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The Good China

Reverend Philip Stringer

Matthew 21:33-46

LET US PRAY: Lord of Life, give us ears to hear and hearts willing to receive, that your word may be food for our lives and a blessing to the world. AMEN

During my internship year, Patty and I lived in central Florida — only about 90 minutes from my grandparents. We would often arrive at their house on Sunday evening, stay the night and return home on Monday.

The first time we did this, we were surprised to see the breakfast table already set — with the good china! Patty shared her surprise with grandma, and she replied, “Patty — I’ve been saving this stuff for special occasions my whole life and it would hardly ever get used. I just decided ‘phooey’ on that! I’ve got it, I’m going to enjoy it!” And that is just what we did ... every day we ate on the good china.

Today, we are reminded by Jesus and St. Matthew that now is the time to celebrate the fullness of life — because this moment is filled with God’s grace. This moment is filled with God’s love for you — love that is poured out for all of humanity through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until you haven’t got it anymore. You all know what I mean.

I got a splinter in my little finger the other day — tiny little thing that I couldn’t really see unless I looked closely in just the right light. Hardly noticeable — except that it hurt! I didn’t realize how good it felt to have a healthy pinky until it wasn’t healthy anymore.

The older I get and the achy-er my joints get, the more I come to appreciate how good it feels to be pain-free.

Isn’t that true of life as a whole?

I grew up in a safe home.

I grew up with plenty to eat.

I grew up being told that my future could be anything I chose for it to be.

I thought that this was normal.

But I remember my mom driving me home from my French horn lessons after school — at about 5pm — and I remember seeing students from my school who were still waiting for a city bus to take them home. They were black kids and in order to integrate our schools they were bussed to mine. I don’t know of any white kids who were bussed to predominantly black neighborhoods.

I thought the life I lived was normal. But it was not.

What do you have in your life today that you might be overlooking — something that you think is “normal,” but in fact is not?

I was on a research trip in rural China and took a detour to visit a remote village in one of the poorest counties of one of the poorest provinces in eastern China. Members of my congregation in Chicago had contributed funds to a program that served polio victims in this region.

So poor they did not even have a front door — only a mat hanging like a curtain. Seated on the dirt floor, the boy demonstrated his exercises — lifting a bag by pulling a rope attached to a pulley on a rafter. I asked him, “what would you like to do when you grow up?” The translator asked the question. The boy looked confused. His parents prodded him. The crowd murmured. He looked from face to face for help. The translator said to me, “he does not know how to answer. No one has ever asked him that before.”

There are some things — such as a belief that we have choices — or simply to dream of a future — there are some things we possess that we don’t even know that we have — but they are blessings, nonetheless.

Jesus told a story about a king who held a wedding feast to celebrate the marriage of his son. The king invited the aristocracy — the nobles — to attend, but they did not want to come. It wasn’t merely rude, it was an act of insurrection. This wasn’t just a party — it was the marriage feast of the successor to the crown. Refusing to attend was a refusal to accept him as their future king.

Undeterred, the king invited anyone in the region — good, bad, rich, poor — didn’t matter. The king was celebrating and anyone and everyone was invited to celebrate with him.

It is a story about the grace of God. All people are invited — indeed — all receive the benefits of the lordship of Jesus. We do not have to do anything — we do not have to be worthy. The good news of God’s love is good news for all of creation.

The good news of God’s love washes over you and me, too. We are gathered into the feast.

Are we celebrating?

In the parable of Jesus, there is a guest who doesn’t have on a wedding garment. That may seem like no big deal, but it was.

Tell of how people would prepare for a wedding feast by cleaning their best clothes— regardless of how nice they were comparatively.

Tell of how the king would even supply a coat when needed.

Yet this person had none.

What Jesus portrays here is someone who deliberately refused to participate. He was there. He was sitting at the king’s table and eating the king’s food — but he was not sharing in the joy. Rather, he was like the first people invited who rejected the meaning behind the event.

I wonder how often it is that we forget to rejoice in the goodness of God. I wonder how often I forget to put on the wedding robe. Paul wrote that everyone who is baptized in Christ Jesus “puts on” the robe of Christ — we put on the robe of Christ’s righteousness. We are clothed with a new life in Christ Jesus.

I wonder how often I forget that I am clothed in Christ. I wonder how often I forget that I am living my life in the context of a celebration.

Because I easily return rudeness with rudeness. I easily turn away from helping others when it is inconvenient to do so. How about you? Do you forget that you are living a life that should be characterized with thanksgiving, celebration and generosity?

The other day at our Bible study, we were discussing the recurring theme in scripture of God making new beginnings. God says — I will be your God. If you walk in my ways, good things will happen. If you turn away from me, bad things will happen. The people always say, “we will walk in your ways.” And they never do. Over and over again. And I commented, “do these people not look at their history?” They never seem to learn. There is the saying, “hindsight is 20/20”. I think I know why God says, “my people are a stiff-necked people.” If you have a stiff neck, you can’t look behind!

A peculiar truth about life is that you don’t know what you don’t know until you know. We often don’t realize the ways that we are blessed until the blessing is suddenly gone. And so we say things like, “If I knew then what I know now...”

My dad is 90.

His dad died at age 64. So far I have had 26 more years with my father than he had with his.

Some of you probably lost a parent earlier than that.

Some people never even knew one or both of their parents.

Some people had parents they wish they never knew.

I try to be mindful of these things so that I can make the most of the time given to me with my dad.

Because — unless I go first — there will be a time when he won’t be with me anymore.

We live in a world in which anything and everything can be stripped away in an instant. All of you know this all too well.

A car crash

A heart attack


A pandemic

A surprise attack by murderers.

And suddenly, nothing is the same.

We also live in a world in which everything that is not stripped away, will fade away.

This life we live is a temporary gift.

“Everything” that is, except God’s grace. “Love never ends,” writes Paul.

The only way to live fully is to live this moment fully. That is what we are invited to do in today’s gospel reading.

Be thankful

Be grateful

Join in the rejoicing of God.

Entering into God’s joy means to take on the heart and the behavior of God.

In a world that is not always filled with happiness, our “rejoicing” takes on different forms — responding to suffering, giving for the sake of others. Sacrificing for the sake of others. Standing against injustice. But always, to join into the rejoicing of God is to...

Be gracious

Be generous

Be loving

Today we gather at the wedding banquet of God (Holy Communion) — but it does not end here. Wedding celebrations in Jesus’ day were a week! — it was something that interrupted the ordinary. This wedding feast doesn’t last a week — it lasts forever.

Today, we eat on the good china.

As the psalmist wrote, “This is the day that the LORD has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”


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