On Sunday October 12th I led worship at Park Grove Chapel Knaresborough. We began worship as we sang, ‘Thy hand, O God has guided thy flock from age to age.’ I led the opening prayers of praise, thanksgiving, confession and the Lord’s Prayer. A member of the congregation read from Philippians 4v1-9. I told the children about how Paul was concerned about a quarrel between two women, Euodia and Syntyche, in the church at Philippi. He encouraged another member of the church to act as a go between to help them agree. He also told them not to worry but to bring every sorrow and joy in thankful prayer to God. I reminded them that only as we get to know Jesus as a friend, can we find help not to fight or quarrel with each other. They were encouraged to fill their minds with good, noble and lovely thoughts as that would help them live at peace together. I must admit verses 5b-8 are particularly poignant and important to me, as my mother told me as an anxious teenager with low self esteem to concentrate on.
‘The Lord is near; do not be anxious, but in everything make your requests known to God in prayer and petition with thanksgiving. Then the peace of God which is beyond all understanding will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. And now, my friends, all that is true, all that is noble, all that is just and pure, all that is lovable and attractive, whatever is excellent and admirable – fill your thoughts with these things.’
We then sang two songs of fellowship; ‘Come on and celebrate the Son of God’; and ‘Give thanks with a grateful heart’ before we read Psalm 23 responsively. Then we had a dramatised reading based on Matthew 22v1-14, the parable of the wedding feast. We then sang, ‘Come, sinners, to the gospel feast’ before I preached.
The king had sent out invitations to his son’s wedding feast earlier; when they had originally been sent the exact date and time of the feast would not have been known. Only when the feast was ready did the servants go to tell the invited guests that the time had come for them to come and celebrate with the family. Psalm 23 described God as a caring shepherd who not only supported his sheep through difficulties but was their constant companion and helper. He also was preparing a sumptuous banquet for them. God gave them the choice to accept or reject the generous invitation.
However when the servants came to bring the invited guests to the prepared feast, they all turned invitations down at the last minute. Those guests represented the Jewish leaders, who knew they were the chosen people, but had refused to accept and follow God’s Son Jesus. Not only did they refuse the invitations but they beat and even killed some of the servants, so the king responded by burning their cities. That action might seem drastic to us, but Matthew was compiling his gospel between AD 80 and AD 90 after the complete destruction of Jerusalem by Roman armies in AD 70. Such disaster would not have occurred Matthew was saying, if the Jewish leaders had accepted the way of Christ and walked in love, humility and sacrifice, they would never have been the rebellious, warring people who had finally provoked the wrath of Rome bringing the destruction of Jerusalem.
The reasons for refusing the invitation to the wedding feast were not necessarily wicked, but they were too caught up in the business of life so that they failed to respond to the soft invitation of Christ and missed out on life in all its abundance. Then God’s invitation of grace then went out to those who did not deserve it. Those called in from the streets were the sinners and gentiles who had no expectation of such undeserved grace. They came in repentance and accepted the welcoming unconditional love Jesus offered and their lives were changed. What seems puzzling to us when the poor guest with no wedding garment should be rejected, but it means that those who came had to be ready to leave their old lives behind and seek to be changed by that love or they would fail to be accepted as a guest. We are called to come to worship in full expectation of being in God’s presence and need to be prepared to receive when we come. Only as allow God to change us can we really share Jesus’ love and acceptance with others.
We then sang ‘Jesu, lover of my soul’ before I led the intercessions. Our worship concluded when we sang, ‘The Kingdom of God is justice and peace.’