Sunday March 12, 2023 – Lent 3
Throughout these Lenten days and nights we turn to walk the inward way,
Where meeting Christ, our guide and light, we live in hope till Easter Day.
© 1993 Hope Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Used by permission. LicenSingOnline#605486
Acknowledging the Territory
Once again, we acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and we commit ourselves to use and share it wisely.
Call to Worship
We gather here longing to hear a Divine call and invitation from the One we worship.
But we do not always understand that call when it comes.
When that call interrupts our carefully laid plans and dreams,
We hesitate, dismiss, or even ignore the call.
When that call demands actions that may be difficult or unpopular,
We hesitate, dismiss, or even ignore the call.
And yet we continue to gather, to listen, to learn and to worship.
So let us worship the Divine One who calls us here.
Service of Lenten Candles
During Advent we light candles each week as we prepare with joy and excitement to welcome the one born to bring God’s light into the world. During Lent we prepare ourselves with quiet contemplation for the day when that light was extinguished. The six purple candles represent the six weeks of Lent, while the white candle, our Christ Candle continues to burn reminding us who it is that we journey with during this season of Lent.
Lent calls us to a time of respect and obedience.
We remember Jesus’ example of obedience.
We remember our own call to be obedient to God’s call to us.
We remember our own tendency to make excuses and avoid doing what we do not want to do.
We remember the times we fail to do what we know we should.
As we extinguish this candle, we offer our Lenten Prayer.
Let us Pray
You call us, Divine One, but often we do not respond. We are too busy with our own lives to listen. We allow the noise of our world to drown out your voice. Sometimes we hear your voice but turn away. And sometimes even when we answer, we are not willing to fully commit ourselves to respond. Forgive us and open our hearts and our minds to listen more deeply. Open our lives to a deeper commitment to respond. Amen
Gift of Music When We Are Tempted to Deny Your Son #119
Throughout Lent this year we are reading the parables of Jesus as they are related to us in the Gospel According to Matthew. Today we hear Matthew’s version of the Parable of the Wedding Banquet.
Matthew 22:1-14 Good News Translation
Jesus again used parables in talking to the people. “The Kingdom of heaven is like this. Once there was a king who prepared a wedding feast for his son. He sent his servants to tell the invited guests to come to the feast, but they did not want to come. So he sent other servants with this message for the guests: ‘My feast is ready now; my steers and prize calves have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast!’ But the invited guests paid no attention and went about their business: one went to his farm, another to his store, while others grabbed the servants, beat them, and killed them. The king was very angry; so he sent his soldiers, who killed those murderers and burned down their city. Then he called his servants and said to them, ‘My wedding feast is ready, but the people I invited did not deserve it. Now go to the main streets and invite to the feast as many people as you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, good and bad alike; and the wedding hall was filled with people.
“The king went in to look at the guests and saw a man who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ the king asked him. But the man said nothing. Then the king told the servants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him outside in the dark. There he will cry and gnash his teeth.’”
And Jesus concluded, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Favorite Hymn Request Jesus You Have Come to the Lakeshore #563
More Than Simply Showing Up
So how many of you know the “Wedding Banquet” song, you know the one that begins … I cannot come. I cannot come to the banquet …? Well, that is NOT the story we read today. That is Luke’s story and it is very different. This story is much more difficult and much more challenging.
Both stories begin with an invitation to a great banquet, but there the similarities end. In Matthew’s version, the invitation is issued by the king, inviting honoured quests to his son’s wedding. At the time, an invitation from the king was less of on invitation and more of a decree. If you received such an invitation, you had no alternative but to accept. Attendance at such an event was mandatory.
But those invited did not respond. They did not make excuses as to why they were unable to be there. They didn’t even send a response saying they would not be attending. Instead, they simply ignored the invitation as if it had never been received. We are even told that some of them actually killed the messengers rather than tanking the risk that the messenger would return to the king and confirm that the invitation had been delivered and ignored.
In fury over what had happened, the king retaliated by not only killing all those who had murdered his messengers, but by burning down their entire city. This is definitely not the story that we remember, nor is it the kind of story that we expect to hear from Jesus. We want to hear stories about love, justice and the acceptance of all people. Yet once again we are reminded that at the start of this parable, Jesus begins with the words, “The Kingdom of heaven is like this.”
