Analog God

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Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 23
Matthew 22:1-14

I’m almost entirely sure that nearly all of you have had some experience with record albums. Yes, 12 inch and 7 inch. 33 and 45 rpm vinyl records—relics of the past you might think. “How does Pastor Sullivan, that young whipper snapper, know about those!” Well, you might be surprised to hear that I have a little collection myself. Back in college I realized you could go to thrift stores and get great used records for like 25 cents each!

But since my college years in the early 2000s the sale of new vinyl records has gone up as much as 18 times! In 2005 new vinyl record sales in the US totaled about $900,000. In 2019 the total was $18.8 Million! Why has this clunky, heavy black disc come back?

The simple answer is that it actually sounds better. There is a lot of research saying: when the needle comes into the groove of that vinyl something happens. It gives the sound coming from your speakers more depth and life than a digital recording can ever muster. All the experts agree that the sound is simply better. And in our times of digital music streaming services, people of all ages continue to return to analog, vinyl albums. The secret to why vinyl is king, is also the secret of our merciful God.

A vinyl album is a physical happening. On a record player there is a needle, called a stylus. And the record spins on a platter at a set speed, and the stylus is placed gently on the vinyl record resting in the beginning of one of the grooves. When the shapes in the record’s grooves move past the needle, it pushes a magnet up and down past the coil in the stylus’ head, generating electrical signals that are fed to an amplifier to create sound through your speakers. Something physical is actually happening to make the music. Movement, the interaction of one surface—the stylus—and another—the groove of the record. It’s a real event.

The same is true of our God. God the Father Almighty, who is in all places, who created this universe and yet is entirely free of any constraints or limitations, has chosen to be united forever with Creation as God the Son. The specific, flesh and bones, speaking, walking, born of a woman, human being event—Jesus.

That is what the image of the wedding banquet from our Gospel from Matthew—and the image of the fine feast that is echoed in our Isaiah reading as well—that is what it is about. God came here. It’s a party.

It’s a wedding feast, as Jesus tells it. A wedding feast is a celebration of a marriage, obviously. A wedding is the coming together of two individuals, two families. They come together to make a new family, a new life. Just like how the stylus and the groove join, and music comes from the speakers. A celebration, a song, what we would call God the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is talking about himself in the parable. He’s talking about God coming to us. But the parable of Jesus is not only about dropping the needle on God’s creation. Some people don’t listen to the music. In the parable some people don’t come to the party. The would-be guests made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.

There are many layers here to this parable. On a historical level it’s the author of Matthew’s Gospel talking about the people in Judea and Israel who did not accept Jesus as the messiah, nor did they accept God’s prophets throughout history. The community that the Gospel of Matthew was written for was confused and angry about this.

As the parable goes on: “The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.” That, historically, did happen. The Roman Empire destroyed Jerusalem in around 70 AD to crush an anit-Roman Jewish rebellion there. Matthew’s author and the original audience of the Gospel are trying to explain why God would let this happen to their city and temple.

But Jesus’ parable pushes past this, to more layers of meaning. Then the king said to his servants, “Well, whatever! The wedding is ready either way… Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” And they gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

What could be the point to this? I would venture to say—that on another level of meaning which relates to us—it means the party was not cancelled. God says, let those in all times and places who want to celebrate, celebrate. To go back to my image of record albums: just because some people aren’t listening God does not slap the needle off the record.

And as in the image of a wedding: our hopes for all weddings is that they are life-long commitments. Here, on this side of paradise, marriages often can end, and often must end—but no one is thinking that on your wedding day! They are permanent. And the wedding feast celebrating God’s uniting with Creation in Christ is permanent. If these people won’t celebrate, then find those who will.

And those people are us, here, today. Creation is redeemed. The image in Isaiah this morning is what God has done in Christ. It is our hope, it is what we get up to celebrate each Sunday, each day even! Listen to Isaiah: “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 God will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; God will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of God’s people God will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.”

That is what the wedding feast celebrates. The “shroud that is cast over all people” is gone. The great distance between the needle and the groove is swallowed up. They touch and the music of redemption, of mercy, of union plays. God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, a tri-unity, here, in your very lives.

But I guess for some this music is ugly, this wedding feast tastes bitter. Because it’s not a question of it only being SOME people God loves. Everyone is invited. Isaiah prophecies about: The sheet that is spread over all nations; Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, God will take away disgrace from all the earth.

The voices in our heads will always respond: “That really does sound too good to be true.” “I don’t want my enemies to be redeemed.” “I don’t want those I am afraid of to hear my favorite record or to eat my wedding feast.” Or we ask: “How can Creation be redeemed if we still experience pain and death?” “How can God let injustice still happen?”

These are the hard thoughts and questions of those who tarry and do not come to the feast. The questions we ask when we are in that “outer darkness,” in great suffering and confusion. They are legitimate questions, of course. I struggle with them too. But our proclamation, Scripture’s proclamation, is that the music is playing. The eternal wedding feast is open, for us, to enjoy.

Come into the feast. You can come in if you like! God does promise today in our Psalm: that even though we walk through the darkest valley, we need fear no evil; for God is with you; God’s rod and staff—they will comfort you. When you’re ready you may put on the wedding robe of joy.

Because whether it’s the swaying Golden Rod in the gullies, or the Autumn dew glistening on a spider’s web, or even the dead fox by the roadside, the fires of a riot, or the presidential candidate you really do NOT want to win… They, and all this world, are redeemed, just as God has planned.

Our world is the record spinning on the platter, and Christ the needle has dropped. The song of love and mercy is playing. The question is not only, “Are you listening?” But, the question in Jesus’ parable this morning is, “ Are you dancing?”