Loyalty is More Than Just Showing Up

October 12, 2008

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas.

As a member of this church, I was serving as the Coordinator of the Centennial Capital Campaign. Hurricane Ike had hit the Houston/Galveston area hard just a few weeks earlier and the financial meltdown from which we are still struggling to recover had just begun…

Revised Common Lectionary – Proper 23, Year A (Exodus 32:1-14, Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23, Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14)

Good Morning,

I would venture to guess that our rector, Barbara, is a very good fly fisherman, figuratively speaking, anyway.

She finds a quiet spot in the river,
chooses her bait carefully,
and then, ever so skillfully,
drops the “fly” right in front of the unsuspecting trout and reels it in.

For those who have been that Hooked Trout, you know what I’m talking about, but for the rest of you, let me explain…

A few months ago, when we began gearing up for the Centennial Capital Campaign, Barbara mentioned that “it might be good to have one or two members of the parish preach during the stewardship period – to provide another voice for the congregation to hear.”

This would be THE BAIT and I’m THE UNSUSPECTING TROUT.

I told her that she does a fabulous job preaching, and that NO ONE grows tired of hearing her speak, and FRANKLY the thought of taking that on was a bit scary,

But then I said that if she thought it would be good, I’d be willing to do it.

THE HOOK

But, I never heard another word about it. I certainly wasn’t going to bring it up, and was hoping the whole idea had come and gone…

and then, 2 weeks ago, she said “I really do think it would be good to have someone else speak. Perhaps you can do it on Loyalty Sunday”…

She REELED me in –

So here I am before you this morning.
LOYALTY SUNDAY – this is a term used across many denominations, and is also called Commitment Sunday. Looking at today’s lessons and gospel reading, there is a lot said about loyalty and commitment.

Now, we’ve been following the journey of the Israelites out of Egypt, led by Moses. And, last week, Moses delivered the Law on behalf of God in the form of the 10 Commandments to the Israelites.

These commandments provided some clear directives on how to live a life acceptable to the covenant being established between them and God. Assuring the Israelites that they would have God’s protection and that He would lead them into the land of milk and honey, and make great nations of them.

Moses then went up on Mt. Sinai to work out the details and get it all squared away. Moses was gone for almost 40 days, and during his absence, the Israelites got nervous.

  • Where did he go?
  • Would he come back?
  • How can we be in covenant with God if our Leader isn’t here for us?

So, they lost faith that Moses would return, and since Moses was their representative for God, in their minds, they had lost their connection with God. So, just as we ourselves do when we get worried, the Israelites decided to take matters into their own hands, and asked Aaron to create an image so they could use it to worship God.

Now remember, this is a group that gets themselves all stirred up when they are complaining or in fear, and are not especially easy to reason with. So, Aaron made a feeble attempt to avert the wishes of the Israelites by asking them to “Tear Off” or “Break Off” their earrings and jewelry, hoping this would bring them to their senses. But the Israelites were not to be dissuaded. They handed over their gold and it was melted down and molded into a Golden Calf.

A Golden Calf or Bull was a common symbol for worship in Egypt, so here we see that the customs of other cultures continue to overtake the requirements set out by God for the Isrealites. God very clearly said “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” And, also: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, …”

So, within 40 days of receiving the Law, the first 2 Commandments have been cast aside, and the Israelites are worshiping a Golden Calf, making sacrifices to it and having a big party.

God sees this, and is furious. He tells Moses what’s happened and tells Moses to go away so that He can inflict His wrath on “these stiff-necked” people. They’ve given plenty of examples of their own selfish nature, and God’s had enough of it.

And what does Moses do, he stands up to God and intervenes on behalf of the Israelites. Not defending them, since there is no defense available, but instead by drawing God’s attention to His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. To “multiply their descendants like the stars in heaven”.

So, although the Israelites were disloyal to God’s commandments and were disloyal to Moses too, God showed his propensity for mercy and changed His mind.
– He repented
– He turned around.
This is not a weak decision, but one of strength.

When we get mad, it’s so easy to be completely blinded by our anger, that nothing will make us change our mind. It takes real strength to step back and remain loyal to what we have promised, or to be true to our own beliefs, even when others have not done the same.

So, to recap, Israelites were disloyal, Aaron was disloyal, Moses was loyal to the Israelites, and God, although initially ready to show his wrath, showed mercy instead, maintaining his loyalty to Abraham, Isaac and Israel.

Now, the Gospel reading from Matthew has something to say about commitment as well. It is one of many parables about the Kingdom of Heaven.

A king was throwing a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to invite the well-to-do and the movers and shakers in the community – but they weren’t interested.

The king sent his servants back out and made sure the invited guests realized that this was going to be a fantastic event, with oxen, fatted calves, the works! It was all ready, and all they had to do is come and enjoy it! But, they made light of it and carried on with their normal lives. Some even mistreated and killed the messengers sent by the King.

The King was furious and sent his troops to destroy those that had mistreated his servants, and he burned the city. But, he didn’t give up on the wedding banquet.

The King realized that those previously invited were not worthy, and sent his servants out into the streets to invite everyone they could find…

The good and bad. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.

Now, this seems like a good place to end the parable – the king was able to pull off a fabulous event for his son, and all the people, good and bad, were invited to join in the festivities!

But the story didn’t stop there…

The king noticed that one of the invited guests wasn’t wearing a wedding robe. The King asked him how he got in without one, and the man said nothing. The king told his attendants, `Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. ‘For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Now, I don’t’ know about you, but that seems a bit severe for simply not wearing the right clothes to something you just got pulled into off the street. And when I first read it, my gut reaction was to try to defend the man, saying, maybe he didn’t own a wedding robe and couldn’t afford one. But, if that were the case, it would have applied to many more of the attendees, so we have to remember that it’s a parable after all, and there’s a point being made.

A wedding robe would be a sign of respect for the King and his Son as part of this occasion. It wouldn’t be uncommon considering the way the guests were rounded up off the streets that the King provided wedding robes and that this one guest just didn’t even bother to put it on.

So, what this tells us is that “showing up” isn’t all there is.

To enjoy the feast, we have to demonstrate our faith – be committed to it.

And, in this case, since the guest didn’t attempt to show respect, he was cast out into the darkness.

So, in these lessons on this Loyalty Sunday, we are reminded that we are expected to demonstrate our commitment and loyalty to God and his ministry.

Even at times when we feel God is far away, or when we don’t feel like putting on the wedding robe, we are still called to be FAITHFUL, COMMITTED, LOYAL

Loyalty Sunday is the time each year that we openly solicit an outward demonstration of our commitment to God and His church. A time when we as members of the church community are asked to pledge our loyalty to the ministry of St. Andrew’s through our giving back.

With the unexpected expenses caused by Hurricane Ike and the turbulent financial market, it’s easy to be distracted by what is happening around us, and to get swept up in what everyone else is worried about.

But we are reminded from the letter of Paul to the Phillipians to focus on positive things. “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.”

It goes on to say

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.

AMEN

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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