Who Is Invited?
We are in the autumn of our year. We have been through spring and a mild summer. We
have had the luxury of a comfortable year. Now come the frost and the freeze to remind us
that the nature of the world is a combination of cyclic certainty mixed with change and
uncertainty. We human beings are not always sure that we like uncertainty. We tend to
prefer predictability and certainty. I have even been told that a major reason that many
people come to worship is to find assurance of certainty from a god who eternal and
constant. Such thought may be the reason why many people find religion and worship to be a
disappointment: it does not meet their expectations for predictability and stability.
It was a short time ago that the Lectionary Scriptures presented us with the account in
Exodus of the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses to carry down the mountain to the
waiting people below. Most people know what happened. When Moses came down the mountain
with the Ten Commandments in hand, Moses found that the people had feared that Moses was
gone forever. The people had gone to Aaron, the brother of Moses, and asked Aaron to make
a golden calf for an idol to worship as one of the gods that had brought them out of
slavery in Egypt. Already the first three of the Ten Commandments had been violated.
The question is why did the people do this? They did not remember that God is God who
had liberated them. They then turned to other gods. They made idols to worship. We find
this hard to understand. Worshiping idols is not a serious temptation for most us, so we
think. Few of us have been asked to bow or genuflect before a statue of a golden calf or
any other idol. Few of us have heard it suggested that we should just try a little idol
homage, no pressure, but to see how we like it.
According to one of my professors in seminary who had served in areas where people did
worship idols, there are very few, if any, who believe that divinity or godliness is
actually contained or confined to any object made by human hands. An idol is an object of
focus for contemplation of the force or god it represents. If this sounds a little
abstract, it should also sound a little closer to home. The real danger is not the object
of an idol, but that an object can represent what is being worshiped. The Ten Commandments
proclaims that God cannot be confined or represented or focused on through any material
medium because to do so is to try to confine, limit, and control God to human concepts and
The great theologian Paul Tillich warned the Twentieth Century that it is easy to make
God Almighty into an idol in our minds and souls because the very act of considering God,
of making God an object of our thought, is to limit God to our concepts and the limits of
our mind. That is why Paul Tillich used the phrase "God beyond God" to refer to
the actuality of God beyond the human concept of God.
We humans can and do turn to idols whenever we turn from the actuality of God to place
limited things as of primary importance to our life and being. Whenever we place anything
other than God, be it money, status, family, nation, education, life, death, love, hatred,
survival, or anything else other than God as the most important force in whom we are, then
we have attempted to turn something limited into that which is unlimited. We have tried to
make that which is not God to stand in the place of God, and this is the definition of
Been tempted to worship false idols recently? Of course we have. We are tempted all the
time. We have trivialized the temptation if we think of being asked to bow down before a
golden calf when we are being asked to place anything other than God in the place of God.
If we can even make God into an idol by attempting to limit the reality of God, then we
are on far shakier ground than most of us imagined.
One of the intriguing aspects of Jesus is the understanding Jesus brings forward about
the Ten Commandments. Jesus was a radical and ardent defender of the Ten Commandments and
its implications in human life and being. Jesus knew much about the temptation to make God
into something safe and manageable. When we say that God is love, we tend to think of love
in terms of warm, fuzzy, harmless acceptance. Anyone who has been in love, anyone who has
been a parent, anyone who has reached and sacrificed knows that love is far from harmless.
The reality of love is far greater, but actuality often scares us. We try to limit love
into something manageable, something physical, something without lasting consequence. We
make love into an idol.
Why did the people waiting for Moses turn to a golden calf, or whatever force it was
that the golden calf represented? It was fear and uncertainty. The people wanted a solid
and dependable god they could understand and control. The problem with such a god is that
it is false, limited, and leads its followers into dead-ends and spiritual blind alleys,
be it a golden calf or any god who is less than God. In movie productions, idol worship
appears to be a big party with fun and indulgence. I have often wondered if the
implication is that worship of the true God is not a party, not fun, and with no
sensuality. One wonders why idol worship is not more popular. Jesus did not understand our
movie images to be the actuality. Jesus told the world that we have all been invited to a
great feast, a wedding celebration. The major problem is that those called keeping putting
off responding to the invitation. The consequence of rejecting the invitation of God is
destruction, and God invites others to come. In the version of the invitation to the feast
found in the Gospel according to Matthew, there is the consciousness of the historical
fact of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans which Matthew saw as the consequence of
the rejection of Jesus. The good news is that others have been invited to the banquet.
This is the church. The bad news is the story of the wedding guest found without proper
garments of celebration who is cast into outer darkness. This is one of those verses that
one of my seminary professors said he was going to write about in a book to be titled,
Things I Wish Jesus Had Never Said. Who is this guest without the proper garment? It is
one invited who did not properly prepare. It is one who accepted the invitation of God,
but did not live or act as one invited. In other words, as one country preacher once said,
"Sitting in church does not make us a Christian, any more than sitting in a chicken
coop makes us a chicken." Accepting the invitation of God is not enough. We have to
live the invitation, as if it does truly matter, as if the love of God were the most
important aspect of living and being, which it is.
Coming to church does not obligate God to us. If anything, we place ourselves in
greater danger because we have shown that we know that God is, or should be, very
important, of first and primary importance, to what and whom we are. We are here and we do
not even have the excuse of ignorance. It is fortunate that God does know us and loves us.
It is fortunate that Jesus Christ came into our world that we are freed from all the dead
ends of limiting God to our understanding. In Christ, we see God shining through. In
Christ, we see hope and love and peace and truth.
Sitting in church does not make us Christian any more than sitting in a chicken coop
makes us chickens. That is true, but I want to tell you what another country preacher
said. The preacher said farmers know that salt is of vital importance to livestock. If
cattle do not have salt, they will seek what they need even from dead stumps. Cattle in
need will suck stumps for salt. The preacher said that people today reminds him of stump
sucking cattle. They are in such need of spiritual nourishment that they seek it in dead
and dying places, in strange spiritual dead ends, in fortune telling and psychic phenomena
and all manners of promises to finding the real meaning of life. The spiritual desperation
of so many people today is a call to us who are invited to God's great wedding celebration
and banquet to share our invitation, to share our joy and hope with those who seek truth
and joy, who seek light and life, who seek Christ whether they know it or not.
Who is invited? We are, and so is everyone. We are all invited
to turn to the true God who creates us, who saves from the darkness of blind
alleys and dead ends, who rises from the darkness of the tomb to lead us to life
eternal beginning now. We are invited and we rejoice and we will live in love
and hope and joy through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen and Amen.