Sermon for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 23)

Text: Matthew 22:1-14
Then he (the king) called his servants and said to them, ĎMy wedding feast is ready, but the people I invited did not deserve it. Now go to the main streets and invite to the feast as many people as you can find. So the servants went into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, good and bad alike; and the wedding hall was filled with people (verses 8-10).

The Invitation

Sitting here in church, itís easy to forget how often Jesus not only talks of parties, but goes to parties. If we were to thumb through the Gospels we would see how often Jesus is at somebody's party. Jesus attends a wedding party and makes more wine (John 2). He eats and drinks Ė parties- with sinners. He spoke of parties, like the one a father threw for the returning Prodigal Son. There are parables about wedding feasts; there is the feast Jesus turned on for over 5000 people. There is the breakfast of barbequed fish on the beach after Jesusí resurrection. Then there was the Last Supper. All this feasting is a foretaste of the great, final, and happiest party of all, the big party in heaven (Rev 19). Jesus invites everyone to a party Ė to a happy feast in the presence of God. We have all been invited.

"The Kingdom of heaven is like this," Jesus begins. "Once there was a king who prepared a wedding feast for his son. He sent his servants to tell the invited guests to come to the feast, but they did not want to come." Thatís pretty blunt isnít it? Those invited abruptly said, "No, thank you I donít want to come."

I know what I would do if someone replied like that to an invitation I had sent out. I would say in no uncertain terms, "Bust it, they can just miss out on the great food, the excellent wine, and the fantastic entertainment I have lined up for the night." But when the servants reported how the invitation was turned down, the king does something very generous and gracious Ė he sends the servants out to give those invited a second chance. He sends them with a message of how great this feast will be. Nothing is more important than the wedding of his son and the feast to follow. They would be fools to miss out.

But unfortunately the world is full of fools. Those invited began to make excuses. "The invited guests paid no attention and went about their business: one went to his farm, another to his store." Lukeís version gives us some of the excuses,
"I have bought a field and must go and look at it, please accept my apologies."
"I have bought five pairs of oxen and I am on my way to try them out, please accept my apologies."
"I have just been married and so cannot come."
The rest made it crystal clear that they didnít have the slightest interest in the kingís invitation and attacked the postman.

Donít we all get involved in making excuses why we canít do this, or go to that event, or accept this invitation? I reckon we would make at least one excuse a day, and most days we make so many excuses we couldnít count them. And we can be so creative. A mother wrote this to her daughterís teacher, "Please excuse Jennifer for missing school yesterday. We forgot to pick up the Sunday paper from the front lawn, and when we found it Monday, we thought it was Sunday".

In the parable those invited might have had good reasons why they couldnít come. Maybe the newly bought field needed attention, or the new team of oxen did need a work out, and what better reason for turning down an invitation than wanting to spend an evening at home with your new wife or husband. Itís not that the excuses given werenít valid but how important were they in comparison to the kingís invitation.
Beethoven could have used his deafness as an excuse but he felt composing beautiful music was more important.

Louis Pasteurís paralysis could have been a valid excuse for giving up but he considered his research into penicillin far more important.

Robert Louis Stevenson could have had an excuse for given up writing Ė he suffered from chronic tuberculosis Ė but he didnít because he believed his poetry and story writing were far more important.

A young man lost both legs, an arm, both eyes and his face severely mutilated in the First World War. If anyone had an excuse from tackling anything he did, but he attained a doctorate and did valuable research.

The late Mother Theresa could have used the excuse that it was hopeless trying to help the people in Calcutta when there were so many, but she believed this was Godís call for her and look what an impact she had on the lives of so many around the world.

Doris Taylor was severely disabled and could have easily used that as a valid excuse but her crippled body didnít stop her from doing what she considered important Ė providing meals for the elderly and sick and thus beginning what we know now as Meals on Wheels.

We too have to stop and think about what is important and what can wait. We have to do this especially when it comes to our relationship with God.

Jesus invites and encourages us to pray, is that more important than many of the things that fill up our life to such a degree that we donít have the time?

We are called into the church, the Body of Christ, at our baptism. Can there be anything more important than hearing what our heavenly Father has to say to us through his Word, receiving his strength and guidance through our hearing and reading, celebrating together as the fellowship of believers the amazing love that God has for each of us, even though we constantly disappoint him with the way we love our lives?

