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Have a Carrot.

This week, in the morning, I was back in Holbrook.  They fed me chocolate cake and coffee, and told me stories about when their kids were younger, and lived in town, and went to church.  Now, they’ve all moved to Phoenix.  One is apparently dating a Cardinal!

In the afternoon, I did an “emergency animal blessing,” which is to say that I filled in at my friend’s church, since she had to fly back to the East Coast suddenly.  I was glad to do it–Animal blessings are common around St. Francis Day, in liturgically-minded churches,  and they are one of the perks of the priest-job.  Stand around outside on a pretty autumn day and pet dogs, cats, etc in the name of their Creator?  Yes, please.  And as this particular church has a healthy sense of fun about it, they had also provided ‘doggie snacks’ and animal games, complete with ‘doggie musical chairs.’  (God likes and endorses party games, including bowling, clearly.) Fun was had by everyone.

Clearly, I have an awesome job.

As a side note:  this parable from Matthew about drove me spare.  I appreciate this run of RESPECT MY AUTHORITY!!! parables we’ve been having between Jesus and the authorities in the Temple in their broader context, but come on, now.  Matthew’s supercessionist tendencies get old really quick, and short of taking a homiletic time out to disavow this, it’s difficult to deal with, week after week.

And here’s what I did end up saying.

October 9, 2011

Proper 23

Matthew 22:1-14

In the days since the death of Steve Jobs, there’s been a revival of

heaven jokes, heaven cartoons. And among them my favorite: A man dies,

and he goes to heaven. St. Peter says to him, “Hooray! We’re thrilled

you’re here, welcome to heaven, your eternal abode, let me show you

around so you can choose where you’d like to live.”

They first come to an elaborate banquet hall, filled with delicious

smells, and fine china, as cheerful people chatted happily and ate their fill.

“What’s this?” asked the man. “oh these are the Episcopalians,” said St.

Peter, “mind your manners, but they throw a good dinner party.”

Next they came to a raucous dance party. Even from a distance, they

could hear the music and the sound of people dancing and clapping.

“What on earth?!” asked the man. “Oh, these are the Baptists. They’re

happy they get to dance now. Takes a while for the thrill to wear off.”

Finally, the man had seen everyone there was to see, all the

inhabitants of heaven, everyone you could think of– all joyful and

celebrating.

Then, off to one side, the man was surprised to notice a stone

house, all boarded up, with a wall around it, and a large sign that said

“Quiet! Keep Out! “. He wandered up to it. “Who lives here?” he asked.

“Shhhh!” said St. Peter. “that’s Jerry Falwell’s house. It’s been in there for

years. He thinks he’s the only one up here.”

It’s a funny story. Funnier, certainly, than the parable for today. This is the

third parable about the kingdom of heaven from Matthew that we’ve gotten

in as many weeks, each with some sort of twist, each preached by Jesus

as he’s in the Temple during the last eel of his life. Now, granted, parables

are supposed to be surprising. As one New Testament scholar put it, a

parable is a story that is drawn from normal, everyday events that shocks

you just enough to make you think.

Which is fine, but this one shocks you all over the place. First there’s

this king who wants to give a wedding banquet. But no one will come;

everyone blows him off for various reasons, so he gets so angry that he

invades the local town, kills the population and burns it to the ground.

A slight overreaction, perhaps.

Still desperate for this party, he then decides to do a sort of all out dragnet

operation, and sends his army to the streets of the capital and collects

everyone they can find– young, old, rich, poor, whoever, and force them to

come. Because come hell or high water, this king is having a party, gosh

darn it.

This being accomplished, the poor king is then most distressed to

discover that one of his forced guests has shown up without a proper outfit

on. It’s like the guy doesn’t even realize he’s at a party. So frustrated by

this is the king that he throws him out.

Who, after all, shows up to a party and doesn’t realize they are at

one?

And what sort of king is that desperate to throw a party?

Parables, like I said, are meant to shock. That’s how they work.

Frustratingly, they aren’t meant to answer questions– they are meant to

provoke them, which is probably why Jesus was so very fond of them.

And they aren’t literal. Which is to say that Jesus wasn’t recounting the tale

of an actual king with anger management and party-planning issues, or

giving advice on how to plan events, or rule an actual city-state.

He was trying to communicate something true about the nature of God, and

the nature of humans, and the nature of our relationship to God.

So, then, in this parable, what is striking is a king who really, really wants to

celebrate. To give good things to whoever he can, wherever he can find

them. He’ll drag them in off the street if necessary.

And a people who can’t seem to receive them.

Shhh. He thinks he’s the only one here.

What keeps us from receiving the grace of God? What keeps us from

showing up, ready for the party? What keeps us from realizing we’re at

God’s party?

Frequently, we blame it on stubbornness, pride, or arrogance. This mainly

happens when we are looking at other people, though. Other people are

the ones who should just get over themselves!

I have a hunch, though, that more often, what holds us back is not pride–

it’s guilt and confusion. It’s our conviction that we aren’t possibly good

enough to receive anything this gracious from God. Why should God be

kind to us? We are hopeless cases! We mess up, even when we know

right from wrong! This is so far from what we deserve– surely there’s a

catch. Surely there’s another shoe that will fall right on top of our heads.

Because that’s the way the world works.

So we end up like the man at the feast, confused and speechless before a

God who just wants to love us.

The good news for us is that God doesn’t give up. God chases after us,

time and time again, despite everything we do, and despite our persistent

denial of our own worth. Over and over again, God assures us that we are

loved beyond imagining, and there is not a thing we can do about it.

Whether we feel we are up to it or not, we are stuck in the unending love of

God.

Its like that old children’s book called the Runaway Bunny. In it, a baby

rabbit tells his mother that he is tired of being a rabbit, so he’s going to run

away. He tells her he will become a fish in the stream, so she replies that

she will become a fisherman to catch him. Annoyed, he says he will

become a trapeze artist in the circus, and she returns that she will be a

tightrope walker, and catch him. On and on it goes– he’ll be a sailboat, and

she’ll be the wind to blow him home, etc. Finally he gives up. Well, I guess

I’ll just be your little bunny, then, he says. Ok, she says. Have a carrot.

God’s love and grace aren’t going anywhere, and eventually, they will win

even over our stubborn guilt and unworthiness. So let’s open our eyes,

open our doors, and enjoy the banquet prepared for us.

Amen.

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About megancastellan

Episcopal priest, writer, wearer of fancy shoes.

One response »

  1. Hey. Thanks for this. I like your take on this parable and would like to have heard it in person. Hope all is well with you, Megan.

    Reply

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