Graceful Living Week 5

Give me work
Till my life shall end

And life

Till my work is done.

(On the grave of Winifred holtby Oxford book of prayer #385)

Daily Readings

Day 1: Matthew 22:1-14
Day 2: Philippians 4:1-9
Day 3: Psalm 23:1-3
Day 4: Psalm 23:4-6
Day 5: Isaiah 25:1-5
Day 6: Isaiah 25:6-9
Day 7: Isaiah 25:10-12

Weekly Reflections and Questions

Matthew 22:1-14

This parable (or parables) of the wedding banquet immediately follows the parable of the wicked tenants (Matthew 21:33-46).  Jesus continues to speak to the religious leaders who want to arrest him (Matthew 21:46). 
The parable of the wedding banquet of the king’s son has significant political overtones which can be easily overlooked.  Think about it … It would be imperative for those invited to attend the wedding feast of the king’s son, not only to show respect, gratitude and honor for the invitation, but also as an expression of loyalty to the heir to the throne.  To turn down such an invitation would not only be socially rude; it would be politically rebellious (and perhaps even politically suicidal).  Allegiance is at stake.  Excuses would hardly be acceptable; and unlike the parallel parable in Luke’s Gospel (Luke14:15-24) where a variety of excuses are given, those invited in Matthew’s parable offer none.   Instead, they “made light” (the Greek word implies a response of apathy and disregard) of the invitation (vs. 5). 
The political rebellion is magnified as the king’s slaves are mistreated and killed by those who were invited to the banquet.  In light of such insurrection, the king’s harsh response makes a bit more sense. The gracious invitation of the king to the wedding banquet is then extended to everyone, both good and bad alike (vs.9-10). 
The banquet hall is filled.  And then the focus of the parable turns to the attire of the wedding guests.  Why the concern about dress?  There is a scriptural reference to a king providing robes for the invited guests. (See 2 Kings 10:22)  In a similar way, many churches provide “proper” robes for choir members, acolytes or assisting ministers.  And many times in Paul’s writings, the Christian’s life is described as “putting on” the new life of faith. (See Romans 13:12-14; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:24.)  The proper garment would indicate not only a willingness to fully join in the king’s celebration but could also represent “putting on” the Christian life, bearing the proper fruit, and receiving the “garment of salvation” (Isaiah 61:10) from God. 
The imagery of the wedding banquet is a common theme in the Old and New Testament; for example, Isaiah speaks of a promised feast of rich foods which God will provide (Isaiah 25:6-9). Revelation 19 describes the final, victorious banquet with the Lamb.  Invitation, apathy, rejection, response – all echo in this parable.  Clearly for Matthew, the new community of the church was a strange assortment of people.  God acted with a marvelous disregard for the old rules of what was acceptable and be bestowed grace overflowing.
It comes in the mail. It’s usually fairly easy to identify, because unlike other pieces of mail, it’s usually in a heavier, more stately envelope.  Often times, there are embossed letters on it, making it appear almost regal.  Sometimes the address is written in a fancy script, signifying something important.  As you open the envelope, there is often an inner envelope to be opened as well, as if to say that the content of the envelope is so precious, so special, that it must not be creased or stained in its delivery.
Once the envelopes are finally opened, the letters on the parchment, printed in broad, bold strokes, often begin with these or similar words: “The honor of your presence is requested ….”  And oftentimes, at the bottom of the invitation are four letters asking for a response: RSVP.
Today’s parable, like the parables before it, is filled with grace and challenge for the follower of Jesus.  There is a gracious invitation to everyone to join in the feast of the kingdom.  We are invited to the table God has prepared for us.  Everyone is included by this loving and gracious God.  Everyone … including those we least expect.
But any invitation – even one without “RSVP requested” – calls for a response.  Will we go?  Will we enjoy the company?  Who will be there?  What shall we wear? 
As we open ourselves to receive Christ in our hearts … as we come willingly to the table, prepared to discard the old clothes of hatred, jealousy, and self-righteousness … as we quit thinking we have to earn the ticket to the meal but willingly accept the banquet that has been prepared … we are given a new wardrobe.  We are dressed in Christ.  We put on compassion, kindness, gentleness, forgiveness, and love.
That is the grace note sounding in the Gospel parable.  But along with that note is also sounded the note of judgment.  Even as God invites, God also gives us the freedom to respond.  We can choose to come or not attend the banquet. RSVP is requested.

