Finding the Lessons

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Proper 23.A, Ordinary Time 28, 17th Sunday after Pentecost, October 9, 2011

"The parables of Christ, even the innocent, pastoral, tender, innocuous-seeming ones, conceal just below the surface a whiplash, a shock, a charge of dynamite. The stories set conventional expectations, whether concerning God, religion, politics, vocation, status and class, utterly off kilter."

"A Parable for Today, If Not Tomorrow - The Parable of the King's Banquet," Daniel Berrigan, National Catholic Reporter, 2001.

Prayer
Open our community to all who seek you, and adorn it with the rich diversity which is your Spirit's special gift. Let our assembly on each Lord's Day bear witness as a living sign to the banquet of eternal life where all will be welcome.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts: Matthew 22:1-14
So the reality is that this parable continues themes from the preceding lessons in the Matthean text.  One of those themes is greatly defined by Jesus' own mission in contrast to the authorities of his own day; and the contrast between the growing Matthean community and the religious authorities some sixty+ or so years after Jesus' resurrection.  We can do a great deal of harm if we are not again careful with how we set up this parable.  The danger for the preacher is that the divisions of the past can easily slip into hatred for others today. I would think that no good preacher wishes to (intentionally or unintentionally) create hatred for any ethnic or other religious group. Moreover, when we focus on this one aspect of the text we completely miss what the text is saying to us today.

The second them is the one that I think has the most traction from our pulpits today in our particular context.  We are a church that is in the midst of a great and diverse global society. We are a church that sits ethnically divided and does not typically represent the community around us.  It is easy to see this when we graph out the ethnic diversity of our church or the age diversity of the church.  For instance:

From the Episcopal Church FACT pdf you find this information from 2010:
Participants and Members

The median Episcopal congregation had 160 active members in 2009, down from 182 in 2003.The median Episcopal congregation had 160 active members in 2009, down from 182 in 2003.

The membership of the median Episcopal congregation was 60% female.The membership of the median Episcopal congregation was 60% female.
The majority of Episcopalians are white/European American (86.7%). The second largest racial/ethnic population is African American or Black (6.4%), followed by Latinos (3.5%).The majority of Episcopalians are white/European American (86.7%). The second largest racial/ethnic population is African American or
Black (6.4%), followed by Latinos (3.5%).

In 94% of Episcopal congregations one racial/ethnic group predominates. 86.2% of Episcopal congregations are mostly white, 5.6% are multi-racial, and 4.9% are predominantly Black.In 94% of Episcopal congregations one racial/ethnic group predominates. 86.2% of Episcopal congregations are mostly white, 5.6% are multi-racial, and 4.9% are predominantly Black.

Regarding age the FACT pdf has these statistics:

The large majority (69%) of Episcopal congregations report that more than half of their members are age 50+.

Age Structure of the USA and TEC: 2010

Episcopalians tend to be older than the general population. Overall, 30% of Episcopal members are age 65+, as compared to only 13% of the U.S. population.

The Episcopal Church has proportionately fewer children, youth and young adults.
Episcopalians tend to be older than the general population. Overall, 30% of Episcopal members are age 65+, as compared to only 13% of the U.S. population.

The Episcopal Church has proportionately fewer children, youth and young adults.

Episcopal parishes and missions with greater proportions of older members (age 65+) tend to be smaller in average attendance and are more often found in rural and small town settings.Episcopal parishes and missions with greater proportions of older members (age 65+) tend to be smaller in average attendance and are more often found in rural and small town settings.
You can download this information (pdf file) and other interesting facts about our church at this website
I bring this all up because the second theme of the text is that the kingdom of God is passing from one generation to another. The kingdom of God was once something that meant belonging to a particular group but now through the ministry and mission of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, God's fuller plan of inviting the whole world into fellowship and kinship is underway.
The parable tells us first and foremost that the kingdom of God is the (will be in the end) a fulfillment of a universal mission.
The cautions of the text are well put by the scholars Allison and Davies who write in there third volume on Matthew:
The evangelist was all too aware that criticism of others as ell as the doctrine of election are both fraught with moral peril; for the former tends to nourish complacency -- censure of our enemies always makes us feel better about ourselves -- while the latter can beget feelings of superiority...the two things can foster illusions...Thus it is that Christian readers of 22:1-14, who necessarily identify with those at the king's banquet, cannot read the text and feel self-satisfaction over the wrath that overtakes others. They must, as the homilies on this text throughout the centuries prove, instead ask whether they are like the man improperly clothed, whether they are among 'the many' despite profession to be among 'the few.'  God's judgement comes upon all, including those within the ecclesia.  The author of 1 Peter well understood this when he wrote that judgement begins with the household of God. (p 208)
In this light and in light of the particular reflection of the kingdom of God we offer as a church we might readdress the parable and ask ourselves the following questions.  Are we going out on behalf of our householder? Are we going out and inviting all to come to the banquet feast?  Are we accepting the invitation to sit at the table and to invite others? Are we willing to invite and/or to sit at the table with both the good, the bad, and the ugly?  Are we really interested in sitting in a filled banquet hall?  Are we prepared for the feast?  The question is not so much are you wearing the right clothes but are you  ready to invite, connect, and welcome the people God intends to gather around for the wedding feast?

This Sunday many a sermon will focus on the violence of this parable. Some will focus on the "us and them" reading. Some will speak out only to make the insider feel better.  The truth teller will challenge their community gathered to go out into the streets and gather in God's people, the sacred people of God, created by God, a diversity of ethnicities and beliefs. Yes the preacher this week who speaks the truth will be the preacher who challenges our church to a missionary imperative of sharing the Gospel.

No, we do not intend to preach a Gospel that does violence to others but a Gospel of love which binds us together in the harmony of God's community. We shall invite with our actions of care and hospitality. We shall gather God's people in through actions which incarnate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I do believe in judgement; it happens every day. But I will tell you that I wish to be judged on the love and the kindness I show to my fellow man. I wish to be judged on the Gospel of love which invites all into God's heavenly embrace. I wish to sit at the table with the good and the bad, the old and the young, people of every color and people of every language.  After all...aren't those always the very best dinner parties?

A Little Bit for Everyone

The Scripture:

Matthew 22:1-14

22.1Once 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. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again 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.’ 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those 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, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then 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.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.


The Kaleidescope Institute has reworked the questions somewhat and can be found here.


Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website: http://www.dcdiocese.org/word-working-second-question


Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.


1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.


2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.


3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.


4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.


5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.


6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.


7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"


8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.


9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father..."


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