When You Have to Go to Plan B
Sunday, March 12, 2023
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner
Grace and peace to you from Jesus, who is the Christ. Amen.
Do you remember what you were doing three years ago today? Unlike most days, today you might. I sure do. It was a Wednesday during Lent. The church I was serving was on the brink of a major building renovation. We were doing as much planning and preparing as we could before doing demolition on the interior of the sanctuary. That Wednesday we did a trial run of worship in the fellowship hall for one of our midweek Lenten services. The first several minutes of the service I was making note of adjustments needed for seating in the space and microphones to make the sound better. I was talking to other staff about ways we could make the space as worshipful as possible for the coming months.
Half-way through the noon service, news broke that Minnesota had its first case of Covid-19. And all of a sudden, all the planning, all the notes I had taken, all the future preparations we were preparing were rendered useless. Little did I know then that “Plan B” (and often C, D, and E) would be the ONLY way to do ministry going forward for the next couple years. Those early days of the pandemic are kind of a blur of trials and adjustments trying to figure out how to be the church, how to connect with people, and provide spiritual reassurance during a time that we really had no idea what it would look like or when it would end.
Perhaps just talking about those early days of the pandemic makes you a little anxious, queasy even. All the uncertainty. All the fear. All the time at home in isolation. There were days when it felt like the end of the world. And in a variety of ways, it was the end of “normal” as we knew it. For all of us, there has been weeping and some gnashing of teeth over these last few years. And we’re still figuring out what Plan B looks like in ways we would have never imagined three years ago.
This is about the third of fourth Bible reading in the last few weeks where the reading ends with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Because we have some sense of what this feels like, I don’t know about you, but it feels a little strange responding “Thanks be to God!”, doesn’t it?
In case you’re wondering how these passages get selected, we are following what is called the Narrative Lectionary. This lectionary is a set of weekly worship texts that are selected by a team of biblical scholars from Luther Seminary. Hundreds, if not thousands, of churches around the world use this set of Biblical texts each Sunday to go through the overarching narrative of an entire gospel. Since Advent, we have been following the narrative through the Gospel of Matthew. As we get closer to Easter, we are getting closer to the end of Jesus’ ministry, and to his crucifixion and death.
At this point in the narrative, the tension between Jesus and the religious authorities is heading toward a breaking point. By the time we hear this parable, Jesus is already in Jerusalem. Palm Sunday has already happened, and those religious authorities are already on high alert because Jesus came into the city the way a king would, riding on a donkey, greeted by throngs of people, all shouting for him to help them and save them.
So, when Jesus tells these religious authorities a parable about a king who invites people to a wedding banquet and describes how the invited guests reject the invitation, some alarm bells go off probably go off in their head. The king in this story is expecting those who are invited to be loyal. The original guests would have been the inner circle of influence and power – this was a royal wedding after all. Everyone who is anyone should have been there. But the insiders don’t show up. For some reason their loyalty doesn’t measure up to the rest of their commitments in life.
Jesus in Matthew’s gospel places a heavy emphasis on developing a consequential faith. Jesus expects that our encounter with the gospel will change our lives – the way we think, the way we act, the way we prioritize time with God and relate to the others; and there are consequences for us and for the others when faith doesn’t do this.
The religious authorities aren’t interested in this invitation. They have other commitments; other ways of understanding God’s reign and it certainly doesn’t look like Jesus’ vision of God’s reign. But this isn’t just about the religious authorities of Jesus’ day. This parable reminds any of us who have been part of structures of power or influence in the church to stay focused on the gospel – the good news of Jesus – and where Jesus calls us to go. We only need to look at the church over the last few decades to know that too many people with religious influence have been distracted by things other than the gospel. Some have abused their authority, they have gone seeking political power and influence. They have damaged the witness of the gospel for those inside and outside the church.
About ten years ago, the evangelical researchers the Barna Group conducted a survey of young people who no longer identified as Christian or attend church. Nearly 90% of them said they left the church because the church was anti-science, anti-gay, too politically partisan, or had neglected their responsibility to protect children from sexual violence within the church.
Friends, if you want to know where many of our young people are today and why fewer of them are in the church than they were 50 years ago, it’s likely this has something to do with it. But rather than weeping and gnashing our teeth, perhaps God is calling us to find a Plan B, to clearly articulate what we believe about how radical Jesus’ invitation to the banquet really is, and to strengthen the ways we care for those Jesus cares for.
From the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he challenged the status quo and offered an alternative type of community that reorders how people relate to one another and to God. Jesus’ community broke down dividing lines between Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female, old and young. His teachings reorder how people interact with one another and prepares them to face the opposition that inevitably comes when people push against established systems. When he talks about the kingdom of heaven, he’s not just talking about what life after death will look like but expects that those who seek the kingdom of heaven will embody it as a community in this life, now.
Remember his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount when he taught the people to “turn the other cheek and love your enemies”. Or recall his response when he was asked who was the greatest in the kingdom, and Jesus placed a child in front of them and said, “Unless you change and become like children, you’ll never enter the kingdom of heaven.” And recall just last week, when we heard Jesus say that the first would be last and the last would be first” and Pastor Bonnie reminded us that in God’s kingdom, we all receive the same gift regardless of how long we’ve been working the field, or serving the church – as the case may be.
Our faith should not only make a difference to us, but also to our neighbors. When we accept the invitation to the banquet, we accept God for who God is, not what we want God to be. When we accept the invitation to the banquet, Jesus expects that we’ll be ready to fully participate. When we accept the invitation to the banquet, God expects that we’ll hold our future lightly and follow Plan B, if that is where God is leading. And more often than not, that’s how God leads.
When God created the Garden and placed Adam and Eve in it, it didn’t take long for God to be going to Plan B after they ate the fruit. When Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, and at the same time all his people were worshiping a golden calf, God went to Plan B to get them to the Promised Land. The parable makes it clear that Jesus has come for all, but not all will be interested in the banquet. Once those who were most likely to come reject the invitation, the king goes to Plan B, and invites everyone off the streets – good and bad – so that all know how wide the invitation really is, and what lengths the king will go for the banquet to be successful. When those with religious and political power used all they had to crucify Jesus, God went to Plan B to raise him from the dead and bring life, even out of death.
This banquet is not just a big party, but it is the very experience of life that God envisions for us in this life and the next. Rejecting it is to reject true life itself. And not being prepared and just going through the motions is no way to live either. The life of faith is a life-altering, life-enhancing event! God has invited you. You are called and chosen. We don’t want to miss out on any of it. Amen.