Sunday, October 11, 2020

How Big is Your G-d?

“For many are called, but few are chosen.”


The parable of the wedding banquet is familiar to many of us, appearing in two of the canonical Gospels as well as in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas. What biblical scholars recognize in stories which appear in multiple places, each with slightly different presentations, is that there is a common source from which this story was developed. 

That source, which the writers of Matthew and Luke begin with, is sometimes called Q, short for the German word Quelle, or source. The way that the Q material is presented in any given gospel can offer us some clues as to who the historical Jesus actually was on the one hand. But they also tell us even more about the early Jesus movement which preserved these stories and the way a given community used those stories to write the gospels they produced.



 Very Different Reactions by a Rejected Host

In Luke’s version of this parable, which scholars believe is the closest of the three to the original story,  the giver of the feast is not named but it is clear he is wealthy enough to plan a big dinner and invite many guests. As in Matthew, the invited guests turn down the invitations one by one, some for business reasons, others for personal reasons. When the master of the house hears his invitations have been refused by his guests, he instructs the servants to go out into the streets and invite those they encounter to come and eat this festive dinner.

At a basic level, the writer of Luke is reflecting one aspect of the growing Jesus movement at the end of the first century. It is a movement that has largely been rejected by those of means and high stature. But it has proven to be good news to those on the margins, those whose very existence suggested that they had no value to Caesar’s empire or to the Temple cult  of Judaism from whose worship they were excluded by virtue of their poverty. As in many of the parables that appear in Luke, the expected order of the Judean world is reversed: the last become first, the first become last. 

In today’s Gospel, Matthew’s writers have taken this story in a very different direction. Matthew begins by asserting that the parable is about the Kingdom of Heaven and thus the king of the parable is a stand-in for G-d. As in Luke, the story begins with the plans for a big wedding celebration for the king’s son. And as in Luke, the special guests refuse their invitations, preferring to focus instead on their businesses and personal lives. Some of them go so far as to kill the slaves sent as messengers.

In response, the king sends armies to kill the murderous invitees. But his wrath and vengeance do not simply punish the wrongdoers. His armies burn their entire cities. All the residents of those cities will suffer regardless of whether they were involved in this wrongdoing or not. It is only then that the king sends his slaves into the streets to invite whomever they could round up. But the king’s anger is not complete spent yet. When he notices a guest without the proper attire for the party, he confronts him, kicking him out of the party into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.


Leonard Gaultier, “Parable of the Talents (The Worthless Servant Cast into the Outer Darkness),” c. 1576/1580

Truth be told, I’ve always loved that line. It has a real ring to it. I used it regularly when I taught undergraduates at UCF and Valencia. Trying to assure them of the seriousness of an impending deadline for writing assignments I would warn them that if they waited until the last minute to get down to business and missed the assignment deadline, there would be great weeping and gnashing of teeth.


But Matthew is dead serious here. Emphasis on dead. And he ends his version of this parable with the assertion that “Many are called but few are chosen.” 

It’s pretty clear that in both Luke and Matthew versions of this story, the wealthy party giver is a stand-in for G-d. But it’s important to note that each of them present a very different vision of G-d. And it is my observation that how one sees G-d makes a great deal of difference in how one sees themselves, how one treats other people and how one relates to the larger world outside themselves. 

A Notion of Chosenness That Leads to Tragedy


Today’s reading only makes sense when one sees it in its historical context. It’s important to recall here that the community out of which Matthew’s Gospel emerges found itself in a very difficult place at the end of the first century. On the one hand, the Jesus movement had been targeted by the Roman Empire for persecution that began with the crucifixion of Jesus himself and quickly martyred a number of the disciples.

Francesco Hayez, "The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem" 1867

Matthew is also writing in the period after the Temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed by the Romans. We hear an echo of that tragedy in the king’s burning of the city. A Judaism which had previously centered around sacrifice in the Temple had now become much more localized in synagogues led by Pharisee leaders now called rabbis

But the Romans are not the only concerns for Matthew’s community. Matthew’s Jesus followers have been expelled from the synagogues that once were their spiritual homes because of their insistence upon seeing the Way of Jesus as their way of living out their Jewish faith. There is an awful lot of anger and resentment in Matthew’s Gospel toward their former coreligionists often expressed in references to “the Jews, the Jews, the Jews.”. And so it’s not surprising that Matthew’s version of this parable develops a very thinly disguised theological motif called supersessionism. 

The logic of supersessionism, also called replacement theology, goes like this: 1. G-d sends Jesus to save the world. 2. Though Jesus is Jewish, his own people reject him as the Messiah. 3. Thus G-d rejects the Jews as the chosen people and 4. G-d now chooses the Christians. Thus Christianity supersedes the Jews as the chosen people.

