We have been discussing the 7 deadly sin for Lent. It has been very powerful for me to reflect on each of the sins along with their virtues. Pride, Envy, Anger/Rage, Sloth, Greed/Avarice, Gluttony, Lust. Each sins draws us away from God and towards Darkness. I fear as I look around I see all these Sins. Most particularly I see Anger. I see the way we are blinded by rage caused from our Pride (thinking we know better than God) and our Envy (our constantly comparing ourselves to others in a harmful way). We are lacking the virtues God gives us to set ourselves toward the God who loved into existence. The virtues of Humility, of Admiration and of Forgiveness. I pray, we come to know that we cannot fix the world by our own power but trust and rely on the wisdom and strength that only comes from God. I pray, we stop tearing each other down and indeed build each other up. Look for the good in each and every person that God created. I pray, we realize that God created each of us for a specific purpose and that we are not consumed by trying to out do each other for our own selfish gain. We are in this together. I pray, we most of all to forgive. Not Forgive and Forget but, do the hard work of forgiveness in which we share ourselves and hold eachother accountable so we can move forward into new relationship and newness of life. The God who loved us into existence doesn’t need anything from us but just desires us to turn towards him(or her) to live the life that really is life.
I recently had to give a funeral sermon in my preaching class for a victim of Domestic Abuse. I chose to write a sermon for fictional person named Gloria. She was 22 years old. A childcare worker and part-time college student with a bright future. Unfortunately she was killed by her boyfriend. Although fictional you could insert anybody you know into this sermon because abuse happens everywhere. It is an all to common occurrence. I use Paul’s passage on Love from 1 Corinthians 13 because Paul is exhorting a people deeply divided. Abuse deeply divides and damages the world we live in. We are called to a love deep and sacrificial. Abuse is not Love.
1 Cor 13:1-8a, 12-13 (NRSV)
13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends…12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
The statistics say 1 in 4 women experience Domestic Violence. Well Gloria is not a statistic. Her life was taken from us and today we remember her as A Child of God, a loving daughter and a friend. We are angry, heartbroken and overwhelmed trying to make sense of her tragic death. Maybe we are feeling guilty, like we could have done something. We wait in expectation demanding justice for Gloria. Today, Death has left its sting on us. “She lies here today because of hate. She lives in our hearts because of love. Embrace love because only love can heal the hurt we feel today.”
And not any kind of love but the kind of love that is a deep, meaningful, abiding love. A gift from God, the kind of love the unites us and comforts us as we remember Gloria for the fun loving, life-filled, caring person she was. The kind of love in which Jesus holds Gloria now. A Love that is patient, kind, slow to anger, and abounding in grace.
Of course it doesn’t change the fact that we live in a broken world. That Gloria is no longer with us. We live in a world where Love is distorted and defined in shallow and insignificant ways. This passage on love reminds us what we know is true that everything we do is meaningless without love. Life is not life unless it has Love. Love brings joy, peace and meaning.
Let me be perfectly clear, Abuse of any kind is not love, it only brings destruction and hate. No excuse or circumstance excuses abusive behavior. It brings misery to everyone it touches, victim and abuser. It has no place in the kingdom of heaven. It makes me angry that Gloria is dead because somebody’s view of love is control, harassment and violence. It makes me angry that Gloria isn’t the only one to die from abuse. Yes, Gloria suffered but it wasn’t because God didn’t love her. God is grieving with us.
In the midst of this sinful world, God loves us so much that he sent us his only son, Jesus Christ. To this sinful world, Christ came for both victim and abuser, oppressed and oppressor. To bring life, To show us how to live in love. He endured the cross and died, he knows our pains, hurts, sorrows and sense of injustice. He loves us deeply and intimately. And because of Christ we Live. Because of Christ’s love we are not longer separated from God and Life. There is hope in the Resurrection. Because Christ conquered death we know that Death will not have the last say, that injustice we will not be the last word. That Gloria is loved deeply not just by us by our creator who holds each and everyone of us.
Her parents told me that Gloria always saw the best in people, that she smiled often and she loved her work. Gloria loved Children, She wanted to be a teacher. She worked at a day care part time while going to school and Her colleagues saw the gifts she had, that she was somehow able to love even the toughest Child. She demonstrated love to others in an extraordinary way. Maybe it was that sense of hopeful expectation that helped her endure the violence her boyfriend inflicted upon her.
We prayed often for her safety and I wish I could have done more for her. Her family did all they could to help Gloria in her volatile relationship. It pains us to see that evil has seemingly prevailed. The minutes, hours, days and years to come will be filled with loss, anger and fog. We are left with questions and pain. Maybe the biggest question we have is, what do we do now?
We can trust that Gloria is with God, that she is at peace. We can trust that God’s love is more powerful than one person’s violent act. We can trust that God’s love will prevail despite Gloria having to lose her life on this earth.
We can love. The Apostle Paul gives us this description of love not as a romantic gesture but he gives this description of love to a community divided. To a community much like us in need of guidance to understand and live out Love the way God intended. It is difficult to understand love completely in the midst of violence. A love that is patient, kind, and seeks out others. A love that deep and wide. A love that is given freely and never exhausted. This love is can be a mystery to us but we can only love because Christ first loved us. We can learn to love because through the Holy Spirit, Christ moves in and through our hearts, comforting, sustaining and transforming us at this very moment.
