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The Chosen Ones

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Sermon Notes, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020 Proper 23 The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Paul wrote these words of comfort to the Philippian church from his prison cell in Rome. He was writing from a distressed situation to a church in its own distress. Divisions had occurred that threatened to rend the church into factions. Leaders took positions against other leaders. Paul recognized that unless something changed, his beloved church in Philippi would soon lose its witness to the world. But he himself was in chains. Was that a handicap to his mission of reconciliation in Christ? Not at all. Paul says to them, "Because of my chains most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly." Ph. 1:14. His chains are not impediments but catalysts for the message. Paul is borrowing from his own experience to provide guidance for a distressed church. His message is that difficulty, even imprisonment in chains, is an asset that can be used by the Holy Spirit to advance the kingdom of heaven. How can that be? The church today is a church in chains. Our chains take several forms. There are divisions in the church today. In the larger church and within individual congregations. Some are reflective of the political divisions in our country while others represent long-standing differences that have yet to be healed. Dr. Ghali reminded me this week about the thousand-year-old division between the Eastern and Western church and the newer division just affected within the Russian and Greek Orthodox churches. These divisions are chains binding the church and preventing it from becoming the One Church it is destined to become. The church is chained by restrictions on its right to gather and worship. How puzzlingly strange it is to live in a land founded on principles of religious freedom that limits the freedom to worship. But that's where we are today. An even uglier chain is the chain of fear brought on by the COVID epidemic. Getting sick is a real and genuine fear. There's noting imaginary about this epidemic. I can't say to someone, "Come to church and worship with us because your fear is unfounded." My prayer each week before we gather is that no one gets sick because of our worshipping together. And I'll continue with that prayer until this pandemic is over. These are chains binding on the church today. But Paul tells us that these chains should cause us to rejoice. We rejoice because God's power is revealed in weakness. God's power is being reveled at this very time under these trying circumstances. All across America churches are reporting new people coming to see what the church has to offer. Clergy who never gave a thought to an on-line ministry are working out the kinks and offering live-stream services as never before. We included. And despite the chains of bad internet connections, troublesome equipment and woeful on camera performances, people are watching, listening, and some praise God are giving their lives to Christ because the church is being the church to them. In their personal prisons. Miraculously and wonderfully God has done for us what we have fervently prayed to happen, that the word of God may reach outside the walls of the church and into people's hearts. Paul's response to the division in the church in Philippi was to not jump into the fray and choose sides. It was to remind the church of why it exists in the first place. He echoes what Jesus says. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you." Paul says don't dwell on your differences, but on the things God asks you to do. "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Just be the church, Paul is saying. Do what you are assembled to do: practice justice, demonstrate virtue, celebrate beauty, strive for excellence and praise what is good. If you do those things you won't have any time or place left for strife or distress. You won't be focusing on or feeling sorry about your chains. You will be too busy pleasing God. And God who is pleased with you will grant you the peace you seek, a peace so deep it passes human understanding. Your hearts and minds will not stray to make bad choices because they are now guarded, guarded by Christ himself. He leads us by his hand through still waters. This is the call to the church and it still stands. And we, my friends, are the ones to make the call. In today's Gospel we have Jesus' parable of the wedding feast. It's a roller coaster of a parable. Just when we think we know what's going on, we discover something different and seemingly incongruent. The king prepares the wedding feast for his son's wedding. It's done. It's ready. The feast of the Lamb is about to take place. Remember Jesus spoke this parable just days before his crucifixion and resurrection. But the invited guests balk at coming. He was rejected and despised by the ones he came to save. So far we think we've got this, a prophetic parable for Jesus persecutors to hear and apply to themselves. The angry king tells his servants to go out into the streets and bring in anyone and everyone until all the places are filled. Here's a twist. Is Universal Salvation the answer? Many in the church would like to think so. But then the king arrives and seeing a guest not properly attired, expels him and condemns him to eternal hell. Now we're thoroughly lost. Must we do something to merit our salvation? Is it not by grace alone? Neither is Jesus' summation particularly helpful. "For many are called, but few are chosen." But if we apply Jesus' summation to each chapter of the parable, it begins to make sense. Many are called but few are chosen. The king prepares the feast for all. "Come to me all who are burdened and heavy laden and I will give you rest," Jesus tells everyone. The invited guests are the ones who have long been waiting for the marriage to occur, who have searched the scriptures and inquired of the prophets for the coming of the Messiah. But when it happens, they do not come. They were called, but they were not chosen. So the king sends his servants out to bring in everyone from the streets. They come and fill the hall. But just as the wheat is gathered with the chaff, a sorting must take place. Many are called, but few are chosen. The guest without a wedding garment is one who is called but not chosen. The invitation is grace freely offered to all. The wedding clothes symbolize the change that grace makes happen within us. We become new in Christ. If that doesn't happen, we are as lost as those who never answered the call at all. Our world and our nation today need the church to be the church. The world needs the peace Jesus proclaims and the church is called to offer it. Many will hear. Some will respond. And some few of those will repent, change their lives, and become the chosen of God. These, the chosen of God, then become the church and join their voices with ours in the call. Many are called but few are chosen. May we continue to call and welcome the chosen among us. Amen.
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