18th Sunday after Pentecost
October 12, 2014
A Party! The King is throwing a party!
Actually Jesus’ story is kind of weird, the details don’t exactly add up. Like the wedding guests who not only ignored the invitation, but beat up and even killed the King’s slaves. And I guess that while the King is taking his revenge on people by sending his army to kill them all and burn their city, the Sterno is still burning under the hot food on the banquet tables. Then there’s the ridiculous idea that when the King threw a party, anyone would just ignore the invitation or be too busy to attend.
But the King is determined to fill his house with joy and celebration, and so everyone, even those of the lowest station are invited. It seems that, since those who were invited at the last minute got wedding clothes from the King’s wardrobe, everyone was decked out in wonderful finery. The first crowd was not worthy to come to the party so now even the good and the bad are included.
Well, except for that one guy who failed to accept the gift of a wedding garment. When he is confronted, he has no answer. It seems to be his unwillingness to dress up and join the fun that gets him cast out. This is not easy stuff, and Matthew, the most dramatic storyteller of the evangelists, lays on the details with a certain dark relish.
It’s important to remember that this writing occurs at a time when the Temple has already been destroyed and the Jesus movement is struggling to defend it’s claim that they are the true followers of God because Jesus is the promised Messiah. The Jewish tradition is changing at this time, too, since the system of temple sacrifice is being replaced with other understandings of being faithful to God’s covenant with Abraham. At the same time, as the new church gets stronger larger and more organized, there is a struggle over spiritual gifts and the privileges of leadership. Matthew keeps lifting up humility, listening for God’s will in the community, and trust in God’s promises as the path to right relationship with God and each other.
As you can hear from the Isaiah reading, the image of feasting and the richness of God’s feast is a long tradition. It is claimed by Jesus in this parable as a wedding feast for the son of the King, and image picked up and magnified by the writer of Revelation who imagines the end of the age as a bridal feast. The image of the life of faith as being invited to a banquet is so different from what we usually think of when we think of church.
When’s the last time you thought about coming to church as a treat? Of the life of a believer as being part of an on-going party? So much of what we hear about the life of Christians is focused on what you have to do. So much of church life is about morality – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Imagine for a minute that you felt the invitation to be part of God’s people as the kind of privilege as hinging out with the Queen of England. You’re invited into the family, and sitting at the table with royalty at every meal, and invited to join them in what they do every day. Wouldn’t you be thrilled? Wouldn’t you be interested in what they do and how they see things? Wouldn’t you want to make a good impression and do all the right things to fit in with their standards?
A friend of mine posted a quote from Brennan Manning on her FB page. It says: Christianity is not primarily a moral code, but a grace-laden mystery. I think the story Jesus tells in Matthew’s Gospel this morning is trying to tell us something similar. What made the first people invited to the wedding unworthy was simply that they were too busy or too bored to realize the thrill of being at the King’s party. They ended up destroyed. We have the same invitation. We have been called in our baptism to sit at the Lord’s table, to feast with the King. Actually, everyone has been invited, but we are here. It’s not our special faith that earned us the privilege, or our periodic good deeds. It’s not that we have followed the rules so well, because the standards for following the rules are way to high to get us anywhere. It’s just because God wants us to enjoy God’s love and blessing. The mystery of Grace is that it changes our hearts, opens our eyes to the world as God sees it, and invites us to be part of changing the world so that there is justice and joy for all people.
What would change for you if you thought of coming to church as putting on a wedding garment and coming to a party? What would change in the way you talk about your faith if you felt it was a chance to share the wealth of God’s love? What would change for you if you if you thought of the way you live as being part of God’s extravagant desire to love the world and invite everyone to experience the joy of life.
In the story Jesus tells people get so caught up in their own idea of what their life needs to include that they miss out on the chance to sit down and celebrate with the King. Jesus’ warning to them is a warning to us too. You have been invited to join in the joy that knows no end, don’t be afraid to join the party. Amen.