Exodus 32:1-14, Matt. 22: 1-14
Dr. Bill Michaelis, a retired professor of leisure studies at San Francisco State University, and consultant in the area of play and its applications to creativity, learning, development, and leadership; used to give his students the following assignment: go somewhere; take off your watch, turn off the TV, your i-phone, put away your i-pad or laptop – and do nothing.
Students were asked to sit for one hour and do nothing without distractions. No texting, no instagramming, no snapchatting, no selfies, no web-surfing. Nothing. You think they would welcome the respite. However, Michaelis estimates that about one-third of his students don’t last more than ten minutes before giving in. “People say, ‘when I started to sit still, all the checklists in my mind go off and I can’t stop.’” Michaelis surmises that “It’s a problem because we’re valued by being efficient and we’re valued by crossing things off the list” – we’re not valued for cultivating solitude. We’re not encouraged to spend time alone—to cultivate sacred time—to connect with our inner being and to connect with God.
The people of Israel would have failed Professor Michaelis’ experiment in the worse way. Left to themselves while Moses was delayed on the mountain, they turn to Aaron and command him to make a god for them to worship. All of them; men, women and children take the gold rings from their ears they got from Egypt. They melt all that gold down. Aaron fashions a golden calf idol. “These are your gods, O Israel—that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” Aaron proclaims.
How could an idol, forged by the gold jewelry that was a remnant of their centuries of slavery in Egypt, possibly represent liberation? Yet they made sacrifices and worshiped the golden calf. They began to eat, drink and have a party. They relapse back to their not so distant past. They couldn’t just be with each other, or be in the solitude of the wilderness. It was too hard. They were physically free, but in their minds and hearts they responded like slaves.
Jesus comes at the problem of priorities of time and relationship from a slightly different angle. What is the kingdom of God like, he asks. The kingdom of God is like a marriage feast a King throws for his son. In Jesus’ time, a wedding banquet was the highlight event for the village. It often lasted for days. It was special time. It was not only a time of celebration for the couple and their families, but it often provided the only break in a grueling, monotonous life of the entire village. The King sends out several invitations —staggered over time – so people could plan their schedules around the event.
So, what happens with the amazing sumptuous wedding feast the King throws for his son? The guests refuse to come! They have been invited and reminded not once but three times. The invitees act disdainfully. They give excuses; “I have to attend my farm” or “I have to attend my business.” They couldn’t make any time for the royal celebration. They were enslaved to old, monotonous routines of life. Work became an idol for them. It was a way to avoid a community celebration.
These people were so enslaved to the mundane that they lost the ability to comprehend what they were rejecting – a royal wedding feast! It was shocking -- aside from the perks of attending a royal feast – great free food and entertainment – people simply would not dare disobey and disrespect their sovereign in such a manner. Such disobedience would be tantamount to treason.
Despite being rebuffed in such an outrageous manner; the King is determined to hold the wedding banquet. Everyone is invited, the good and the bad. The hall must be full. The King even provides special wedding robes on the day of the feast. There is no excuse for not being fully present and dressing appropriately. The unbelievable happens again. There is a man who didn’t care enough to wear the right robes. Again, scandalous!
New clothing is a common New Testament metaphor for spiritual change, transformation, holiness and righteousness. Paul reminds us in Romans to “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ….” (Rom.13:14). To the Colossians Paul advised: “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Col. 3:12).” Changing clothes is an act of discipleship – the old habits and attitudes come off—new habits and attitudes put on. So, the man in the parable who didn’t wear a wedding robe-who showed up in ordinary street wear really didn’t care. Like the Israelites he wore old clothes unbefitting to the new circumstances. His actions insulted the wedding and mocked the king.
Following the prophets Isaiah and Hosea, Jesus chose the symbol of the marriage feast to represent God’s pledge to remain in relationship with us – despite our numerous infidelities. For better or for worse. For richer or poorer. No matter what. This relationship takes dedication. We need to make it a priority to take the time away from distractions of daily living to listen and experience God’s presence in us and around us.
That’s why Jesus calls us the wedding banquet – to enjoy our presence, to enjoy each other’s company free from daily cares. Wedding banquet living shows us how to find Christ in each other, to escape the mundane and find the good.
We have the choice between the party of the golden calf and the prophetic wedding banquet life. Jesus reminds us that we are all treasured guests of the Almighty Sovereign. The King doesn’t discriminate. “Invite everyone you find,” he says. Just put on the wedding robe of Christ and let the feasting begin.
For many people in the LGBTQ community, they were called to banquet living last Wednesday On National Coming Out Day, day to celebrate identity and dignity. One person who tasted the banquet, Ashlyn Smith of Utah, had unintentionally outed her bisexual orientation to her religious parents last Monday.
After a tense phone call, Ashlyn’s Mormon father gave her support. He said he loved her no matter what. Her roommates then decorated the living room with colorful streamers and balloons, "I hope you know how loved you are," said one of her friends. Ashlyn share: it felt like I am living my truth and letting the people who I care about most know who I am." That is a banquet living moment.
Unfortunately, National Community Out Day fell in the dark shadow of the anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepherd, the young gay man who was a student at the University of Wyoming and was beaten, tortured, and left to die in 1998. He would have been 40 this year. It also fell in the dark shadow of the recent government declarations with the potential to erode the civil rights of transgender-identifying persons. The party of the golden calf is very alive and well.
In the face of the golden calf, what if we accepted the invitation to banquet living? What if we discovered our true work on this good earth was to make sure everyone knew they were loved, cared for, that everyone knew they could come to the wedding banquet regardless if they were gay or straight, rich or poor, young or old, abled or differently abled – even as Jesus says, good or bad? What if everyone had the opportunity to laugh, dance, eat and drink, and have new clothes?
In the shadow of the golden calf, it’s banquet time. God has a personal invitation just for us. We are invited to the table. We have been clothed with Christ. So, come, put aside all distractions. Banish all idols and golden calves. Join the faithful of all the ages, singing that ancient wedding song echoed down through the centuries: “Christ our Passover, is sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the Feast!” Amen