Gbowee grew up in central Liberia, and left for the capital when she was 17, just before the war started, to train as a trauma counselor. And her work began with ex-child soldiers who had fought for Charles Taylor. Just a few years later she became the spokesperson for the women's group and led the protest for peace. She “gathered all whom she found,” both Christians and Muslims, believing that: "If any changes were to be made in society- it had to be by the mothers.
"I started to cry and to pray,” Gbowee said. “The women kept coming. Market women. Displaced women from the camps. Some of them had been walking for hours.” Her key moment came in April of 2003 when a huge crowd of women went before then-President Charles Taylor, and she was the one to hand him a resolution for peace, saying, ‘The women of Liberia, …we are tired of war. We are tired of running. We are tired of begging for bulgur wheat. We are tired of our children being [brutally mistreated].” She hadn’t been invited, she came from the most vulnerable and lowest rung in their society, but her prayers were answered.
An amazing accomplishment, along with President Ellen Johnson, she was instrumental in ending the civil war, and bringing Taylor to justice. And, it must have been quite a celebration that summer in 2003! And now she is celebrating her peace prize, to the delight of many.
This past summer’s celebration that everyone was tuned into was, the royal wedding of William and Kate from Britain, a spectacle everyone wanted to participate in. Wedding banquet’s are always times for celebration, and no expense was spared to wed the Queen’s grand-son, who is 2nd in line to succeed her. Celebrities from here and everywhere arrived, presidents and prime ministers came. It was an extravagant and picture perfect affair.
And that’s just what was expected, we can imagine, of the wedding banquet that a king threw for his son, in our gospel parable. But, it all went wrong in a hurry! The king sent out invitations well ahead of time, as was the custom, and then as the day came, sent out his servants to announce the affair once again. “But now they refused to come! [Not giving up, he sends other servants out, insisting, come on, this party’s going to be nuts! You don’t want to miss it! But they laugh at the invitation, and go back to work, while others mock and kill the messengers.]
So, the vindictive king retaliates, sending his own personal troops, not only to kill them, but to burn their city to the ground. Much as we might expect from today’s leaders, like Charles Taylor in Gbowee’s Liberia, or like President Assad of Syria, whose security forces once again, just yesterday, fired shots this time into a crowd of innocent mourners at a funeral, killing at least two. Methods of terror and intimidation are all too pervasive throughout the history of kings and presidents.
But in the parable, the wedding banquet took a more positive turn when the king, however briefly, showed his benevolent side, ordering his servants to go out into the marketplace and invite anyone and everyone they could find, “both good and bad.” Now that his rich friends, who rejected him were eliminated, he’d take any old warm body to fill his wedding hall, even those he considered undesirable! And so they came into the palace, a bit wearily, but hungry enough to take a chance on this fickle and capricious king.
What I started to wonder at this point was, where was the king’s son in this story? The most obvious thing about the son, is his invisibility! Normally in this parable, we would interpret the son as Jesus, and the king as God. But here we have a king that looks a lot like the real king of Jesus’ day, King Herod, who had the ‘well deserved’ reputation among the Palestinian Jews, of a brutal despot, and capricious ruler.
So the Jesus character in the parable, it turns out, may actually be the one who was next in line for the king’s retaliation at the royal wedding. “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe,” the king said to him out of the blue. And, he had him thrown into the outer darkness. Just like Jesus, the innocent man stood silent before his accusers. Jesus tells this story as holy week begins, and shortly, on that Thursday evening after he is arrested, and as he stood trial, Jesus receives the false accusations without answering, “speechless,” and then he is thrown into the outer darkness of death, just like the condemned robe-less man in the parable.
The retaliation of the king will be transformed by Jesus, of course, in his death and resurrection, he will become our new king, teaching us a new way, by breathing peace, into the whole Body of Christ.
Who are those in our society and neighborhood that are considered undesirable, that don’t get the first invitation to weddings? Who are those that are willing to pray and gather up those affected by capricious and dirty leaders? Who are those that have been as a Christ to you, and showed you the way to transformation in your life? Today we think of Leymah Gbowee. Amidst the story of Charles Taylor, armed rebels and a quarter million Liberians killed, her story was silenced until now. Yet, thanks to the Nobel Peace Prize, we have heard the key roll she played in freeing her people non-violently, by their perseverance, prayer and faith. She did not have the proper wedding robe or credentials to do it, no one had invited her. But concerned for the women and children of her country, she followed her dream, and, her time of celebration has come.
Which reminds me, there’s another thing I need to tell you about the Nobel Peace Prize winner. I got an email from Anne Basye yesterday. She just had to share the news with me! This fellow Lutheran, Leymah Gbowee, was her house guest back in 2005 when Anne lived here on Balmoral, just down by Glenwood. And on Sunday, naturally, she brought her to church! Leymah was invited to speak here from this ambo, and gave a brief greeting to those assembled – maybe some still remember?! But Anne wanted us to remember: that the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Leymah Gbowee, sat right here in the same pews that we do!
We too are called! The feast has been prepared. Come, we have much to give thanks for, and celebrate! Taste and see that the Lord is good.