Listen again to the ending of Matthew’s lesson today: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” It doesn’t take much imagination to see where such thinking can take you. The theology of supersessionism is the foundation for a very long history of antisemitism of which the Holocaust is merely the worst incident. It is a tragic flaw that lies at the very heart of the Christian tradition which is only now being fully realized and will take even longer to repent for. 

Clearly theologies of chosenness are incredibly self-affirming. To believe one has been chosen by G-d above all others and punishes those who have persecuted you is  a deeply satisfying endeavor.  But this is tribal thinking at its most basic and the god that is portrayed in such thinking is the inevitably the god of the tribe.  



The implications here should trouble us. If this god is the god of our tribe, by definition it means that everyone else is outside the purview of the holy. And if the tribal god has no obligations to recognize their humanity, neither do the chosen people. The tribal god of Matthew’s wedding banquet burns downs entire cities when his honor has been impugned and shames and expels those who do not meet the banquet dress code into outer darkness. Whatever else that understanding of god may be, he is not the G-d of all creation that we find in the book of Genesis. And he is decidedly not the merciful Father whom Jesus says makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike.

A Deity Who Embraces All

Clearly not all visions of G-d are the same. Indeed, in today’s lessons alone there are two visions of G_d that I suggest stand in complete contrast with one another. The lesson from Isaiah this morning depicts a very different deity:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples

a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,

of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.

And he will destroy on this mountain

the shroud that is cast over all peoples,

the sheet that is spread over all nations;

he will swallow up death forever.

Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces


It’s important to note the universality of this vision of G-d. The word that is repeated over and over in this passage is the word “all.”  Unlike the insecure tyrant of Matthew’s wedding feast, this G_d creates a feast for everyone. His loving generosity casts away the shroud of sorrow of all the peoples. Even death itself is swallowed up by this G-d after which he wipes the tears from every face.

This is the G-d whom Paul Tillich would call the Ground of All Being, whom John of Patmos would call the Alpha and the Omega. This is the G-d from whom all of Creation flows in Genesis over a six day period at the end of which G-d assesses it all as very good. This, I believe, is a construct of G-d that is worth taking seriously.

So, How Big IS Your G-d?

French philosopher Voltaire once said, 'In the beginning God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.' At a very basic level, all of us construct our own images of the deity. So I ask you to consider this day, how big is the god you worship? What does your understanding of G_d reveal about the way you see yourself, the way you see others and the way you relate to the world?

Many of us have heard Anne Lamott’s adage that “'You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.' Who are those your vision would cast into outer darkness to weep and gnash their teeth?  Where are the places your concept of G-d serves your own interests rather than the other way around? How big is the G-d you serve?


These are tough questions but I believe they are central to our spiritual lives. And so I close with a prayer that many will find familiar but hopefully can hear in a different way after this morning. Let us pray:

 Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.


A sermon preached at St. Richard’s Episcopal Church, Winter Park, FL, October 11. 2020.

19th Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 23

 You may view a live version of this sermon at the St. Richard’s Facebook site:

 The sermon begins at 22:30.              


Harry Scott Coverston

Orlando, Florida

  If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

 Those who believe religion and politics aren't connected don't understand either. – Mahatma Gandhi

 For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d?  - Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures

 Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. - Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages (1993)

   © Harry Coverston, 2020


Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Evening Prayers: A Vigil on the Eve of a National Election

Evening Prayers:

A Vigil on the Eve of an Election

St. Richard’s Episcopal Church

Winter Park, Florida


It has long been the practice of the Church to pray for the nation-state and its leaders. The Episcopal Church since its inception has included prayers for its national leaders as a routine part of all of its liturgical services. Such practice recognizes that while we citizens of a democratic republic are ultimately responsible for our own self-governance, as in all things, we engage those duties ever in need of divine guidance. 

On Tuesday, November 3, our nation will once again engage our quadrennial electoral process in which officials from our President and Vice-President down to our local officials will be chosen. But unlike in other years, this election occurs in a context of unprecedented fear and confusion over what are seen as high-stakes outcomes.

We have become a deeply divided people, prone to see those who do not share our views as enemies. In the process, the image of G-d our countrymen and women bear has become increasingly difficult for us to recognize. We are more polarized as a nation than at any time since the Civil War. Indeed, our nation itself appears to be nearing the edge of an existential precipice beyond which there may be no return.

If there has ever been a time when G-d’s guidance has been needed, it is now. And so we come to this Vigil on the Eve of an Election to ask for clarity in seeing the issues that confront us, for forbearance in our dealings with those with whom we disagree, for divine wisdom to know the right decisions to make, and for strength and courage to engage that course of action.

