Exodus 32:1-14; Matthew 22:1-14
In our Old Testament story from the larger Exodus story,
we’re at the foot of Mt. Sinai this morning with the children of Israel.
We’re at the foot of the mountain with those
who have consistently experienced
the presence, the power and the provision of God.
Now Moses, he was up on the mountain top—again.
He had gone up the mountain soon after the group arrived (Exodus 19:3)
and came down to tell everyone that whole bit
about God being the one who brought them up out of Egypt
and expecting their covenant obedience to be
a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:4-6).
then he went back up; came back down (Exodus 19:20-21)
to hear with the people the specifics of covenant relationship—
the ten words or the commandments,
after which the people, very specifically, asked Moses to speak for God,
and so not to let God speak to them (Exodus 20:19)!
Moses went back up into the thick darkness
in which God was present (Exodus 20:21),
came back down again to tell the people more (Exodus 24:3)—
wrote everything down this time,
built an altar—
threw blood on everyone
in some kind of ritual consecration (Exodus 24:4-8).
Aren’t we glad some biblical traditions didn’t take?!
Moses went back up again (Exodus 24:12) …,
but this time, Moses was up there, we’re told,
for forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:18).
His clothes were fitting him a little looser.
He was losing weight.
Joshua, his assistant, was telling him to consider marketing
a mountaintop weight loss program.
But at the foot of the mountain, the people got antsy.
It was the delay, yes. The impatience, yes.
That expectation of immediacy,
our culture may have aggravated it, but it didn’t create it!
Maybe some frustration with Moses always popping in and out.
Maybe the fear that Moses was gone—their intermediary,
the one who spoke for God so God wouldn’t!
We want gods to go before us, the people tell Aaron.
Never mind that you-shall-have-no-gods thing—
that I-the-Lord-your-God-am-one thing,
we want gods to go before us.
And as for Moses, the man who brought us up out of Egypt,
we don’t know what has become of him.
The man who brought us up out of Egypt?
I’m sorry, what?
And Aaron, who had been with Moses almost from the beginning—
who had seen God and heard God
and spoken for God—
Aaron who, in response to God’s command
had thrown down his staff to see it turn into a serpent (Exodus 7),
Aaron is fine with this—
responsive to the people’s demands.
He gives the people exactly what they want.
“Give me your gold,” he says, and molds them a golden calf.
Never mind that whole make-no-graven-image thing.
And they say of the calf,
“These are your gods who brought you out of Egypt.”
The gods who brought you up out of Egypt?
I’m sorry, what?
We know the calf didn’t bring them out of Egypt.
The calf didn’t exist until now.
They knew that too.
And yet Aaron built an altar before it
and proclaimed a festival to the Lord.
And they offered burnt-offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being
which all actually sounds a lot like what they’ve done for God.
In fact, if you go back a couple of chapters,
it’s exactly what they just did for God (Exodus 20:24).
So it’s possible—it’s possible—
they weren’t, in fact, wanting a replacement for God,
but another intermediary to replace Moses—
who wasn’t there—who had gone up and not come down—
a more tangible expression of God—
but a less smoky, a little less cloudy, less fiery—
with less thunder and lightning—
less shaking of the foundations—
something more predictable,
more solid, more tangible, more visible,
more consistently present, more accessible, less scary.
We want something down here at the foot of the mountain,
not some mystery up at the top.
We want a white Jesus who’s worried about my personal salvation
and wants to save me and my lifestyle—doesn’t care about the poor—
doesn’t care what money and power do to people,
and about whether we should invest in violence or peace.
Just kidding. Not the same. Right? Right.
Now remember God’s up there, even as they speak,
Carving stone tablets for them—
carving tangible expression—God’s word made manifest—
not incarnate but in-carved-slate!
God’s working on giving them exactly what they want,
something they can hold—something they can see—
just not on their time frame.
And so they impatiently mold gold.
And I’m thinking God was thinking:
“Alright, so let’s see, I said no flood again, right?
I promised I wouldn’t kill them—with water.
So this time fire. They burn. I can do this.
And then I’ll start over with Moses just like I did with Noah.
You go down to your people, Moses,
whom you brought up out of Egypt”—
you almost get the feeling God’s feelings were hurt!
But Moses pleads with God not to do that—
for several different reasons.
“It really wouldn’t make sense to rescue your people—”
no one wants these people!
“They’re not my people, they’re your people!”
“It really wouldn’t make sense to rescue your people
and then abandon them.
It wouldn’t be good p.r., what with the Egyptians watching,
and remember your promises as of old.”
And God, we read, God changed God’s mind.
It’s kind of like that Abraham story
in which God changed God’s mind—repented, is the word.
God remembered the story God wanted to tell.
God remembered the story God was telling.
God put back together again what had been broken.
That’s what God does—
even when it’s God’s own heart and God’s own dream—
God’s own story.
Then in the New Testament, we have a crazy Jesus story—
which, in case you didn’t know it,
is the literal translation of the word “parable.”
That’s an etymology out of the it’s all Greek to me.
And we have a king throwing a wedding party for his son.
And he sent out his slaves to those who had been invited—
because this was a follow-up invitation
to a previous, there’s a party coming notice.
People had gotten a kind of a save the date notice without the date,
and now it’s the date.
You know that party to which you were invited—
that save the date notice you got without the date?
Well, it’s today.
And they have their day to day excuses.
Of course they do.
We know them.
They fill our calendars.
Take yesterday. There was the church work day.
The girls had soccer in two different places at two different times.
Susie was doing a wedding. There was dinner to prepare,
kitchen to clean, laundry to try and get to, dog to walk.
Forget the vacuuming.
And yes, we can say none of that is as important as God, sure.
But we’re really not talking about wasted time.
We’re not talking about excuses that are meaningless.
Susie told me that the average female college student
spends 10 hours on her phone a day.
The average child (this according to a study
by the University of Michigan)—the average child (2-5)
watches 32 hours of TV a week—
more than one whole day of TV out of seven!
That’s what we do instead of sabbath!
We’re not talking about that though.
What struck me this past week,
was not so much the excuses to the invitation,
but the inconvenience of the invitation—
the utter lack of respect for my schedule.
I know it’s the king.
I know it’s the prince’s wedding party.
Yes, but I’m in the middle of something here.
It may or may not be that important—
especially compared to the high and mighty prince,
but you expect me to drop everything?
The whole torturing and killing the messenger’s a little extreme—
a little out of proportion—doesn’t seem quite right.
And it also doesn’t seem quite right, did you notice?
that there would be time
to send out troops, to destroy enemy forces,
and to sack a city,
all while the party food’s on the table.
So here’s where most scholars will tell you
“Well this story, it is an allegory”—
which is (y’all probably know this) a particular kind of story
in which everything (or almost everything) represents something else.
And you put it all together to get a meaning beyond the meaning.
It’s like a code—a puzzle.
So as the allegorists tell it,
the king is God, and Jesus the son,
the wedding banquet, the party at the end of time—
the fulfillment of creation.
The slaves are the prophets.
They were sent to those already invited, Israel,
but the slaves are rejected—
with extreme prejudice,
making us think of Jesus’ lament:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You who kill the prophets
and stone those who were sent to you” (Matthew 23:37).
The destroyed city—well that fits in—
Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD—
a reminder that we’re talking history here
amidst salvation history.
The gathering of everyone, the good and the bad,
into the wedding hall represents the church—
which is actually not a bad reminder for the church,
which too often, I think, considers itself the gathering of the good people!
Which is all fine and good.
It works quite well, doesn’t it?
I just don’t get the idea that Jesus was terribly interested in salvation history—
not as justification for the church—
which as we’ve said before didn’t even exist when he was telling the story.
Jesus was not interested in salvation history
as a history of the institutions of religion.
I get the feeling Jesus may have been interested in salvation history
only as the consistency of God’s love through history.
Then there’s the second part of the crazy Jesus story:
that one guy (poor guy), hauled in off the street,
then blessed out for not having the right clothes on!
And wow does that seem not right.
Not just unfair, but ridiculously so.
Again, the allegorists will tell you,
“The clothes represent baptismal attire”—
or something like that.
Still doesn’t seem right.
You invite the good, and you invite the bad—
you invite the baptized and the unbaptized,
but then expect them all to be baptized?!
And the story ends with the king saying,
“Many are called, but few are chosen.”
Does that make sense to anyone?
It makes no sense in light of the story.
In that hall full of the good, the bad, and the ugly,
only one was tossed out.
So what does it mean few are chosen?
All but one were chosen.
Now it makes more sense in light of the story as salvation history—
the new present, the church, justified in light of the failed past, Israel.
