Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
October 17, 2010

Here we go again. We are again presented with a situation in our Lectionary in which we are hearing a similar story from the perspective of two different Gospel writers. On the Third Sunday after Trinity, we heard the Lukan version of the Parable of the Great Banquet, and its nuance in expanding the different excuses that were given by those who were bidden to the banquet, and why they couldn’t attend. This morning we heard the much harder parable told from Matthew’s vantage point that has the additional story at the end about one of the guests who isn’t wearing an appropriate wedding garment.

We come to another place where we might ask ourselves the question again, why don’t we just hear one of the two parables, and then have the preacher bring in the necessary bits about why Luke’s version is different from Matthew’s or vice versa? Shouldn’t we be able to get the point if we only heard one of these stories each year? The framers of the Lectionary certainly didn’t think so, and our Gospel lessons for Trinitytide have a central theme and focus that speaks to the issue of discipleship, and what being a follower and disciple of Jesus really looks like. They believed that it was important enough for us to hear shortly after Eastertide, and then again shortly before Advent to hear both of these parables, and not exchange one for the other. These two stories tell, each in their own way, what we are to anticipate, and the demise of those who shrug off the Master’s invitation.

If you notice from the heading, you can see that this passage is situated toward the end of Jesus’ ministry as recorded by Matthew. Jesus is making his final journey to Jerusalem and he knows that his time on earth is quickly drawing to a close. His criticism of the religious authorities, the Scribes, the Pharisees becomes even more direct and more pointed. In this parable though, his intended audience is everyone. So many times, Jesus’ words have a stinging tone directed at those who intentionally placed obstacles in the paths of those who would come and follow him. Jesus called out the religiosity more often than not. This morning’s story hits us all, and no one can stand back and say, “Oh, I don’t see where this applies to me.”

In much the same way as the version from St. Luke begins, Jesus tells the story of a man who throws a party. We hear these words, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son.” This parable comes at things differently as Matthew opens with the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven is like unto.” Eleven different times, Matthew begins a teaching of Jesus with these words as a point of comparison. The kingdom of heaven is like unto “a man who sowed good seed in his field,” “a mustard seed,” “yeast that a woman mixes,” “treasure hidden in a field,” “a merchant in search of pearls,” “a net,” “a king.” Many of the people who have been following Jesus have most likely heard some of these stories before, and therefore, would be attuned to what he was preparing to say when he begins with that familiar clause.

As we heard in Luke’s account, those who had received invitations made excuses as to why they could not come. Some of the folks who were bidden went so far as to take the very servants of the king who brought their invitation to the banquet, and “treated them spitefully and slew them.” When the news reached the king, he was infuriated with those who killed his servants and retaliated – utterly destroying them and their cities.

One commentator who holds to a late 1st Century date of the writing of Matthew’s Gospel asserts that the verse about the burning of the city was a historical account of the sacking of Jerusalem between 66 – 70 AD. If in fact Matthew’s Gospel was written after the Jerusalem destruction that would certainly make sense.

We have here the direct condemnation of the religious authorities of the day when Jesus says to his servants, “The wedding is ready, by they which were bidden were not worthy.” The very people who were charged with the instruction of the people, and the leadership of corporate worship of God were said to be unworthy. St. Paul echoes that same sentiment when he says to the Ephesian Church and to us as well to, “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness….” Lowliness and meekness would not have been attributes that we could readily ascribe to the Pharisees, priests, and scribes of the day.

Then in a gesture of inclusion and openness Jesus then says that the king throws wide the doors of the “palace” and instructs his servants to search far and wide and extend an invitation to anyone who will come to feast at his wedding banquet table. It’s almost hard to comprehend what that would look like. How can we fathom the size and scope of that much generosity?

We can’t, and that’s a critical part of the story!

That’s why the second half of this parable is included, and also why it seems to sting so much. There are many who would like somehow to soften the expulsion of the guest who fails to put on a wedding garment. You can’t explain this away. Our Lord is most explicit here in saying that those who will come and dine with him must be properly attired for the event. Some would like to say, oh that’s not fair, he was just brought in from off the street, how could he have put on a wedding garment? He was probably too poor to have been able to afford one, that’s an affront to the plight of the poor.

Those who would assert something like that don’t understand what’s going on here. Not only does the king go everywhere to open up his home, he had an antechamber full of wedding garments for the guests to put on if he’d only asked for one. Instead, he thought that he could just march on in, sit down, dine at the king’s table, and bring all of his old ways with him.

The king says to him, why have you come in here without first putting on the very best? Why have you not received the garment that I would have readily provided you? He, of course, is speechless.

The man has failed to put on the Lord Jesus. He has refused to strive to be Holy as the King who invited him to the banquet is Holy. He wanted to hold onto what he brought into the feast, when the King intends for us all to shed those things, and be a new creation and begin to look the part.

For those who were at the Basics class this past Tuesday, this will be a repeat, but I think that the example the Fr. Cantrell gives explains quite well what putting on the wedding garment looks like, and why Matthew makes sure that we hear these words of Jesus.

When I am baptized and confirmed, the Holy Ghost knocks on the door of my life. I answer the door. There he is in his top hat and cut-away coat standing on my doorstep. He says, “Hello, I’m the Holy Ghost, and I have come to live with you. May I come in?” And I say, “Oh, of course! I’m so glad to have you in my life. Please come in and make yourself at home.”

So he comes in and sits down. After he has looked around the parlor for a few minutes, he says, “Say, I notice that your furniture looks pretty run-down. Now, it just happens that I have all my fine antiques in storage. If you would like, I would be happy to move them in so we both could enjoy them.”

Of course, I reply at once, “Why that would be wonderful!”

So the Holy Ghost stands up and says, “Well there’s no time like the present.” And he turns around and starts to pick up the chair he has been sitting in.

Then I ask, “What are you doing? Why are you picking up that chair?”

The Holy Ghost replies, “Well, if I am going to bring in my good things, we will have to move out your old stuff in order to have room for mine.”

Now I get alarmed. I say, “Well, that chair was given to me by my grandparents. Can’t you start with something else?”

And he answers, “All right, if you prefer.” And he starts to pick up another piece of furniture.

But I object to that one also. And before long, it is clear that I am not willing to give up any of my old things. I am just too attached to them.

Finally, he tells me that I will have to choose whether I really want his things in my life or not.

Our life as Christians and disciples is one filled with the constant shedding of layers of our old clothing with the joyful experience of having the Lord dress us in his finest garments, garments fit for a King and a wedding banquet. Our fervent prayers and desires are to allow God to free us from our attachment to these worldly things, and gladly exchange them for things heavenly. Then, and only then, can we enjoy the fullness of our Lord’s banquet, and can go out into the highways and byways inviting others in to partake of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb that has been prepared for us to enjoy in the presence of the King. And, let us not forget to ask the Master for the clothing fit for the occasion.

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