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Sermon, October 11, 2020
Isaiah 25:1-9 | Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9 | Matthew 22:1-14
The Gospel lesson today is the third in a series of parables. We heard the first two the last two Sundays. Jesus is speaking to the same group, in the Temple; the Chief priests, the Pharisees/elders of the people and the crowds. He has been talking in parables about the kingdom of heaven, and with each passing parable, the tension has been increasing between Jesus and the priests, elders, and the occasional Pharisee. The Chief priests and elders have noticed that the parables are about them, and that the parables aren’t too flattering about them. Indeed, Jesus has been telling them repeatedly that they are being rejected by God for failing to fulfill their vocations, what they are called to do and be.
Now, the tone of this parable changes a bit. There seems to be a greater sense of urgency. Jesus stops talking about vineyards and moves to the image of a wedding feast. If the last parable was a sort of a passion prediction, and it was, this one is more eschatological, sounds more like the end of the Book of Revelation, and the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, the completion at the end of the age. And marriage is one of the most common themes in Scripture as pertaining to God’s relationship with us. It is a very pointed tale.
And this parable is the strangest of the three. It is nothing short of being weird. But, it is about a wedding. And, having now performed about over 400 weddings, many weddings are weird. I take that back. Most weddings are weird. It seems to be the nature of the beast. They often start planning the event about a year and a half before it happens. They invite the significant people in the couple’s lives. And then, they get nervous, sweat profusely (August weddings, outdoors, can be lots of fun), cry a lot (especially flower girls, sometimes the bride and groom), forget things (like the rings or the license). People find that they can’t repeat the vows after me. Sometimes, alcohol gets passed around the wedding party as a “bracer” before the ceremony (and they think that I don’t notice). And sometimes, people even pass out. I’ve had that happen a couple of times. I warn them not to lock their knees, but they don’t listen. People prepare for months, often spending thousands of dollars, for a ritual which lasts about 45 minutes (which you are then supposed to live with for the rest of your life – or less). Emotions are at high gear. My job, try to maintain sanity, and often a sense of decorum, and sacredness to the whole event. That isn’t always easy. When the end of the age in the Bible is compared to a Wedding, sometimes I worry.
Now, what happens if you go through all of this work, and those who you invited don’t come, none of them? They may have prior commitments. All of them!! The king’s invitations should take precedence; but one goes to his business, another to his farm. The servants are mistreated (like the other parables). In retribution, they are destroyed by the king, and others are invited, namely those who had before been considered unworthy. Now, the “unworthy” are invited and in the king’s presence, in the KINGDOM! In fact, they can’t turn it down like the first ones, they are compelled to go, must.
What is going on? The ones to whom the invitation was originally given, refused it: the Chief priests, the Pharisees, and the elders of the people. They now have the invitation taken away, revoked. Indeed, they are refused entry. They are destroyed, we are told (which does happen 40 years after Jesus tells this parable, at the hands of the Romans, and what is left of them again in 135AD).
The invitation is now given to all others. The Kingdom/Gospel is given to all to whom the message bearers come in contact, which is the mission of the Church. The invitation is now to those who were first thought to be unworthy: Gentiles, sinners (us). God tells us, “Come to the wedding feast of the Son.” All who hear the message, and receive the invitation are welcome.
But, then there is the man without the wedding robe (probably me, I like to dress for comfort, not to impress people – and I hate anything around my neck, too many of my ancestors died that way). This is the strangest part of the parable! He is compelled to be there. But he is not dressed properly. Maybe he didn’t have the proper clothing, or couldn’t afford it. He is given the bum’s rush out. What is the proper attire? How are we to be clothed aright? It seems that there are in fact certain expectations upon those who attend this wedding. How clothed rightly? In the blood of Christ, in faith, and living life in faith in Christ and God’s grace, that is what makes us worthy to be at God’s wedding banquet. And, as an afterthought, those good deeds which we have done to the praise of God, would they be wedding gifts, to show God our thankfulness?
That is what makes us welcome at the feast, in the kingdom, in the Church. Welcome at the Lord’s Supper, which is a foretaste of the feast to come. Welcome at the great wedding feast at the end of the age. You are invited, compelled, and dressed in faith. You are welcome.