD, and there is no other.”  What can it mean?  Is it possible the LORD does all things?  And, if so, why?

“Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  Is anything not God’s?  As Isaiah indicates, even the emperor belongs to God.  Giving to the emperor is giving to God. Generosity’s the point—not ours, but God’s, the unmerited generosity of the God who gives his only Son for the salvation of the whole world.  And generosity comes, of all things, not merely through information and knowledge, but by imitating the God of all who gives without end.  Like a student who gives a little time picking up trash on the way to class.  In such a world, even a pledge card imitates the one God who creates out of nothing.  After all, there is none other, and we are his—everything is.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost 18 (Oct 12)

Category: Sermon Tags: October 13, 2014 @ 9:00 am

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

Readings

Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

Text

“On this mountain the LORD of Hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples…he will swallow up death forever…”
“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.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Listen

It strikes me as extraordinarily fitting that these readings should be appointed for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, a day when we gather as a parish for the Holy Communion and a pig roast— the Feast followed by a festive meal.  Of course, in biblical terms, a pig epitomizes uncleanness— pigs embody all things unclean, koinonos, or common—the very term St. Paul employs to describe the Bread and Cup of the Holy Eucharist.  We rejoice in the image of Christ the Lamb.  But what about an unclean Christ who rules Sabbath law from below, his incarnation via the body of an unmarried woman, his birth in an animal’s feedbox—visited by shepherds, eating with outcasts, his crucified-criminal death, his life laid down for sinners, himself made common in bread and wine.  The unclean Christ is our holiness, our life, our hope, the most intimate encounter we shall ever have—an intimacy exceeding all things sexual, emotional, and personal.  His unclean identity is the holiness we bear for all eternity:  Christ, the Pig of God, who takes away the sin of the world, has the ring of offense.  It bears the grace God, our life, our hope, and our salvation.

Isaiah 25 and Matthew 22 each foresee a feast.  Isaiah tells of rich food and well-aged wines—Israel dines like royals; but at this feast, the LORD devours a universal shroud—God swallows death forever.  Matthew’s banquet is a royal wedding feast the invited guests refuse to attend. They choose instead to snub their king by going to work, or visiting a farm.  So, the king invites others. We hear echoes of last Sunday’s parable: would-be guests seize the king’s messengers, mistreat and kill them.  Less deranged, perhaps, than last week’s tenants who kill that they might gain an inheritance, this week’s characters are nonetheless crazy: they snub a king, abuse and kill his servants, thinking to avoid his wrath.  But they’re wrong: [The king did what angry kings do…] “He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.”

The parable twice displays God’s wrath: here in the destruction of murderous guests, and next when a man appears in the banquet without proper dress.  The text says, “But when the king noticed the man not wearing a wedding robe he asked, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’  And he was speechless.  So 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.’  For many are called, but few are chosen.”

It’s a bizarre tale.  In the first place, who refuses a royal wedding banquet?  Are you kidding?  I know countless people (myself among them) who have failed to attend a wedding, but almost none who refuse a feast, and especially one given by a king.  People stand in line to attend a banquet like that, the sort of party people scheme to crash.  Anyone who’s ever seen the movie Wedding Crashers knows what I mean: two juvenile men crash countless weddings and wedding receptions in order to enjoy both the “fabulous finger food” and the women.  Nobody, I know would turn down a royal banquet to visit a farm or work—not when crab cakes and romance are on the line.

There’s something fishy about this story.  It just doesn’t smell right.  And nothing smells more suspicious than the improperly dressed guy among the last batch of guests—“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.  But when the king came in to see the guests, he noted a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe….”  He’s the one bound hand and foot and thrown into the outer darkness.   Because he wasn’t wearing a wedding robe?  Are you joking?  According to the experts, at that time and in that culture, wedding robes were given out for free—as a gift—to all the guests.  You didn’t have to buy a tuxedo or rent an evening gown, you got one for free.  So why doesn’t this guy have one?  It can’t be a moral issue: the text says the guests were both good and bad.

Robert Farrar Capon says it’s a case of perverse silence: in refusing to answer, the man snubs a king who prepared a banquet for him, gave him a tuxedo, and let him come to the feast even though he has bad manners.  Who would possibly behave in such perverse fashion?

When was the last time we heard of someone in the New Testament (in Matthew’s own gospel!) who refused to speak when addressed by authority?  Who else could have got themselves off the hook by saying a little “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I made a mistake.  Give me a second chance. I won’t do it again.  I promise.”?  It happens in Matthew 27:  “Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?’  But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge; so that the governor wondered greatly….”

Who is the guy without a wedding garment?  Who refuses to say a single word?  Who makes no effort to defend himself?  Who, even when they bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, refuses to struggle or complain?  Of course, it’s our Lord himself—it’s Christ Jesus common as a criminal, unclean as a pig, all the holiness of God, the very of Life of life, he who swallows up our death in order that we might live his life—the life from below, the life of service, the life of generosity, the life of mercy, the life for others.  He’s the Bridegroom tossed out of his own party so that all the riffraff might come in.

“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….”  Well, of course, there is.  The unclean Christ is all these things.  He appears as the opposite of purity: unclean, ugly, godless, and deadly.  He comes a pig roasted to perfection—goodness itself—the crucified and risen Lord.  He is tossed out in silence that we might be brought in—singing—Arise, my soul, arise!  In his silence, we sing forgiven, and we live!


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