So, after the first messengers are killed or ignored, the king then sends out another group of messengers with instructions that they are to go into the streets and invite as many people as they can find. The messengers obediently go out and invite everyone, regardless of their status in society, their character, or any other factor. Everyone was invited, “good and bad alike”.
These are not the people who would expect to be invited to a royal wedding. They are not the nobility, the wealthy, the politicians, or the influential. They are average people. They are the tradesmen, the shop keepers, the labourers, and the artisans. But they are also the unemployed, the beggars, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and the criminals. These are the people who responded to the invitation and filled the banquet hall.
OK, this part of the parable we can generally get behind. Everyone is invited. There is room for all. Even if sometimes we are not all that comfortable with some of those who are invited, we hear this message as good news. We are all invited, loved, and included.
But if that is all we hear in this parable, we need to look again. Who are the ones that are invited first and don’t respond? Who are the ones, “good and bad alike” who are invited only after the first group refuses to show up? And what about those who actually kill the messengers? Who are they? And what do we make of the king who sends out his army to not only kill those who have killed the messengers, but to burn down their entire city? These are not easy or comfortable questions.
We need to remember that this story, as with any of the parables, it is open to interpretation. We are hearing this parable in a different time and different context then those who first heard it. One commentary suggests that the first group of messengers who were sent out were the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. The king, representing God, sent these prophets to the “chosen people” of Israel, the ones who would have been expected to respond.
But they did not respond. In some cases, they even killed the prophets. And all of this happened in a time when kingdoms rose and fell and when we know that the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were overthrown and conquered again and again. So, perhaps this part of the story can be seen as a history lesson, a reminder of what has happened in the past.
Following this idea, the second group of messengers, according to this commentary, would have represented the disciples who went out to spread the message of Christ that God loved, cared for and accepted all people, rich and poor, Jew and gentile, good and bad. By the time that Matthew wrote these words, Jesus’ message was already beginning to spread beyond the “chosen people”. The apostles, including Paul, were spreading the message of God’s inclusive love far beyond the area where Jesus himself preached.
So, if we accept this idea, Matthew’s parable of the wedding banquet seems to make at least some sense. It even reflects Luke’s parable which, although it does not include the murder of messengers, the revenge of an irate king or the burning of cities, also speak of those who would be expected to respond turning down the invitation, while the least likely guests are the ones who show up.
But what do we do with the next portion of this scripture? Matthew tells us that once all the guests had gathered, the king enters the room and begins checking out the guests. He finds one man there that was not wearing proper “wedding clothes”. He orders that the man be tied up and thrown out of the banquet into the streets.
That can’t be right. There must be something else going on, something that we’re not aware of. There was nothing in the invitation about having to have the proper clothing! How was this guest supposed to know that he had to dress a certain way? This really doesn’t seem fair. In fact, it seems downright cruel.
Yet once again we are reminded that, like all the parable we have looked at so far during this season of Lent, this parable begins, “The Kingdom of heaven is like this.”
So, what do we do with this scripture? How do we fine hope and meaning in such a story? Well, sometimes we seem to think that all we need to do is to show up. If we say we believe in God, if we pray the right words, then everything will work out and we will be fine. If we “show up”, God will take care of everything else.
But we all know that that is not true. We must do the work and put in the effort it takes to build on our faith and to come to a better understanding of and a better relationship with the Divine. We cannot just claim to faith and then lock it away in a closet. We need to “put on” that faith and wear it. We need to live in and into that faith.
Perhaps this is the message that we can learn from Matthew’s story. If this parable is meant to reflect what The Kingdom of heaven is like then being part of that Kingdom requires more from us that simply showing up. It requires that we do our part.
When we pray the words of what we call “The Lord’s Prayer” we say, “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.” But are we expecting God’s Kingdom to come regardless of whether or not God’s will be done? And who are we expecting to do God’s will? Is there someone else out there who needs to do God’s will before the Kingdom can come? Or is it, perhaps, us who need to do God’s will?
I do not have the answers. And I can assure you that I struggle with many of these parables every bit as much as any of you do. But I do believe that there is always something we can learn from each of the parables, even if it is not exactly what we hope to find.
I do believe that God invites and calls each and every one of us to be a part of God’s Kingdom. But I also believe that that Kingdom will not come unless we each do our own part to help build it, nurture it, and sustain it. To me this is an amazing challenge and responsibility, but it is also an amazing gift and blessing.
