Once upon a time there was a little fish living in a gallon-sized bowl. His life was ok. He had long ago and very quickly explored his territory. There was no cat around, so he was just fine. And he didn’t know any better or different. Then one day he and his bowl got poured into a small pool of about 10,000 gallons. It took some time, but he was able to explore that and thought, “Wow! I had no idea there could be so much!” Then the rains came and the waters rose. And the more they rose, the deeper and wider his pool became. He began to explore and explore, and as he did, the more the rain fell and the more the water rose. Then one day a great wave came and washed over the pool. As the water receded, it cut a channel to the ocean. The little fish swam through the channel. The farther he swam, the farther he knew he had to go.
This morning we find Jesus exercising what I call “Jesus Judo” on the Pharisees. They are watching him, but he’s watching them. They think they are going to catch him doing something wrong, but he exposes their error.
This all takes place in the context of worship on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is holy time, set apart to worship, pray and contemplate God. This wedding banquet is part of that, the community of faith gathered together, just like our social hour or the breakfasts that resume next week. And why do they observe the Sabbath? Because God said so, sure, it is the fourth commandment. But why did he say so? He said so because we are people. Left to our own devices, we will focus on ourselves. We will work and grind and carve out our existence. We will take confidence in ourselves. But we are incomplete. God holds a life for us that is far greater, and we need him to get there. We don’t know what we don’t know.
Jesus sees the problem in their prideful focus in the midst of that holy time and he uses the wedding banquet to get after it. The link between the Sabbath and the wedding runs deeply and is reflected in our worship to this very day.
Think about what happens at a wedding. Who comes in last? The Bride! And where does she go? Up the aisle, up the steps and before the altar of God where she meets her husband. And the two become one. They complement each other. One is extroverted, the other is introverted. One is very organized and regimented, the other is more artsy and spontaneous. They help each other grow, they fill in each other’s gaps, they hold each other accountable. Where he’s weak, she’s strong. Where she’s weak, he’s strong. The plan, the hope, is that between the two of them, they’ll more or less build each other up to make up one reasonably competent team. The two become one.
Marriage acknowledges the fundamental incompleteness of the husband and bride. Even together, they cannot be fully complete without God’s blessing and becoming part of that sacred union. And, to be perfectly candid, they have no clue where that will take them when they step into the adventure. But the goal is that over time they will come to know each other ever better, and in the process God is using each to shape the other. If you’re invited to the wedding banquet, you’re on the support team for that; so it’s about them - not you. But how often does some relative get offended at their place at the reception?
And what have we come here to do this Sabbath morning? Well, you’ve filed in to your seats - and maybe this parable is why our churches tend to fill up from the back. Sabbath time is about communing with The Lord. The Church is the bride of Christ. Soon you are going to be invited up the aisle, up the steps, to the altar of God to meet your groom, Jesus, to commune with him.
We approach the altar knowing how incomplete we are. Where we are weak, he is strong. Where we are broken, he will heal. He holds us accountable. He corrects, forgives, redeems and encourages us. He completes us before God.
Pride blocks that growth, it just locks us in and cuts all that short. In makes us incurious, resting on what we have and neglecting what we don’t think we need – until we need it.
You have far more potential than you think you do. You are far more capable, far more powerful, far more influential than you think you are. But we are also, all of us, incomplete. We don’t even know how incomplete we are, compared to where God intends us to be. As we grow in faith and learn more about The Lord, we find that in addition to the blessings and benefits from what we’ve learned and experienced, our vistas and horizons grow exponentially.
If we think we’ve got life and faith figured out, then we’re merely like that little fish in his one-gallon bowl. Or, if you’re really sharp and experienced, maybe the 10,000-gallon pool. When we enter fully and openly into this life of faith, when we humble ourselves before God and seek him, that big wave comes in and the channel is cut into the vast and endless ocean of God’s grace, his truth, his judgment, his mercy and his love.
That’s true for every one of us. It is also true for many, many people outside these walls who are stuck in their bowl or pool. They don’t know about that ocean of grace, and it may be that God will use you to connect him with them.
We’ve got “Back to Church Sunday” coming up two weeks from today. It is an opportunity to reach out to those who are poor in spirit, whose faith is crippled or lame because of past hurts, and those who are blind to the life God holds for them. We can’t fix that. But we know the One who can, who will, and who is inviting each of us to be agents of his healing grace.