Relationships are Messy by Vicar A.J. Houseman
There are parts of the Bible that we cherish. Parts that are magical stories that we share with our kids. That we paint great mosaics of. That we embroider onto banners, blankets, and the church paraments. We imprint these images onto stained glass. We have statues and figurines of the heroes of Biblical stories.
Stories such as Noah and the Ark. You often see a big dove flying with an olive branch that means they have finally found dry land. The rainbow which is a sign of a covenant between God and Noah. Or fun images of all the animals boarding the big boat in pairs, then disembarking in threes.
Or how about Joseph and his beautiful coat. The coat of many colors.
Or Moses kneeling at the burning bush, or parting the sea, standing with his staff in front of Pharaoh. Or a little later, bringing the 10 commandment tablets down the mountain.
Or we see King David as a small child standing up to Big Goliath with only a slingshot. Or David and his Lyre playing a gentle melody.
And we have so many of these about Jesus! Jesus with the dove on his head on transfiguration day. Jesus healing the sick. Jesus riding on the donkey into Jerusalem. Jesus ascending into heaven. Jesus praying in the garden. Jesus walking on water. Jesus feeding the 5,000. And it goes on and on.
We have a tendency to focus on these shiny, happy, hero parts of the Bible. And we should. But we should also wrestle with the uncomfortable parts of the Bible.
Now, a lot of these uncomfortable parts of the Bible are the same stories, just looked at from a different perspective.
When we look at the story of Noah and the ark, what about the perspective of everyone else? Everyone who isn’t Noah’s family and the animals. Like how about Noah’s neighbor? Or the family down the road that sold fruit at the market? Our scriptures tell us to story of our God killing everyone on Earth except this one family. The rainbow isn’t as pretty now, is it?
Or how because of Joseph and his pretty coat, God led the Hebrew people into life in Egypt, only for them to be turned into slaves a few generations later so that Moses had to rescue them.
Then how they wandered in the desert for 40 years, dehydrated and malnourished, and went crazy and made statues of cows to worship?
We have to wrestle with the uncomfortable. We have to ask questions like why? What does this tell us about God? What does this tell us about God’s people? What does this tell us about our own faith?
Blind faith in just the warm and fuzzy parts of the Bible is like believing in Santa Claus based on just the Hallmark movies. It isn’t real and it’s not sustainable.
Some of the most faithful times of our lives are the ones that test us. The times when we have to search for God in our pain. Search for God in what feels like silence. Search for God in the midst of chaos, pandemics, and Earth destroying floods.
I’m going to tell you a secret: faith is messy. Our relationship with the God of creation is messy. Our relationship with scripture and the ancestral history of its contents is messy. Not only is that ok, but it is good!
Take for instance, relationships you have with your friends. Like, think of your best friend. Seriously, I want you to imagine someone right now. How long have you been friends? How did you become friends? Is this a person you can tell anything to? How about, do they tell you everything? Even the stuff that is embarrassing? Or how about the stuff that makes you mad? Or hurts your feelings?
Do you work through it? Together? Wrestle with the stuff in your relationship that is hurtful sometimes, painful, the stuff that makes you angry. That is just as much a part of a relationship as sharing in the joys of life. It’s real and it’s intimate.
Sometimes you are mad at your best friend. Sometimes they hurt you. Sometimes they embarrass you. Sometimes they let you down. But you love them, and you wrestle through it.
You don’t do this for everyone though. Like acquaintances, people you barely know. Friendships that haven’t formed to that level of trust yet.
You only get to this level of friendship with time, energy, love, and shared experiences.
Our relationship with scripture works the same way. We have spent a lifetime getting to know the words of God. There are times that we turn to scripture for comfort, times we turn to it for advice, and times we turn to it when we don’t know where else to turn.
But there are also times when we get angry at it. Angry that it doesn’t have the answers we want. Angry when it’s used as a weapon against you for your gender, sexuality, or race. Times when the Bible itself is used to exclude, oppress, and cast out.
The Bible has been used against me like that. Some days I think it's nothing short of a miracle that I am standing here. I wrestled with the comfortable, painful, and the angry in my relationship with scripture.
It’s the difference between a shallow relationship and one that with someone you love and depend on.
Our gospel lesson today is just one of those stories that we have to wrestle with. It’s of course, another parable. Which often can feel like riddles and mind games that Jesus has left behind for 2,000 years of Christian arguments.
If we look at the parable allegorically, God is the king throwing the banquet, this is heaven, and Jesus is the son. So there were people who were on the guest list but they committed a bunch of crimes so they can’t come anymore, so then the king is like go out and find any old riff raff on the streets, both good and bad and invite them to the banquet. Ok, cool. We can work with that.
So far, it's a bit colorful, Jesus’ last few parables have been pretty murdery. It’s where he is. Remember, it's Holy Monday, he is fighting with the Jewish authorities. He isn’t shy about it.
Ok, so invite whatever good or bad people you find on the streets to the banquet. Then, the riff raff come and someone isn’t dressed right so the king is like, “tie him up, throw him out into the darkness where there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth.” uhhhh. Ok. Now I’m lost. Now I have lost the plot, Jesus. Even those guys aren’t good enough now?
So let’s wrestle. Later in Matthew 22, Jesus is tested about the law and what does he say? He says, “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” He says, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
This is where Jesus re-defines the law for us. Remember last week, I shared that we are to interpret the law in light of the Gospel. That is, to take a look at all of the laws, the harsh language of who is in and who is out, and put them into a new perspective in light of the gift of salvation through grace by faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?
So back to our parable… who are we in the story? I definitely feel like the guy who is definitely the riff raff who is invited to a party way above their class level, is unprepared and under-dressed. I’m not worthy of the Kingdom of God. The only reason I’m there is by the grace of God!
Perhaps, none of us are worthy. Perhaps, the point is just this: that none are worthy of the banquet, but we are invited anyways. We are invited because Jesus Christ made it possible for us.
Perhaps we still have more wrestling to do.
Through this process of wrestling we can deepen our faith, our relationship to scripture, and to God. Not because it’s just a happy story with a happy ending, but because our relationship is real, we can wrestle with the hard stuff, and find grace even in the messy. Amen.