Monday, October 10, 2011

Don't Be "That Guy"

Matthew 22: 1-14

A few years ago, I was invited to a wedding, two of my friends from the undergraduate Wesley Foundation I was a member of were getting married, and I had flown all the way back to DE from Texas to attend. But I had packed badly. I had forgotten a tie, and an undershirt, and the dress shirt I had at that time depended on an undershirt to not be rather see-thru. I had had a wonderful time with the group the night before, a regular mini-reunion, but when it came time for the wedding, I found myself ill-prepared for such an event. Because I couldn’t wear the dress shirt by itself, and there was no store near to the hotel to grab such items last minute, I ended up wearing a red plaid button-down shirt with an open collar.

I felt really self-conscious the whole time, especially around all the men who were wearing high class suits and women who were dressed to the nines. I would try to explain myself to everyone I met, because I felt so out of place. Yes, I was one of “those” guys. I’m sure I had sweat rings under my arms, my hair was too long and not brushed, and I had food in my teeth, and yet I spoke too loudly and laughed too loudly. If I didn’t literally do all that, that’s how out of place I felt. I did not have the proper wedding attire on, and I am thankful to this day that they did not cast me into the outer darkness of a hotel parking lot in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

There was a time in which God’s call to the world was heard in very separated ways. The Israelites were called to be God’s people, over and against the tribes that surrounded them. When Israel fell, first the north to the Assyrians and then the south to the Babylonians, it was seen as divine punishment for untold generations’ failure to follow the laws that God had send down on Sinai by Moses. And yet God kept relationship with them in their exile, and eventually Persia conquered both Assyria and Babylonia, and sent Israel back home.

So Israel tried to put things back together, and to be God’s people again in the land that God had given them. But it didn’t work, and God’s laws again became misused-over thought out, this time, which perhaps was understandable; perhaps in a response against making the same mistakes twice, disappointing god again. The laws soon had laws and they had laws, and once again, the people of God lost the thread.

So God sent Jesus, to give the laws flesh and blood. And the invitation to be in relationship with God was made to all, not just to those who had the law.

This is the meaning of the metaphor. That those who are so richly invited will sometimes take it for granted, and sometimes, even when everyone is invited, there are still going to be a few who don’t get it. They will do nothing with it, and it’s like they are dressed inappropriately for the poshest of wedding banquets.

There are dangers when you send out an invitation to everyone. You never know who you’re going to get. This last week, during the new documentary about prohibition by Ken Burns on PBS, they make mention of the fact that the hours after President Andrew Jackson was inaugurated in 1833, there were so many drunk people in the White House messing up the place (access was a lot freer then) that they booted everyone out of the house and onto the lawn, “so the furniture wouldn’t get messed up”.

But the invitation to relationship with God is addressed to all. The invitation is sent far and wide, both to people who know what to do with it, and those who don’t.

The thing is, we are invitees to the banquet. We are not the bouncers. We are not the doormen who run, as they say in the club scene, “the velvet rope”. We are just invited to come and be at the party, and to celebrate.

Think about a relationship with God. What would you want? How would you want to conduct that relationship? What would you do to be the best at it you could be? In other words, how would you dress?

Hopefully not in a red plaid shirt when everyone else is wearing suits.

God does not want our rules, our style, our politics, our opinions. God is not a Republican or a Democrat. God is somewhere both in the Occupy Wall Street folks and in the Tea Party.

God wants us to know God.
To pray.
To learn about God by reading the Bible and talking about it with others.
To be in a community.

Each time we seek God in fellowship, or prayer, or in mission and charity, we are learning about how to treat the rest of God’s people, and it is then that we are putting on the proper wedding clothes. The guy who didn’t wear the right clothes, didn’t pack his suitcase properly, even knowing he was going to a wedding for people he loved, in the posh part of town? He’s the guy who says he’s a believer in God, but doesn’t do anything about it, doesn’t work on it, doesn’t try to grow and learn. He’s “that guy.”
I invite you to not be “that guy.” Work on your relationship with God. Identify for yourself what your prayers, presents, gifts, service and witness are and do them to the best of your ability. Read your Bible and find ways to talk about what you read.

