10/12/2014 Invite All to Christ

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

From the 2011 ForeWords archive:

One of my favorite TV shows is “The Amazing Race.” Considering that it once again won an Emmy in the reality-show category a few weeks ago, my guess is that a whole lot of other folks like it, too. The Tivo is set every Sunday night for it–of course, with extra minutes added because the NFL football game almost always runs late.

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.

Siblings Justin & Jenny

Second, 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. The current season has a brother/sister duo filling the role of “most likely to squabble endlessly.” Previous seasons often had dating couples in that role.

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

Last Sunday night, for example, 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, 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 thousand years 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.


About Rich Brown

Rich Brown is a writer, blogger, editor, and publisher. His most recent book is "Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile" (Isaac's Press).
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