Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
October 9, 2005
The Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14
Sermon: "Responding Yes to the Invitation"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, 'Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.' But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen."
Responding Yes to the Invitation
Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost - October 9, 2005
The scene was a very fancy restaurant in downtown Manhattan. A small group of people had arrived for their dinner reservations. The maitre d' greeted the young man who made the reservation with a smile. He asked for the number in the party and the young man replied four. Standing before the maitre d' were four people, two couples. The two ladies were nicely dressed. The young man who made the reservations was also nicely dressed in a suit with coat and tie. However, the other man only had on a very nice dress shirt, no coat and no tie.
The maitre d' turned to the young man who made the reservations and said, "Sir, I am terribly sorry, but I can't seat you", and then he pointed to a sign. The sign plainly stated, "All gentleman are required to wear a coat and tie. The young man who made the reservations protested. They lived a long way from the restaurant and they had other plans for the evening. They couldn't go back and get a coat and tie. There was no place to go and get one. The maitre d' looked at the young man and he understood. He turned to the gentleman in the dress shirt and said, "Please, follow me." The two men walked off leaving the two ladies looking confused and the young man very frustrated. In a moment they returned and their friend was now dressed in a coat and tie. The three friends were taken back. The maitre d' smiled and said, "Sir, it happens all the time. We started keeping a few ties and coats here just in case. Would you like to be seated now?" The young man turned to the maitre d' replied yes and thanked him for his hospitality. The two couples had a wonderful meal and they returned the coat and tie as they left.
There are some similarities between this story and the Gospel story. There are also some striking differences. Once again we see Jesus talking to the Pharisees. In the story Jesus tells there is a king who is having a great wedding banquet. The king invites the guests to come. Instead of coming they choose to turn away. Some choose to ignore the king's invitation. Oh, they have their reasons, but they choose, they use their free will to decide not to attend. Others choose to mistreat his servants and even kill them. The king is angry about the response. He responds by punishing those who mistreated his slaves. He also invites anyone who will come to join him at the wedding party.
At this point we can see that this story is about God, Jesus and the people of Israel. God is the king. Jesus is the son. The servants or slaves are the prophets of old and John the Baptist. The people who have rejected the king's invitation are those in power and authority. They have chosen to reject the possibility that Jesus might be the Son of God. They have deliberately chosen to stay in their traditions. Oh, they have their reasons. They don't want to change. They know everybody and their lives are comfortable. They would have to give up authority and power. Since they have chosen their own path by free will, God turns to others, to the people of Israel. God turns to the hurting, the oppressed, the sinful, the lost, the abused, and the accused.
Now, the king tells more servants to go and get anyone who will come, good and bad, and fill the hall. Everyone is invited. The only response necessary is to come with the servants to the party. Now, there is an ancient tradition in antiquity of which we should be aware. For this kind of party, the guests were given a robe to wear over their street clothes when they entered the door. The servants would give everyone who came in the door a robe to wear. The robe meant acceptance and honor. The robe also meant that one chose to be there in response to the invitation. The robe was kind of like the coat and tie of the story of the restaurant. The only necessary action was to choose, to use free will, to come and join the banquet coming through the front door.
Now, the king comes into the banquet hall. His eyes see someone who is not wearing a robe. The man is thrown out of the party. He is not given a robe and invited to stay. The king is not like the maitre d' who goes and finds a coat and tie. If the king is God, then would God actually not allow someone to come to the banquet. The parable does seem to imply so. We think to ourselves that isn't fair. The man came. He responded to the invitation. He walked into the door and entered the party. Why didn't he get a robe? Maybe they were out? The king didn't have enough robes. Perhaps they didn't have one that fit? He couldn't wear the robe because it just didn't fit him. It would have been awkward.
We can think of all the various possibilities because we don't want to believe that God would turn the man out. However, the man turned his own self out. See, if he had actually chosen to respond to the call, he would have come in with the guests. If he had come in with the guests, then he would have received a robe. He would have made his choice of attending the banquet visible and clear. He did not. Somehow, he came into the banquet without acknowledging the invitation. Somehow he attempted to enjoy the food, the wine, the dancing, the celebration with no commitment to the king's invitation. He tried to sneak in the back way. This response is unacceptable.
Please note that many were invited to the banquet. In fact, the scripture even says the king invited the good and the bad. The only action required was to say yes to the invitation and come. They didn't have to do mighty acts. They didn't have to be perfect in the king's eyes. What they had to do was to acknowledge freely the invitation of the king and then come. The grace of the king was available to all. However, to try and fake the part was unacceptable.
God wants us to choose to follow him. God desires a clear decision. In one respect it is funny. God knows we won't be perfect. After all God created us. God does want us to try. God did give some guidelines for us to attempt to follow. Jesus summed them up in loving God and loving your neighbor. More than anything else God wants us to love freely. We are called, invited, to learn how to love. We are called, invited, to respond yes to God's desire to come to the banquet. We have simply been asked for an answer, yes or no, maybe is not an option.
In a few moments we are to baptize John Hearn. His baptism begins his spiritual journey. Initially, his parents and godparents take responsibility for his learning and his first steps on the journey. Later, he will make the decision for himself. He will choose his response to God's invitation. Even more amazing though, is that today, we renew our commitment to say yes to God. All of us will stand and proclaim our faith and say yes once again as we renew our own decision in the Baptismal Covenant. So, today as we say this creed and as we respond to the questions, I hope we will ask ourselves how we actually feel about God. What answer would we give to the king?