ON NOT DOING IT MY WAY
SCRIPTURE: Exodus 32:1-14; Matthew 22:1-14
In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!
Recently in the news there was story of an English couple going through a messy divorce. She was to get what he considered “his” luxury sailboat. In anger he hacked it up and sank it in the harbor. The judge came back and told the man he now not only lost the boat, he had to pay her it’s value, and pay to get it cleared out of the harbor as well. For some reason Frank Sinatra’s song, “My Way” came to mind. A United Methodist minister stated that he once had a request for the Sinatra song at a memorial service. He mused, “Can you just see someone standing before God singing, ‘I did it my way.’”
Rugged individualism is a historic American trait. Here in Wyoming the pioneering spirit of solitary individuals or families carving out a place on the prairie wilderness to establish a new frontier served our territory and state well in its early years. We have long valued individuality, creativity, and uniqueness. Yet there needs to be some limits in doing it “my way.” A relationship of partnership is needed.
In contrast is Homer’s wonderful tale, Odyssey, from ancient Greece. At the beginning the goddess Athena serves as a type of holy spirit when she appears as Mentor and lights a fire under Telemachus to search for his father. Athena and Telemachus form a divine-human partnership as she prods, encourages, and gives him a vision of what he needs to do. The outcome is a partnership when Odysseus returns home with his son to Penelope his wife.
Early in scripture, in the creation accounts, we see an emphasis on partnership. In Genesis 1, when God creates human, they are immediately given dominion, or made stewards of the earth’s creatures. In Genesis 2, God makes a man and sees that the man needs help. (No comment ladies! It was not the case where the man wouldn’t ask or directions, so God had to make him a GPS). God seeks a partner for man. God creates the whole order of living beings, but there is no helper. Finally, woman is created and the man recognizes his partner. A creative partnership is affirmed.
A primary emphasis in the Book of Exodus is also on partnership, a partnership between God and the Hebrew people. At the beginning of Exodus the Hebrews are in the same state of chaos as the cosmos before creation. There are some supernatural elements in the story of Moses’ birth, echoes of the flood story. Moses’ name means “drawn out of water.”
In the face of a new, shrewd, mean-spirited king in Egypt, God partners with the midwives, Moses’ sister, Pharaoh’s daughter, and Moses’ mother, to bring Moses to adulthood so God and Moses can partner together in the exodus.
God calls Moses to speak God’s word to the people. God has created by word. The exodus experience will be like a new creation. Moses is hesitant because he does not speak well. Consequently, God involves Aaron in the partnership. God speaks to Moses. Moses speaks to Aaron. Aaron tells the people. The entire exodus process, including the giving and receiving the law, is a partnership experience.
In the gift of the law the beauty of the divine-human partnership is outlined. We see the law guide us toward health and growth, and pull us back from abuse and destruction. It is a gracious expression of God’s love and its purpose is our becoming all God intended in our creation. One of the dimensions of the law, which keeps us growing and healthy in proper partnership, is the clear distinction between creator and created, between God’s being and our being.
Those who go it alone, who say, “I’ll do it my way,” don’t want laws, guidance, help, or partnership. They think they are superior. They play God. Remember last week I mentioned that Abraham and Moses thought they could play God. Aaron is one such person, who goes it alone in our passage today. The people become impatient. (Doesn’t impatience always do us in?) Under Aaron’s misguided leadership they do the very thing God has said will destroy their spirits, they create a counterfeit god. Aaron is playing God in creating a god. He is a bad steward, not practicing dominion or care for the people, or partnership with God. Aaron says, “I’ll do it my way.”
Notice the response of God. To Moses God says, “Leave me alone, so my wrath may burn hot against them.” In anger God wants to dissolve the partnership. God wants to dissolve the partners! All too often it is in responding in anger that we also dissolve creative partnerships. In so doing we hurt ourselves and others.
Yet Moses pleads on behalf of the people calling to memory Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with whom God has partnered and made covenant in the past. The divine mind is changed and the partnership is upheld. The future will continue to be stormy, but God and Moses and the people will continue together. Partnership is the only hope for them. It is the only hope for their humanity. It is also the only hope for our humanity.
In the New Testament passage, Jesus is in the Temple during Holy Week. He is teaching in parables about the Kingdom of God. Since Jesus is in the precincts of the religious authorities, our parable today is one in a series of judgement parables. This parable is about a king giving a wedding banquet for his son. It is an allegory about God and Jesus.
The guests have already been invited. The king’s servants are sent to call the guests to the banquet, but they will not come. This is a most unusual situation since the guests and originally did not decline. Now they make light of the invitation, then mistreat and finally kill the king’s servants.
This is the shock or turn in the parable. In the Middle Eastern culture of hospitality and honor, one does not refuse an invitation, especially two or three times. Further, it is unthinkable to kill the messenger who is inviting one to a banquet, and the king’s messenger at that! This is a situation of total disregard for the community.
It is the “going it alone,” “I’ll do it my way,” idea again. Refusal of a king’s invitation is tantamount to rebellion. However the king is patient and gracious, and sends again. A fourth invitation is extended, this time to everyone. The killing and destruction was probably Matthew’s retrospective on the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and understood by him as judgment on the rejection of Jesus. The point of the parable is God offers partnership over and over.
In the final part of the parable the King doesn’t like the fact one person is not wearing proper wedding clothes. This person is doing it his own way. Many scholars see v. 11-13, as Matthew’s addition to the parable. These are words of warning. In Matthew’s time, the new identity of conversion was often pictured as donning a new set of clothes.
The point Matthew is making is those who are unexpectedly included in God’s grace (that would be all of us) should not presume on that grace. Matthew who was addressing those in his church who were claiming salvation but not reflecting grace in the way they lived. They were still “doing it their way.”
They were not participating in the partnership, but going it alone. Despite the way it sounds to us on first hearing, this is not a description of the fate of those outside the Christian faith, but rather a warning to those of us in the church to live the faith we profess.
Some people may be brash enough to stand before God and sing, “I Did It My Way,” but if we have to sing to get into heaven, I need all the help I can get! I want Vicki Begin, the members of our choir, and the entire congregation to be with me. I want as strong a partnership as I can find.
Just as important, we need a strong partnership here and now in this life. Such is what God offers us each day.
Thanks be to God.
MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH