Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Chase (Sermon 10/12)

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

How many of you received a political phone call this week? Did anyone receive more than one call? How do you feel when you get them? Did anyone feel special? Pursued?

Pursue is an interesting word. How many of you feel worried when you hear the word pursue? (Negative connotation) How many of you feel excited or happy when you hear the word? (Positive connotation)

Today’s texts lead us toward thinking about God as our pursuer, which may stir feelings either way depending on how you feel when you think about yourself and God. This time of year in the lectionary cycle, between the end of summer and the season of Advent, the end of the long season of Pentecost, can have some difficult and frustrating texts. Yet, we can easily get caught up in the frightening parts, the weeping and gnashing of teeth, and miss the sections about God’s actions and movements toward us.

Last week, we read about God’s love song for the vineyard. This week, we hear about God’s invitation for all people to His banquet. This is not just a New Testament idea, but one appears in the First Testament as well- this week in Isaiah.

Hear again, the beautiful words of the passage from Isaiah, “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. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all the nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgraces of his people he will take away from all the earth…”

And this passage from Matthew, “The wedding is ready… go…into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.”

Both of these passages offer glorious description and delicious imagery of the welcome banquet of God to all people in all places. Yet they can be overshadowed by the guest who doesn’t have the robe, the destruction of the city of the ruthless, the weeping and gnashing of teeth. When our minds are overcome by the frightening images, and the stresses of life, we can only more easily think of being chased by judgment, rather than pursued by Love.

The prevalence of that kind of pressure and worry in our lives is what makes the 23rd Psalm one of the most beloved passages in the Bible.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil.
Your rod and your staff comfort me.
You prepare a table before my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil.
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I think even saying this psalm together gives us one of the clearest understandings of how the Holy Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. Even without thinking about the words, when I say this psalm, I feel calmer. Through the uttering of the verses, I begin to absorb the meaning of God’s care for me like a shepherd.

God leads us through pastures and to streams- providing our sustenance, our food and water. God is with us in fear and pain and provides healing for our spirits. God’s rules guide us and His gospel directs us. God’s generosity knows no ends and we have more blessings than we know how to use.

But for God, this is not enough. Though we have all this, we have a feast (a foretaste of the feast to come) and water for washing, we still wander away in our own paths. We, like sheep, go astray.

So God pursues us. In those last lines of the psalm, we usually say, “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” But God’s grace and mercy aren’t like Mary’s little lamb. The Hebrew word here is better translated as pursue. Surely God’s grace and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life.

Grace and mercy are like the servants in the gospel story… finding us wherever we are, pushing us beyond our excuses and steering us constantly back to the feast that waits for us in the Word, in the water and in the wine and bread. We are clothed again and again in righteousness through Christ.

Paul reminds the Philippians, that even in the midst of their struggles, “The Lord is near.” Let’s say that together now, “The Lord is near.” When you hang up from those political phone calls, when the newspaper makes you frustrated, when the money talk makes you worried, when you know you’ve heard it all before: say it again, “The Lord is near.”

The Lord is near- pursuing us with goodness and mercy, clothing us with grace and righteousness. No matter how the world may chase us, the Word of the Lord is sharper, swifter and eternal- pursuing the corners of our hearts and capturing our souls.

Our lessons today tell us that God’s welcome banquet is open for all, a healing and sumptuous feast prepared in true love. God pursues us through His Spirit, in the Word and in the world. Surely, God’s goodness and mercy will follow us all of our days. And we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Not because of ourselves, but because God will not have it any other way. Amen.

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