Jesus taught with parables. Jesus told stories which are thick with meaning, and are meant to point us out beyond the world as it is. Jesus’ stories are meant to point us to the world as it could be. Jesus stories are meant to help us get there. Today we hear a particularly difficult parable, and I am going to try and preach a particularly simple sermon in response. You see, at the heart of this parable of the royal wedding, I believe Jesus is trying to ask us: “how do we show up for one another?” How do we show up?
I’ll grant you, you have to dig a little bit into the story to come up with this question. Especially reading it today. This parable is difficult in part because of the history of Christian interpretation. This parable has been recruited for anti-semitic rhetoric. As Christians, we have to work to dismantle this history of interpretation. We have to repent. The Rev. Marc Smith taught a really nice Bible 101 course on parables this week, it’s up on our website. Today after this service you can join us for coffee hour to talk with Marc about parables. There’s a lot to this parable we can’t understand in 2020. We don’t know in our bones the social codes and cues around hospitality in Jesus’ day.
The context in which you read Jesus’ stories matter. And our current context, in part, led me to my question. I’ve dodged preaching on this parable in the past. I’ve been distracted by the golden calf. I’ve been distracted by the anti-Semitism I’ve heard around this story. But as I was preparing to preach today, seven months since we have been able to stand together around this table, this story of the banquet sort of zoomed into focus. I found myself wondering about the king’s desire in the story, that people would show up for the feast.
How do we show up for one another?
In John’s Gospel, Jesus asks his followers, “love one another, as I have loved you.” Seems simple, but a taller order was probably never uttered. Love one another as I have loved you. You can’t love someone unless you pay attention. You can’t love someone you don’t show up for.
Right now this is hard. We need to take extra time and care. One of the ways we need to show up is with our vulnerability. It isn’t as easy to read tone of voice on the phone, or over videoconference, or text. Right now, if you need a prayer, if you need a word of encouragement, if you need someone just to hear you and bear with you what you’re facing, I encourage you call a clergy member. Call a friend. Call a colleague or your supervisor. Name what you’re facing. Name what you need. Show up with your vulnerability and invite folks to show up for you.
Showing up right now is hard. It takes more patience, it takes more care. Showing up takes courage, always but especially now. Still in these seven months, honestly I have been amazed the way in which this congregation has been paying attention, the way you’ve been showing up.
This church has been showing up
I’ve heard you talk about meals delivered to someone who was sick. I’ve heard about glasses of wine on front porches and beer on back patios. A few of our members make art, I have both a watercolor and a cross stitch in my office made for me by members during these months. I know the artists have been showing up this way for others. I know folks who have been taking walks together, signing into yet another Zoom just to see one another. This showing up matters. I’m honestly amazed how many of you continue to worship with us, and I’m always surprised and grateful to see the conversation in the comments on Facebook.
Showing up matters. It’s what God asks of us. Gods Desirée is what is at the heart of this parable. The kingdom of God is like this: people show up for one another. People pay attention to one another, that kind of attention that is at the heart of loving one another. Showing up matters.
You’ve also showed up through your generosity. Since the start of the pandemic you’ve given almost $20,000 to our emergency fund, the rector’s discretionary account. We’ve used that money to support food ministries in our diocese, we’ve used that money to help keep some of our members housed, to pay utility bills for folks who might have been cut off. We’ve used that money to support an immigrant family at risk of losing their apartment. I can’t give you all the details of the emergency fund, and that is part of why your generosity there makes such a difference.
Beyond emergency funding: Today we will bless pledges toward our 2021 operating budget. I have been thankful how you have showed up so far. Some folks have showed up in their vulnerability. Not all of us can give what we would like to give. Finances for many are insecure. It’s hard to turn in a pledge card for less than you would like, and still I’ve been so grateful for folks who have said “I’m going to give a little next year. I’d like to give a lot, but here’s what I know I can give.” I’ve also been so thankful to see the generosity of others who are stepping up to make up the difference, who have increased as they’ve been able to cover for those who can’t give as much. You are caring for one another. You are showing up for one another. We’re a long way from “all in” on the pledges. If you haven’t yet pledged, I encourage you to do so on our website holycommunion.net/pledge If you’re not online and you need information, give our office a call, we will set you up.
I am speaking from what I have seen so far in these seven months: this congregation is showing up. Keep at it. Check in on that co-worker. Check in on your neighbor who used to sit with you in the pew. Keep making calls, sending texts. Keep the conversation going in the Facebook Comments on this service. It matters. Showing up matters.
In this parable Jesus tells us: The Kingdom of God is like this: people show up for one another.
God shows up
And we do that showing up because we know that God shows up. St. John Chrysostom quotes Jesus in our final prayer as saying, “whenever two or three are gathered…you will be in the midst of them.” We believe in a God who shows up. We believe in a God who chose to be with us. God chose us. God chooses you.
There can be a lot to distract us. Golden calfs run rampant through this land. We can find ourselves worshiping wealth, worshiping the image of success, worshiping usefulness. But here’s a promise. When you are able to lift your gaze off of your work, your image, your bank account, your struggles, when you are able to keep an eye out for how your spouse is doing, how your neighbor is doing, how the vulnerable in our city are faring, suddenly the math shifts. God shows up.
I’ve known it in my own life, honestly fewer times than I am proud to admit, but when I have been able to show up for someone else, really show up for someone else. When my own interest isn’t riding in the back seat, when I am focused on the other person, the math changes. Suddenly one plus one doesn’t equal two. There is something about selfless love, there is something about showing up wholly for someone else that is so close to God’s heart that God can’t help but appear.
When I have been able to show up for someone. When I’ve been able to pay that kind of attention. When I’ve been able to approximate the love Jesus shared with me, suddenly I find I’m not in the work alone. God is there. In truth God is always there. Sometimes it takes another person showing up to make God feel real.
Christians believe in a God who chose, scandalously, to show up. God chose to set up a tent. God chose to invite us into the feast of God’s love. God invites us to share that table with all the wrong people, all the people who won’t help you climb the social ladders. God wants to draw you into a party you can’t even fully imagine. And God wants you to invite others.
This parable can seem daunting, complex. But at its heart is Gods simple persistent desire, that we show up for one another. Keep the feast. We say we are a people who seek to follow Jesus. Friends, in these months you have showed me Christ’s love. More importantly you’ve made sure God’s love was real for your neighbors. As these months continue, keep showing up. Amen.