Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 15 October 2023.
• First Reading: Exodus 32: 1-14 (The golden calf. Moses’ intercession in the face of God’s indignation)
• Epistle: Philippians 4: 1-9 (Stand firm in the Lord – be reconciled with one another – Rejoice in the Lord always)
• Gospel: Matthew 22: 1-14 (The king’s banquet. Many are called but few are chosen)
He had been gone a long time and mountains were dangerous and mysterious places at the best of times. This one was shrouded in mist and cloud, and there were thunders and lightnings in it as well.
It all played on their nerves. It was one thing to be led out of Egypt by a prophet who had displayed signs and portents, and who was with them.
Now he had gone – who knew where and to what ends – and he had left them to themselves. Aaron was the next best source of advice and instruction so they turned to him.
It was not really clear just what they wanted: an end to the tension and uncertainty. A clear line to follow, a leader who would continue to lead. Not this sense of the unknown. Making their faith work was becoming more and more demanding.
They had seen the plagues of Egypt, the deliverance of the Passover and the passage of the Red Sea. They had the sweet waters of Elim, and manna and quails in the desert.
But even so the tension was getting to them. So: ‘Make us gods.’
Not quite, but conjure something up for us. But give us proof, the kind that we can see. Whatever they had seen and heard, was still not enough.
But they were not unique. The same questions come to us today. Provide proof of God. Can He be verified? And if so, how and by whom? And would we believe it anyway?
Even looking at the institution of the church can be a stretch, when it allows itself to be distracted by modern forms of communication and entertainment.
And then there are the baubles of office. The high ceremonies and the special garments. The processions and the sense of theatre.
And that is before we get into the functioning of the institution – the committees, the procedures and the assemblies. The political manoeuvres, the jostling for position and recognition.
Do we not also contrive gods of our own? The opinion polling, the public positioning, the latest political and fashion statements, are all there to be drawn into those more difficult areas of personal faith and prayer, of repentance and worship. Loving God above and before all others and all else.
To claim that we do not have our own contrived gods is just not so. They are just different to the One whom we worship in the life of faith in Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
But then look at Jesus’ parable of the king’s feast. The lavish and painstaking preparations, the attention to detail. The expectancy of a great event – all of it snubbed and rejected by those invited.
The guests may have wanted a good time all right – but one of their own devising. Perhaps they wanted control – or to add in elements that the king was just not going to accept or endorse.
Maybe something a little risqué, radical, daring, adventurous. Maybe he was just not up to their mark – or the corrections to national affairs that he had made were not to their liking.
Anyway, the rejection was final and the excuses made were pathetic. Insulting even, but there was no going back – not this time.
His response was to return the rejection. The feast would be held and others would be invited. Those that the original invitees would have despised and rejected, from whom they would have turned away in disgust and alarm.
These would be invited to the feast and its festivities. These who could never have earned or expected the invitation. These who would have to be shown how to dress and to behave. These who would accept the invitation with such groveling gratitude and embarrassment to the comfortably placed and powerful.
Writing to the church in Philippi, these Christians were indeed the rejects of polite Roman and Greek society.
These were Christians of simple and practical faith. They might have been looked down upon by the well-placed but in the sight of Paul they were God’s wonderful people. Just stay like that.
Stand firm in the Lord, on the ground that He has already won for them. Stand firm on the message of salvation by grace and through personal faith in Jesus Christ.
Let none rob them of their joy – let them continue before the Lord in their prayers for their needs and intercessions for the needs of others.
The Lord would be looking at their hearts, and the simple faith that they brought to their worship and fellowship.
The clever arguments and skillfully crafted turns of phrase could be left with those who were full of themselves and their own virtue.
The real point was that the salvation of the Lord was for all times and all who would receive it. It would be there in good times and well as times of trial and stress. It would be there for all regardless of education or cultural background.
But these Christians in Philippi had no need for artificial gods, made out gold or fine electronic circuitry. They did not need the latest fashion fabrics or the poses and postures of the glitterati. Jesus Christ, crucified, risen and glorified would be enough.