Shout (A Little Bit Louder Now)!

A feast of rich foods, meat filled with the marrow, well-aged wines, a cup filled and running over.

Today we hear from the scriptures that the Lord takes care of us and provides for us, offers us more than we need, so that we are not wanting, not lacking, but find ourselves filled, and our cup running over.  God promises to provide for us in our need and to care for us in our times of despair and need.

Jesus, in his third consecutive parable about the nature of the Kingdom of God, compares God’s reign to a royal wedding banquet thrown by a king for his son, in which the king prepares a dinner, slaughters all the good meats – the oxen and fat calves – makes a sumptuous feast ready for the guests – and sends out messengers to those who are invited letting them know everything is ready.

Clearly, Jesus views the Kingdom of God as a celebration to be enjoyed, where as in the case of a wedding, a new beginning opens up before us, full of possibility and new life.

In my role as pastor, I have been invited to attend and preside at some wonderful weddings through the years, but one of my favorites took place two summers ago, right here where I’m standing. 

It was a wedding for a beautiful couple – but a different kind of wedding than I had presided at in a few ways –

She was a widow and he had been previously married, but they had gone to high school together and reconnected, and in fact, the weekend before the wedding ceremony, they attended their 50th high school reunion together!

It was actually during the process of planning for that 50th high school reunion celebration that this couple rekindled their friendship and connected over their love of Tucker High School, their shared friends, and their faith.

At their wedding ceremony, we worshipped together, we received holy communion together at the Lord’s table together, and their children and grandchildren and friends watched as they promised their love and support to one another.

I’ll never forget the service because they chose 5 readings from the gospels, 2 from the Old Testament and 2 additional readings from the Epistles!  They asked if that was too many and I said, “it’s your wedding!”

And I’ll never forget the wedding because the party afterwards was a throw down!  We went to a club with good food, good drinks, and a great DJ who spun tunes and got us all out to dance floor with the Isley Brothers singing;

Well, you know you make me want to (Shout)
Kick my heels up and (Shout)
Throw my hands up and (Shout)
Throw my head back and (Shout)
Come on now

And when they sang “a little bit softer now” we all got down low…

And as they sang “a little bit louder now” we all jumped up again – and we danced and we danced and we danced – the grandkids, the kids, the grandparents, people with walkers shuffled and babies rocked their heads back and forth as the music pumped – we sweated and danced and we rejoiced.

God wants us to rejoice in him.

God’s Kingdom is like a celebration and God wants us at the party.

God wants us to be filled and running over with joy and peace.

And so God has put you and me on the guest list.  God has prepared a name card to sit on the plate at the table with our name on it.  God invites us.

The Kingdom of God is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son and when the guests say their too busy to come, he sent more messengers out to try to convince them, and when the intended guests make more excuses, he goes out and invites others – anyone, people on the street, anyone hanging around – both the good and the bad so that the wedding hall was filled.

God comes to us again and again – inviting, extending, reaching out, searching out, laying out blessings, preparing good things, because he wants us to be there at the party, in the Kingdom, with him where there is joy and peace.

But we don’t have to accept the invitation.

And I think that’s what the curious ending to Jesus’ parable is about…

The ending here is notorious among Biblical scholars who agree that they don’t really know what to make of it…

But the way the story ends: One person who is compelled to come, maybe for the free food or for the choice drinks, hasn’t brought (or won’t wear the festival garment that is provided).  And when he is questioned, he is speechless and the king says to the attendants, bind him hand and foot and throw him into the outer dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth…

For whatever reason, this person is at the party, but doesn’t want to celebrate.  The king has offered everything, but the person is ungrateful and won’t participate in the festivity. 

And there are lots of excuses we cite these days for not wanting to celebrate.  For leaving the festal robe of gratitude in the back of the closet behind the vacuum cleaner and our snow boots.

A worldwide pandemic has rocked us to the core, our election season is wildly unnerving and ugly and we are unsure of the future, and everything is more difficult. 

But the scriptures are clear: God wants us to rejoice.  

Paul says it well:

“Rejoice in the Lord always;”

And the word “always” is significant.

Remember again that Paul is in Rome, in prison, and he doesn’t know what the future holds.  If or when he will be executed.  Each day could be his last.

But he encourages the church in Philippi and us – Rejoice in the Lord.  Always.  Do not worry 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.”

God rescues us from the worry.  God eases us with the assurance that he is near.  God listens to the outpouring of prayer and speaks wisdom to guide us.

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true,” Paul continues, “whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Here’s the thing: you and I have choices.

God has given us agency.  We can choose what we think about, we can control how much news we consume, we can decide how long we spend in front of our devices. I know it’s hard.  But God invites us to rejoice.

And I would go so far as to say that God instructs us to rejoice and even expects us to rejoice, even when it feels like good Friday, because we know we live in the light of Easter and God’s victory over death and power over darkness.

And so, we are called to receive God’s joy and peace —

We can’t muster our own joy and peace through positive thinking, we can’t order it off Amazon, there’s not a TED talk about how to achieve it, but in the midst of the trouble and the trial God extends joy and peace that come as a gift.

And we are called to receive it.  And accept it.  And treasure it. 

And so, we see that as large and as long as God’s guest list is, although it includes you and me and all people, God will do some casting out. 

We are invited to God’s party but God will banish and destroy the shroud that is cast over the people, God will expel tears and disgrace and shame, God will swallow up death forever, and extinguish all the forces that would separate us from God and make our hearts heavy with reluctance to praise and shout and dance in celebration of God will be thrown into the outer darkness.

If we are honest, not only are we reluctant to attend the celebration of God, but there are some people we would exclude from the banquet.  But God doesn’t and God won’t.  God extends the invitation to those the world overlooks and shuns, those whom we would overlook and exclude, and even invites the good and the bad.  In the end, God will finally cast out the divisions we believe separate us.

An so, thanks be to God we are not making the guest list for the Kingdom of God – but God makes the guest list.  And God prepares the banquet.  And God fills the cups to overflowing.

And God is behind the DJ table, pumping the music, calling us onto the dance floor, spinning the jams inviting us to

Kick our heels up and (Shout)
Throw our hands up and (Shout)
Throw our head back and (Shout)
Come on now!

Because our Lord prepares a banquet where we are seated with God and with one another and where God invites us to feast on peace and joy, which are overflowing, so let us rejoice in the Lord always,

And sing it a little bit softer now…. This is our God…let us be glad and rejoice…

Sing it a little bit louder now… This is our God…let us rejoice and be glad.

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