All your works praise you, O God,
your faithful servants bless you
and make known the glory of your kingdom.
Today’s gospel begins with a song. Two songs, actually:
Jesus says: To what will I compare this generation? They are like children, playing in the marketplace. Jesus invokes the image of children in the town square, playing games that would have been familiar to his original hearers. One group of children wants to get the other group to stand up and dance, so they sing a traditional wedding song. But the other group doesn’t respond. So the first group says, okay let’s pretend we’re all at a funeral, and we’ll sing a dirge, and maybe then they’ll play that game with us. Well, no one wants to play that game, either. Jesus compares this refusal to play with his generation’s response to God. God tries everything to get through to the people: first he sends John the Baptist, whom everyone thinks is too harsh and morbid—that’s the funeral song. So then God sends Jesus, but—according to some—he’s too loving and forgiving and accepting of all the wrong people—that’s the wedding.
Jesus speaks to a particular people at a particular time, but he could be speaking to any people, at any time. A generation longing for God, and yet not able or willing to hear what God has to say. Some people don’t recognize Jesus; others recognize him, but just don’t like what he has to say. Others hear the words but are timid in their response.
Where are we in this? To what invitation to follow Jesus will we respond? What songs of Good News will make us get up and dance?
Last week Mark and I went out to the movies—it was great. We saw “Baby Driver.” It’s a flawed movie in many ways, but I loved it. Yes, there’s too much blood and the car chase scenes are just silly. But it’s a story of survival, crazy broken people, redemption, love, and an amazing soundtrack. My kind of movie. Which I’m really not here to talk about. What I am here to talk about, is that when I see a movie that I love, or read a wonderful book, I tell people about it. I want other people to see that movie or read that book, either because I care about them, so I want them to have the experience that has been meaningful to me, or because I want to know what they think of the movie, and they need to see it in order for us to talk about it. It’s my own little version of trying to get people to get up and dance. I’m not alone here, right? Don’t you feel that way about movies or books or plays you’ve loved?
Last week I preached, among other things, about community, and how we help our neighbors by inviting them in and then providing boundaries within that community, as happens in communities throughout scripture. Afterwards, someone came up to me and said those words we preachers always want to hear. She said: “Because of your sermon I’ve had an Epiphany!” “It never occurred to me,” she went on to say, “that ministry might be to invite people into my community.” She explained that she always considered helping by sending a check to an organization, not inviting people in. I asked: “Would you ever consider inviting friends into your faith community?” “Wow,” she said. “I just never thought about it like that before.” (She did give me permission to share this story.)
I wonder why more of us don’t invite people into this community. I know you all love it here, and we’ve had conversations about what you love. You love the music, the silence, the consistency, the freedom, the theology, the friendly welcome you received, the wide berth you were given, the sense of God’s presence in this beautiful space and the people in it. We tend to be reticent about what we have here in ways that we’re not shy about other areas of our lives. Maybe we’re even reticent in inverse proportion to what this place means to us.
When we promise, at baptism, to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ, we promise, among other things, to grow the community of Jesus-followers. This isn’t just about “church,” but church is part of it. You may think that you can’t do this because you’re an introvert and an Anglican, not an extravert or an evangelical. I’d like to challenge that assumption. Jesus wants our whole selves. That doesn’t just mean that our time and treasure belong to God and are on loan to us for God’s purposes. It also means that we’re not supposed to keep our spiritual practices a secret, especially what we do on Sunday mornings.
Now, to get really practical for a moment: you might have noticed that we have room in the pews for a few more people. You could bring a friend next week, or the week after that, or the week after that. Aren’t you curious to know what they might think? Or—maybe even better—forget about bringing someone to church, but have a conversation with someone about what has touched your life about being with this community of Christians most weeks. Give that person one of the brochures in the pew rack in front of you. At the very least, take a brochure or two with you and give it to someone this week.
I know that many of you already do this kind of thing. My invitation to you is to stretch. If the fact that you are a Christian is a closely held secret when you leave here every week, think of someone you might tell. If everyone you know already knows this about you, think of someone who might benefit from the kind of practice that is so meaningful to you, and tell them about it. Maybe even invite them to worship with you. Or to Fatted Calf, or Evening Prayer. There is much that we do in this place that people who aren’t here hunger for, and they don’t even know it.
What is the song you want to sing about your own Christian practice, the song that might make your neighbors and friends get up and dance?
Jesus appeals to all who are heavy-laden, to take his yoke and his light burden instead. Part of Jesus’ yoke is the invitation—the command—to go out and share Good News. I have been wondering whether one of the burdens we carry is our own reticence, our own shyness about our glimpses of the reign of God in this place and in other areas of our lives. To mix metaphors—but still staying on the farm—what weighs us down is perhaps the bushel covering up our light.