RIGID CONSERVATIVE AND WILD RADICALS
October 12, 2008
Scott Richardson +
Today’s gospel is both problematic and promising. It’s problematic because it can easily be read as a slam against the Jews. Truth be told, that’s how it has been read for twenty centuries and that’s probably the original intent. Many of my pulpit colleagues are, at this very moment, undoubtedly rendering the narrative in these terms: A king (God) throws a banquet on the occasion of his son’s wedding. The invited guests (the people of Israel) decline the invitation. They not only decline but mistreat the servants who extend the invite on the king’s behalf. The king is dishonored. The king’s servants are brutalized. The king handles the matter in the manner of ancient king’s – absolute ruin.
That story, told flatly, will lead eventually to anti-Jewish rhetoric and violence. The early church, the body that came into being as today’s gospel was written, was mystified and miffed by Jewish indifference to the messianic phenomenon. Centuries later, once the church had temporal power behind it, that confusion and resentment manifested in oppressive action, action contrary to the relational code revealed in the life of Jesus. Understanding this and every story in historical context matters greatly because actual human lives are on the line, even into our own day.
Here now is the promising part: the doors to the wedding feast are flung open by the host, God. All sorts and conditions of people are invited in – the whole human family. The hall is filled to bursting with guests; no ID’s required, no RSVP, no engraved invitation, no wrapped gift – everyone is welcome. People are swept up and swept in; those who thought they’d never attend a regal gala stand astonished at their good fortune. They’re eating at the royal table and drinking the monarch’s wine - who would have guessed that? The only person who doesn’t do well is the fellow unprepared for the event, the man without a wedding robe. He’s not ready to party and he’s shown the door.
And so it is in the realm of divine surprise, divine reversal. God invites all to the feast of love and acceptance. Welcome! Walk through the door, don the garment of salvation, and marvel at your good fortune. Celebrate God’s unlimited mercy and boundless affection. Eat it up like you’re starving, because you are. Me too. Drink it down. This is the good stuff, the pinot of ancient wisdom. This is the old promise made new. This is the heart of our sacred tradition - the Word that we pass from soul to soul and from generation to generation. This is the story that cannot be lost and that must be endlessly refreshed.
So hold that story and come with me to General Seminary, New York City; 1988: I’m a Middler, a second year student, and I’ve grown tired of the creeds – Apostles and Nicene. I’ve had it; worshipping several times a day will do that to you. I complain to my Systematic Theology professor: Why do we have to endlessly repeat faith statements from the third and fourth centuries that answer questions few have asked since then? Why don’t we write our own creed? Why don’t we struggle together to define the core content of faith today?
Dr. Carpenter, a liberal thinker, stands aghast. My plan, he advises, will throw the church back into a period of theological chaos, an era not unlike those decades just prior to the formulation of the creeds in question. People died as a result of those debates. (That wouldn’t happen today – we’re more tolerant, more humane, and, frankly, we don’t care as much – but it’s still dicey.) Instead, he continued, let’s receive our theological inheritance with gratitude and allow ourselves to be radical in our interpretation of it.
Receive our inheritance with gratitude and be radical in our interpretation of it. That suggestion sorted me out in regard to the creeds and I’ve since found it to be helpful in a variety of arenas. This weekend we’ve been applying it to the topic of gay marriage. We’ve been specifically focused on Proposition 8 – an attempt to deny gay and lesbian couples their constitutional right to marry. Many of us oppose that proposition and we do so in the spirit of Dr. Carpenter. We have no intention of altering the traditional understanding of marriage – two people, mutual love expressed in and through fidelity, life-long commitment lived out under the gracious purview of God and with the strong support of society – but we insist on extending that blessing to the whole human family.
We are rigid conservatives when defining the core content of holy marriage and wild radicals in our belief that God intends this beautiful covenant for all. And because both sides of that statement are equally true, we join with the Episcopal bishops of California, unanimously aligned, in vigorously defending the right of gay couples to wed, the right the high court of our state granted earlier this year. We also pledge to work to encourage the Episcopal Church, as a national body, to recognize the wisdom and compassion of that decision and follow suit.
And when that happens – not if, when – when all are in full accord, when our hearts are enlarged and our minds engaged, when the Spirit of God pierces and persuades each of us, when all partners can walk the aisle, repeat the vows, and claim the blessing, then the wedding party in Matthew and the gala the prophet Isaiah foresaw will kick up yet again in the lives of God’s people. And on this mountain, this mountain of wisdom and compassion, the Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast of rich food. He will destroy on this mountain of inclusive love and sweet justice, the shroud cast over all peoples. The Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces; the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. Amen.