Epistle Lesson: Philippians 4:1-9
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 22:1-14
Once more 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.“
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I would like to begin today by posing a question. Has it ever been your experience that sometimes people can explain something to you a couple of different times, in a couple of different ways before you ever get what they are saying to you?
I know I certainly have had that experience. Actually this past week Jeff Powell was trying to explain to me what he does, and as he was talking about his job, I would respond back with different examples of what made sense to me in my own past experiences…Oh so your job is like computer networking, although his job had nothing to do with computers or the Ethernet lines that went along with networking. As we are trying to learn new things, or new concepts, we always try to link them with past experiences or previous teachings. Well, here we are yet again in the Temple. Jesus is continuing this time of teaching with the crowds around him, the chief priests and Elders listening in, and Jesus is sharing yet another parable. It may seem apparent to Jesus that the crowds and the Chief priests still have not yet understood, and so Jesus offers up yet another explanation.
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gives a wedding banquet for his son. Yet again, we have here a parable, a story that brings about some deeper understanding of the kingdom of heaven. Now it is interesting as we delve into this parable, I want us to notice that the kingdom of heaven is the king. It was the kingdom that sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet. Everything was set, the meal was prepared, the butchering had been done. I suppose in our own context it is like going through all the preparation of the thanksgiving feast before letting your guests know that you are even going to host the dinner. God’s kingdom is always prepared for us even before we are ready to accept the invitation. Nothing else needs to be brought, nothing else is needed but the guests to accept this invitation. As I continue to read this, I must begin to place it in the context in which it was written. Matthew a Jew, writing the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Jews, these slaves that the King had sent out must be the prophets that had come to proclaim God’s warnings/invitation to repent and come back. Those who had been invited, those who had heard the prophets either had ignored, came up with excuses, continued on with their life with the things they had placed importance in, or seized the prophet and mistreated and killed them.
Now this is a rather interesting response of the King/kingdom to the refusal from the guests. The king was enraged, sent his troops, destroyed the murderers, and burned their city. And again the King/kingdom sends out into the streets his slaves to invite everyone to come in to the wedding banquet. So they did, they went out brought in the good, the bad, the good looking and the ugly.
Phewh…. I thought we were going to have a problem. Now the king is going to be happy, his tables are filled and the guests have arrived. Well……Not so much. The king/kingdom came in to see the guests and he well sort of notices one who did not have a wedding robe on. So, the king/kingdom confronts the man….Ummm, friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe? And the man was speechless. The king/kingdom had the attendants bind the man hand and foot to be thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Alright, so that’s the story….so what did Jesus mean? As I thought about it, this story really has three points that I feel is necessary to talk about today.
The first of which is in the beginning of the story. The king, the kingdom of heaven sends out slaves to call on those who had been invited and they would not come. The King sends word to them trying to entice them saying that the tables have already been completely prepared for you, there is nothing attached, come and be my guests. And still they came up with excuse after excuse to not come. Here, right here is the first learning point of this parable. The invited guests made light of the invitation, one went to his farm, and another to his business, while the others seized them and killed the slaves. So here’s the personal question, how have maybe yourself made light of God’s invitation in your own life? How have you ignored, or maybe even killed the invitation of God? Maybe you have tried to justify it by saying to yourself, but I have to work, or God, I just don’t have time right now because of these other commitments. God sends out another message to you, calls you by name, you (FILL in Name) or You (NAME), or You (NAME). The tables are prepared, the cooking is done, are going to accept the invitation?
The second point in this parable is when those who were invited did not come, the King sends out again his slaves to invite into the banquet anyone and everyone. Now to you or I, this sounds reasonable. Again, we must remember though that Jesus is amidst the Jews who if they came into contact with the lowly, the diseased, the bad, they would become unholy, contaminated, they would not mix themselves with the “others” of the times. But this king/kingdom is not like any other thing that these Jews had experienced. This king/kingdom is open for all to come. This is God’s free grace that has come to all people, Gentile or Jew, slave or free, those who are evil or good, incarcerated or not. It is open to all people, all who are created in the image of God. There is no sin that keeps us from entering the banquet, God’s grace suffices. This is truly some radical teachings from Jesus in the Temple the week before Passover.
Which leads me now to my third and last point. The point that I believe is the real kicker you could say of the story. It’s the crucial point of the story. The man without the wedding garment. Why would this king, why would the kingdom of heaven invite everyone, literally everyone in just to throw out the guest who came unprepared? Well let’s begin by saying we have a skewed 21st century understanding of this wedding banquet. When we go to a wedding today, we are expected to come dressed appropriately for such an event. Right? Well this is not so in the case of first century customs. The King, when hosting a wedding banquet would have offered everyone who came through the doors a wedding garment to wear. The offer had been made, but the man had chosen not to clothe himself with the clothing of the King, or in the case of the parable, had chosen not wear the clothes that is required in the kingdom. Jesus has now gone from talking directly about the chief priests and the elders, to talking to all of those who were present about the seriousness of this kingdom. As we come to understand what is the wedding garment, I will be pulling from Wesley’s interpretation as he had written a sermon called: “Of the Wedding Garment” Wesley talks about first what the wedding garment is not. It is not the adoration of holy things, it is not the acts of “holy war”, it does not mean being a harmless, not even does it mean doing all the good that you can to others. Wesley even goes on to say that it is not “attending upon all the ordinances of God.” But what this garment is is: Holiness. righteousness, the “having of the ‘mind that was in Christ,’ and the ‘walking as Christ walked’. Merely accepting the invitation to come to the banquet is not the kingdom’s desire, but it is to be prepared and ready for this feast. Our purpose as a church is not to just merely invite everyone in to the feast, to invite everyone to come to Christ, but in Jesus’ great commission, Jesus instructs us to go forth and make disciples. Disciples! Those who are following after God, not just sitting back and waiting for God to come to them. We are to teach and instruct others and ourselves to be imitators of our Lord Jesus Christ in thought, word and deed. We are to continually strive for the higher goal, that of our Lord Jesus. We are to be a different person because of the Grace that God has shared with us. Not saying, oh well, God will forgive me, let’s go and have some fun. NO! We are to clothe ourselves with the pure garment washed in the blood of the lamb and if we refuse the offer from the King of this garment, then yes, we will be thrown out into the abyss of darkness. Accept the free gift of the feast, but also accept the grace offered to you in the garment of holiness. Amen.