A Reading from the Book of Exodus (32:1-14)
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel. The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
Psalm (106:1-6, 19-23)
1 Hallelujah! Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, *
for his mercy endures for ever.
2 Who can declare the mighty acts of the Lord *
or show forth all his praise?
3 Happy are those who act with justice *
and always do what is right!
4 Remember me, O Lord, with the favor you have for your people, *
and visit me with your saving help;
5 That I may see the prosperity of your elect
and be glad with the gladness of your people, *
that I may glory with your inheritance.
6 We have sinned as our forebears did; *
we have done wrong and dealt wickedly.
19 Israel made a bull-calf at Horeb *
and worshiped a molten image;
20 And so they exchanged their Glory *
for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.
21 They forgot God their Savior, *
who had done great things in Egypt,
22 Wonderful deeds in the land of Ham, *
and fearful things at the Red Sea.
23 So he would have destroyed them,
had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, *
to turn away his wrath from consuming them.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Philippians (4:1-9)
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 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. 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. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (22:1-14)
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Last Monday morning, I attended the first meeting of a new group, designed to bring together the work of the Eastern Hills Neighborhood Association and the community that it serves with that of Kemp School and to strengthen the bonds and cooperation between them.
At the conclusion of our gathering, two members of the school staff introduced us to a significant, new initiative in the school. It is known as the Restorative Justice program. Essentially, it is an attempt to respond, in a more positive and productive way, to discipline problems and, especially, to conflicts between students. It encourages them and their peers to find healthy and positive ways to address their differences and to focus their attention and efforts, first of all, on their own education and on the important work that the school is trying to do for all students
Conflicts, differences between people, are inevitable. They are part of life. They happen in schools, in society as a whole, and even, of course, in churches. So it was in the beginning, is now, and most probably will be forever. They happened even in what appears to be one of the most vibrant and faithful churches in New Testament times: the church in Philippi.
As St. Paul writes to that church in today’s second reading, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.” From the context, Euodia and Syntyche seem both to have been leaders in their church. While we can’t be sure, they might have been among that group of leading women who were Paul’s first contacts when he arrived in Europe. They had, as he says, labored side-by-side with him in “the work of the gospel.” But apparently there was some conflict between them. They just weren’t getting along. Paul was concerned about them; but Paul was concerned also about how their personal differences, whatever they might have been, could detract from the overall mission and ministry of the church in that place.
That certainly wasn’t the last time that that would happen. Sometimes personal disagreements between church members remain in-check and don’t interfere with the work of the church. At others times, they do. Over the past several years, I have been called upon to assist, to varying degrees, several other churches that were going through difficult times. In one of them, one of the contributing problems was a personal conflict between two leaders in the congregation. Like Euodia and Synteche, both of them were strong women who had contributed, and who continue to contribute, much to the work of the church. Both were accustomed to being leaders; and their personalities were more alike than they wanted to admit. But their personal differences, and their unwillingness to talk about them with each other in a constructive way, had begun to takes its toll on their ability to work together, and on the life and ministry of the church.
Disagreements in themselves are not necessarily negative things. They can provide differing perspectives and help to foster a fuller, more complete approach to issues and opportunities. They can even result in the identification of new ideas and approaches.
In today’s first reading, we have an example of two different points of view. And the two characters involved certainly present positive, strong images. The first is Moses, and the second is God. (That’s a pretty good pair of leaders!)
When the passage begins, Moses is up on Mt. Horeb, or Sinai, with God. The people have grown impatient, and have demanded that Aaron make for them an idol: not another god, but an image of God, that will lead them directly to the Promised Land. Aaron complied, and God was furious. God was ready to destroy them all, and told Moses to go down immediately to “your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt.” But Moses confronted God with another perspective. He told God, “Wait a minute. These are not my people whom I brought up out of the land of Egypt. They are your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt.” Then Moses laid out the consequences of God’s proposed actions and reminded God of God’s own reputation and of God’s promises. In the tense, but mutually respectful, exchange between the two of them, they reached a consensus on another approach to the crisis, and God “changed his mind,” or literally “repented.” And the greater good prevailed. The future of Israel was ensured.
Sometimes we all can get so caught-up in our own, personal concerns that we can unintentionally allow them to detract from much greater needs, from the common good. That is true not only of conflicts or disagreements between people, but even of some of the very positive work that we do. Over the years, parishioners dedicate themselves to one particular aspect of parish life, to one particular ministry, to one particular social event that it becomes so paramount in their thinking that they lose sight of the overall mission of the church. For them, it might hold special memories or a particular emotional attachment. While it may have been or might even continue to be a positive contribution to the church’s work, it can take on undue importance and make us lose sight of the bigger picture: of the overall work that we are called to do in serving the community in God’s name and building up the kingdom. We can lose our perspective.
In our first reading, even God seems temporarily to have lost perspective. In God’s anger, and in the hurt that God has experienced because of the unfaithfulness of the Israelites, God is ready to strike back. But Moses is bold enough to call God to look at more important issues. It’s not that Israel’s idolatry is not a big thing. It is. But Moses points out that God’s reputation and God’s promises are more important still.
As we go about doing the work that God has given us to do, we constantly need to remind ourselves – and maybe to be reminded in our weekly worship – of the larger picture: of God’s fundamental call to us to live in the kingdom and to build up the kingdom. We need to recall, as some of the first believers in Philippi needed to recall, the great gift that God has given us by making us, not just individuals in relationship with Christ, but one people, one Body in Christ. And it is the life of that Body and of the mission that God has entrusted to it, that is of greatest importance.