In today’s gospel, the king throws a wedding banquet. One of the guests is found to be improperly attired: he is not wearing a garment. The king kicks him out. What are we to make of this?
If you’re like me, when you first read this parable, you feel bad for this fellow. He got the invitation last minute. He didn’t have time to order his wedding garment on Amazon Prime.
When I lived in Kenya, I encountered a group of Christians who took this parable literally. They believed that if you were a real Christian, you would wear white all the time – You would be dressed for a wedding all the time. But here’s the thing: Jesus doesn’t care what you are wearing. This story is not about dressing up. It’s about something else.
Have you ever been at a dinner party or banquet, sitting with someone who is ungrateful. “This chicken is so dry.” “Why am I seated with the boring people?” “Why wasn’t I on the original invite list?” “The host hasn’t come over to greet us.” “I’ve been at much better banquets than this one.” “I could throw a better banquet.” “I don’t like the font they used on this menu.” Sometimes I’ve been seated next to someone like this. And honestly, sometimes I’ve been someone like this.
The Lord is our shepherd. He has set a table before us. He has anointed our heads with oil. We will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. It’s a promise, made to us at our baptisms. Nothing will separate us from the love of God, and God will put into our path people and gifts to bless us. We are at the banquet now. Where is our attention? What is our attitude? Have we said thank you today? The apostle Paul exhorts us to do so:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
This is how we are called to behave at the banquet.
Now you may have already come up with a long list of reasons why you can’t do any of these things today. You may have your spiritual hall pass in your hand, ready to ask me to sign it. After all, this has been a pretty awful season in the life of the world, and I know that most of you are carrying personal burdens on top of that, and it’s hot today, and you’re busy, and the Red Sox are out.
But before we excuse ourselves from the spiritual practices of gratitude, joy, and thanksgiving, let’s take a look behind the scenes at the passage from the letter to the Philippians. Let’s talk about the person sending the letter, Paul, and also about the people he’s sending it to, the saints in Philippi.
Paul is writing this letter from prison. Scholars aren’t sure whether he was in Rome or in Ephesus, but it’s clear from the letter than he is in prison and awaiting trial. His fate is unknown and in the hands of a capricious court in an oppressive empire. Given his situation, he would have good reason to be anxious or angry, but instead he counsels gentleness, joy, and thanksgiving. Scholars point out that his promise that the peace of God “will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” is a play on his situation. He is a guarded prisoner. Yes, he has physical, human guards, but he knows that it is truly and more importantly God’s peace that guards him.
So that’s Paul, the writer of these words. Let’s see who he is writing them to.
Philippi was one of the first communities where Paul worked, and it’s the first Christian community in Europe. Paul knew it well. From the very beginning, there had been opposition to the church in Philippi, and the whole of this letter makes it clear that they are under threat now. Paul mentions particular people, leaders of the church in Philippi, including Euodia and Syntyche, who are women. These women have stepped way outside of the norms of their society by following Jesus, by taking on leadership, giving their financial support to this community, probably meeting in secret.
Paul is under threat and he is writing to people under threat. These are people committed to the way of love, the way of justice for all, the way of overturning empire and welcoming all, even women, into leadership. They have a lot on their minds and hearts.
Rejoice! Says Paul. Do everything with thanksgiving. I needs to hear this now. I need to be reminded that in the hardest of times, thankfulness and rejoicing are most important.
Gratitude is a practice.. It takes time and, sometimes, courage. It requires us to set about looking for and lifting up what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise.
To make a start of it: I’ve given everyone here a card, and on each card is one of the things Paul tells the Philippians to think about. Take a moment to “think on this thing” and write down something you are thankful for. (Gives everyone a minute). In a few minutes, Carol will lead us in our intercessions. In the space when you are invited to offer you “prayers and thanksgivings, silently or aloud,” do so! Give thanks. And then take this card home and add something to it every day. Get into the habit of intentionally being thankful.
God has set a table for us, in the face of those who trouble us – they are still there! God’s rod and staff guide us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death – it is still there. But we have been called to the banquet, where the peace of Christ guards our hearts and minds.
Let us clothe ourselves with thanksgiving and rejoice in the feast.