We can share Gloria’s story of pain and struggle so that others know they are not alone in the prison of domestic violence. Abuse is not something that happens to somebody else now, It has happened to us. It has affected each and everyone of us here. We can be advocates. We can support each other. We can seek help for ourselves and others. If you are being abused, don’t wait to seek help. God loves you and it is not your fault. If you an abuser, God’s love you and desires that you not hurt yourself or others, seek help and forgiveness. If you are family or friend do not remain silent, listen, show trust and be a place of safety and healing. Together through God’s grace we can be a sign life in the midst of this death.
We can honor her memory by trusting in God’s mercy and living the Love that God intends for each and every one of us and helping others to do the same.
Let us Pray,
Lord we thank God for Gloria’s life. We give you thanks for the many hearts she touched and the way she loved. We are angry and sadden by the events that led up to her death. God grant us Justice, Grant us forgiveness, Grant us peace. We pray for all those in abusive relationships victim and abuser give them courage to stop the cycle of violence. Give them hope for future. Give us strong voices to those that have none. We commend Gloria to you trusting in your infinite grace and mercy. Amen.
The Wedding Banquet Parable (Matthew 22:1-14)
22 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 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.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
The Wedding Banquet parable is one of the most difficult parables to interpret and fully understand. In the Christian faith, we wrestle with the cognitive dissonance of grace and judgment. On one hand, we have a King who offers lavish invitation to everyone especially to those we most likely would not expect and on the other hand, there is clear judgment to those who choose not to come and those who come unprepared.
In reading Thomas Long’s commentary of Matthew, he notes that this parable has two parts. The first part can be seen as an allegory for the history of God and Israel. Each character and event serves a purpose and meaning. In this Story the King is God, the banquet is the Kingdom of God, the servants are prophets, the guests who declined are Israel and the destruction of the city is the destruction of the temple in 70AD.
As we look at the second half of the parable we do notice the extravagant grace of the King to invite everyone. Throughout the parable, the servants were sent out several times. We know that some people will reject the invitation and even hurting or killing the servants. The guests who eventually arrive at the end of the parable are labeled as both bad and good. The servants were called to invite guests regardless of their status because the king asked for everyone. The task of invitation is the continual role of the servant in God’s Kingdom. As the church today, we are called to invite people to the banquet, as expressed later in Matthew in the great commission.
This invitational task is important, but significant questions arise when we look at the guest who was rejected. This last guest is thrown out for not have a wedding robe. Our immediate reaction is that the King is harsh because how can a poor person be expected to show up to a party with a wedding robe. The wedding robe must have more significance as everything else in the story is ripe with meaning. Thomas Long points out that the wedding robe could be the new clothes we receive in Christ Jesus through Baptism as noted in Galatians 3:27. Additionally, In the Africa Bible commentary, the author notes that cultural expectation for most weddings were already known and required of a person invited to a banquet or party. Dressing well and behaving appropriately were assumed. The guest obviously did not meet expectations. For this guest, maybe it wasn’t just the robe but how he was acting. Looking at these two things in regards to the guest who was rejected it raises questions about how the others in the story interacted with the thrown out guest. It raises questions for us about how we communicate the gospel invitation to the feast as servants and how we treat others as fellow guests at the feast.
A good task for exploring scripture and particularly parables is to look at each of the roles and imagine ourselves in those roles and then ask good questions.
Take a moment to read each question and ponder the answer. Take your time. If you want you can read the parable again. Since we all guests at God’s Banquet Feast let’s start there.
Who invited you to the feast? How were you greeted? Did you know what to wear? Or how to act? Who gave you or how did you get your clothing? Who told how to act? What did the other guests say to you?
You are now the servant.
How do you invite others to the wedding feast? What did the guests need to know? What did you assume people knew about the feast? Did you not invite people for whatever reason? How did you greet the guests as they entered the feasting hall?
And lastly as the rejected guest.
Who invited you to the feast? How were you greeted by the servants? By the others guests? Did you feel out of place? Why didn’t you have your robe? Who taught you how to behave at a wedding?
The scripture does not offer concrete answers for these questions but, often in asking questions it leads us to the answers we might be seeking. It is good to ask questions of ourselves. It is good to ask questions of those we hope hear the invitation to the feast that is the church. What burdens or expectations do we or should place on our guests. What does it mean to be a guest at God’s Feast?
Lord, King of the Banquet Feast,
You call us as guests to your feast even though we may not be worthy. You call us as servants to invite others to your marvelous feast. Help us to be mindful of other guests so that they too may be worthy and join in the festivities of your love. Forgive us if we neglect to tell, show or teach of your love to others. For you desire everyone to partake and desire not one to be rejected. Amen.
 Long, Thomas G. Matthew. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997. 246.
 Ibid., p. 247.
 Adeyemo, Tokunboh. “Matthew.” In Africa Bible Commentary, 1157. Nairobi, Kenya: WordAlive Publishers ;, 2006.
I took a trip to Seneca Rocks on my Sabbath Day and I reflect on what I’m learning so far during my internship.
Enjoy the Tour of the parsonage and Grace Lutheran Church in Petersburg, WV.