When Uncertainty Rules

Exodus 32:1-14 Matthew 22:1-14

October 9, 2011

We are dealing with two very different feasts in this morning’s readings. In the gospel of Matthew, there is a wedding feast to which many important people have been invited. All of them answered the initial invitation with a “yes,” but when the actual day and time come about, no one shows up. They are busy folks, and things started cropping up on their calendar, so they opt to stay home and take care of business. The host is infuriated. He has set a sumptuous table and is offended that his guests have put other priorities in front of his son’s wedding feast. “Go out to the streets, and invite anyone you see to come in and celebrate with me!” he orders. His servants do so, and strangers pour into the banquet hall, eager to enjoy the lavish food and entertainment. At least one of them, however, does not grasp the solemnity of the occasion and shows up without any thought to his appearance. He doesn’t take care to dress properly for the celebration. This brings on a whole new reason for the host to get upset.

In the Exodus reading, we come upon those Israelites we have been following across the desert and in the wilderness these last few weeks. We have heard all of their complaints, and have seen that God provided for them at every turn. Today’s reading has Moses up on the mountain talking with God. Evidently he has been there a long time. The scripture says 40 days, but “40 days” in biblical language is not as exact as we might think. To the people who recorded these events, “40 days” simply means a very long time. So, Moses has been up talking with God for a very long time, leaving the crowd of Israelites to grow more and more restless the longer they wait. They have not been all that convinced that God/Yahweh really exists, nor are they sure that they are on Yahweh’s agenda, despite the fact that their every need has been met. They were guided out of slavery, through the Red Sea and across the wilderness and have even received mysterious food and water in the desert, for heaven’s sake, what more proof did they need? Still, they make demands upon Aaron to make a god for them, an idol they can worship and who will lead them into the next phase of their lives. They do not want to wait for Moses any longer. As a stopgap measure, Aaron gets the brilliant idea that they could melt down all of their gold jewelry and make a visible and tangible god to worship. He tries to keep the focus on Yahweh, but it is a difficult point to sell to these restless people who just want to settle down with a god they understand, and some strong leadership to guide them. The festivities soon get out of hand, and Yahweh grows understandably angry. Moses has to argue on the Israelites’ behalf in order to save them from God’s wrath. He reminds Yahweh of the promises he had made, promises to bring the Israelites up out of Egypt and into freedom in a new land where they could be free forever. “It wouldn’t look good if you destroyed them now,” Moses says, “what would people think?” God relents, but only because of Moses’ persistent protection of the Israelites.

The host in Matthew’s feast is pretty angry as well, at first when the original guests do not show up at his party, and later when some of the new guests come to the wedding improperly dressed. The bottom line for him seems to be the desire that people show proper respect. First, if you say you will come to a wedding feast, then you ought to come, no matter what else is going on in your life. It is a priority based on your word of honor. Second, that no matter what the circumstances of your attending a wedding feast, you need to dress properly for the occasion because it shows that you are appreciative of being included in such an auspicious event. Also, that by dressing appropriately it shows that you understand the nature of the event, that it is a solemn and sacred occasion. A friend of mine performed a wedding several years ago, the rehearsal for which the entire wedding party showed up drunk. She sat them all down and said that if anyone came to the wedding under the influence she would not perform the marriage. She explained to the assembled revelers that the event called for sober consciousness of what was taking place. She explained that this was true on the part of bride and groom for sure, but also on the part of all of those who were standing up for them as witnesses. A wedding is a solemn and sacred occasion, and not to be entered into lightly, but with reverence.

Events such as weddings and funerals, rituals that go deep below the surface of human life hold us to a higher standard than the normal course of everyday activity. Our relationship with God does the same. As people who follow Christ, we are called to a high standard of being human, of being in the world, in part at least because we have been invited to see the world and our interactions with God and others as sacred. This is, at least in part, what the gospel scripture is speaking about this morning. The original guests to the wedding feast did not value the invitations that they had received. They did not realize how honored they should have felt to be included in the feast, and that not just anybody had been invited. The latter guests also needed to understand, that even though they were invited later, seemingly as an afterthought, the wedding feast was still a solemn occasion, and needed to be respected as such. The wedding feast was held to a high standard even though the guest list had changed, because the event itself required that.

In both of these stories, the people did not understand what was required of them. Both examples speak of our relationship with God. As the Matthew reading spoke of the importance of honoring the sacred events and relationships in our lives, the Exodus reading speaks of our need to trust God no matter what. It teaches us that we need to stick with our faith when circumstances are difficult or trying, even when we do not understand what is happening and when we cannot see the future. When the Israelites were complaining and becoming impatient, Moses was up on a mountain talking with God, negotiating on their behalf. If they had only held out a little longer, then they would have received all that they needed, and more. I wonder, though, if they would have recognized it for what it was. Did they realize what a special relationship they had with Yahweh? Did they sense how significant it was that their God had brought them all this way in order to make them his very own people? Sometimes we grow impatient as well. We do not see what good God is doing in our lives. We see only our struggles. We feel only the pain and confusion of the present moment. It is difficult for us to hold fast to our faith and our hope when everything around us is unsettled and difficult to decipher. When we are stuck in the middle of our own problems and concerns, we are right in the same place as those original guests who were invited to the wedding feast. We think we are too busy to get free for a party. Celebrating is the last thing on our minds. We imagine ourselves to be too bogged down by our lives to see our way clear to go to a party, even a special one. In essence, we see ourselves as too busy to take time out, even if it would be time spent with God. The truth at the heart of this reading is that our God, the very same God who is said to be that host inviting folks to the wedding feast, wants to have a relationship with us. God wants to lighten our lives and help carry the burdens we bear. The truth about life is that we don’t have to go it all alone. We don’t have to stay home and forgo the celebration because we have too much to do. When we share the load, we discover that it really is not as bad as we might have thought it was. We discover that we have time to enjoy our lives, and that we even have something to celebrate as we grow in our relationship with God and with one another.

Loving God, we do not always understand how to be your children. We do not always show the proper respect for your gifts to us nor even to your presence in our lives. We don’t know how to celebrate and we are not very patient. But we do want to be in right relationship with you. We want to be faithful. We want to live in a way that honors and celebrates your love. Help us through our uncertainty into a clarity of vision that guides us through each day and night. In the name of Christ Jesus we pray, Amen.