What wonderful images of the kingdom of heaven the Scriptures give us today.
In the book of the prophet Isaiah we receive the gift of the vision of the ultimate banquet. There is a table spread before all peoples, as at the end of time. The people gather. God provides a rich abundance of food and drink.
The food is rich; the wine is clear and well aged.
What is more: the people are free of fear. God has vanquished the ruthless. God destroys death forever. No one need ever again live in fear.
And all are welcome at the table of the Lord.
It is a picture of Paradise; it is a picture of the kingdom of heaven; it is a picture of the world in peace.
War will be no more; not simply because hostilities have ceased; this is not a mere truce.
It is a picture of peace that is more than the absence of evident conflict. It is a positive peace, a peace of justice and reconciliation.
There is no war and no fear and no hunger. God reigns and the people rejoice.
We know this prophecy from many funerals; we may also know it from weddings or baptisms or any kind of celebration of the resurrection. It is a vision of life in God, rightly lived, and brought to fulfillment.
The visions of peace and paradise, of God protecting, providing, and guiding, continue in the responsorial psalm. It is psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord is my king, my provider, my protector, my leader and my guide. The Lord is the host at the banquet table. He provides my needs.
God loves me. God gives me peace. The abundant mercy and grace of God overflow like wine from a cup, like cool water over the brim of a spring. His generosity and his goodness will pursue me forever.
That is the feast we are welcomed to – today. That is the feast we celebrate.
At the Lord’s Table we will celebrate together the feast of Thanks Giving – the Eucharist.
It is the feast that everybody is called to. Not just us; everybody. All the people around us, on the highways of our county and the back streets of our towns, are welcome – they are invited – to come in and join us at the Table.
We open our doors.
But the gospel of Matthew gives us pause. It is not open season on the bar.
It is not all-you-can-eat night at the sushi place.
God is Judge as well as provider. Many are called but few are chosen.
You need to dress appropriately if you are going to attend the feast.
Or better not to come.
You need to be ready.
So – how do we dress for this banquet? How do we prepare for this feast?
Paul gives us the answer, in his letters to young churches, to the saints at Philippi – as we heard today – and in his letter to God’s people at Colossae.
Put on Christ. Put on the mind of Christ.
Put on, then, garments that suit God’s chosen and beloved people:
How should we act, as guest at this banquet? How should we act, now, to get into the swing of things?
• Be tolerant with one another and forgiving, if any of you have cause for complaint: you must forgive as the Lord forgave you.
• Finally, to bind everything together and complete the whole, there must be love.
• Let Christ’s peace be arbiter in your decisions, the peace to which you were called as members of a single body – the body of Christ.
• Always be thankful.
• Let the gospel of Christ dwell among you in all its richness; teach and instruct one another with all the wisdom that good news gives to you.
• With psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, sing from the heart in gratitude to God.
• Let every word and action, every thing you do, be in the name of the Lord Jesus, and give thanks through him to God the Father.
Put on Christ.
Allow your selves to be made over into the image of the living God, the loving God.
Love reveals its face – in the face of Christ.
Let us become that face to our people and to our community.
How do we do that?
We begin by – positive things. We begin by focusing our minds on the good news of God, that we might become that good news to the people around us.
We allow our minds to dwell on these things:
• whatever is true,
• whatever is honorable,
• whatever is just,
• whatever is pure,
• whatever is pleasing,
• whatever is commendable,
• any excellence and
• anything worthy of praise,
These are the pastures we rest in – this is where we begin to celebrate life.
We can do this – we can do this – only if we let the Spirit in; only if we put on the mind of Christ.
If we call on the Lord, he will answer.
• Do not worry about anything.
• In everything, by prayer and supplication, and with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.
And when he comes, he comes with life abundant in his hand.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone.
Let the gift of God’s loving-kindness be known to all through your love for one another and for the world Christ gave life.
The Lord is near. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN.