Eighteenth Sunday of Trinity
Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us your gift of faith that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to that which is before, we may run the way of your commandments and win the crown of everlasting joy; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
God, our judge and saviour, teach us to be open to your truth and to trust in your love, that we may live each day with confidence in the salvation which is given through Jesus Christ our Lord.
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mould, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land 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 early 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.
The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” ’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.’
But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, ‘O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.” ’ And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is gracious, •
for his faithfulness endures for ever.
2 Who can express the mighty acts of the Lord •
or show forth all his praise?
3 Blessed are those who observe what is right •
and always do what is just.
4 Remember me, O Lord, in the favour you bear for your people; •
visit me in the day of your salvation;
5 That I may see the prosperity of your chosen
and rejoice in the gladness of your people, •
and exult with your inheritance.
6 We have sinned like our forebears; •
we have done wrong and dealt wickedly.
19 They made a calf at Horeb •
and worshipped the molten image;
20 Thus they exchanged their glory •
for the image of an ox that feeds on hay.
21 They forgot God their saviour, •
who had done such great things in Egypt,
22 Wonderful deeds in the land of Ham •
and fearful things at the Red Sea.
23 So he would have destroyed them,
had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, •
to turn away his wrath from consuming them.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 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.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, 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, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 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.
‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. 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.’
Sermon on Eighteenth Sunday of Trinity
πολλοι γαρ εισιν κλητον, ολιγοι dε εκλεκτοι. “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
How often we have heard this phrase! But what exactly do we mean by it? It seems to be the summary meaning of the parable we just read. But does that really make sense of it?
The parable is very dark, I think. The King has sent invitations for his son’s wedding feast. All the worthy were invited, I am sure. “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” Why did they not come? Why did they make light of the highlight of the King’s life – the wedding of his son? These are questions the parable forces us to ask.
Haven’t you had an invitation to a wedding? Did you really want to go? Or did you reply with your false regrets? Replying, I would say, is just good manners, and we all have those, don’t we? But the invited in the story did not even reply to the king. They didn’t bother to do anything. How impolite that was to the king! Would we behave that way?
When the king sent the second wave of his messengers out to remind the great and the good of the kingdom about the invitation, they were maltreated in a similar manner to the representatives of the owner of the wine press – about whom we read in last week’s gospel. Some were even killed. How could anyone do that just because they had been invited to a wedding feast? Don’t we all like to relax, eat, drink and be merry? An invitation to a feast is where we can do this without any expense for ourselves, so why did so many make so little of that invitation?
These people were truly unworthy of the invitation. They just had bad manners; they surely were not the great and the good of the land. They did not even respect the king who had opened his doors to them. No wonder he was in high dudgeon. But what about those who had abused the messengers – the cries of “I am only the messenger!” fell on deaf ears, so deaf that they did not even hear what their conscience was saying about treating those slave-messengers with murderous intent. They did not stay their hand because of their arrogance. Their own narcissistic lives were all that mattered to those who had been invited – never mind the fresh life of the newly-weds as they stood in the king’s wedding hall awaiting the guests to share their joy.
Those who had abused the messengers were oblivious of the possible wrath of the king. They had no thought for the future. Instead, they wiped the king, his messengers and their own evil behaviour from their minds. Instead they were happy in their complete ignorance. But what about the future? They continued their own everyday lives. They did not expect the wrath of the king. Their slight toward the king did not even enter their minds. They forgot about the earnest requests for the pleasure of their presence at the son’s wedding feast, and they just carried on as normal, forgetful in their everyday activities, oblivious to any consequences.
So what did the king do? – He sent his soldiers out to wreak revenge. The self-styled high and mighty were destroyed utterly – families and fortunes were obliterated. So in order to fill the wedding feast hall with happy people, the king sent his servants out to the highways and byeways to bring those found there in to enjoy the feast.
So many must have been astounded when they were bundled into the hall. There they were, in the king’s presence to celebrate the wedding of his son – what could they do? They could only stand and stare at the majesty before them.
The king looked over the guests and to one he said, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And the man was speechless. What could he say? He could have been found under a hedge and brought in, how could he have had a wedding robe? And yet the king demanded it.
We would say that the king unjustly cast him to the outer darkness where he would weep so bitterly because he did not come up to the king’s expectations. The question we must ask is this – “Does anyone ever live up to the king’s expectations?” Is our behaviour ever really acceptable or is our action ever pure – especially in the sight of our King, our Lord, our God? Do even the intentions in our lives here and now ever match the standards of the Kingdom of Heaven? Are the actions in our earthly existence ever pure and acceptable offerings to God?
Let’s put ourselves into the parable. Have we received the invitation from the King? Well, preachers throughout the centuries would say, “Of course we have. Jesus Christ’s invitation to the Kingdom has been proclaimed to all throughout the world. No one should be ignorant.” We are aware and hopeful.
However, once long ago we had been happily going about our own business, not aware of any invitation. We just lived lives of quiet desperation, hoping against hope that nothing bad would ever happen, just like the people on the highways and byeways. There are still people like that today. They have never taken religion in any form seriously, let alone even visited the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
These two groups are quite similar. Both live their lives without thought of the future. What their ownmost possibility is, escapes their cognizance, They do not judge their lives as others might – they do not reckon on a final judge of life. Everyday normality is all that takes their attention, and even that is given in the midst of distraction.
There is no concentration, our teachers say, our children’s attention span is very short. Everything is in bites and bits. – I have been working on a website lately, doing what they call “search engine optimization” – it confirms this rather dire condemnation of ourselves. The software I am using for this makes me write in a particular way. Repetition of key phrases passes for well-formed argument.
Rather than continue with this search engine optimisation, I tell a story, with a beginning, middle and end, without repetition, hesitation and deviation (I hope). We are part of this parable, aren’t we? We hope to be robed in the wedding garments of the Kingdom. We are awe-struck that we have been invited, but we do not forsake the banquet. Let us, then, put on our very best and await the coming of the son of the king with pure and acceptable behaviour – that christian love which the Lord enjoined.