Gift of Music Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life #681
We Offer Our Gifts
As we gather here in worship today, we offer what gifts we have for the work of our church and for the work of the Spirit everywhere. And so, as we sing our offertory response, we bring forward the gift of our offerings.
Offertory Response # 542
We give you but your own, what-e’er the gift may be;
All that we have is yours alone, we give it gratefully.
©William Walsham How 1858. Used with permission. OneLicense.net#A-723756
We Offer Our Prayers
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
we pray that you would fill us with the knowledge of your will
through all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
so that together we may live a life worthy of you
and in every way pleasing to you;
a life in which we bear fruit in every good work,
and acquire strength and endurance and patience and a joyful heart—
a heart that gives thanks to you in every situation….
Prayer of Intercession
inspired by the Lord’s Prayer
(Matthew 6: 9-13, Luke 11: 2-4)
Our Father who art in heaven
How blissful it is to imagine heaven on earth.
But lives are always endangered.
Poverty consumes many, hunger and disease destroy many.
The bodies of young people are for sale.
Mothers and fathers are migrating to foreign lands
God, grant to us the experience of heaven on earth.
Hallowed be your name
Your name is holy, your people are holy.
You created us in your image.
But the dignity of the poor ones is crushed by those
who whip the poor by laws and by rules.
Your name was used by foreign powers.
In your name colonizers invaded foreign lands.
In your name they burned and smashed.
Your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
We know that your kingdom is a kingdom of love, justice and of peace.
A kingdom of righteousness and abundance for all.
Do not allow us to be deceived by the standard of this world,
where unjust wars rule and colonizers become rulers of the nations.
Let your will be done soon,
and vanish the pseudo-kingdom of empire power,
until we can finally say, heaven is possible here on earth.
Give us this day our daily bread
The bread that we eat today satisfies our hunger.
But those who make the bread in many countries have empty stomachs.
How can we be happy when our body is full while many are wanting?
We have been told those who do not work should not eat.
But how come those who work hard have too little to eat,
while those who amass wealth by greed have plenty to throw away?
May the daily bread we partake in
be the communion of struggle and hope,
and be the bread that is shared by all.
Forgive us our debt, as we forgive debtors.
We offer our self-criticisms.
When we have failed to love You and our neighbour,
renew us and enable us to make up whatever we have failed to do.
Give us hearts that can share your grace by forgiving others.
Let us be humble like a dove and make us wise as a serpent.
May we be sustained in our courage,
that we will not be manipulated by those who have wronged,
exploited and oppressed your people.
Forgiveness is for those who have admitted their accountability,
for your grace is sufficient enough to correct our mistakes.
But arrogance and conceit will lead us only to downfall.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Lead us not to resignation in our work for justice and peace.
Let not cynicism rule us,
but lead us to a deeper steadfastness to overcome evil in our midst.
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen.
This we believe.
Let your power of love and the glory of justice and peace
be with us all forever and ever. Amen.
~ adapted from a prayer by Norma P. Dollaga.
Prayer of the People
Father God, in whose love we live and move,
we pray for a world crying out to feel loved,
wanted, cherished and unique.
Heavenly Father, source of all love
We pray for a world torn apart by conflict and war.
A world that lives uneasily in a climate of fear
with no clear vision for future days
Heavenly Father, source of all hope
We pray for a world that thinks less of others than of self.
A world where division between nations, race, religion
neighbour and family leads to distrust
Heavenly Father, source of all peace
We pray for a world that is short on happiness,
too busy to enjoy this world you have created,
too preoccupied with living to appreciate life.
Heavenly Father, source of all joy
We pray for a world where spiritual longing is satisfied
by fashionable notions and temporary solutions
with no thought for tomorrow.
Heavenly Father, source of our Salvation
We pray for a world that needs to know your love, your hope,
your peace, your joy and Salvation.
A world that needs to know it is special, unique
and is uniquely loved by a Heavenly Father. Amen.
— written by John Birch,
Gift of Music I Have Called You by Your Name MV#161
It is time for us to leave this place of sanctuary and go out into the world. But as we leave, we are reminded that we are a part of the family of all those who seek to build God’s Kingdom here on earth. And so, as we go out, we go knowing that we are not alone. God is with us, Christ’s example leads us and the Spirt walks beside and within us, now and always. Let us go with God.
Choral Blessing #298
When you walk from here, when you walk from here,
Walk with justice, walk with mercy, and with God’s humble care.
© 1993 Hope Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Used by permission. LicenSingOnline#605486