October 4, 2020 – EighTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
A message from the Rev. Helen Smith
Last Sunday was Presbyterians Sharing Sunday and we focussed on our common work and witness with Presbyterians across Canada. Sunday, October 4 is World Communion Sunday. Because of Covid concerns we will not be breaking bread. However, we can still feast on the Word. As we worship in person, or in our individual homes, let us all be mindful of the Christian community around the world, the Body of Christ, united in that worship.
Rev. Helen Smith
Book of Praise – 530 “I come with joy”
- Video with on-screen words; sung words are exactly the same as in the hymnbook.
- Words (1970) by English pastor and hymn-writer Brian A. Wren (1936–). Music (tune: “Dove of Peace”) from William Walker’s Southern Harmony, 1835. Words © copyright 1971, 1995, Hope Publishing Co; music public domain.
- This recording made by First-Plymouth Congregational Church, Lincoln, Nebraska, on August 20, 2017.
Prayers of Approach and Confession, Lord’s Prayer
[repeat bold text in unison]
Holy God, Creator, Christ, and Spirit, when we hunger for fulfillment, you meet all our needs. You invite us all to your banqueting table and that table overflows with blessings for us. Holy One, you are our hunger filled, and our thirst quenched. You are our deepest desire fulfilled. So to you, O God, Creator, Christ and Spirit, we give praise with all your people, here and everywhere, now and always.
Out of a desire to be free of past mistakes and start again with you and with one another, we join our voices in confession:
God of mercy,
we confess that we have often failed to speak and act with kindness.
We have not always cared for others as you care for us.
We have not welcomed others as we have been welcomed by you,
nor have we forgiven others as we have been forgiven.
We remember the good not done, kind words not spoken, and things we regret. If only we could make these things right!
Hear our silent confession:
A time of silent prayer
This we pray in Jesus’ name and continue to pray as he taught us, saying
Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those
who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours
now and forever. Amen.
Declaration of Pardon
Friends, believe the good news! Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation; the old life is fading, the new life has started to emerge—in us. Know that you are forgiven, and so have the courage to forgive one another.
The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Though the wonderful Laura Alary has now resigned from the post of Christian Education Coordinator, after eight dedicated years, we are grateful to be able to feature a few resources she has recommended. This week, it’s the “Godly Play” YouTube channel. She notes that “Godly Play” has a similar philosophy and style to the “Children and Worship” program we use at GCPC.
I would much rather read about and preach about the parable of the Great Banquet from the gospel of Luke, Luke 14:15–24. For one thing, it is shorter. And for another, that’s where we get that cutesy camp song about
I cannot come to the banquet don’t trouble me now.
I have married a wife, I have bought me a cow.
and if you were one of the bad kids at church camp you would sing
I have bought me a wife,
I have married a cow.
Not saying how I know this.
Luke’s version is family rated. It doesn’t have the servants who extend the invitation to the banquet being killed, or the king sending his army and burning the city. It doesn’t have that strange part about the man who wasn’t wearing wedding clothes (what’s up with that?) tied up and thrown into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
However, the lectionary says read it from Matthew, and sometimes it’s good not to take the easy way out. Matthew seems to build on Jesus’ tendency for hyperbole to make his points, you know those times of great exaggeration, like when he tells us to take the plank out of our own eye before we complain about the speck in our neighbour’s eye, or talks about camels going through eyes of needles, or like last week’s story about the two sons. Jesus has the same audience for this parable of the great banquet. It is chief priests and elders, in other words, religious people, in other words, us.
It is a parable about the kingdom of heaven, about the reign of God in our lives. Now in Matthew’s version of this parable the king (God) prepares a wedding banquet for his son. Perhaps it would bring to the minds of those religious people the words of the Prophet Isaiah, about God preparing a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wines, the best of meats and the finest of wines.
The invitations have been sent out. But nobody has RSVP’d. Don’t you hate that! So the king sends out a reminder, gets his slaves to call up those who were invited. No response. It is kind of rude. The king has everything ready, he’s done a lot of work. He sends out more slaves to remind those who say they are his best buddies about the banquet. But they still don’t come. Not only do they not accept the invitation, not come to the banquet, they kill the messengers.
The slaves are killed. Now remember, Jesus is talking to the religious of the land, the chief priests and Pharisees, the ones who claim to be God’s best buddies. Who might be the messengers, the slaves who remind the invited guests about their invitation? Could these be the prophets? Or John the Baptist. Perhaps as many scholars have Matthew writing after 70 AD, Matthew even sees Jesus as a messenger, and uses this parable to point to Jesus’ own death, sort of an after the fact premonition. It is the ultimate rejection of those who bring the reminders of the invitation to God’s kingdom.
Now in Matthew’s version of the parable, the king responds in rage and destroys the city where these invited guests live. Again with Matthew writing after 70 AD, perhaps Matthew pictures in his eye the destruction of Jerusalem as he writes down Jesus’ parable.
But back to the parable. Another set of slaves are sent out again to the streets, this time to anyone they find on the street, both the good and the bad, the upper strata of society and the riff raff. Nobody is excluded.
