Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 28] rcl yr a
Sunday, October 15th, 2023
EXODUS 21:1-14; PSALM 106:1-6, 19-23; PHILIPPIANS 4:1-9; MATTHEW 22:1-14

Go into the main streets,
and invite everyone you find to the wedding.

On this last Sunday of our four-Sunday focus on building, celebrating, and strengthening the Community of St. John the Evangelist, Kitchener, our readings reveal aspects of community life that are quite instructive. They show us that, even though building, celebrating, and strengthening community is desirable and seemingly proceeds from the will of God, not everything we do and not everything that happens in community builds, celebrates, and strengthens the community of the faithful. In other words, we have to pay attention.

In today’s parable from Matthew, Jesus asks his listeners to consider the community he refers to as the kingdom of heaven. It is also called the kingdom of God in other places, and it refers to a dimension of being that relates to the here-and-now as well as the then-and-there. Jesus is clear in his teaching of the kingdom that we are persons in formation, if you will; that through Jesus, through the power of this parable even, God is reaching deeply into our lives in order to establish the community Jesus names as the kingdom of heaven.

Somewhat unexpectedly, this parable is all about inviting the wrong people into the kingdom.

In my years as a music teacher, in an attempt to have my students play or sing a phrase or a scale or a tone musically, I would have them do it as unmusically or unevenly or as harshly or as weakly as they could, so that they could hear when they got it right. I believe Jesus is using the same approach in today’s parable in showing how God’s community is gathered.

The references in the parable itself certainly address those who opposed Jesus’ ministry. They are the ones who received the king’s invitation to the wedding banquet for his son and refused it. This was the wrong way. They are also the ones who maltreated and killed the king’s slaves. This is also the wrong way. The violence against the early church is represented in this imagery: for the king’s slaves, we can substitute Jesus’ disciples and the apostles who were tortured, imprisoned, and martyred.

But then the correct version of God’s community is presented. The king orders his slaves, “Go into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Then we read, “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.” And Jesus’ vision for the kingdom of God comes clear: all are invited, all are welcome, there are no wrong people or right people – although by their decision not to accept the king’s invitation the right people became the wrong people in the parable and missed out. We have to pay attention.

This parish has been formed by parables such as this one and by the teachings of Jesus elsewhere that reveal welcome, hospitality, and compassion as values that bring near the kingdom of God.

The opportunity this morning to remember together the life of Muoi Lu recalls the first time our parish welcomed and supported refugees from Southeast Asia. I wasn’t here in the 1970s when Muoi Lu arrived and became part of this community, but I was at the Lutheran church up the street who also welcomed people in search of safety and security who had risked their lives crossing the Pacific Ocean in boats. The gospel lived in and through these and other church communities as we practised welcome, hospitality, and compassion for the individuals and families that arrived on our doorstep in great need. And Muoi Lu, after she found home here, responded in like fashion to others. The gospel lived in her. Her gratitude was translated into service for others, presence and involvement in this parish, and preparing a meal or some special food for anyone who met with her or visited her.

Welcome, hospitality, and compassion were present in this community before Muoi Lu arrived and are still present in every expression of our parish life. Thanks be to God for the life of this good woman and for all that she meant and continues to mean to the people of St. John’s, Kitchener.

Probably even before I retired in 2015, the Rev. Paul Kett (may he rest in peace) urged me to make St. John’s, Kitchener the new church home for Paula and me. It took us a few years, but he never stopped nudging, especially me. He said to me, “When we first came to town, Kathleen and I found welcome and hospitality at St. John’s. On our first visit, one of the parishioners welcomed us, spent time visiting with us after worship, and invited us to the coffee hour. And when we came back the next Sunday, she was there again making us feel at home. That’s all it took. We knew we had found our new church home.”

And, of course, to know Paul and Kathleen is to know welcome, hospitality, and compassion. Many here have been guests in their home, and about a year-and-a-half ago, they welcomed and entertained the St. John’s clergy to their home on Princess Street every month. They both baked, prepared coffee, tea, and a cold drink. At Christmas, they welcomed us with a sit-down lunch.

What is wonderful is that these values, these – here’s the correct word – these “graces” form us, simply by our being present at the wedding banquet, simply by our paying attention to how God is present among us and in whom God is present. There is this wonderful thing called reverse mission in which the one who is welcomed in turn becomes a welcomer to the welcomer, as well as a welcomer to others. The kingdom of heaven looks something like this.

This morning, our stewardship working group (of which I am a member) invites you to go deeper – deeper into our parish life here at St. John’s by learning about the many ways we seek to translate gospel love into gospel action. We have identified 22 ministries for you to consider through printed ministry descriptions you can pick up at the Coffee Hour and read over and even take home if you wish. If there’s a ministry that captures your interest and imagination, you can leave your contact information with either Marianne or Karen, and they’ll help put you in touch with whoever convenes that ministry. Or, if you prefer to spend some time determining if a ministry is a good fit for your energy and gifts, take home a copy of one or more of the ministry descriptions: they all have contact information to help you get in touch with our group and committee leaders. And my prayer is, especially after this sermon, that you will experience welcome and hospitality as you ask your questions and discuss your possible involvement.

Drilling down, burrowing in, getting your hands dirty (a metaphor that works particularly well for our property and grounds ministries), becoming more involved with the saving work of this parish, builds, celebrates, and strengthens this community of faith we love so much, and extends this blessing well beyond these four walls. And it’s fun. Working with others on a common purpose adds a new dimension to our life in community. At the end of choir practice a few weeks ago, I asked Bill Hutton, somewhat rhetorically, “Where would we be without choir practice on Thursday nights?” Without missing a beat (something all our choir members are good at not doing), he answered, “I’d be lost. I love it so much!”

There is joy in serving. There is grace in Christian community, as Muoi Lu discovered. When we pay attention, we ensure that there is welcome, hospitality, and compassion woven into the fabric of congregational life – as Paul and Kathleen discovered when they were searching for a new church home and one of our parishioners took them under her wing. The kingdom of heaven looks something like this.