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The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 12, 2014
The Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14
The Very Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
Once more Jesus spoke to the people 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."
There was a wedding here yesterday. And we had a great time. Scottie Reeder and her fiancé Andrew Hopkins became husband and wife. We had the Eucharist. We had a bagpiper. It was a big, happy celebration. Afterwards, we went into the Parish House for the reception, and we feasted.
There is something about the joy of a wedding that is infectious, and hard to resist. First there’s that invitation that comes in the mail. You can tell it’s an invitation before even opening it, usually, because it’s that really heavy stationary, and there’s clearly something made of cardstock in that envelope. You open it wondering if you’ll be completely surprised, (as in…They’re getting married? Who knew?”), or relieved, (as in…”It’s about time!”). Assuming that we like this couple pairing, and it’s close enough to get to, we get excited for them and their big day. As the day gets closer we pull out the wedding suitable clothes, making sure they still fit. Then comes the day itself! It’s the couple’s day, but our day is structured around it. We can’t imagine not being there; to enjoy it, to celebrate it, to revel and feast in it. Wedding joy is hard to resist.
By now you’ve no doubt guessed where I’m going with this. Yes, I’m going to preach about the great wedding banquet as it is told in our reading from the Gospel According to Matthew this morning. Here, a king invites all the worthies of the land to come to the wedding feast of his son and the son’s bride. But these guests can resist the joy of a wedding. They fail to respond and ignore the invitation. So the king, Matthew tells us, gets really mad, destroys them and then invites in all the formerly unworthies who do come, including one who is clearly there just for the eats, and not for the celebration of the son and his bride, and gets thrown out.
Now before I get to the actual point of this parable, I want to make a really big point about one thing: this is a parable, not an allegory. In an allegory, every detail is important and makes a point of its own. In a parable, the details are just window dressing, and are not meant to be understood as making a point. In other words, don’t get sidetracked by the details; they aren’t there to deepen the point.
This is a really important distinction here, especially as we deal with Matthew’s account of this parable. You see, in Luke’s account, the king doesn’t get mad and kill the first non-responders to the invitation. He just opens the doors to everyone who will come. And there is no one who comes who is subsequently kicked out for being underdressed. Luke’s account is older than the one found in Matthew, and Mark’s account, the oldest of them all, concurs with Luke’s.
Matthew’s account was written after the destruction of the Temple and the burning of Jerusalem, and it seems, he just couldn’t help editorializing the morning news into this parable. As to the underdressed, rejected guest, well, most scholars agree that no one knows what Matthew was getting at with that one.
So, let’s remember, this is just a parable, a simple story that Jesus created to make some simple points. Dropping Matthew’s commentary, then, let’s look at what Jesus would have us know this morning.
And the first thing Jesus would have us know this morning is this: Our God is an inviting God. One of the truly awesome things to know about God is that God is an inviting God. God is always inviting us to come: come to the waters, come home, come to the banquet, come to an abundant life, come to eternal life, come to worship, come to God himself.
In this story, the king (God) is excited about his banquet. The calf has been fattened and slaughtered, the wine has aged, the tables are set, and the DJ and band are already playing. God is really excited about this feast. God can't wait to get the invitations out. God is just that way. It's who God is. This is the God we love, and worship, and serve; a God who invites us to the dance, invites us to be a part of what God is doing to heal our world. Could anything be more wondrous than that?! God has made all the preparations for the feast, and God wants everyone to be present to honor the Son and his bride. God is not willing for any to miss this event. God is always inviting. Every day is an invitation. Every interruption is an invitation. Our God is an inviting God. That’s the first thing Jesus would have us know this morning.
Here’s the second: God’s invitation is an invitation to life itself. Let’s open this invitation and see just what it is that’s in it. If you have a pencil or pen handy, you may want to jot down these Scripture references on your bulletin somewhere as we go, so that you can go back and read them again later.
Consider: John 10:10. Jesus says, “I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” Here, Jesus tells us that his invitation is to an abundant life; that is a life that is full, and brimming over with all that makes for life.
Or consider the following passages: John 3:16&17; Romans 8: 31-39; I Corinthians 13; I Corinthians 15: 51-58; In each of these it is clear that the life Jesus gives is so strong, so full of life itself, that it will never end, but can only go on beyond this life.
Or consider: Revelation 3: 20. Do you want to see a picture of this verse? It’s right there in the back window or our sanctuary. Jesus says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock, and if anyone hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to them and feast with them, and they with me.” That door on which Jesus is knocking and listening in the window, is the door to our own hearts and minds. Note that the door has no door knob, but it does have a hefty lock; the key and the handle are on the inside, and the door can only be opened from the inside, by you and me. But when we do open it to him, Jesus says, he will come in, without fail, and bring us the feast of life. God’s invitation is an invitation to life itself. That’s the second thing Jesus would have us know this morning.
And here’s the third: We are the ones invited. Our own personal names are inscribed on this wedding invitation. God is inviting you and me to the wedding feast of life without regard to our past, or our backgrounds; without respect to our level of education; without regard to our bank accounts; without regard to our race or gender or anything else we could possibly come up with to think ourselves disqualified for this invitation. You are invited. Your presence is wanted and welcomed at the feast. And so is mine.
And there’s something else too. Think of the wedding invitations you’ve received in the past. Haven’t many of those also stipulated that this invite is for you and your guest, or partner, or other person to accompany? Jesus’ invitation has that in it too. Look at the story; when the hall wasn’t full, the King sent his servants out saying, “’Go therefore into the main streets,” (I’ve always been partial to the translation that says “highways and byways”), “and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
That’s our calling now; we’ve already gotten our invitations, but God wants everyone to know that the doors are open full wide for them too. Share your invitation. It can be done by simply telling someone about how your faith has made a real difference in your life; perhaps in your ability to go on when circumstances would have stopped you in your tracks. Or let them know that this fellowship has helped to recall your eyes to joy and your heart to courage when giving up would make more sense. Maybe just share a moment of joy you’ve known because of your love for Jesus.
One more thing; at the bottom of our invitations are those very familiar letters: R.S.V.P., respondez s’il vous plait, please respond. A table is set for us right now. It’s right there in the chancel. Our Lord is waiting to feed us there with his own healing life-restoring presence. It is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits us all. Come to the table. Come to the feast of life that is set for us now. And with that, send your RSVP for the banquet to come.