Sunday, October 12, 2008

"What Kind of Celebration?" - A Sermon

I heard a strange report on the radio Friday.  It was the financial show, and each day, depending on how the stock market goes, they either play “We’re in the Money” or “Stormy Weather,” during the opening.  On Friday, however, they came on and said, “We were tempted to play the happy music because the Dow only lost 125 points today.”

Strange celebration, isn’t it?  That’s called a celebration of RELIEF.  

There are all sorts of celebrations in our lives.  If you remember that old movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” there’s a scene where there was a run on the bank, and Jimmy Stewart and his new wife are able to save their Savings and Loan but doling out their Honeymoon money to panicked customers.  At the end of the day they have $2 left -- and they do a little dance to celebrate having survived the day.  Better yet, they put those two dollars in a safe and say, “Let’s see if we’ve got any more in the morning.”  Their modest little celebration is on HOPE.  There will be a new day, and it will be better.

There are darker celebrations, too.  When I was an exchange student in Berlin back in the 70s, one of my teachers told me about a huge rally they’d had during World War II at the Olympic Stadium.  It was a giant party, she said.  That was the rally where Josef Goebels asked them if they wanted total war to the end, and the crowd, whipped up into a frenzy, all shouted “Yes!” and “Death to the Allies!” and “No surrender!” and so on.  In was a celebration -- but of defiance and desperation mingled with hatred and fear.

Which, when you think about it, isn’t all that different from the Old Testament reading.  There’s a celebration going on there, too.  There’s a people who are fed up and frightened.  They have been following this Moses guy for who knows how long, and what have they got for it?  They’re lost.  Alive, but lost.  And now he’s up on the mountain with earthquakes and storms going on.  They want someone they can see.

So the pressure Aaron into making a golden calf so they can worship it right there.  The party they have is pure debauchery.  They had their golden calf -- something they could finally control -- and that was all that mattered.  They had given up and sunken into a mentality of “NOTHING MATTERS.”  Their celebration was one of DEFIANCE and at the same time HOPELESSNESS.

Contrast that with the wedding feast.  Weddings are celebrations of life -- and of hope that life goes on.  The strange parable we have about the wedding needs a little explanation, but in the end, it’s about chosing to be part of life.

You know that weddings -- especially royal weddings -- were huge affairs.  This story has the king inviting all the important people -- the chosen people if you will.  They refuse to come, to celebrate with the king.  Some even kill the messengers.  Think about it:  they brushed him off like he didn’t matter, and some even showed outward contempt.  This king face a crisis in his kingdom -- and his response, as Jesus tells it -- was typical.  If you kill the king’s messengers, you face death as a result.  As a side note, he’s reminding the disciples -- his messengers -- that they also will face the same treatment when they bring the gospel.

Then the king does a strange thing.  He goes out and invites pretty much everyone else -- the poor, the unworthy, the unwelcome.  He says, “this is a celebration of life, so let’s see who’ll celebrate.”  And they come.  He’s happy.  The wedding couple is presumably happy.  

Now for the twist.  There’s one guy at the wedding who is not dressed right.  Don’t think that means he’s poor and just can’t afford a good robe.  No, this is different.  Even the other poor came appropriately dressed because there was no need for finery -- only respect of the occasion.  Most of the new attendees were poor but were given time and opportunity to clean up.  Several experts suggest that the host even provided robes for those who did not have them.  By the way, wearing a wedding robe in some middle easter societies is important because they as supposed to protect the new couple from bad luck.  

The host asked him in a kindly manner why he had not robe -- addressed him as “friend,” -- but the man would not speak.  What we have in this case, then, is someone who shows up but has just as much contempt for the celebration as did those who refused to attend.  He tried to turn a celebration of life and joy into one of contempt -- maybe even protest.

But Jesus says that God’s kingdom -- which is what this wedding symbolizes after all -- is a place of joy.  Those who don’t want to come don’t have to.  Those who come but have no interest in participating in that joy -- will not be there for long.  In the celebration that is God’s kingdom, there is not room for defiance, for anger or hatred, for fear mongering. 

Celebrations are funny things, but they can be put into two large categories.

They can be celebrations of despair or frustration -- like the people of Israel or those Germans in World War II.  Or they can be celebrations of hope and life like the wedding feast -- or like Jimmy Stewart.  

Which leaves us with one question.  What kind of celebration does your life trend toward?  Of course, we always have a bit of both in our lives, but we’re talking trends.  Which way do you lean?  I’ll give you a hint about where this church’s direction.  In a few minutes, we’re going to CELEBRATE the Eucharist.  In case anyone needs a reminder, it’s called “The Great Thanksgiving.”  Amen.