"Both Good and Bad" - Pentecost 19A
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
October 15, 2017 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
Matthew 22:1-14
Description

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: October 15, 2017; Pentecost 19A

Matthew 22:1-14

 

Both Good and Bad

 

            Even though weddings aren’t really my thing, especially as a pastor, I really like getting wedding invitations. It feels good to know that someone thought that I was important enough to invite to be part of their special day. Conversely, when someone I know is getting married and doesn’t invite me (especially if I previously invited them to my wedding), it can hurt quite a bit. I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but the evil, unredeemed “old Adam” in me invariably does.

 

            Which is why the parable that Jesus tells today doesn’t make a lot of sense on the surface. Who would turn down a party? Who would turn down free food, especially the kind of free food that the king is offering? And besides all of that, who would dare turn down an invitation from a king – someone’s ruler? To spurn the king’s invitation invites disaster. And indeed, Jesus tells us that the king destroys the city of those who spurn his invitation and mistreat his servants. One wonders – who in their right mind would refuse to come?

 

            For Matthew’s community, this parable was almost certainly allegorical. The king represents God, Jesus is the Son, the servants are the prophets, and the original invitees are the religious leaders. We do Matthew a disservice if we see his Gospel as anti-Semitic, as Matthew’s community was probably comprised of both Jews and Gentiles. For Matthew, those who led the community were the problem. The were the ones who, in Jesus’ words, kept people from entering the kingdom of heaven.

 

            But we, two thousand years later, need to go beyond the original meaning of this parable for Matthew’s community. What about this parable speaks to us and to our lives today?

 

            First of all, God has extended to each of us the greatest kind of invitation; an invitation to a wedding party that we can scarcely imagine. This is the invitation to be part of God’s people, to be joined with Jesus Christ as his church. We can’t really describe what this union with Christ will be like; it is already accomplished in some respect in our baptism. But the fullness of that union has not arrived yet. The best that the authors of the New Testament can compare it to is a marriage. And it is a marriage of perfect intimacy, perfect love, perfect knowing – again, something scarcely imaginable on this side of heaven.

 

            Another thing about this perfect union God offers us in Christ is that it can be frightening. Any one who has been in a broken marriage, or who has broken relationships with family members knows that intimacy can be a scary thing. All of us, to some degree or another, know the sting of betrayal. And it is so easy to project that kind of image onto God. If we’ve been in relationships where loved ones have failed to keep their promises, it is easy to presume that God would not either. So when God invites us to this kind of union, to be fully known and loved, it’s easy to run away in fear.

 

            Of course, God is not like that. God is not like the loved ones we have on earth. Even when we call God “Father”, we are using a simple human image, albeit one Jesus used, to capture in some sense what our relationship with God is like. In another, deeper sense, God is unlike any earthly father, mother, spouse, or child we could ever love, because God’s love is so much greater, utterly incomprehensible. God’s love and peace are completely beyond our ability to understand and know because the source is un-understandable.

 

            That kind of incomprehensible love and peace is what God invites us to experience. And this invitation, too, goes out to both “good and bad” alike.  Just as God makes the sun rise on both the evil and good alike, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike (Matt. 5:45), God also extends the invitation to all kinds of people, no matter who they are or what they have done. God shows absolutely no partiality. Rich or poor, good or bad, Republican or Democrat or independent, Catholic or Protestant or no faith, God sends out the invitation to his banquet to all. The invitation to the wedding feast that has no end is not dependent on anyone’s gatekeeping, thank God. The invitation is simply extended out of pure grace and mercy.

 

            So who am I, then, to say that God has not invited or welcomed anyone, when clearly in the text God invites everyone? Indeed, who am I to say that God has not invited and welcomed me, not to be used or abused but simply to be loved and known? God has invited us – all of us – to come to the feast.

 

            So what do we make, then, of the man without the proper attire, thrown out into the darkness by the king’s servants? This is a tricky part of the parable, one that gives preachers fits. If we close the reading with verse 10, we’ve got a nice, complete story that doesn’t involve throwing anyone out into the dark. But Jesus seems to be rarely concerned with nice, neat, untroubled endings to stories. And that is certainly the case here.

 

            Jesus adds an epilogue in which the king sees a man without the proper wedding garment, and asks, sarcastically, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” One wonders about the king’s expectations. If he was inviting people off the street, then why would he expect them to have special clothing? The king’s question only makes sense if he himself was providing a special garment for the guests to wear. It only makes sense if the man refused to wear the offered garment; hence, his speechlessness. And what is this garment?

 

            In Matthew, one’s faith is known by one’s works. This doesn’t mean that works save, but that works are natural products of saving faith. This is why Jesus places such importance on doing the will of God, calling those who do God’s will members of his own family (Matt. 12:50). It is why Jesus says in Matthew 25 that those who do works of mercy for “one of the least of these” do it to him. By putting on the wedding garment; in other words, by putting on one’s identity as a child of God publicly, one does the will of God. Putting on the wedding garment means declaring that you are a guest of the king; that the king has invited you; and that you have accepted the king’s invitation. It means that in accepting the king’s invitation, you are accepting what it means to be a guest of the king: it means a change not just in externals, but in the heart as well. It means accepting the fact that we are broken, that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, and that the only way we can be freed from our old, destructive ways is to put on the garment the king gives us out of pure grace. If you wonder what the point of the worship leaders wearing albs is, this is one of the Scriptural passages behind it. The alb represents the wedding garment. It represents the new being with which God clothes us in baptism. If you wished (and this would be interesting), each of you could wear an alb to worship every Sunday. It is, after all, the garment of the baptized.

 

            In any case, God has invited you and me to the feast that has no end, to a union with Christ which is incomprehensibly wonderful. We’ve already been given the proper clothing in our baptism. So let’s live as the guests of the almighty King that we are. And let’s remember: God has invited everyone, good and bad. Thanks be to God that we aren’t the gatekeepers of the party. Amen.

 

© 2017, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.