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.”
My sermon from the 19th Sunday after Pentecost (October 15, 2017) on Matthew 22:1-14. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.
I sometimes wonder if our structure of scripture interferes with scripture itself. As Christians, we chose long ago to split the Bible into the Old Testament and the New. The Old Testament starts with Genesis – with the beginning of the universe – and tells how God choose slaves in Egypt to be the chosen people. The text is filled with songs, heroes, villains, and prophets. As Christians, we see in its pages the foreshadowing of Jesus and the promise that, through the Jewish people, the world will be blessed. And then, chronologically at least, we skip 400 years or so – straight to Jesus’ birth. Even though we only have one bible, we talk about it as if it was two. And when we do that, we invite ourselves, I think, to split God into two as well. The story of ancient Israel is filled with wars and violence so the God of the Old Testament becomes war like, angry, and full of wrath. The God of the New, however, is more comforting; a kind shepherd who is busy watching over fluffy and carefree sheep. It’s sometimes difficult to reconcile the two – to take the God who extends the hours in a day so an army can destroy their enemies with the same God who was born as a tiny little baby in a barn in Bethlehem. By splitting the Bible into two testaments, we’ve inherited a way of though, a structure, that doesn’t always know what to do with this God we split in two. It feels like we’re being asked to make a choice, to decide which version of God we’re going to follow. And we might end up clinging to the “nicer, more loving” version of God that we think only shows up in the New Testament because that’s the God that feels more…safe. God is more comfortable when we split God in two. So knowing that we do that – look at this reading from the gospel according to Matthew again – and tell me: is this a story we can imagine our “nicer” God actually telling?
When I try to personally answer that question, I feel like my answer really depends on my mood. If I’m having a bad day and I feel exhausted by life, I read this story through verse 10 and then just stop. I’ll stick with the welcome and ignore all that harsh and violent stuff. But if I’m feeling a bit angry, or upset, and I know that there are a whole bunch of folks who are doing this Jesus thing wrong, then it’s easier for me to read this parable to the end. I mean, as long as I don’t see myself as one of those who first ignored the king’s invitation, and I’m not that guy without the robe, and I’m not one of the “them,” the chief priests and religious leaders Jesus told this parable to, then I’m okay with Jesus telling this parable because it really has nothing to do with me. Sure, it’s violent and gruesome, but as long as I get to make the claim that I am one of the good guys in this story, then I’m okay splitting God in two, because Jesus’ harsh words are never really meant for me. But Jesus doesn’t let us pretend as if these parables are meant only for other people. As a colleague of mine likes to say, “if the parables Jesus told doesn’t make you uncomfortable, then you need to read them again.” Matthew 22 is a moment when our “nice” God is saying something to us we can’t imagine God actually saying. It’s as if Jesus is breaking down the barriers we build to keep the parts of God we don’t like away from the parts we do. Jesus is keeping us on our toes by not letting us keep God safe. Jesus is showing us that there’s a very real consequence when we come to his party and we’re not wearing the robe that God already gave to us.
One of the things I do as a pastor is visit people in their homes. And when I come by, I sometimes bring communion. I have this little kit with five individual communion cups, a little bottle for wine, and a little brass container filled with wafers. I’ll pull out this kit, set everything up on a table, bench, or even the floor, and then we share the body and blood of Jesus – together. But, sometimes, before this little ritual starts, the silence I need to set everything up is broken by a question. If they’ve never had communion at home before, they’ll wonder what they’re supposed to do. If there is something on their mind, they’ll blurt it out as I place the communion cups on the table to share. And then sometimes, the fact that it’s just the two of us creates a kind of intimacy that causes deeper questions, concerns, and fears to come to light. I’ll discover the last time they had communion and why they haven’t had it since. I’ll discover some broken relationship that’s never been repaired and they’ll ask if Jesus can do what they cannot. And some will wonder if they can even receive communion because, at that moment, they don’t even know what they believe in. When the table is set, when Jesus is right there, ready to serve you, we can sometimes be almost speechless except for the wonder, anxiety, fear, worry, and hope swirling in our souls. I can’t help but hear an unspoken question being asked at that moment. Am I, are we, truly worth Jesus?
And the answer to that is simply…yes. You are worth Jesus. You are worth this Son who lived and died and rose again to say you’re worth all of that and even more. Because the story of God is about a story where God who clings to those whom God choose. And this kind of choice isn’t something you and I get to do. God makes God’s choices. And the God of the Old Testament and the New chooses people and that same God chose you. We know that, as individuals, we were given a special gift, a special robe, making it known that made we are worth this Jesus thing. The robe we wear is the robe God gives to us in our baptism. It’s a promise that you are worthy of the love that God gives you. And it’s also an invitation to trust that this love we are given, this love that we did nothing to earn and that we often struggle against, is a love that truly change everything. We are no longer the ones who get to ignore or fight against the invitation God gives. We are no longer known only as the uninvited who only get to come to the party because others said no. We are already a part of it, eating the finger foods, sitting down for the 12 course meal, and drinking special little drinks with funny little straws. The party God is throwing is a party that is still going on. We don’t get to control the guest list. We don’t get to decide how to keep this party safe for only people like us. Instead, we have to live as if we are truly worth the kind of all inclusive party that can include imperfect people like us. The robe we were given might be invisible to our eyes but it’s something that we have and it’s a robe meant to be worn and lived out. It’s a robe that tells us to, no matter what, just love. When we see fear, we are called to bring hope. When we see suffering, we are called to make the personal sacrifices necessary for others to be healed. And when we are finally face to face with doubt, sorrow, anxiety, and worry; when the soul you see in front of you is in as much turmoil as your own; and you don’t know what to do, or say, and you feel like you have nothing to offer and nothing to share; just give Jesus because Jesus is already there.