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Who Will Stand in the Breach?

October 14, 2017

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This has been a wild few weeks for the church and for this Padre… Three weeks ago, we said farewell to another of our beloved members who died suddenly while hiking in Rocky. This past weekend we said farewell to two dear and beloved members of our faith community who passed away three weeks apart. This past Sunday, I was honored to officiate at the wedding of a dear couple from Ohio who had come to Rocky to exchange their vows with their parents as witnesses.

The Friday before the memorial service, we went hiking in Rocky… we made the Bear Lake to Nymph Lake to Dream Lake to Emerald Lake journey. It was a beautiful day and a much needed respite in God’s creation following a very difficult few months. It is always nice to be able to hit the trails on foot or by snowshoe. Time spent in Rocky is always a source of restoration.

As I reflected upon the passages for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, I believe I was also looking for some sense of respite from the messages. Between the casting out of the wedding guest into the darkness in Matthew and God wanting to pour out wrath on the people following the creation of the Golden Calf, I really did wondered how I was going to approach these passages. I could have taken the easy way out and gone with other passages from the Lectionary (I have done so in the past). Something inside of me challenged me to take up the passages and the difficulties and wrestle with them this week.

Part of the challenge that confronts me is the voices and activities of so many christians (as always, lower case is intentional) which are filled with judgment, hatred, and venom. It also doesn’t help w this venom is spewed towards my sisters and brothers who are created in the image of God… people that I know and love and who have a deep and vibrant faith which stands up in the midst of the hatred being spewed towards them.

In Exodus we read how the people, who had grown bored during Moses’ delay in coming back down the mountain (with the new Covenant between God and God’s children), asked Aaron (who had been left in charge while Moses was up the mountain) to fashion gods for them. Aaron, instead of telling the people to be patient and reminding them of how God had indeed brought them out of the land of slavery, acquiesced and gave them the idol they wanted. It makes me think about how often we want to make a god in our own image. Well, you know the story… Aaron instructs them to turn over their gold and the golden calf is fashioned. They then began to worship and celebrate this golden calf as Aaron instructed them to do.

What happens next is an interesting turn of events. God, upon looking down from the mountain and seeing what was going on said this to Moses: “Go down at once! YOUR people, whom YOU brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!’… I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” (Exodus 32:7-10)

Wait, what? Did you catch that? God called the people Moses’ people! God called the people the ones Moses brought out of the land of Egypt! Did I miss something here? That is what struck me when I was beginning my sermon preparation. God was throwing in the towel on the people. God was ready to consume the people with God’s wrath. You know… with fire and brimstone ala Jonathan Edwards style (Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God… hanging over the abyss of fire by a strand no bigger than a spider’s thread)! But what really struck me was the fact that God pretty much disowned the people. In the law that was to be given, God had called the people God’s own… and God said that God had brought them out of the land of Egypt.

Is there a limit to God’s compassion and mercy? At first glance, as you read the first part of this story and even the reading from Matthew, you might think so. Of course if you listen to the words which so many christians spew out, you would think so.

In the parable of the Wedding Banquet, Jesus tells the people how the original guests blew off the invitation from the King to come to the celebration. They didn’t just blow off the invitation, they also killed the messengers. Yes, that is a nod to the religious elite of Jesus’ day who had missed the invitation of the prophets… of John the Baptist… and Jesus himself. He knew that he would be killed just like the other messengers.

What happens next is amazing. The guest list becomes a list of the nameless and faceless poor of the land. It also appears that the good and the not-so-good were invited. This was a far cry from the original invitation to the “Who’s Who” of that time and place. Your status or standing wasn’t what was important, the invitation was what was important. They all showed up and were invited in to the feast.

However, one was denied entry to the feast. The King said to the man who was denied entry — “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” (Matthew 22:12) Scholars believe that custom would have dictated that robes would be provided for all of the guests. Perhaps they were provided in order to equalize the guests. You know, no finery that would outshine the central focus of the wedding, the bride and groom.

Suddenly, the gracious host became vicious! He ordered the man to be bound and cast into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth… and then cryptically said, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:13, 14)

I have always had trouble with this particular parable and I have always found a lot to wrestle with. Where is the mercy? Where is the forgiveness? Where is the grace? Why was this man cast out after all the “least of these” had been invited to the feast? What was so important about the wedding robe anyway? Was dress and appearance more important than the person?

As I wrestled with the decision of the King, I realized that perhaps the problem wasn’t with the attitude of the King but rather with the attitude of the individual. A beautiful invitation was extended and the individual didn’t feel it was important enough to change their spiritual, let alone physical appearance. Yet that still didn’t jive with the view of God and God’s love and mercy which Jesus taught about.

At that point, the story from Exodus took on a new meaning. Just about the time that God was ready to “smite” the people in anger, someone stood up and defended the people even though they didn’t deserve it. Moses reminded God that it was NOT Moses who brought them out of the land of bondage! Wait a minute, God, YOU brought them out by YOUR mighty hand! Are you going to slay the people whom you saved? Is your character no better than the Pharaoh’s? Change your mind, I beg you! Keep the promise you made… forgive them… they are your children!

In the story from the Exodus, Moses stood in the breech and spoke on behalf of the people. Moses sought God’s mercy for the people even though they had royally screwed things up. God listened to Moses and God changed God’s mind — “And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.” (Exodus 32:14)

In the parable Jesus told, there was nobody there to stand in the breech for the wedding guest who wasn’t clothed properly. NOBODY! Many in the church will cheer the demise of this unfortunate soul and thump their chests with pride, saying, “We are the few, the chosen ones of God!” If the so-called religious won’t stand in the breech, what hope does this unfortunate one have…

Then I remembered… who stood in the breech for the woman caught in adultery? Who stood in the breech for the lepers? Who stood in the breech for the outcasts? Jesus stood in the breech for them. The parable in Matthew wasn’t really finished, was it. Jesus himself was cast into the outer darkness where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth when he was crucified in the garbage dump outside of the city gates. Jesus himself, said to the penitent thief on the cross, “today you will be with me in paradise” when the thief recognized his own judgment and the innocence of Jesus. Even in the depths of that hell, Jesus stood in the breach on behalf of one who had broken the law and who had been condemned by the self-righteous religious authorities.

So, dear reader, as I continue to ponder these two readings, I wonder… Jesus stands in the breach for each of us… when others are quick to condemn, Jesus shows us that Love really does Win… that, in the words of my wife Denise, “In the end love wins but in the meantime love must trump!” Will you stand in the breach and face down hate with the love of God? Will you be an instrument of God’s love instead of the hate that is spewed by so many?

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