Sermon October 9, 2011 – The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

October 10, 2011 at 8:33 pm Leave a comment

Gospel text: Matthew 22:1-14

I would imagine that a majority of us,
if not all of us from time to time,
have had dreams where we showed up somewhere
wearing the wrong clothes,
with humorous or more usually embarrassing outcomes.

Sometimes this happens in real life, as well.
I remember the first retreat I went to
with the local chapter of the Society of the Holy Trinity,
before I subscribed to the Rule and became a member.
I was really nervous, because a lot of the members
wore the long black vestment called a cassock on retreat,
and I didn’t know whether or not I ought to follow suit.
After a while I relaxed and figured out that this problem
was more about me than anyone else,
and that I could wear, or not wear, the cassock if I wanted.
But a friend of mine in college
had a more difficult situation.

He had just been to gym class,
which at our school we had to take the first couple of years,
and he had a class right away in the next building over.
He was wearing a long shirt that day,
perhaps a hockey jersey; he is a Penguins fan,
and he hastily changed into his clothes, grabbed his books,
and went off to class.
It was a warm day, like yesterday.
Upon his arrival in class, and the beginning of the lesson,
he began to wonder why it felt so unusually cold.
Yes, dear hearers, he had forgotten his pants.
‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’
I would have been speechless;
in fact, I may have transferred the next day.
But he somehow managed to get out of there
and retrieve his pants and skip the rest of class,
and curiously enough, no one mentioned the incident to him ever,
as far as I know.
He loved to tell that story because he loves to make people laugh.

The king in the story that Jesus tells seems to be a rather bloodthirsty individual,
and capricious in the extreme.
We don’t imagine Jesus throwing someone out of heaven, or a party for that matter,
for the egregious crime of wearing the wrong clothes.
What if the guest couldn’t afford good clothes for the wedding reception?
What if the guest simply got the wrong message?
But we need to see our fixation with the proper clothing as simply that,
our own fixation, and allow Jesus’ parable to tell its own story.
For the parable is about grace, all about grace,
God’s grace and our response to grace,
and how that plays out both for Jesus’ original hearers and for us.

Jesus tells the story of the wedding banquet to illustrate the obstinacy
of the religious leaders of his time
in refusing to embrace the message of the Kingdom that he was bringing.
For in celebrating with tax collectors and prostitutes,
he was announcing that God’s reign had broken into our troubled world.
In his own person, he was bringing his Father’s life and salvation to those who needed it most,
and his Father desired everyone to share in the joy.

But there were certain people around then
(and maybe there are now)
who are more interested in the world running as usual
than to embrace the experience of the joy of the Kingdom.
They are busy, you see,
There are things to be done, people to see, things to do.
I’ve done a lot of weddings in the past six months,
and a wedding, even though it is a happy occasion,
is an interruption.
To attend a wedding, however much you love the people involved,
involves a sacrifice of time, of money, of energy, a sacrifice of yourself.
And maybe you just don’t want to make that sacrifice.
There are times that you get a wedding invitation in the mail and you just go, ‘Oh my word…’
I think at one point this summer I asked facetiously why people didn’t just go to Las Vegas.
But when you are asked to share in people’s joy, it is a privilege.
It is an honor that you don’t refuse unless you absolutely have to.
And so, you go, and when you’re there, it makes sense.

I must admit I felt a little bit of the same last night when we went to the hayride.
I was being invited into the joy of the community, to celebrate God’s harvest
with my family and God’s family, to feast with my brothers and sisters in Christ,
and part of me wanted to stay home and watch Penn State lose to Iowa.
Of course, they beat Iowa. Miracles do happen!
But I went, and it was worth it. It was worth it to be around happy kids,
and to celebrate God’s glorious creation and to give thanks for it.
And I still got the updates on Kristi’s smartphone.

To enter into someone else’s joy involves sacrifice of your own interests.
And that is exactly what the Pharisees and chief priests refused to do
when God invited them to the celebration of his Son’s taking the kingdom.
It was an insult.
It’s insulting to have your own invitation refused –
How much more if God invites you into his joy and you refuse it for your own interests?
It is a rejection of God’s grace, who wants you to celebrate with him.
And this may very well explain the king’s furious reaction when those he invites first
refuse to come, reject his messengers, and act like the high-handed people they are.

And so the king invites those who have no idea that they are invited to the party,
those who have no station in life and who are not ‘the best people,’
and they respond with joy, for they have nothing to commend their own refusal.
We have been gathered here to celebrate God’s victory over sin, death, and the devil.
What is there to commend us?
None of us are famous, few of us have invented anything that has changed the world,
We will not be invited to walk down the red carpet at the Tonys, or the Emmys, or the Oscars.
None of us are saints, all we have is the invitation of grace.
And to accept the invitation of grace is to be worthy of the wedding banquet.
What compels us is the urgency of the invitation – there is joy to be had!
Christ has taken the Church as his bride!
God has triumphed over the powers that be!
And so we gather here to receive the feast of victory of our God,
For the Lamb who was slain has begun his reign.
When God calls us, and he is always calling us,
we come running to share in his joy, to be part of that party,
to celebrate that because of Jesus there is no sin that can separate us from him,
no evil that can tear us away from him,
no death that can sunder us from him and from each other.
And all because of his love and grace, and we are invited!
If we believed this about our Sunday gatherings,
If we believed this about our lives,
It would transform them.
It would transform the way we think and act and speak and do and live.

But what about the wedding robe?
What if we’re not dressed correctly?
What if there is something we’ve missed, that we should have done
Or should have known so that at the end,
When we are called to account, we will be rejected.
My friends, brothers and sisters,
It has nothing to do with clothes.
It has nothing to do with specific works.
It has to do with attitude.
For the person in the parable that shows up to the king’s victory feast
is not ignorant, nor is he misinformed, nor is he too poor to afford the right clothes.
He is arrogant.
He shows up not to celebrate the King and his Son,
but to get what he can for his own advantage.
He is a gate-crasher.
He’s there to eat the food of the celebration and to drink the wine,
but certainly not to do honor to the son of the king.

The grace that invites us invites us to do honor to Jesus,
who is the one who has won the victory over sin, death, and the devil.
We do this by the power of the Spirit, who works in our lives to convict us of our sin,
to renew us in grace, and to sanctify us in joy and in the truth.
If we think we can use church or God for our own advantage,
we are like the one who arrives at God’s party without a wedding garment.
But if we are there because we’ve been invited,
and because God calls us to be there,
and we want to celebrate with God,
then God’s Spirit is working within us to give him glory.
We will fall short as we always do, but there will be one day when God will finally take away
all that keeps us from him.

Brothers and sisters,
Rejoice, for you have been called to the wedding banquet of God’s Son,
the banquet of his victory over sin, death, and evil.
Here on this altar we celebrate a foretaste of the feast to come,
where all who hear and respond to the summons will feast forever in his joy,
clothed in the garments of thanksgiving and praise.
Compelled by the Word, we come with joy to enjoy his love forever.
Thanks be to God!

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