1. If the issue isn’t clothing, what is the point of the parable?

2. Do you believe every person has received an invitation from God? In other words, has everyone heard the good news of God in Jesus Christ?

3. How can the challenge for modern-day Christians to invite someone to the banquet feast of God be lived out on a daily basis?

Philippians 4:1-9

As Paul concludes his letter to his beloved Philippians, he offers final words of concern for several women who are in leadership roles. Paul’s concern is not that women serve as leaders, but rather that Christian leaders do not have the same mind—the mind of Christ.  The congregation in Philippi was founded under the leadership of Lydia.  (See Acts. 16:11-15; 40)  In years past, Paul worked beside Eudoia and Syuntyche for the sake of Christ.  He knows the capabilities of women.  Paul asks the congregation to help these women work through their conflict. 
Paul shifts his attention from the particularities in Philippi and offers words for all times.  Paul keeps it simple. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4 NRSV) How confusing and puzzling his joyful attitude must have been to his jailers.
Paul’s words in this passage are worth putting on your refrigerator.  Take your worries to God in prayer.  Allow the peace of God to fill your hearts and minds.  Choose something positive to fill your thoughts.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, 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.  (Philippians 4:8 NRSV)
Bombarded by words, requests, and distractions, it can be challenging to keep focused on the positive. The competition for our best thoughts is fierce and ongoing.  Paul recommends giving full attention to those things positive. 
Paul final words of recommendation are quite personal.  Paul suggests using his own life, words, and actions as a model.  Paul knows he is not perfect, but offers himself as a living example of someone who puts his faith into action.
Peace comes from God alone in Christ Jesus.  Consequently, Paul rejoices and is filled with peace even as he sits in prison uncertain about his life.  Paul clearly sees the promised resurrection ahead, and he is ready.  But until that time, Paul vigorously keeps on doing the things on this earth which point to Christ.
Heather looks at the clock.  The minutes pass slowly as she waits for sunset.  Her mouth is dry.  She is hungry and thirsty.  As a faithful Muslim, Heather is participating in Ramadan, a holy month of fasting for adult males and females.  Ramadan’s obligatory fast includes abstaining from food, drink, and sexual activities from dawn until sunset.  Despite being ready for the end of her daily fast, Heather feels blessed by the discipline of giving up something.  She makes it through the fast by concentrating on God and her love for others. 
Some Christians choose to fast during the season of Lent.  Unlike Muslims who have specific guidelines on fasting, Christians vary in their practice.  Fasting during Lent might include abstaining from food such as meat on Fridays or chocolate for all of Lent.  Occasionally a congregation resolves to give up negative behavior like gossiping or bickering during Lent.  Others are encouraged to not give up something, but to take on acts of love and service.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he urges people to fast—to give up negativity and worry.  This is not an idle exercise, but advice for difficult times.  Paul writes his words while in prison, uncertain if he will be put to death.
Paul writes his words to the Philippians while in prison. He has every reason to complain and worry.  But instead, he focuses on things “worthy of praise.” He offers a word of blessing, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:7)
In baptism, we are reborn as children of God.  We are given the spirit of wisdom and understanding.  The peace of God will keep our minds on the things that are true, honorable, just, and pure. Once we fast from negativity, there is room and energy for that which is honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable.

1. Based on your knowledge about the role of women in the first century, what makes this request significant?

2. Does it surprise you to hear of these women leaders in Philippi? How so?

3. What changes, if any, occur in you once you focus on positive things?

4. Summarize Paul’s final words to his beloved people of Philippi.

5. Have you ever fasted? If so, describe the experience?

6. What is it like to be around someone who is always negative?

7. What would it be like to fast (give up) negative thoughts?

8. If you follow Paul’s advice, how might your life change?

Reflections and Questions from McCullough-Bade, “Daily Discipleship,” Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 2005.  McCullough-Bade, “Daily Faith Practices,” Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 2011.
Prayer, “The Oxford Book of Prayer,” Ed. George Appleton, Oxford University Press, 2009, pg 117.