Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23 A)

12th October 2014
PENTECOST (Proper 23)
‘It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going
direct the other way…’
Those are the opening lines of…[guess?] Charles
Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. And I could happily go,
and I will when I get home; I never knew that the
English language could be so rich and imaginatively
vivid. I know nothing else about this classic book (so
don’t spoil it for me) other than the title: A Tale of Two
Cities; one being London, the other Paris. But that title
(A Tale of Two Cities) springs to mind when I read
Isaiah’s two cities.
The first city is “a heap”, a “ruin” never to be
rebuilt; a devastation to set fear in the heart of the
ruthless. This city is a representation of Godlessness. It
is a catastrophic ending. The second city is one rich
with food and wine, in which all are welcome. It is a
representation of God bounty and a heavenly banquet to
complete all time. Both of these cities are God’s plan,
and for that Isaiah praises the Lord, “I will praise your
name for have done wonderful things, plans formed of
old.” What Isaiah sees is the unfolding of a plan which
was God’s from the very beginning, right from the
Genesis of creative possibilities.
There are different imaginary outcomes; one good
and one bad, but both are within the bigger plan of
God’s timelessness. It is an interesting exercise to try
and imagine the end, and with an end in clear vision the
present begins to change shape. For example, if you
imagine your own funeral and think about who would
like to be there, and what you would hope might be said
about you. If you imagine being gone from this world,
then what lasting impression would you like to have
made, and upon whom? This sort of exercise focuses
the mind on what do you really think is most important?
Who are you really? Who do you want to be? Who are
you within God, not within the superficial?
You have to be weary when imagining the end of
all things though. Since thinking about the future can
become an anxiety driven perpetual of ifs and buts.
That is not the end vision of the Gospel. That is not
Christian eschatology. No, the Christian eschatology is
one which fills us with peace, the peace which the
world cannot give; that peace which no other human
person can give to you, but which God longs you to
bath in. This is the peace which “surpasses all
“The Lord is here,” says Saint Paul, and that is no
threat. It is an eschatological statement of immense
hope welling up from inside and thundering out into the
world to reorder the world in accordance with the great
vision of God’s grace.
The grace of a missionary God who continues to go
out, in order to continue, to invite people from all over
the place is imaged again in this parable of the kingdom
of God. It is like a great wedding banquet all laid out
and ready for the guests, and anyone who doesn’t come
to the feast must be a fool. But although all are
welcome you cannot just waltz in. Notice that the one
without a wedding robe is not just thrown out of the
feast but is thrown into outer darkness (again, another
image of Godlessness).
“Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22.
It is very hard to put into words how the grace of God is
fully welcoming and all encompassing, and yet
selective in some way. It is much easier to preach the
hospitality of God than the demands of God. But there
we have it: there is in some vital way an element of
reality in trying to speak of the demands of God, even
though it is so difficult to put those demands into
words. Yes, we have the Ten Commandments, but
what I am talking about is an individual’s access into
the grace of God, which, as we see by looking around
us, some appear to have much more difficulty with than
others. There are plenty of people who would like to
experience the grace of God, for themselves, but it
somehow defies them. They keep hearing about it but
they never hear it. They keep seeing it but they never
see it. For some it is a distant memory so very hard to
How do you go the way which leads to the
ultimately good end, and, how do you not go the way
which leads to the ultimately destructive end. How do
you actually do that? Well, now it’s getting interesting,
or not as the case may be. And just as we have gotten
to the really hard question I will quickly finish. But I
won’t finish without saying that the question could be
more useful to us than any answer, and we should never
be to sure of our own answers anyway. Amen.