Worship Service for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship for this 20th Sunday after Pentecost, landing on October 15, 2023!

The bulletin for this service can be found here. In the bulletin you’ll find the order of worship, the words of the liturgy, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon. The words that you need to know will be on your screen, and the sermon is on this page below the video.

For a fuller online worship experience, you may have a candle in your space lit at the beginning of worship and extinguished when the altar candles are near the end of the service after the sending hymn. You are also welcome to participate in communion, with something small to eat and drink to be consumed at the appropriate time. Further instruction will be given during the service.

May God’s unending love and joy be upon you, now and forever!

So about a year and a half ago, the TV-watching world was shocked by an event that happened at a certain televised awards ceremony, perhaps you might have an idea of where I’m going with this.  It was the kind of event that even if you didn’t see it happen, you probably would have heard of the after effects through word of mouth, social media, and the plethora of memes that inevitably would start creeping out from all the reaches of the internet.  Of course, I’m talking about multiple-Oscar-award-nominee-and-one-time-winner and actor Will Smith walking up on stage to multiple-Oscar-award-show-host and comedian Chris Rock, catching him off guard and slapping him across the face right in the middle of a bit.  Will Smith said his actions were under the guise of “protecting his wife.”  What did she need protecting from that would warrant such a violent and humiliating act?  It wasn’t physical harm or a threat against her personal well-being or the danger of losing some possessions or anything like that.  What Will Smith was protecting his wife from, was a joke.  An actual literal joke that Chris Rock made in her direction as a comedian.  As in, someone who tells jokes for a living.

A joke.  It was words.  I get that words can be harmful of course, but as Chris Rock later commented on the event in a Netflix special about a year later, “whoever says that words hurt never got punched in the face.”

I know, there were a lot of mixed feelings around this particular incident.  Few sided with Will Smith, saying that Chris Rock was out of line with his joke and he should have had more respect for others.  But many sided with Chris Rock, saying that while the joke was admittedly in poor taste, that shouldn’t incite that kind of violence and shame in retaliation.  In that same Netflix special, Chris Rock confesses that he understood that Will Smith was dealing with his other personal issues which we won’t get into here, and that he just took all that out on an “easy target” that unfortunately, was Chris Rock.  It makes sense, I guess.  I mean, I know which one I’d want on my side if I were in a fight, even though I don’t agree with that kind of violence.

That just seems to be our language these days though, doesn’t it?  It’s like the only way we can prove our point, the correctness of our opinion, our own righteousness, is by displaying feats of our strength, our might, our power.  And that can be manifest in different ways.  In the case that I was talking about with Will Smith and Chris Rock, it was through violence.  At other times, it could be through influence we might have over others to get them to do what we want.  Yet, sometimes we might just have to yell louder.  It all seems to come down to who has the bigger stick, the stronger army, or the most nukes.  It’s about who has the will and the guts to do something crazy enough to shut those enemies up.  Something like burning down entire cities because some of their inhabitants said no to a wedding invitation. 

Sheesh, roid rage much?

Of course I’m talking about the parable that Jesus shares with us today.  This parable that we don’t often like, one we don’t really understand, and one that most certainly doesn’t paint a very favourable picture of God and God’s kingdom.  It’s about a king who invites some folk to his son’s wedding, and when they refuse to go, the king goes on a rampage, kills them, and burns their cities down.  You know, I have a funny feeling as to why no one wanted to go to this party.  The host seems to have some anger issues.

So when that A-list can’t make it, well, they can’t now because they’re dead, the king starts inviting the B-list.  All these folk can make it because they’re probably afraid that their city would be burned down as well if they don’t.  And perhaps in their haste to make it to this last minute party, one of the attendees doesn’t have on the proper wedding attire.  So the king tosses him right up out of there.  That’s kind of humiliating.  Better than being killed and having your city burned down, sure, but still it’s pretty shameful to be thrown out because of a misunderstanding about the dress code. 

We can see why we don’t like this parable much.  It just doesn’t fit with our view of God.  It doesn’t jive with our good Lutheran theology that tells us that God is gracious, kind, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  It just doesn’t make sense to us, because to us this doesn’t sound like the kingdom, it doesn’t sound like the body of Christ, it doesn’t sound like God.

Isn’t God supposed to be a shepherd who leads us to green pastures and still waters?  Isn’t God supposed to be merciful and forgiving?  Isn’t God supposed to be understanding and compassionate and not throwing misdressed people out into the weeping and gnashing of teeth?

So what do we make of this parable?  What is Jesus telling us?

Well, there’s a reason why I brought up the whole Oscar Slapgate thing.  And it’s not because there was an unnecessarily violent response that didn’t really fit the crime.  It’s not because this parable is about a king and Will Smith won an Oscar that night for the movie “King Richard.”  It’s not even because I’m a huge Chris Rock fan and that I’m on his side on this one. 

But I brought it up because this slap heard around the world was basically the only thing people were talking about around the Oscars that night.  Everything else about that evening was pretty much forgotten, and there was a lot going on that evening (from what I remember at least).  All the other nominees, winners, and presenters took a backseat because all the attention was put on this nonsensical violent incident.

When really, the point of the night was the celebration.

Wherever you might stand on these overly extravagant Hollywood celebrity parties that seem to only cater to the privileged insiders, we cannot deny that the point of that evening wasn’t supposed to be about the slap.  But the slap happened, and it took center stage.  Everything else became secondary, which they shouldn’t have.

And so that’s what I see happening in this parable.  We see this king going crazy.  We hear of cities being burned down.  We feel sorry for the guy who wasn’t up to speed on his attire.  We think about and focus on those things and we forget the point of the story, which is that there is a celebration.

A celebration of marriage.  A celebration of community.  A celebration of love.

So just as Will Smith’s actions took away from the Oscars that night, so did this king’s actions take away from his son’s wedding.  And, so do our actions take away from the celebration of God’s redemption, salvation, and forgiveness.

See, don’t we sometimes act like the king in lashing out against those who might not express their faith the same way as we do?  Haven’t we, from time to time, acted like Will Smith and intentionally and disproportionally hurt those who hurt us?  How often do we try to play the gatekeeper in deciding who is in and who is out, while losing sight of the welcome, the inclusion, the love that invites us all into community?

My friends, let us not forget that there is a wedding celebration going on.  Let us not lose sight of the commitment that God has for us as God’s people, opening the doors for us to enter into the feast and the kingdom.  Let us not focus on the misunderstandings and the evils around us, but continue our gaze toward God and God’s ways of truth, righteousness, and grace.

I know, it’s not hard to get distracted.  We see something we don’t like and we jump up in the name of protecting our faith, our traditions… our pride.  We might be feeling a little beaten up as well so we try to save what we can however we can.

But in that hurt, in that desperation, in that reaching out for something… anything that would console us, God remains merciful and kind, and reminds us of who we are and whose we are: invited and welcomed guests of honour at the banqueting table, where our cups are overflowing with blessing as we are led into abundant joy and peace in the salvation and kingdom of God.

So in this season after Pentecost, a time when we look at our faith in the living Christ, may we be humbled by God’s grace, comforted by God’s welcome for us all, and drawn in by God’s steadfast and unending love.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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