Things are not always as they seem. Not even dogs.
While checking out at my local grocery store, the clerk admired the very expensive dog treats I was buying for my picky-eater dog. “My dog loves these, too!” she said. As is typical of dog owners, we quickly fell into the predictable canine conversation: what breed is your dog? what is its name? how old is your dog? what’s s/he like?
The clerk owns a cute little four-year-old mutt whose name is Namaste. “What a great name!” I exclaimed. “Is she as peaceful as her name?” The clerk shook her head sadly. “No, she’s a horrible dog. She’s mean to everyone but me. Its so embarrassing when my dog lunges at another dog and I have to shout, ‘Namaste! Stop it! Down, Namaste!”
By this time, the patron behind me was laughing out loud, as was the bagger. The image of a tiny little dog whose name echoes the Sanskrit greeting, “I bow to you,” barking like a demon at another dog was just too funny. All week, I’ve been imagining encounters between the gently named Namaste and the shocked, cowering dogs and their owners whom she threatened.
Things are not always as they seem. Not even “namaste.”
I shudder to think about the sermon that will emerge from another innocently named “kingdom of heaven” parable on Sunday. (Matthew 22.1-14) We have grown accustomed to Jesus’ parables of the kingdom—seed, pearl, net, treasure—so we expect to be lulled into slumber by another bucolic image of God’s work in the world. Instead, Jesus’ parable comes out snarling and barking—a tiny little ineptly-named Namaste in biblical drag.
This Sunday, the kingdom of heaven is compared to an ill-tempered king who expects large crowds at his son’s wedding. When the invited guests disdain his invitation, the king murders them and burns their villages. Unwilling to present his son to an empty banquet hall, he instructs his servants to drag people into the party—good and bad, willing and unwilling, ready or not. If the parable were not ugly enough on its own, Jesus tops it off with an inexplicable statement of judgment and banishment to the outer darkness—where demons howl and the damned are tortured. A bloody wedding banquet. The gospel of the Lord?
I honestly don’t know what to do with this. The world around us is dark enough, without Jesus adding to the gloom. God is a vengeful king? Guests who fail to show can be executed? Dressing poorly gets you tossed into hell? A dog named Namaste is more likely to attack than to wag? What does any of this mean?
Regardless of my homiletical readiness, we will gather, remotely, for Sunday Worship to hear the word of God and wonder at its meaning for our lives.
I also invite you to remain on the line after worship for a fascinating Vitality Talk about what it means to be citizens of a political world. Dr. Paul Nelson, recently retired Professor and Chair of the Religion Department at Wittenberg University, will offer a compact introduction to the ELCA’s newest social message, “Government and Civic Engagement in the United States: Discipleship in a Democracy.” The message is uniquely timely, and Paul brings deep experience as a teacher and interpreter of the faith. The Vitality Talk will launch at 10:45 a.m., after 10 a.m. worship, on the zoom link include below.
Though the name also belongs to an aggressive little dog, I bow to you, humbly grateful for the privilege of living these turbulent times with you. And I trust that, when we are together in Jesus’ name, things will be as they seem, as they ought to be.
Pastor JoAnn Post
Please Join Us for Sunday Worship and Vitality
On Sunday morning at 10 a.m., we host live Zoom Worship. (Meeting ID: 899 7267 2648, Passcode: 195368) and wait for the host to give you access) Worship will be recorded and posted later on Sunday, for those who are unable to join us live.
Following worship, at 10:45 a.m., we invite you to join us on the same zoom link for a Vitality Talk with Dr. Paul Nelson.