It makes sense not in the context of the story,
but the story’s context in Matthew
as one of several stories addressed to the Pharisees.
So I’m having trouble with this allegory.
And allegory seems a little bit too
structured for Jesus, anyway—
a little too rigid.
Allegory makes more sense
as Matthew’s adaptation of a Jesus story for his church—
trying to separate itself from Judaism—
its history within Judaism.
It makes more sense for the church
to blame Israel for rejecting the prophets,
because when Jesus told the story,
the hearers of the story were all Jews.
We were the ones who rejected the prophets, not them.
And again, there was no church.
Not to mention that the destruction of Jerusalem
had to have been added after Jesus,
since it didn’t happen until after Jesus.
And even if you want to say Jesus knew it was going to happen,
it wouldn’t have made sense to anyone else,
and Jesus’ stories, I get the sense, always made sense.
I mean they didn’t make sense,
but not because you couldn’t understand them, right?!
So, if we reject the scholars’ identification of this story as allegory—
or we say, more specifically, that Matthew may have meant it as allegory,
but Jesus wouldn’t have,
then what would we have that might just be the crazy Jesus story?
Well for one thing, we’d have a whole story,
not one divided into meaningful pieces
that we add together to interpret.
We wouldn’t be thinking about the king as God,
and this as that and that as this,
but the whole thing offering some insight into the kingdom of heaven.
And then if we just read the story,
not thinking about parts meaning different things,
then maybe it’s a story about the absolute priority of the moment—
that moment in which you’re invited into the kingdom of heaven—
the kingdom of heaven on earth as it is in heaven.
Not end of time kind of stuff—
ordinary moment kind of stuff.
Less about what they did wrong, whoever they are,
but whether or not we embrace our opportunities
to extend forgiveness and grace,
to manifest love and respect,
good stewardship and care—
to be a part of the redeeming of creation.
And so less about whether someone
has been perceived as “good” or “bad,”
as what they do in this particular moment
when God interrupts life with opportunity.
For as much as God represents invitation,
God is interruption too.
And often a downright intrusive, highly inconvenient interruption—
into routine—into responsibility—into life
into work—into friendships.
Into my time, comes the invitation—
a moment in which to live into God—
a moment in which to be as Jesus—
a moment in which to live up to covenant expectation
what it means to follow God in the way of Jesus.
And if we turn our backs on such opportunity—
if we turn our backs on such moments
and the possibilities inherent to such moments—
the work of redemption,
then we invite death into that moment.
Moments are God’s messengers—
angels inviting us into deep truth,
“This moment, come in—
come into blessing,”
and if we turn our backs on them—
if we turn to our to-do lists,
we’re killing time.
So here it is: you’re invited into this transforming reality.
Now you’re invited in along with everyone else.
And somehow, everyone else seems dressed appropriately.
I mean, they were all just pulled off the street too, right?
Out of just whatever they happened to be doing.
No one had time to prepare—
no one had time to go change clothes.
Yet somehow, they’re all appropriately dressed.
Because if they seized that moment,
they put on love.
They dressed themselves in grace.
If you put our stories together,
Old and New Testament,
Exodus story and crazy Jesus story,
you end up with something like the affirmation and the warning,
a combination Scripture often extends—
the affirmation and the warning,
that the moment waits for you.
The moment waits for you.
If you’re waiting for the moment,
you’ll try and fill it with something—
often something inappropriate.
But if you realize the moment is yours to fill,
affirmation and warning,
you’ll fill your moment with—what?
Long before Mary Oliver asked,
Jesus did, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your owe wild and passionate life?”—
especially when the wild and passionate part—
the deep and rich and abundant and wondrous part
interrupts your routine?
Yes. By all means, assess your day to day—
what is truly important.
I believe, more importantly though,
what happens in that moment when there’s nothing and no one
between you and God—
when Moses has gone up the mountain
and there’s no one to speak for God, but God.
What happens in that moment?—
when love crosses your borders?
when grace reaches out to the other? to the enemy?
when you know enough to be afraid?
when the foundations shake?
when the mystery looks you in the face
and love embraces the wholeness of you?
interrupts how you’ve made life and God
comfortable? and acceptable? and convenient?
What happens in that moment?
Will we live bigger?
Will we live into grace and love—
into God and God’s story?
Or shrink ourselves to live the hell
prescribed by the limits of our perspectives?
and our reason,
our comfort levels?
and our rules?