This night we humbly beseech the G_d we have long believed to have blessed and preserved us to be present with us in our time of trial. This night we humbly pray that G-d will once again bless America.



Opening Acclamation

I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; my heart teaches me, night after night. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not fail. Psalm 16:7, 8



Let us confess our sins against God, our neighbors and ourselves.

Silence may be kept.

Officiant and People together

Most merciful God,

we confess that we have sinned against you

in thought, word, and deed,

by what we have done,

and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart;

we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.

For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,

have mercy on us and forgive us;

that we may delight in your will,

and walk in your ways,

to the glory of your Name. Amen.



God forgives you [+]

Forgive others;

forgive yourself.

Be at Peace. AMEN.

[New Zealand Prayerbook]


Psalm 145, Exaltabo te, Deus

1 I will extol you, my God and King,

   and bless your name for ever and ever.

2 Every day I will bless you,

   and praise your name for ever and ever.

3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;

   his greatness is unsearchable.

4 One generation shall laud your works to another,

   and shall declare your mighty acts.

5 On the glorious splendour of your majesty,

   and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.

6 The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,

   and I will declare your greatness.

7 They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,

   and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

8 The Lord is gracious and merciful,

   slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

9 The Lord is good to all,

   and his compassion is over all that he has made.

10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,

   and all your faithful shall bless you.

11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,

   and tell of your power,

12 to make known to all people your* mighty deeds,

   and the glorious splendour of your* kingdom.

13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,

   and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

The Lord is faithful in all his words,

   and gracious in all his deeds.*

14 The Lord upholds all who are falling,

   and raises up all who are bowed down.

15 The eyes of all look to you,

   and you give them their food in due season.

16 You open your hand,

   satisfying the desire of every living thing.

17 The Lord is just in all his ways,

   and kind in all his doings.

18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,

   to all who call on him in truth.

19 He fulfils the desire of all who fear him;

   he also hears their cry, and saves them.

20 The Lord watches over all who love him,

   but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,

   and all flesh will bless his holy name for ever and ever.


At the end of the Psalms is sung or said

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *

as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.


The Lessons

Deuteronomy 10

17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18 who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. 19 You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. 21 He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.

After the Lesson the Reader will say

Here ends the Reading.


The Response


The Song of Mary    Magnificat

Luke 1:46-55

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *

    for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed: *

    the Almighty has done great things for me,

    and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him *

    in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm, *

    he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *

    and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things, *

    and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *

    for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

The promise he made to our fathers, *

    to Abraham and his children for ever.


Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *

    as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.


Matthew 5

43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.


After the Lesson the Reader will say

Here ends the Reading.


The Response

The Song of Simeon    Nunc Dimittis

Luke 2:29-32

Lord, you now have set your servant free *

    to go in peace as you have promised;

For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, *

    whom you have prepared for all the world to see:

A Light to enlighten the nations, *

    and the glory of your people Israel.


Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *

    as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.


 The Prayers

 Jesus said, when you pray, say these words:

 Our Father, who art in heaven,

    hallowed be thy Name,

    thy kingdom come,

    thy will be done,

        on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

    as we forgive those

        who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

    but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

    and the power, and the glory,

    for ever and ever. Amen.


A Litany for a National Election


Loving God, creator of this world who is the source of our wisdom and understanding, watch over this nation during this time of election. Help us to see how our faith informs our principles and actions.

Intercessor: God, our creator,

People: Guide us in truth and love.


We give thanks for the right to vote. Help us to hold this privilege and responsibility with the care and awareness it merits, realizing that our vote matters and that it is an act of faith.

Intercessor: God, our creator,

People: Guide us in truth and love.


Guide us through this election as a nation, state, and community as we vote for people to do work on our behalf and on the behalf of our communities. Help us to vote for people and ballot initiatives that will better our community and our world so it may reflect the values Christ taught us.

Intercessor: God, our creator,

People: Guide us in truth and love.


Help us create communities that will build your kingdom here on earth – communities that will protect the poor, stand up for the vulnerable, advocate for those who are not seen and heard, and listen to everyone’s voice.

Intercessor: God, our creator,

People: Guide us in truth and love.


We pray for this nation that is deeply divided. May we come together for the common good and do as you have called us to do – to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with you through creation.

Intercessor: God, our creator,

People: Guide us in truth and love.


Help us act out of love, mercy and justice rather than out of ignorance, arrogance or fear.

Intercessor: God, our creator,

People: Guide us in truth and love.


Lord, continue to guide us as we work for the welfare of this world. We pray for places that are torn by violence, that they may know peace.

Intercessor: God, our creator,

People: Guide us in truth and love.


We pray for communities who are struggling with inequality, unrest, and fear. May we all work toward reconciliation with one another and with God.

