Philippians 4: 1-9, Matthew 22: 1-14
What God gives/ what God requires
On Thursday night I had the very noisy pleasure of an evening with the cubs!
We were talking about the My Faith badge, and one of the activities they need to do to get that badge is to talk about a reading or prayer which means something to them. To get them thinking we made a foldy thing (demonstrate) in which normally you write something silly like ‘you smell’ but to get them thinking about what faith might mean to them they were writing inside something they thought was important.
They had some great ideas ‘love God’ ‘love your enemies’ ‘forgive people’ .. though I think ‘you’ve got a big head’ did creep in there somewhere!
But it got me thinking about the relationship between what we do and what is important to us, and the love God offers us. All the things the cubs came up with were about what is required of us, how we have to behave. They were very good at valuing things like ‘peace’ and ‘harmony’, and they even remembered the things Jesus said such as ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ and ‘turn the other cheek’, but not one of them talked about the love of God for us which Jesus showed us.
Perhaps we would all have done the same and focussed on Jesus laws of love rather than the love itself. We know it isn’t simply that if we behave well, God will love us: God loves us first – we celebrate that at every baptism and every communion service. Yet often we remember what is required of us and forget the offer of love God gives us. How can we fill our lives with the good things which God wants to give us?
The writer of the letter to the church at Philippi gives clear instructions
‘All that is true, noble, just, pure, loveable, attractive, excellent, admirable, think on these things’.
If we can fill our minds and our lives with what is good, then we will experience joy – the joy of the Lord, the joy that comes from knowing we are children of God living in God’s world and surrounded by God’s love. This, says Philippians, brings peace to each one of us, enables us to show others consideration, and takes away all traces of anxiety.
The problem with human nature is that we sometimes behave as though God’s love was a reward for doing good: when actually we know, if we stop to think about it, that God’s love is a free gift to us. If our life and our heart is cluttered with all the things we know we should be doing we can miss the simple, liberating truth of God’s love for us.
Jesus tells the parable of the wedding banquet.
Those who are originally invited don’t turn up. They each have excuses –but they each refuse to come. The host of the banquet decides he must fill his hall with guests – and so he sends his servants out into the streets to round up anyone they can find and invite them in to eat and drink.
So far, this is a wonderful story about God’s generosity and the free gift of God’s love for everyone. This is good news for those who think they are not good enough for God – God comes and finds us and welcomes us into the banquet. See how generous God is – even those of us who think ourselves not fit to be God’s guests find ourselves at God’s table.
But then comes a second part of the story. The host finds a man who is not dressed properly for the banquet, and has him thrown out. At first reading this is hardly fair – the man was virtually dragged in off the street so how was he to know that he needed to wear his best clothes?
Think for a moment what would you do if you were invited to a party at the last minute?
You’re sitting on the sofa, pyjamas on, drinking your cocoa and watching the TV. Your doorbell goes… and it’s your next-door neighbour inviting you in to join a party because they haven’t got enough guests. You could make your excuses and slope off back to the sofa, or you could decide to go & quickly change into your glad rags. But what you wouldn’t do is go straight in without changing out of what you were wearing, as if you were doing them a favour by being there. If you’re invited to a party, however unexpectedly, you try to respond appropriately and look the part.
That is the point Jesus is making. The invitation to the banquet is sudden and unexpected, and the new set of guests are all jolly lucky to be there. But there is still something expected of them – they should try to dress right and look right, behaving like the honoured guests they are.
The kingdom of heaven is like this. The cubs were right about the things Jesus said about how we should live – these are the appropriate ‘clothes’ for people of God’s kingdom. These things are our response to God’s invitation: as loved children of God, we are expected to love God and love others in return.
Here, today we are freely invited by Jesus to join God’s banquet for all those God loves. All can eat and drink and know God’s love for them. Yet as honoured guests we are also expected to live the part – to go from here as God’s people to share God’s love with others.
So go with the food God gives, strengthened to be God’s own for the world, in the name of Jesus.
Note: the demonstrated 'foldy thing' is known to some as a 'cootie catcher', Directions for making & playing below:
Playing with Cootie Catcher.
Choose a color then close-and-open the Cootie Catcher once for each letter in that colour, leaving it open at the end so that you see four numbers inside.
Second, choose one of the four numbers, and close-and-open the Cootie Catcher that many times, again ending with it open.
Last, choose one of the four numbers, and lift.
Directions to make:
Use a square piece of paper.
Fold two opposite diagonal corners together, then open back up.
Fold the other two opposite corners together, then open back up.
You should have folded lines like this. The lines cross at the center of the paper.
Turn paper printed side down. Fold all four corners to the center of the paper.
Flip your paper over.
Again, fold all four corners to the center of the paper.
Fold any two sides together. Make sure the numbers are in the inside.
Slide your thumbs and fingers under the four flaps.