We have been blessed with children from God, can there be anything more important than teaching them about Jesus in word and by example.

We are busy people, we have our work, our leisure time, our families and we could list whole lot of excuses but hasnít the king sent us an invitation to join his party, to follow Jesus who is the only one who can restore our friendship with God, to put aside everything that would jeopardise our future in God's Kingdom now and then in heaven?

We all have our own worries and troubles but doesnít Jesus remind us that there is nothing more important than visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, helping those who have fallen on tough times? (See Matthew 25:31-46).

Jesus is saying in his story that those invited might have had good reasons why they couldnít accept but there was no reason good enough or important enough to ignore the king.

The kingís response to the polite put-offs by those invited is nothing short of violent. Jesus said, "The king was very angry; so he sent his soldiers, who killed those murderers and burned down their city."

Why does the king get so angry? Because these are the people who should have known better. These were the beautiful of society Ė the rich, the noble, the well-educated, the well-dressed, the famous, those who drove expensive cars, those who presence would have made the whole wedding a glamorous occasion. But they got their priorities all wrong.

Jesus made the kingís response so awful and violent to show how dead wrong they had been to snub the kingís invitation and to think that the king is so kind and such a pal that he wonít react unkindly. The king had invited them and graciously invited them again to attend but they snubbed him. There is a judgement and they are condemned.

Now the king goes to Plan B. "Then he called his servants and said to them, "My wedding feast is ready, but the people I invited did not deserve it.
Now go to the main streets and invite to the feast as many people as you find.'
So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, good and bad alike; and the wedding hall was filled with people."

Did you hear that very important detail Ė the good and the bad alike were invited? Now that fits in very well with the kind of person Jesus was. He didnít hesitate to get close to lepers, welcome prostitutes, eat with tax collectors, show mercy to the outcasts and sinners and praise the misguided and morally degenerate (eg Samaritans). These people obviously didnít hesitate to come to the wedding feast.

Jesus goes out of his way to make winners out of lifeís losers. Bad people arenít the problem, after all Jesus dealt with sin on the cross. Jesus doesnít snub the bad and invite the good. He invites all. It doesnít matter how terrible you think you have been, or how unworthy you are to come into Godís presence, thatís no problem. Godís kingdom is for sinners. Jesus loves us, he died for us, he forgives us. "While were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

So there you have it. A banquet hall filled with old men who live under bridges, kids on cocaine, single parents who can barely cope caring for their undernourished children, those who have lost everything through bad business deals, the drunks, the addicts, the ex-convict, the disabled, the misfits. Jesus says with a great sigh of satisfaction, "the wedding hall was filled with people". Even though these people were all losers in the worldís eyes and sinners in the eyes of the religious, right-thinking people, they were winners as far as the king was concerned. Why? Because they had not turned down the invitation and had not made up all kinds of excuses why they couldnít attend. They came trusting the king, believing they would be accepted even though they didnít deserve it, and looking forward to being there.

The king looks across the banquet hall and he sees a splendid crowd of people. We presume that he had given them appropriate clothes to wear Ė replaced their dirty crumpled clothes with dinner suits, and evening dresses. The king notices one guy whose clothes, much less his odour, spoil the whole, wonderful scene. "Whereís your dinner suit, friend." The man had no right to be there dressed the way he was. To be part of this feast he needed to wear the right clothes Ė the clothes given to him by the king.

Jesus has made it possible for us to come in to his presence. His dying on the cross dealt with the filth of sin that sticks to us, he replaced our guilt-stained clothes with ones that are clean and pure. He has given us fresh starts and new lives that are covered with his righteousness.

So there you have it, a banquet made up of sinners Ė ordinary people from off the street, people who have been invited. And God is incredibly generous in freely inviting sinful people. For most of us he has to keep on inviting us and keep on making us clean because we are so good at making excuses why we canít join in the celebration or insist putting back on our old sin-stained clothes. Daily we do this, and daily we need to come before God in repentance. Thank God that he is full of grace and mercy.

Jesus Christ died for you. He rose for you. He reigns for you. He clothes you in Baptism. He forgives you in his Word of forgiveness. He feeds you with his body and blood in His Supper. The banquet hall is here, and you are the honoured guests.

Robert Caponís ĎThe Parables of Judgementí, Eerdmans 1989 has been a valuable resource in preparing this sermon.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
9th October, 2005

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