Action Counts!

Action Counts!

October 11, 2014
Stina Pope

So the thought of the day is this: action counts.

Starting with the gospel lesson, we have a situation that would have been unthinkable – but that is precisely the kind of situation that Jesus loves to set up. There is a wedding, the son of a king. This was a big deal, and being a king, he would have invited dignitaries from other places that he wanted to impress. Now the invitations would have been given a long time in advance, but what happened, because we’re dealing with cooking animals over an open fire and that kind of thing, the time that guests were expected was not given, just the date. Then when it became clear of when the guests should show up, the servants were sent out, giving the “come now” message. To simply refuse to come in response to the message was an act of open hostility. But it gets worse, just in case we didn’t catch the hostility. The offended host reacts as they would expect, he sends out his troops and destroys them. In the meantime, there was the matter of filling up the hall. The servants are sent out again. Here is the interesting thing, the servants gather in everyone, both good and bad. wedding garmentPiece of cultural context here, when you came in to the king’s hall, you were given a caftan, so that you would be dressed appropriately for greeting the king. So this business about the man not wearing the right garment was not about him not having enough money to buy one. If he had come in the front door like the rest of the visitors, he would have received one. When the king notices, and asks him why he does not have the correct garment, he does not have an answer. The king says, throw him out! The interesting thing in this parable is that it is not about him being good or bad. It is clear that there are many other “bad” people in the hall, but they decided to come in and act correctly, in this case, by putting on the garment that was given to them.

Now let’s go to the Hebrew Scriptures, and the story of the golden calf. This is such a great story. God and the people have just made this wonderful covenant with each other, God has formally adopted them as “God’s people” saying, you will be my people, and I will be your God, using the language that they all knew, “you will be my son, and I will be your father” from the adoption ceremony. Once those words were said, the “son” in question had left behind his former status, and had gained the status of “son.” which meant that he could speak on behalf of his father. It was no small thing!

Then Moses goes up the mountain to talk to God in private. One of the commentaries remarks that this business of wandering in the wilderness for 40 years? Not so much! It was really, go to Mount Horeb, which was the place where Moses encountered God with the burning bush, and when Moses says how do I know you are the real God? The response is, you will come back and worship me at this mountain! So they essentially left Egypt, came to the mountain, had a couple of miracles – the giving of meat and bread, and then the giving of water, in other words, the giving of life, and now Moses goes up the mountain.

The people don’t last very long. “Who is this Moses?” They go to Aaron, who is, after all, the brother of Moses, but that doesn’t stop Aaron, and they demand that Aaron make them a god, something that they can see, since they cannot see Moses any more. Something has been going right for this people, because they have gold to make into a god, and Aaron makes them a golden calf. It is no accident that the bull is also the sign of the Caananite god for fertility and strength. So there is the calf, and the people throw a party to honor the new god. However, God looks down and is not happy. In fact, God is ready to totally zap the people into non-existence. Moses argues with God, and look what he uses for his argument. First he reminds God that it is God that brought the people up out of Egypt, and that if God zaps the people, the Egyptians will laugh, so this is an issue of honor that he uses to appeal to God. Secondly, Moses reminds God that God has made a promise, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to their descendants, again, an issue of honor. Moses makes no claim that the people are good people, it is patently clear that they are acting badly. Even so, he calls on God to keep God’s honor, and God changes God’s mind about bringing disaster on the people. As it says in one version, God repents of the evil God had intended for the people.

So what do we end up with at the end of this story? Perhaps it is as simple as affirming that our God is a God that will keep God’s word, even when there are many provocations that would make it totally logical and acceptable not to. In fact, even when the people have turned their back on God and said, you are not our God any longer, which presumeably would have broken the covenant, God says no, I have adopted you, no matter how awful you act, you are still my children. We see Jesus using this theme again in the story of the prodigal son and the loving father.

And so then we come to the question of our response. How is it that we are supposed to respond to this God who loves us that much, who refuses to react to our incredible rejection, but rather responds, again, in love. Paul gives the answer, rejoice, rejoice always.

Here is the whole verse: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This is the guidance given to the converts who turned the known world upside down with their teaching of love in a brutal world. Rejoice, be gentle. Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplications with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Then you will know the peace of God.

Let’s pull this apart, because it is absolutely critical.

We start with rejoicing, giving thanks at all times. I went to see a woman in the hospital who had two broken legs, she had been in a bad car accident. After laying hands on her and praying for her, she asked what else she should do. I told her about the idea of rejoicing always, giving thanks in all things. The preposition is important. We are not called to give thanks for all things, just in all things. She said that made sense, she would try it. She went home to her abusive husband, who told her to get up and make dinner. Of course, with casts on both legs, she had no balance, and she fell, and broke one of the casts. As she lay there waiting for the ambulance, she practiced giving thanks. When they did the x-ray, which they had to do before putting a new cast on, they found that the leg was not broken any more. She kept at it, giving thanks for this and that, and her life changed, slowly but surely. What would it look like if we lived in a state of rejoicing? What would be different for you?

Then it says: Do not worry about anything, ask God for what you need while giving thanks. The next time you need something, instead of worrying about how it will work out, what would happen if you let go and let God, giving thanks all the while? A friend of mine said, but what would I do if I didn’t worry? We laugh, but when we worry, we are not trusting God. We are not giving thanks to God. And we do not have peace in our hearts.

It is a choice, to worry. We say we want peace, but then we worry. We don’t get both, there is not space in our small hearts for both worry and peace, we have to choose, and most of the time, we choose worry! It’s pretty stupid, because worry does not do anything for us, except to hurt us physically and emotionally. There’s a lovely saying that worry is like rocking in a rocking chair and wondering why we don’t get anywhere for all our effort!

If we will surrender our need to be in control, which is really our insane attempt to control things over which we have no control, we will be much happier, much calmer, and we will have more peace in our lives. We are called to rejoice, always, to ask for what we need in thanksgiving, and to be at peace. In this day and age, it is hard to release our addiction to stress, but we can put on the king’s garment and come to the wedding that we have been invited to, we can start acting in the way we want to feel. The neuroscientists can tell us that it is true, when we go through the motions, even when we don’t feel like it at first, acting starts changing things in the brain, for good or bad, so if we want to be at peace, we need to practice the way of peace, rejoicing, over and over, and over again.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.