Monday, October 13, 2014

Sermon; Proper 23A; Matthew 22:1-14

No matter how you slice it, we are faced with a weird little parable from Jesus.  This is a kingdom parable, but it seems so disjointed and outrageous that it might as well come from Revelation.  And, as you read or hear it, it does seem to have some apocalyptic overtones – destruction, a new group of people and eternal judgment.

The story gets even more bizarre if you actually pay attention to it.  A king gives a wedding banquet for his son and send out slaves with the guest list.  This is where we run into the first problem – those invited refuse the invitation.  The second problem comes when more slaves are sent out and those on the invitation list kill them.  A third problem comes when the king invades the city, killing the residents and burning it to the ground.  This is not a good use of resources, by the way.  Finally, the king sends slaves into the city that was just destroyed to invite a new set of guests.

Here I need to mention that scholars think this isn't so much a parable as it is an allegory of Christian history up to that point.  The king is God, the son is Jesus, the marriage feast is the end of time, the slaves are the prophets, the original guests represent Israel, the burning of the city is the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d., and the new guests are the Gentiles gathered in the church.  Having just come through other parables with that same format, we understand it just as Matthew's early audience did.

We can see ourselves in this allegorical parable.  We were not the first invited; but we were invited, as was everyone else, both good and bad.  We can see that within our own congregation, and we can certainly see it within Christianity as a whole.  We are not always good.  Some days we are bad.  And within Christian history there have been some very bad people – just think of how many women and children have been abused at the hands of Christian leaders.

So . . . both good and bad fill the wedding hall.  Both righteous and unrighteous.  Both sinners and saints.  Tax collectors, prostitutes, Mother Theresa and Frank Peterson.  All these people accepted the invitation to come to the banquet.  And they not only accepted the invitation, but they accepted the invitation as they were.

They did not respond, “Let me go tell my family goodbye,” or, “Let me first bury my father.”  They did not respond, “Let me fix everything bad about me so that I may be worthy to come.”  They simply answered the invitation as they were when they were called.  Part of this parable is convincing others that they don't need to be perfect to come to the banquet, they just need to come.

So now we get to the banquet itself.  All the guests, both good and bad, have arrived and entered the wedding hall.  The king arrives and begins mingling with his guests.  All of a sudden he sees a man without the appropriate attire.  Walking up to him he says, disapprovingly, “And just how did you get in here without a wedding robe?”

I originally imagined this person to be standing at the buffet, his plate overflowing with shrimp, crab legs and stuffed mushrooms.  He's trying to balance his plate on top of his wine glass, and he's got a mushroom stuffed in his mouth because he wanted just one more.

“How did you get in here without a wedding robe?”

And he was speechless.

Now we come to the most problematic part of the story.  After the king killed those originally invited and burned their city to the ground, he rounded up what can only be classified as refugees to fill the wedding hall.  We've all seen images of refugees and, whether it be Jews escaping Nazi Germany, Sudanese and Afghan families running from ethnic and religious fighting, or the children of Central America fleeing gang violence and sex trafficking, refugees have precious few possessions.

This refugee of the king's own making has no response.  So the king has him hogtied and thrown out into the outer darkness, far removed from God.

How can this be, we ask.  The king ordered the destruction of the city.  The king caused people to lose their homes.  The king created a group of refugees.  And now the king is throwing him out and abandoning him.  So much for inviting and welcoming everyone.

But, as you may have guessed, this parable really isn't about a parish dress code.  This parable is about change and changing.

There's an old tradition in the church that when a person is baptized they are given a white robe.  This is part of the symbolism that our old selves have died and we are raised to a new life in Christ.  And in this new life there is joy and plenteous redemption.  In this new life, there is grace.  In this new life there is awe, wonder and generosity.  In this new life, there is a changed way of being – that is why it's new.

This story reminds us that being a Christian puts an end to business as usual.  As Christians, we have received grace upon grace along with God's generous and abundant love.

This should change us.  In worship we should be filled with a sense of awe and wonder at the Holy Mysteries presented before us.  Outside of worship, we should respond to the gifts God has given us with a generosity of our own.  And, knowing that this is not an exclusive banquet but that all are invited, we should be following the king's example of reaching out and inviting all people to the wedding feast.

This parable is reminding us that if we accept the invitation without making the effort to make a change in our lives that reflects the abundance and generosity of God, or without making the effort to reflect kingdom values, then we will have the opportunity to reside where our selfish attitudes and behaviors are more to our liking.

In short, this parable is reminding us that we should be acting like we want to be here.  The kingdom music is playing; let's dance.  The kingdom banquet is ready; let's feast.  The kingdom is at hand, let us change into our wedding robe; let us change our way of being.



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