Scripture for Sunday, 15 October:
Exodus 32.1-14; Psalm 106.1-6; Philippians 4.1-9; Matthew 22.1-14
There’s a sequence in the comedy (Little Grimley’s Strictly Sex Factor On Ice) recently performed by the Menorca Charity Players in which reference is made to an actress who needs a prompt on her opening line – a prompt which takes seven minutes to arrive. It sounds rather like the unfortunate wedding guest in Jesus’ parable about the wedding feast: having followed the crowd without really knowing why, anticipating joining a good time, he had the misfortune to bump into the king, the father of the bridegroom, and was lost for words.
He represents our speechlessness when we are not really thinking about why we worship and why we are members of Christ’s church. We have a responsibility to understand why we worship, a responsibility that spreads further into how we live our lives as members of a community of faith.
This is not a new question; its roots can be found in the Hebrew scriptures, including the unfortunate incident with the golden calf while Moses was up the mountain talking to God. God was aware of this behaviour, and sardonically told Moses that, “Your people,” were misbehaving – extremely so. But although Moses was the leader, it was God who actually led the people out, and Moses was quick to counter God’s observation by insisting that Israel was God’s people. From this point on, the story of the journey of the people of Israel, from Exodus and beyond, is about the struggle between following Moses as bearers of light and submitting to temptation as bearers of darkness and sin.
Idolatry may be seen as a human response to anxiety, something that we do in various ways, and we are encouraged to make an honest assessment of when and how we make idols of our leaders, our entertainers, our material prosperity, or our delusional attachment to human forms of security, to name but a few.
Often we err in making idols of human endeavour and self-sufficiency, leading to the sin of pride. But as the Apostle Paul says to the Philippians, the true antidote to human anxiety is the peace beyond understanding that is to be found in Christ. Surely it is worth pursuing this peace and its source with some urgency? After all, we only have one life in which to do so.
Tom Wright, the former Bishop of Durham, has an interesting suggestion, drawing upon Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He says, “The best way to stop the weeds of idolatry growing is to plant flowers. Paul offers two basic plants which will leave no room for thorns and thistles: celebration and thinking.”
We owe it to ourselves to understand how to fill ourselves with rejoicing, or celebration, and the route to peace, through thinking about and doing what is excellent and worthy of praise.
What it boils down to is this: do we know why we are here, invited to Christ’s banquet? Do we really need a prompt to know what to say?