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October 12, Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23):
Other Texts: Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
To listen to earlier homilies click here
Draft text, please do not cite without permission
Take a look around.
Some people you recognize.
Some old friends.
Some you’ve never seen before.
Here’s another question.
Who’s not here?
Some people who are usually here.
Maybe a few you’re glad aren’t here.
How about: everyone else?
The wedding feast is about community.
If the vineyard is the metaphor for what it means to be the people of God—the people chosen by God—the people shaped, and pruned, and trained, and raised up by God.
Then the wedding feast is the metaphor for what it means to be a people adopted by God—sanctified by God—made whole and holy—redeemed by God.
It’s a metaphor for community—for the body of Christ—for the church.
We get that.
I think those of us who have the practice of coming to the table every week get this on some basic, deep, gut level.
We gather around the table as we gather for a feast.
And Communion is about being fed with real bread, and with the bread of life.
We come to be warmed with intoxicating drink.
We seek solace by sharing our common hurts and needs; and we are strengthened by fellowship and friendship.
Every week is a wedding feast.
Comforting in its (relative) predictability, but also marking week by week that something new is happening.
A new and ever renewing relationship is coming into being.
A relationship that like marriage is meant to be generative—life giving—to all who are engaged in it, and touched by it.
The Eucharist is a wedding banquet.
We get that.
I think we get that.
I hope we get that.
The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet…
“Ah yes,” we nod, “the wedding banquet…the way it’s ‘supposed to be’”
But if we keep listening things turns very dark very quickly, doesn’t it?
This parable, like all the rest we’ve heard in recent weeks, has some disturbing parts to it.
Some aspects we’d maybe rather gloss over—“spiritualize”—make it about eternal life rather than about the life we have to live when we walk out of those doors.
But it’s the disturbing parts that need to work on us.
The ones invited to the feast don’t come.
They’re too busy.
They’ve got things to do—a farm to run, a business to manage, They’ve got other things pulling at their attention—maybe they’re over-scheduled?
Others apparently are simply thugs who only care for their own interests and don’t care about the community.
And their actions, their refusal to participate, ends up destroying part of the community.
Refusing to participate destroys the community.
The wedding banquet is not a private affair.
Its a public matter with very real and significant consequences.
Next the king decides to send slaves into the streets to bring in everyone they can find: the good and the bad.
Can you imagine that crowd?
I imagine the poor and the wealthy sitting side by side; everyone a bit flummoxed and pretty uncomfortable.
I imagine the destitute, and the delinquent, and the deadbeat rubbing elbows with the diligent, and devout, and pious.
I imagine black activists and white police officers sitting together.
Coal-miners and climate activists.
Billionaires and welfare recipients
We might choose to be part of that crowd.
We might not.
It’s not an ideal community, certainly.
Its not the way we would have planned it, probably.
But that the image of the kingdom presented in the gospel.
Its a messy, troublesome, tension filled community, but really communities are like that.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and martyr had a deep and abiding interest in Christian community.
His dissertation, written when he was only 21, was about the place of the individual in society and church.
A decade later Bonhoeffer was running an illegal seminary community in the Baltic costal city of what at the time was called Finkenwald.
It was there that he wrote his work Life Together—a meditation on christian community.
It’s almost a rule of Benedict written for mid-twentieth century protestants
In it Bonhoeffer argues that Christian community is not an ideal, but a divine reality.
It’s not an ideal we have to work to realize; it’s a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.
We all have idealized images of what church should be like.
What that banquet should be like.
What should be on the menu.
What music should be played.
Who should and shouldn’t be invited.
How people should dress and behave once there.
How everything should work.
We all have these ideas and images.
And Bonhoeffer says these idealized images actually does harm to the community.
He writes “Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their intentions may be ever so honest, ernest and sacrificial.”
Spend even a short time in any community and you will be disappointed.
The church, I’m sorry to say, will let you down occasionally.
The church let’s all of us down the moment it begins to think of itself as a hotel for saints rather than a hospital for sinners, as someone once said.
The purpose of the church (I think) is not to create a club of like minded people who worship an idol of their making…a mirror of their own lives.
The purpose of the church is to be the body of Christ—an outward and visible sign (to use sacramental language) of inward and spiritual grace.
In other words, the church is to be in Bonhoeffer’s language,” the very presence of Christ in the world.”
We all bring our hopes and dreams, our hurts and disappointments, into every community we are apart of.
We also bring idealized images of ourselves and others.
Often images that we didn’t even come up with—images that were imposed on us by our culture—and if we allow it, those images can be transformed in community as we rub up against each others’ differences.
We can put on the wedding robe—that mark of transformation—or we can refuse it—try to remain in our untransformed state—like the man without the wedding robe.
The difficult, messy, uncomfortable, grace-filled work of being in a Christian community, Bonhoeffer writes, “is the work of coming to understand that we enter into life together, not as those who make demands, but as those who thankfully receive.”
The wedding banquet is not a party that we are invited to; it’s a divine reality that we are called to…compelled to…required to participate in.
Where we are transformed by being in relationship with others who are absolutely unlike us except for the fact that we have all been redeemed by Christ.
Community is where we learn that with God there is always enough.
Where we learn to distinguish between God’s enough and our desire for too much.
Where we learn to wait on God rather than create idols of our own to worship.
The wedding banquet is a divine reality that we are called to participate in, not some day but here and now.
Today at this table and when you walk out that door and whenever and where ever we find ourselves in community, in communion with others who may or may not share our values or our hopes…
The ongoing transformative work of community isn’t ever really finished, at least not until all of our communities reflect the divine reality of the wedding banquet—the reality that there is enough for all…
That all are welcome and have a place at the table…
And that all have rights and responsibilities to fully participate in sharing the abundance given them in that life of that divine reality.