sermons, songs, etceteras
This sermon was originally preached on March 8, 2023 at Augsburg University.
Scripture Texts: Jeremiah 6:13-20; 7:3-11 | Matthew 22:1-14
Good morning, Beloveds. Thank you, Pastors Hannah and Babette, for inviting me to be here today, and for your lovely introduction. I am honored to be with you all, and to explore together what it looks like to be God's people: that is, how to be people of Peace in an active, deliberate, and just way. I paired today's gospel lesson in Matthew 22 with the prophecy and Temple sermon to the people of Judah in Jeremiah 6 and 7. The two narratives may seem incongruous or mismatched, but I have come to see then as mirror images of each other, and mirrors for readers, cautioning us about the ways God's people are prone to behave when circumstances or Spirit challenge our assumptions and practices, and each offering a different, better way. So let's dive in.
In Jeremiah 6, we see the people of God on the verge of invasion and being warned by the prophet that for all their keeping of certain rules and regulations regarding Temple worship, they've utterly missed the mark and are on the verge of disaster: The oppressed have themselves become oppressive toward the vulnerable and careless with the wounded, declaring "peace peace when there is no peace!" They follow Laws of the Temple while defying the Law of Love toward others, and so their sacrifices and offerings turn to rot in God's nose.
So Jeremiah gives them clear directions in the Temple Sermon of chapter 7, on how to avoid their own doom: Amend your ways! Do justice! Welcome foreigners! Take care of orphans and single mothers! And put an end to the violence --
THEN, he says, God will inhabit both God's people and God's place, and be blessed. But so long as they sow injustice and oppress the vulnerable, declaring peace when there is none, the destruction awaiting them will be the fruit of their own schemes.â
Hold on to that as we move over into Matthewâs Parable of the Wedding Feast.
Here, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven -- that is, the Place and People of God -- to a Sovereign who throws a magnificent wedding banquet for Their child. Twice, he sends out messengers inviting their people to a royal wedding feast and twice their invitation is rejected -- first apathetic indifference, and then with extraordinary violence.
Now let me say that at this point how easy it would be to pull a hellfire-and-brimstone sermon from what happens to the people who reject the Sovereign's invitation, but then we'd miss the beating heart of this story.
And to get at that, we have to consider some crucial questions about dignity and personhood, and about what and who matters to God. Because remember: This story? Of a Sovereign who burns down a city in response to Their peoples rejection of Their son's Love and Belovedness? This is what Jesus says God and Their Kin-dom are like.
So for starters, to understand why the Sovereign's own people reacted so violently to a simple wedding invitation, we have to ask: who was their child? And to whom were they betrothed?
Now, If we hold up the text as a mirror and get curious about this text in a modern context, a few pictures emerge: One, of burning crosses, and Black boys lynched for looking at a white women the wrong way. One of interracial marriage that required a Supreme Court ruling to be legal -- never mind safe. If the Sovereign's son was engaged to marry outside his race, ethnicity, or clan, I begin to recognize the violent backlash of Their people.
Or consider this image: One of a transgender groom and his queer spouse-to-be; the prospect of an extravagant wedding hall decorated in Pride flags and featuring drag performers. Given the ongoing violence trans people face, along with the rhetorical and legislative assault Christian Nationalists have long waged against same-sex marriage and LGBTQIA+ rights it's not hard to see our own rageful, bigoted neighbors in the violence of those who rejected the Sovereign's wedding invitation.
If we can know the son, then we can recognize the rage and violence of the people who despised his joy. And if we can recognize their violence, then we can begin to understand the Sovereign's rage and vengeance.
On first reading, it may seem like an overreaction to rain down fire, destroy a city, and return the peoples violence back to them tenfold. but as the bisexual mother of a queer autistic kid? I get it. My kid is sacred, his joy is holy, and his belovedness is not to be fcked with. I draw hard boundaries around who is welcome in our lives and I will not allow him to be reduced, diminished, or dishonored by those who refuse to see the Resplendent Image of God in his queer face and flesh, or, worse, condemn him for it in God's name.
The truth is that if I invited our people -- our family, friends, or neighbors -- to my child's wedding and offered a magnificent feast in celebration of his Love, and they responded with violence? I can't say I wouldn't rain down fire in defense of his queer belovedness.
Even if just they responded with casual indifference or mockery like the first round of invitees did in Jesus's parable, I would absolutely follow the Sovereign lead and issue an open-invitation to all of social media to come to the party. I'd want to name names and speak plainly about bigots who turned on their own kin, and I would relish in the community of strangers and chosen family who showed up to celebrate my kid in the stead of those who should have come but could not be bothered.
And I would definitely flex my pettiest muscles, just like ths Sovereign did in the end, calling out and kicking out anyone who dared, after all that, to show up underdressed.
My point is this, friends: If I, an incredibly basic human mother, am prone to feelings of righteous rage and vengeance in defense of my only son's belovedness, how much more does our Mother in heaven protect Her children's dignity against any who might assail us; If I am inclined to celebrate my son as extravagantly, proudly, and jealously as I do, how much more does our Heavenly Mother celebrate us?
The Sovereign's vengeance only seems extreme if we're too casual or callous about the violence inflicted upon Her vulnerable Beloved.
Which brings me back to Jeremiah, and to that refrain that rings through his and Ezekiel's prophecies, so deeply oppressive in its fence-sitting, middle-road, lukewarm non-violence: "Peace peace you say, when there is no peace."
On the micro level, I read those words and I hear my own mother asking me to "keep the peace" and agree to disagree while some in our family believe my and my child's queerness are abominable before God. I want to scream Shakespear at her: Peace? I hate the word.
Scaled to our culture, what I hear in that refrain is the message which invariably follows every police murder of a Black sibling. As soon as we begin to fill the streets, demanding justice and change -- always with the same fury, and sometimes with the same fire that the Sovereign of rained down on those who murdered Their messengers and dishonored Their son -- we are met with calls for peace... and calm... from those who chastise our rage and deem our riots excessive, but never the violence which provokes it.
Every time they call for peace, I call up the words of Martin Luther King Jr who called that the kind of peace "that stinks in the nostrils of the almighty God." Indeed, he said, "if Black folks" -- and we could add trans people, undocumented folks, women -- if we "will all just accept our place, accept exploitation and injustice, there will be peace -- But it will be an obnoxious peace."
I'm going to leave you today with a song I wrote in the wake of George Floyd's murder, and I invite you, as you listen, to reflect on how God and Their Gospel are revealed in today's texts, and who They are inviting you to be as God's people in this place.