17th Sunday after Pentecost
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. Isaiah 25:6
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. Psalm 23:1
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
Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet. 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. Matthew 22:9-10
Is your glass half full or half empty? Are you poor as the proverbial church mouse but rich in all the ways that count? Do you seek the good or grouse about the bad? Do you nosh on negativity or drink in the joys of simply being alive? Is your party defined by “pity” or “plenty”? Where you stand in response to these questions depends largely on where you sit on a given Sunday morning, and perhaps particularly this coming Sunday morning.
The Revised Common Lectionary Texts for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost are a true homiletical feast. The lesson from Isaiah celebrates God’s triumph over death with an image of a feast for all folks. This is a truly beautiful passage, beginning with praise, continuing with an acknowledgement that God provides a refuge for the poor and needy, and ending with tears and disgrace being wiped away, and a call to be glad.
Adding to the feast is the beloved 23rd psalm with its image of God as shepherd removing want, preparing a table and providing an ever-full cup. Both of these lessons are “funeral classics,” but why wait for a death to dig in to their rich promises? Perhaps we all could use some celebration and a reminder of God’s goodness in the face of the world’s distractions and dismay.
If you are not inspired by Isaiah or David’s poetry, how about Paul’s optimistic and caring missive to the disciples in Philippi? This is the final installment in a four week semi-continuous reading written from Paul’s jail cell to encourage, uplift, and reinforce teachings this much-beloved group. Get along, rejoice, avoid worry, pray always, know God’s peace, seek good, and keep on keeping on are the apostle’s instructions. The words are as timely today as they were to the original recipients of the message.
Finally, we have another tough parable from Jesus in Matthew’s gospel about a wedding banquet and just who will celebrate with the king. The invitation is for everyone, the feast is spread, and the time is ripe. The only hitch is to remember to dress for the occasion in the cloak of grace. The weeping and gnashing of teeth and violent response of the first invitees make this parable a little tricky, but hey, the main idea is deals with God’s gracious invitation and our proper response. That should preach.
No matter which lesson grips you and speaks the need to be proclaimed, you cannot go wrong with sharing the “plenty party” of our gracious God in a world where a “pity party” is more the self-absorbed societal norm. We have much to celebrate, share, and tell. Mercy pours like the finest wine, and grace fills the plates of all the hungry. It’s a potluck on steroids, a feast for the faint, stone soup for the soul, and a delicacy for the downtrodden. No, this is no pity party, my friends. This is the real deal–plenty for all and a celebration of God’s abundant love and grace.
Our task as those who proclaim and teach the Word, who shepherd and serve, is to communicate this concept of plenty that winds through each wonderful lesson appointed for the day. How can the words of your mouth and the meditation of your heart lift the heavy shroud of want that clouds weary eyes burdened minds? In what way might the invitation this week to God’s table be a celebration that carries all back into the world refreshed, renewed, and ready to spread the good news that there is plenty for all in the reign of God? Indeed, there is plenty in these four readings. Blessings on your preaching and teaching, dear steward of the Gospel!
Photo by khrawlings used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!