Sermon for Proper 23, Year A, October 11, 2020

Isaiah 25:1-9,  Psalm 23, Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14

          “For many are called, but few are chosen,” Jesus says at the conclusion of the parable about the king who gives a wedding banquet for his son.  The king invites the usual guests, people of good standing – but they do not come.  He sends his slave to remind them, but still they do not come. Then, the king declares them to be unworthy and sends his slaves out to invite everyone they can find. The wedding hall is then filled with guests.

          One man; however, is not properly dressed and is thrown out into the other darkness “where they will be willing and gnashing of teeth.”   The many who are called in this parable is everyone.  To be worthy; therefore, is to accept the invitation to the feast with gratitude.  The man who was not wearing a wedding robe displayed an attitude of disrespect and ingratitude.  This was the issue, I believe, not what he was or was not wearing.  So, to be among the chosen is to accept God’s invitation with gratitude. 

          A wedding party is used frequently to represent God’s kingdom.  It is a celebration and a time of great joy.  God’s kingdom is where we can experience peace and joy – even in the midst of a pandemic, racial unrest, and contentious political times.  In this week’s Stewardship Mediation, which was included in Friday’s announcements, we are asked to reflect on today’s psalm and how we have experienced God’s sustaining presence during these past several months.  I experience God’s presence in the midst of this pandemic is many ways.  Sometimes it’s a book or a movie that sparks a memory or demonstrates the many ways people experience God.  Other times it is a kind word by a member of our parish – over the phone, on a Zoom call, or by email.  Or, it might be in a news or other report which demonstrates people are continuing to care for others – friends, family, and even strangers during this pandemic. 

          There is weeping and gnashing of teeth everywhere we go, but still, God is present giving us strength and offering us comfort.  God is working through us to offer support to those in need.  I can relate to today’s Psalm, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  It is God who “revives my soul.”   For this, I am grateful and continues to have faith that what is wrong today will be made right.  When I don’t know, but the love of God will ultimately overcome the struggles we are facing in this life.

          Gratitude in the midst of a pandemic.  It is possible, St. Paul’s has reason to be grateful.  Despite the pandemic and the need to cancel so many of our activities, our faith community is doing well.  Pledges and gifts to my discretionary fund have continued to support our ministries and enable us to help others.  There was only one Sunday when we did not hold a service, but within that same week we were having morning prayer via Zoom.  The very next Sunday we began using Zoom to broadcast our services and we now offer it on Facebook Live as well. 

As a result of offering on-line services, we found that people are attending our worship who had previously been unable to do so.  Through the generous support of the Men’s Group, we purchased the equipment to significantly improve the quality of this broadcast and make it possible for us to continue broadcasting our services when the pandemic is over. 

I am grateful to everyone who has made this possible and I have heard from many of you that this has helped you not feel so alone.  So, yes, despite the suffering and inconvenience caused by the corona virus, we have and are finding ways to experience God’s sustaining presence in our lives. 

This Sunday we are turning some of our focus to stewardship.  The theme of our discussions is Faith-filled Generosity.  Faith-filled generosity speaks to the spiritual nature of giving.  In the Bible, the standard of giving is one-tenth of your harvest.  The harvest is considered a gift from God for our use and a portion of what we receive is to be given back to God.  In addition, a portion of the harvest is to left in the fields for those in need to gather and use to feed their families. 

Most of us today harvest a paycheck or retirement income – but the idea is the same.  We are blessed to be able to earn what we earn or to receive what we receive.  Not everyone has a job or the ability to earn a living.  Not everyone has enough income to pay their bills and pay for the necessities of life.  Thus, God asks those of us who have more than enough to share a portion of our blessings with others. 

The Biblical standard of 10% of what we receive is still preached in many churches.  Not here.  The Episcopal Church speaks of proportionate giving.  For many giving 10% would not leave a family with enough to make ends meet.  For some; however, 10% would not be noticed, and more can be given.

The idea of propionate giving is to give what you can to make a difference in the lives of others.  Cathy and have made it a practice over many years to increase the portion of our giving.  The majority of what we give is to the church, but not all of it.  We give not because we feel obligated to do so, we give because it is an important part of our faith to support our church and other programs that we believe help to spread God’s love in tangible ways. 

We seek to give generously as an expression of our gratitude for the blessing in our lives.  St. Paul’s is an important blessing for us. We accepted the invitation to come here a little over three years ago.  We were received with open-arms, back when it was safe to hug, and we have been supported by the members of this church during some very difficult times.

Over the coming weeks, others will talk about the ministries St. Paul’s offers and how it has affected their lives.  Our vestry had planned to include a capital campaign with this year’s pledge drive, but we decided to postpone it. 

Talking with our members, the overwhelming majority of us have not experienced a significant negative financial impact from the pandemic – but social distancing and our inability to get together makes the planning of such a campaign difficult. 

We will; however, be asking for a one-time gift, in addition to your pledge, for us to stop the leak here in the church and repair the damage.  First and foremost, we ask you to consider increasing your pledge, if you can, so that we can continue our ministries, including this new ministry of broadcasting our services.  Then, if possible, we ask you to help with cost of repairs to our church. Faith-filled generosity is nothing more than sharing the love we receive from God with others.

Our gospel lesson today reminds us that we are among the many who are called to enjoy the heavenly banquet. All that is required of us to be chosen is to accept the blessings God offers us with gratitude. 

Let us pray.

          Loving and gracious God, help us, we pray, to live faithfully in these troubled times, counting our blessings and sharing your love with other.  We pray especially for those who are sheltering from and inffected by the Corona Virus, the injustice and the unrest that exists in our country and the world.  Help us to respond to your invitation to live in your presence with grateful appreciation and joy for the generosity of your love.  We ask these things in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.