Sermon for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 28A)
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Years ago in another parish, a parishioner invited me and my colleague to her house for Sunday brunch. We sincerely appreciated the invitation and wanted to respond, but we asked if there was another time we could meet. On the Sunday of her invitation, the congregation was planning a luncheon after church, and she was inviting us to her house immediately after the luncheon.
We said we wouldn’t be hungry, but for whatever reason she insisted that the invitation was for that specific Sunday at that time. This parishioner had gone through some struggles and life changes, and so to be supportive of her, my colleague and I dutifully went off to eat Sunday brunch at her house, arriving at her house with bellies already full of food from the luncheon we had just eaten. I remember sitting at the table, an abundant and generous display of food set out before us, thinking, “Why did she have to invite us today?”
Who knows why the wedding guests in today’s gospel reading rejected the invitation to attend the king’s banquet? (Matthew 22:1-14)
Was it held at an inconvenient time? Did it follow some other community event the people had just attended? Were they full – had they already eaten? Or, was it personal? Did they hate the king and his family? Did they object to his choice of bride? Was it a forced marriage that the people wanted no part in?
In the parable Jesus doesn’t give us any reasons why they resisted. Scripture does tell us, however, that those invited to the banquet, resisted, rejected, and killed the king’s messengers sent to announce the invitation. In response, an enraged king sent his own troops to kill those invited guests, burn their towns and invite anyone they could find to come to the feast.
Martin Luther is said to have described this parable, and its insults, rejection, violence, murder, and banishment as, “the terrible gospel he did not like to preach.” One commentator noted it has been called a “parable of disruption.”
So what are we to do with this parable today?
Remember that parables are not ends into themselves, but a means to an end. They don’t tell the full story, but they lead us into the story. When we push a parable too far, it falls apart, requiring people to do things we know they would not do. Parables invites us to slow down and enter the mystery of God. With that in mind – let’s look again at this parable.
This parable speaks of God’s lavish generosity.
At the start of the parable food is prepared …a feast is set forth …everything is made ready for the banquet. It recalls last Sunday’s parable of the vineyard: the landowner planted a vineyard, put a fence around it to protect it, dug a wine press and built a watchtower. Both parables start in abundance, in generosity, everything taken care of, every detail addressed, no expense spared.
Isn’t it God who has set before us a feast – prepared all that we will ever need? God has set before us a planet of beauty, and diversity, and life … given us intellect, reason, and judgment … provided communities of blessing so we don’t have to try to go through life alone. Hasn’t God set before us the feast of his Son, Jesus Christ, a savior born among us, who has lived with us, suffered and died with us, and who was raised to eternal life for us?
The parable speaks of the invitations sent inviting guests to the feast.
The parable describes four rounds of invitations sent out. The first invitations were sent previously, prior to where the action starts in the parable. But when the feast was ready and the guests didn’t show up, the king sent his people out with another round of invitations … and then another round of invitations … and then a third round of personal invitations to the feast.
Doesn’t God continue to send wave after wave of people inviting us to the feast?
- Prophets invite us through the ages to God’ feast of kindness/justice/mercy.
- Apostles speak through the generations callings us to the feast of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- Pastors, Deacons, Bishops, minister with invitations to faith.
- Poets/artists/musicians write, paint, and sing God’s love and work.
- Parents, grandparents, friends, fellow church members invite us to the feast through their witness of God’s love and mercy.
Wave after wave of invitations are sent.
The parable invites us into the mystery of our shameful response to these invitations.
The invited guests, refused to show up. The invited guests responded to the king’s invitation by ignoring, mocking and beating the messengers and killing some of them. Again, it recalls last Sunday’s parable of the vineyard where the landowner’s people, and even the landowner’s son, were beaten, stoned, and killed.
In their rejection to the invitation, we are invited to consider our own reaction. What are the ways we say: “No thanks, I’m full.” “No thanks, I’m not ready.” “No – never!” to the messengers sent by God. The truth is, friends, every Sunday at the font, we confess that we are no better than those who have received the invitation to the banquet, but who turn away. What are the ways we resist and reject the invitation?
In response, the parable invites us into the mystery of God’s anger.
Jesus began this parable by saying “the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who …” Does God send God’s armies to kill those who reject the invitation and burn their towns – declaring them unworthy? Does this parable warn us about what is to come if we reject the invitation?
But, here’s the interesting thing about God’s anger. The king was not angry because the people refused to work. In fact, the first two people who refused the messengers were a farmer and a business man who opted to return to work, rather than go to the banquet. The king was not making a harsh and cruel request – this was not the Pharaoh demanding the Israelites make more bricks with less straw.
Rather, the king was inviting the people to a feast. The king wanted to feed the people, the workers, the laborers. The king was mad not because the people turned away from a command to work, but that they turned away from an invitation to eat and relax.
It’s been said that anger is a secondary emotion – that there is often a hurt, or betrayal or disappoint that fuels the anger. If we consider God’s anger in response to our rejection of the invitations to the feast, could it be that God is angry with us, because God is hurt and sad for us, that we busy ourselves in our sin, and take no time to sit and eat with God? That God has set before us a feast for our benefit, for our own healing and wholeness, that we refuse to participate in?
And yet, the parable invites us into the tension that though the invitation is cast widely, and generously, and inclusively – there are expectations and responsibilities of the guest.
After all the fuss about the invited guests refusing to attend, once guests finally showed up, the king came to one of the guests and asked: “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” (22:12) And the man, perhaps like us as the hearers of this parable centuries later, was baffled and speechless. He had no answer. Perhaps he thought that the king was just happy to have people at the feast? But the king responded: “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.” (22:13-14).
The king did not invite people to anything goes. The feast was not one of those parties you see in movies with a crowded house where people wake up the next day to a house littered with empty beer bottles, trash, and people laying around hung over. The invitation was to the feast of life and there were expectations.
In our Second Reading today (Philippians 4:2-9), Paul gives us an example of what we might think of as the wedding garment we are called to wear to the feast. The wedding garment is stitched with the fabric of gentleness, prayer, supplication. The garments we wear at God’s feast are beautifully diverse, including whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable …
Friends, this parable is the Good News of the kingdom of heaven!
It is the good news that the table has been set … the invitations have been sent … and in baptism, as a gift of grace and mercy, we are clothed with the wedding garment of Christ, our baptismal garment of promise, that we have a place forever at the feast of God’s love.
May the Holy Spirit grant you glad and willing hearts to receive the invitation.
May the Holy Spirit grant you the garment of faith to know that your place at the feast is a gift of grace through the mercy of Christ.
Clothed in Christ, and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, may you become a feast of justice and mercy for the world.
Thanks be to God.