Intercessor: God, our creator,

People: Guide us in truth and love.


Help us to listen in love, work together in peace, and collaborate with one another as we seek the betterment of our community and world.

Intercessor: God, our creator,

People: Guide us in truth and love.


[Source: Rev. Shannon Kelly, Episcopal Church Director of Faith Formation and Officer for Young Adult and Campus Ministries]


Collect For an Election (BCP pg. 822)

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Collect For the Nation (BCP pg. 207)

Lord God Almighty, who has made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Collect for Social Justice (BCP pg. 823)

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Closing Prayers


A Prayer For our Country (BCP pg. 820, revised)


O God, who has given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech you that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of your favor and glad to do your will.


Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes who come from many kindreds and tongues.


Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to your law, we may show forth your praise among the nations of the earth. In times of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in days of trouble, suffer not our trust in you to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


A Prayer of St. Chrysostom


Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of

your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen.


Let us bless the Lord.

Thanks be to God.


The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, [+]  the love of God, and

the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore.

Amen.    2 Corinthians 13:14

[Image: Taken from Catholic Moral Theology site]  

[Lectionary taken from Lesser Feasts and Fasts, July 4, Independence Day] 

Friday, October 02, 2020

Midnight Demons Playing for Keeps

The demons that came in the middle of last night were in a whole different league from the usual suspects, the ordinary doubts, self-reprisals and worst case scenarios. I had gone to bed knowing that an aide to the president had tested positive for COVID19. After the 4:05 AM wakeup call my bladder apparently put in, I made the mistake of taking a peek at my Facebook feed and the first post I encountered took my breath away. Both the occupant of the White House and his wife had tested positive and were in quarantine.

Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse.

(When will I learn NOT to look at my IPad on those nights when I don’t sleep all the way through?)

 Perhaps I’ve watched too many episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale. But the idea that an icy cold, steely-eyed true believer like Mike Pence could ever have the powers of the presidency at his disposal absolutely terrifies me.  The midnight demons were playing for keeps last night and it would take me another three hours of fitful tossing and turning before sleep would return.

Resisting Schadenfreude

Clearly, there is no small amount of irony in the Bully-in-Chief becoming infected with the disease which his own mishandling and dissembling have caused thousands of Americans to die. The man who silenced medical and scientific experts, who sneered at responsible adults who took precautions against the pandemic, who pressured state and local governments to reopen in the face of persistent new cases and who intentionally created super spreader events to feed his insatiable ego is now hoist on his own petard.


In the back of my mind this morning I hear a smug John Lennon singing from the grave, “Instant Karma’s gonna get you…..”

One of my chief tasks this day will be resisting the all-too-human tendency to engage in schadenfreude regarding this turn of events. Perhaps the vindictive response of “God’s punishment” comes too readily to those of us who have historically been subjected to it all of our lives.

We have watched with horror as our loved ones have died preventable deaths from a pandemic. We have seen our fellow citizens run down in the streets by terrorists declared “good people” by the Oval Office. And we have wept for children of asylum seekers who have died in cages on our borders. From the lowest level of moral reasoning that children employ, this infection could easily be seen as payback for this Bully-in-Chief, an eye for an eye. But if this is truly “God’s punishment,” I want nothing to do with such a deity.


I do not wish this pestilence upon anyone, even racist bullies who have abused their power and caused others to suffer and die. And I do not wish for any deepening of the wounds of a country teetering on the precipice of the abyss. Most of all, I absolutely do not wish to live in a country within the power of white fundamentalists for even one nanosecond.

Nowhere Else to Turn

I think it’s fair to say that at 4:05 AM last night, as the demons were having a field day with my soul, what I experienced was a true sense of powerlessness. It was terrifying. And all I know to do this morning is to pray for our country, its people and its leaders.  

I pray for the health of a man and his wife facing a deadly disease who may not deserve much mercy even as I recognize that I am only here because others have upon occasion shown me unmerited mercy. I pray for order as our country faces a very frightening electoral process and I pray that cooler heads will prevail in its wake.



Finally I pray that G-d’s grace will pervade the hearts of our people and prevail in our nation in this very frightening time in which we live. This day I humbly, haltingly but sincerely ask: G-d, please bless America. Not because we are entitled to it, indeed we may well not deserve it. But, in truth, it is increasingly clear that we really have nowhere else to turn.

One of the prayers from the suffrages in the Episcopal Morning Prayer service says it well:

V.    Lord, show us your love and mercy;

R.    For we put our trust in you.




Harry Scott Coverston

Orlando, Florida

  If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

 Those who believe religion and politics aren't connected don't understand either. – Mahatma Gandhi

 For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d?  - Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures

 Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. - Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages (1993)

   © Harry Coverston, 2020