Today is World Communion Sunday. It is one of my favourites. I find it so moving to think that people all over the world are participating in this special meal, this banquet, this feast. Alas, this year, we are unable to physically participate because of Covid restrictions. Oh, I know there are little kits you can get like those cheese and cracker packages. These kits have a bit of juice in a plastic cup on the bottom and wafer wrapped on the top. And a lot of plastic holding it all together. But there is something too sterile about that whole thing (although if the restrictions continue for a long time, we may choose to resort to them). It just doesn’t seem earthy like seeds scattered, grain ground, bread baked, grapes pressed. There is something about us serving one another, about one loaf, one body, broken for us, one cup poured out. So for this year, we will be remembering in our minds and hearts, and feasting on God’s written word.
I remember the first Sunday in October after I started work at Evangel Hall, an inner city mission of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. One of my duties was to conduct a weekly Sunday evening service. I attended church in the morning and we celebrated Communion. At Coffee Hour (remember what that is?) someone asked me if we were going to have Communion at the Hall that day. I must confess I hadn’t thought about it, but I did then, and came back with, “Yes, yes of course we are. It is World Communion Sunday.” And the wonderful mix of people at the Hall, the people who were homeless, or underhoused, the people who were mentally ill, the people who struggled with addictions, the Canadian poet, Margaret Avison, the people from nearby churches who joined us every week, they were all part of the world. The invitation to the wedding banquet went out to all.
Do you remember when you received your invitation? Or maybe you are receiving it today.
This king is very determined to get this banquet going. You see the constant effort, the refusal to give up, the doggedness, the persistence of the king to fill the hall. You see the fierce compassion God has for us constantly, persistently, calling us home. Calling us to feast at God’s table all together.
And then there’s the second part, or maybe it’s a second parable, the one about the man who wasn’t dressed properly. What is up with that? You have to be dressed up to go to church? I thought that went out with white gloves and Easter bonnets. Many would say that one of the best things about the church today is that there are no more secret dress codes, or not so secret dress codes. We are more open, less judgemental, accepting, inclusive, all those good words.
But this parable? The Kingdom of heaven, the reign of God in our lives, hinges on a dress code? Whatever happened to Matthew 6 and the lilies of the field and not worrying about what we will wear, about the body being more than clothing??
Nothing Jesus says gets to be taken in isolation, without at least remembering his other words and teachings. We can’t decide once and for all which is more important, Matthew 6 or Matthew 22. We have to read them both, which is a bummer, when you think about it. Consider the lilies and consider the wedding guest … . That messes with our logical brains. They both matter. But how?
Look at Matthew 22 again. It was an Oriental custom that at wedding banquets, the host provided each guest with a wedding garment (I think this is a great idea. Just think of the time and money you will save when you don’t have to shop for a new outfit. However, it does add a bit to the host’s costs). Now this one guest didn’t put on the new clothes given to him by the host. So the guest gets bound, and thrown into utter darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Now isn’t it hard to say “Thanks be to God” after that?
Remember, this is a parable. And Matthew likes to exaggerate. And maybe remember that the host provides the garment. So what is it that God provides for us? According to Isaiah: a feast of rich food, well aged wines, death is destroyed, our tears are wiped away. What God provides for us is God’s grace. God invites us to be part of God’s reign, all of us, just as we are, but God does not leave us there. We may be troubled, confused, afraid, doubtful, perhaps sick or in deep distress, and God loves us so much that he will not leave us unchanged. What do we need to put on to experience the feast? As the theologian, Paul Tillich, put it, “Accept the fact that you have been accepted”. Say with the people at the banquet in Isaiah: This is our God, we trusted in him. Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
The invitation is for us all. Come, you are wanted, accept this invitation, rejoice in the grace you receive. Come to the banquet.
We will be inserting a recording made live in the sanctuary during this week’s service shortly. In the meantime, you can enjoy all our previously recorded music on our Music playlist on YouTube (our videos with audio) or on SoundCloud (our audio-only pieces).
We remind everyone that we must continue to pay our bills; in the absence of Sunday worship, you may sign up for pre-authorized remittance (PAR), donate online, or drop off your offering envelope in the mailbox at the church. Do not leave a cash donation unattended in the mailbox; instead, please call the office (416.261.4037) to ensure someone will be there to receive it. The building will be checked daily for mail and phone messages. If you are not comfortable leaving an envelope, you are welcome to contact the office (once again, 416.261.4037) and someone will pick up your offering.
Dedication of our Offerings
God of the feast, you abide with us; you provide for all our needs and guide us in your ways. Out of gratitude for your care, we bring our gifts before you. Use them for your work of caring, that all may feast at the table of abundance, walk without fear, and drink deeply from the cup of compassion. Amen.
Book of Praise – 540 “One bread, one body”
- Video with on-screen words, identical to those in the hymnbook, but just verses 1 and 2.
- Words and music (1978) by American Jesuit priest John B. Foley (1939–). Words and music © copyright 1978 John B. Foley, SJ, and New Dawn Music.
- This recording by American musician and Catholic religious figure John Michael Talbot (1954–).
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. AMEN (Romans 15:13)
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