Put on the wedding clothes, so that you may enjoy the party without being self-conscious!

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Relationship Advice

Exodus 20:1-20

Most preachers, me included, come to the weeks that the Ten Commandments appear in the lectionary, that guided journey through Scripture, and groan. What new can we possibly say about this, what new angle could we possibly find to teach this? After all, not every part of the Bible has its own movie, right?

So, here’s the background: Moses and the nation of Israel has left the Promised land behind, and has entered the desert. After about three months, they come to Mount Sinai, and Moses goes up onto the mountain of Sinai, and God speaks to him, saying “go back down, tell everyone to wash up, and consecrate themselves. I will come then, when everyone is ready.” So Moses does, and on that third day,. When they look up, they see the top of the mountain obscured by clouds and lightning, and they hear the loud blast of a trumpet. Then, with the whole nation wearing their Sunday best and focused on God, they “make their stand” at the foot of the mountain. Moses goes up, and he’s told to go back down and tell Israel to stay off the mountain (which means, I guess, that some folks had started trying to steak up the mountain themselves). So Moses does, and when he goes back up the Mountain, he is ordered to take Aaron with him, and that is where the scripture I read this morning starts.

What I read is the first twenty verses of Chapter 20. These are called the Ten Commandments, but they are really the first of many laws that God gives to Moses, all the way out to Chapter 31, and it is in Chapter 24 that we hear the idea of stone tablets. It is while Moses is up receiving these laws that the people get restless, and ask Aaron, (who went down the mountain at some point) to create for them the Golden Calf.

So, there’s your context, that’s how the laws come to the people. But what we concentrate on, for better or for worse, are the first ten laws set down by God. I think we get the idea of them on stone tablets out of the Jewish tradition, five on one, five on another. I think we get the idea of Moses carrying down two stone tablets from the mountain from Cecil B. DeMille, and some folks just know that Moses looks like Burt Lancaster!

These are laws passed down to God’s people by God. God’s chosen people receive them. Paul calls us adopted into God’s family, chosen by virtue of our belief in Jesus, so these laws in some ways still apply to us.

So what do we have before us? The first ten things God mentions to Moses about how to live within the boundary of being the children of God.
Well, let’s look at them individually.
1. You shall have no other God’s before me
2. You shall not make for yourself an idol
3. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of God
4. Remember the Sabbath Day.

The first four laws are all about relationship to God, aren’t they?

What are the rest?
1. Honor your father and mother.
2. You shall not murder
3. you shall not commit adultery
4. you shall not steal
5. you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (in other words, you shall not lie)
6. you shall not covet anything your neighbor has, including spouse, house, land or property.

How you would characterize all of these laws? Aren’t they all ways to preserve relationship with others?

So what we have is a marked focus by God- there are two things that God concerns Godself with, overall, thus they are the leading statements. God’s primary concern is with relationship to God and to humanity.

So, does this sound familiar? It does to me-I hear in these words given to Moses the words of Jesus, when he is asked which of the commandments are the most important. Do you remember what he says?

Right. “Love the Lord with all your heart, mind soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

I also hear these two primary concerns, both relationships, in the words Jesus uses to lead us into prayer:
Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name;
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

There’s the God part. Then comes the human part:
Give is this daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

And then back to God again:
For thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, forever and ever, Amen.
Whenever we are given summary statement from God in the Bible, there are these two overarching ideas, and they are both relationships.

Relationship with God.
Relationship with each other.

It seems to me to be true then, that if we will be judged on anything, we will be judged on how we are in relationship with God, as well as those around us. Family, friends, colleagues, co-workers, neighbors, as well as those on this earth who are hungry and suffering, in Tunkhannock, in PA, as well as in Bangladesh and Sudan.

How you doin’?