First Reading Exodus 32:1-14
Second Reading Philippians 4:1-9
Gospel Reading Matthew 22:1-14
Sermon: “My Way? No Way!”
Let me tell you a story this morning, partly paraphrased and abbreviated in my own words and partly from scripture itself. This is the story of what has happened since the fledgling nation of Israel has been freed from slavery in Egypt; miraculously saved from the Egyptian army in the crossing of the Red Sea; wondrously fed by bread from heaven in the mornings, and quails in the evening and water from a rock. After such a mighty display of divine power and grace, one would think that this group would be committed to following God’s instructions and obey with gratitude. Sadly, they often did not. It is a tale that reveals much about God and much about us. Some of it is glorious and awe inspiring, some of it is shameful and all of it is vital to our understanding.
I said we might expect they would remember and obey, but would we? When time stretches out and uncertainty begins to set in? I suspect we would do no better. You see, all of it has to do with the all too familiar tendency to follow our own sinful patterns and inclinations rather than to seek out and strive towards the will of Almighty God. I believe, I have shared with you before the saying that the greatest thing anyone can say to God is “thy will be done”, contrary-wise, the most terrible thing that God can say to us is “Thy will be done.”
Our story begins with the completion of the previous one, when God called and commissioned Moses at the burning bush: (Exodus 3:11-12 NIV) Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”  And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” And now after all the plagues and false starts with Pharaoh – several months later – 3 months after the Red Sea crossing, Here they are – just as God promised they would be. Moses has been up on the mountain once already and has received instruction to prepare the Israelites for the dramatic meeting with their delivering God that is about to come.
We read these awesome words beginning in Exodus 19:16-19  On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled.  Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.  Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.  As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.
(Exodus 20:1-21 NIV) … And God spoke all these words:  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  “You shall have no other gods before me.  “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,  but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments… You remember the rest – all all which boil down to love for neighbor.
The account tells us that the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they were terrified and asked Moses to speak for God so…Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. … Then God continued to speak to Moses, giving him laws for the new nation that God was bringing into existence. Laws about how to treat Hebrew servants, laws about personal injuries, laws about property rights, about social responsibility, justice and mercy, laws about religious observances and festivals. Furthermore, God promised to go with them into the new land and protect them from their enemies.
After all of this, God sends Moses back down to get the elders of the people so that the covenant could be ratified by all. Exodus tells it this way: Exodus 24:1-18 NIV
 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. You are to worship at a distance,  but Moses alone is to approach the Lord; the others must not come near. And the people may not come up with him.”  When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.”  Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said. He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel.
Now listen carefully to this dramatic and wonderful scene: Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up  and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky.  But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank. A momentary aside here – what a scene this is – a feast, a banquet in the presence of God! Truly this is a picture of the messianic banquet yet to come – the very thing that Jesus parable alluded to in this morning’s gospel reading. To feast in loving fellowship with God, but who will come? – More on that thought in a bit.
That lovely scene fades and the story goes on:  The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.” ….  Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
That’s a long time folks – trouble is bound to ensue and it will. Here our story divides into two divergent threads for a time, one with Moses up on the mountain, and the other with Aaron down below with the people. Up on the mountain, glorious, holy things were happening, down below, the people were becoming impatient, worrying and forgetting. Worried if Moses was still alive up there with all that fire and smoke and also forgetting who they were and who God was and what God had done. Up on the mountain God was showing Moses how the tabernacle and its furnishings were to be made and arranged. How the rich spoils they had taken from the Egyptians were to be transformed into items of sacred beauty and rich symbols to remind them of their relationship with God. God specified how the priests were to be dressed in fine linen with a special turban bearing a plate of pure gold and engraved on it the words: Holy to the Lord. God specified how the priests were to be ordained and consecrated to God’s service.
The pattern of these things and the sacrificial system they supported speak to us ultimately of Christ. As scripture tells us, sin is a deadly business and sacrificial blood is shed in its forgiveness. Thanks be to God for the saving death of our Savior Jesus Christ who died once for all as the fulfillment of what all these ordinances point toward. Christ the Light of the world – represented in the lamp stand, Christ represented in the altar of incense praying for us, the blood sprinkled mercy seat … the symbols go on and on, but that’s another sermon.
Down below, they were thinking of different uses for some of that gold. Perhaps a God that they could see would be better, more comforting than that distant and fearsome display on the mountain, or the mysterious cloud and Pilar of fire that had lead them across the Red Sea and down the Sinai peninsula to this mountain. A golden calf maybe … – yes that would do it. Aaron! … make us a golden calf… a symbol of strength and virility, that’s what we need… and of course a really wild party to go with it too.
Meanwhile, up on the mountain, God was giving Moses a copy of his Holy laws written in the stone tablets by God’s own self. While faithful Joshua waits alone partway down the mountain. The scenes could not be more different could they? How could they have forgotten so quickly? What motivated them to demand an idol after hearing the commandments from the very voice of God? There are many factors: the desire for certainty, fear of the unknown and mysterious, lack of faith in the goodness of God. It all boils down to wanting to place their own sinful judgement over and above that of God – the very definition of sin!
The gospel lesson today tells another story with a similar issue, the guests invited to the king’s feast for his son were apparently on board originally. It was only when everything was prepared and the banquet doors were opened that they suddenly had other plans – and even reacted violently to a second notice since they had ignored the first – they had plans of their own, how dare the King insist they come! Ah yes, stubborn human pride and independence – we know it all too well these days. No one can tell me what to do – not even God. That, dear friends is idolatry of self – the commandments say “you shall have no other gods before me” the includes the most likely of all – our own wills.
It would be a tragic situation if not for how both the story of the Golden calf and this one of the banquet end. In the first, God, though righteously angry, listens to the pleas of Moses and relented from his wrath. God is patient, loving and forgiving. But what about those who will not come? God, in the character of the king in Jesus’ parable, insists that his table must be filled – and filled it is with all who will come and accept his hospitality – worthy and not so worthy – rich and poor – good and bad alike – who ever would come.
And so it is still – Whoever will come to God on God’s terms is welcome. Who is that you ask? Simply those who will honor the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, as Lord and Savior – these are welcomed, given a clean robe of righteousness and seated at the heavenly table. It cannot be merely nodded to – ‘yeah – OK – I’ll be there eventually’ ; it cannot be put off until we are seemingly ready on our own; it cannot be faked as in the case of the man without the clean robe.
You have already accepted the Lord’s invitation? You have surrendered your will to his? Good! Now then hear the command of the King: “Go therefore onto the streets and invite everyone you find to come to the banquet – My table must be filled”
So two questions hang before us – Which one applies to you?
Will you come to the Banquet? Or do you have other plans? Maybe later?
Are you willing to go out of these doors and invite absolutely everyone to come and be filled with the love of God? Or would you rather pick the ones you think might belong?
Listen, remember, put aside your stubborn self wills, obey and live.