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October 9, 2017

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—If anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

When our children were in high school, we frequently heard a slang phrase popular at the time: “whatever” —meaning “Whatever you say.” It was a throwaway word—often tossed out as a summary dismissal by a departing teen.  It was generally used to ignore a parent’s admonition or “words of wisdom.” As I was putting together Julia’s “Rites of Patches” quilt for her high school graduation, consisting of blocks contributed by friends and relatives, I came across a gold charm of the word “whatever” that I sewed onto a block. I wrote these words on the block with indelible ink: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—If anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” Philippians 4:8.  It was a much different use of the word “whatever” than the teenage slang. But both uses of the word sum up the theme running through the Scripture texts for this week.[1]

In the gospel text, Jesus describes a wedding banquet planned by a king. The king sent out a “Save the Date” notice. He sent many personal invitations, and then he sent out his employees to remind the invitees. They said “whatever,” or words to that effect, ignoring the gracious invitation: “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city” (Matthew 22: 5-7).   So the king’s servants gathered lots of folks from the streets and invited them to the palace for the wedding feast.

The king sent three invitations. He gave the invitees more than one opportunity to accept, just as God extends many invitations to us to join in a family celebratory feast—a metaphor for joining the family of God at a banquet that will last past the wee hours of forever. Is there anything better than spending an evening with loved ones and friends in a comfortable environment, eating delicious food, listening to wonderful music, laughing together and enjoying each other’s company? That is the image that Jesus gives us of heaven.   But to top it off, we will be in the king’s house–a royal palace–and he will be in residence.  His light will fill the great palace, and will warm our souls. Forever.  And ever.  And ever.

Who could refuse such an invitation? But we do, don’t we? We ignore the opportunities that come our way to join the celebration and to get the word out. We often shrug off his gracious invitations. “Whatever.” We do so at our peril, Jesus warns.

Paul uses the word “whatever” in a much different tone than the slang version. He uses it to tell us that whatever is beautiful, good, pure, admirable—we are to think on those things and fill our souls with the holy, the good and the beautiful. It will ease the pain of our earthly life, and will give us a “foretaste of the feast to come.” God sent his Spirit to comfort and guide us during our lives, and gave us his Word for the same reasons.

Tragedy sometimes strikes close to home. Fifty-eight precious souls were lost in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017 at the hands of evil. Among the many seriously injured that night were two deputy sheriffs from my Los Angeles County employee family.  We can’t totally escape pain, but God helps ease our pain and sorrow, and gives us much to look forward to. The psalm this week is Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need. He lets me rest in fields of green grass and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water. He gives me new strength. He guides me in the right paths, as he has promised. Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me. Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me.” (Psalm 23: 1-4, Good News Translation).

Isaiah spoke of the celebratory feast that will be prepared for the faithful when evil is overthrown: “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, . . . on this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples . . . he will swallow up death forever. . . The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces . . . in that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us’” (Isaiah excerpts from 25: 6, 7, 8, 9).

Envision arriving at a dinner party at the home of cherished friends after a long and taxing week. You are welcomed warmly by your hosts at the door. As you move into the home, you are delighted to see the beautiful table the hosts have set with care for their guests in preparation for a special evening. There are vases of cut flowers everywhere. The table is covered with a white linen cloth, and the places are set with napkins, silver, fine china and crystal that sparkle and gleam in the candlelight. As you take in the aroma of the roses on the tables and hear the soft music wafting from another room, the week’s concerns slowly recede. The host hands you a crystal flute of champagne. You see your name on a place card on the table. Your hosts prepared and looked forward to your arrival! They prepared a special place for you.   David describes the feast that God has prepared for us, even as we face our enemies: “You prepare a banquet for me, where all my enemies can see me; you welcome me as an honored guest and fill my cup to the brim. I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life; and your house will be my home as long as I live.” (Psalm 23:5-6, Good News Translation).   God protects us from our enemies and sets a place for us at the table. After long and hard fought battles on earth, we will be rewarded with a banquet in the palace. We will be drinking the best vintage from God’s own cellar, and will be released from the mental and physical pain, worries, and anxieties that plagued us on earth. The king himself will welcome us, and will wipe away our tears. We will be reunited with our loved ones in Christ and enjoy a never-ending banquet in a warm and loving atmosphere.

Don’t ignore God’s invitation to join in the celebration. Come to the banquet, enjoy the feast, and stay forever.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost are Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 23; Philippians 4: 4-13; and Matthew 22:1-4.



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