10/15/2017 The Banquet Is Ready

Ordinary Time (Proper 23)
Exodus 32:1–14; Psalm 106:1–6, 19–23; Philippians 4:1–9; Matthew 22:1–14

Once again, I’m skipping over the Gospel lection (that my denomination’s worship office recommends) to focus on Paul’s letter.

One of my favorite TV shows is “The Amazing Race.” It’s been a frequent winner of an Emmy in the reality-show category, so my guess is that a whole lot of other folks like it, too. The DVR is set for it during those few months when it’s on. Back when it was on Sunday nights, allowances had to be made for NFL football game running late, of course.

It appeals to me on at least a couple levels. First, the show allows me to “travel” around the world along with the teams without actually having to go to places that are not and will never be on my Bucket List. Even the mere thought of squeezing into a golf-cart-sized mini-taxi to navigate through the crowded streets of Mumbai, India, is enough to make me glad there’s a bathroom just a few short steps away from my family-room recliner. How could I ever handle the stress, the strange food, and quite possibly the dysentery around every corner? Some adventures, at least for me, are better experienced from a safe distance. You may be different. Good for you.

Pit Stop location in a plaza in the old, walled city in Cartagena, Colombia

However, I did make a point of visiting a pit stop location on the race in Cartagena, Colombia, while on a cruise. I’d seen that episode just a couple weeks before on TV (the race was run months before, I’m sure) and just couldn’t pass up the chance.

There’s a second, equally important reason I would not become an Amazing Race participant: What personal relationship would I want to ruin by racing tag-team-like around the world? Every season on the show there’s at least one team that appears to bicker nonstop. I’m sure some of that is due to editing, but even the most successful teams have moments of tension. Sometimes it’s dating couples, siblings, longtime “best friends,” or more recently, total strangers thrown together to run the race.

Finally, even the best and smartest teams have their moments of unexpected stupidity–for millions of viewers to laugh and/or cringe about. Certainly the race is a whole lot easier to navigate when you’re watching from the comfort of an easy chair or sofa. But this, in its own way, also highlights the fact that there’s more to this race than speeding through the assigned tasks to land on the Pit Stop mat first. I’ve often thought it would be an excellent idea for teams to wear t-shirts with the words–printed on front and back–that put it just this simply: Pay Attention!

Phil Keoghan, host of “The Amazing Race”

I remember a few seasons back, more than half the teams arrived at the Pit Stop, only to be informed by Phil, the host, that they had to go back to the last task and read the sign telling them to hand over all their money to the orphanage, not just what they’d earned by either parking scooters or begging for tips while dancing on a street corner. All because they didn’t pay attention to the directions, something all of us have been told time and again by parents, teachers, and spouses. Two teams were eliminated, including the couple who previously had each won $1 million on the TV show “Survivor.”

Last week’s lectionary epistle included Paul’s famous exhortation to faithfully run the race. This week the apostle advises the young church in Philippi to slow down, center themselves on what’s truly important, and get along:

Rembrandt’s depiction of Paul in prison

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.

Two women in the group, Euodia and Syntyche, had not been getting along. We don’t know what the problem was, but for Paul to mention it indicates that their dispute must have been having a negative effect on this little faith community. And so he counsels the entire group to put into practice those things he had taught them previously: “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.” Considering that Paul was writing to them from a Roman prison, it’s even more remarkable that he tells them to rejoice in the Lord always.

One thing hasn’t changed in the two millenia since Paul wrote this letter: church communities are still far from perfect; sometimes people don’t get along; often we put aside those things we know we should do to engage in behaviors that we shouldn’t. Maybe we think this time is different. Or maybe we’re more into placing blame (of course on other people, not ourselves). Or maybe we’re just not paying attention to what’s really going on all around us.

My new book, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile, is up on Amazon in both print and e-book formats:  161-page Book ; Kindle e-book.The ancient Hebrew prophets can serve as guides for modern-day prophetic communities to engage in actions for peace and social justice. Each of the 10 chapters includes questions for reflection and discussion, making this great for class use.</e</em

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