Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Rev. Peter M. Carey ~ Sermon ~ 15 October 2017 ~ Matthew 22: 1-14

The Rev. Peter M. Carey
15 October 2017
Matthew 22: 1-14

Listen to the audio HERE

"The parables of Christ, even the innocent, pastoral, tender, innocuous-seeming ones, conceal just below the surface a whiplash, a shock, a charge of dynamite. The stories set conventional expectations, whether concerning God, religion, politics, vocation, status and class, utterly off kilter."   ~ Daniel Berrigan

My interpretive lens, “The Wedding Banquet”

I cannot come to the banquet, I cannot come to the banquet,
don't trouble me now.
I have married a wife; I have bought me a cow.
I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum.
Pray, hold me excused, I cannot come.

A certain man held a feast on his fine estate in town.
He laid a festive table and wore a wedding gown.
He sent invitations to his neighbours far and wide
but when the meal was ready, each of them replied:

The master rose up in anger, called his servant by name,
said: "Go into the town, fetch the blind and the lame,
fetch the peasant and the pauper, for this I have willed,
my banquet seem so crowded, and my table must be filled.

When all the poor had assembled, there was still room to spare,
so the master demanded: "Go search every where,
to the highways and the byways and force them to come in.
My table must be filled before the banquet can begin.

Now God has written a lesson for the rest of the mankind;
If we're slow a responding, he may leave us behind.
He's preparing a banquet for that great and glorious day
when the Lord and Master calls us, be certain not to say: I cannot come.

In today’s gospel, we are introduced to two different challenging parables which are more or less conflated together by Matthew.  The setting and context for these parables are the city of Jerusalem.  As I mentioned just a few weeks ago, Jesus is only a few days away from his crucifixion.  He is teaching amidst a great diversity of people in the melting pot stew of the religious, political, and social setting of Jerusalem.  In this context, Jesus is comparing the kingdom of heaven to a king who gives a wedding feast.  

Before we take a look at what IS going on here, I want to give a bit of a sense of what IS NOT going on in this gospel.

First, this is NOT about what we are literally required to wear to a party, not what we require people to wear at church.  This is not about Carol Palmer or Earl James or Steve Zartarian or Steve Snyder throwing anyone out of church for not wearing their Sunday best.

Second, this isn't just any banquet. It's not a backyard barbecue.  It’s not even just “any” wedding.   

Third, these parables were probably not taught by Jesus right after each other, and so it is helpful to separate the messages.

Fourth, not every part of these parables might have a direct referent.  What I mean by that, is that Jesus is painting a picture, or two pictures of what the Kingdom of God is like, and we can certainly get caught up in the details and forget the message.

Now, what IS going on here?

First, to begin with the second parable about the seemingly irrational and grouchy king who throws out a guest for not wearing a wedding robe.  The kingdom of God is like an irrational and grouchy king?  No.  This episode would be understood in the context of conversion, and of entering a new way of life.  The wedding robe in this story symbolizes a “new way of life,” which is required of those who would enter the Kingdom of God.  This “new way” is centered on love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self.  This approach, this “garment” of love is what is required of those entering the Kingdom of God.  Those who can’t live out this life of compassion, caring, and abundant love are already in the outer darkness, already weeping and gnashing their teeth.

Second, let’s talk about the wedding feast.  As I mentioned, this is no mere party, no backyard barbeque, no tailgate at an Eagles game.  This is not even *just* any old wedding.  It's the royal wedding of the king's son.  The best we can imagine is Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981. By one count, 750 million people watched it live on television.  Or, perhaps the wedding of Prince William and Kate more recently.  Jesus is making the point that you just really wouldn’t refuse this invitation Who in their right mind would refuse such an imperial invitation?
There once was a king who prepared a royal banquet for his son's wedding. After the elaborate preparations were made, he sent out the invitations.  Then comes the first shock. Some people rejected the king's invitation. Jesus says that some people "refused to come." Others "paid no attention." Another group even killed the king's messengers. Such responses, said Jesus, showed that these people "did not deserve to come" (22:8).

Would you have refused an invitation to St. Paul's Cathedral in London for the royal wedding of Charles and Diana? Not a chance. But that's what happened in this parable. The people on the king's A-list refused his extravagant generosity. They spurned an invitation to the most prestigious party in town.
To those who refused his invitation, the king "sent his army and burned their city." The king then goes out and finds people who are willing to put on the garment of God’s love, to enter into the free gift of God’s banquet.  To the highways and byways God sends out his messengers!  

Everyone without exception has received a free invitation to the Kingdom of God. It's a banquet of abundance. But some people refuse God's generosity. It's hard to believe, but experience tells us it's true.  Some others may think they can enter this banquet without putting on the “garment of God’s love” and forget that God requires us to “love God, love our neighbor, and love ourselves.”  Sneaking in the side door will not work.  Life doesn't work that way, not in the world and not in the kingdom of God.

Paradoxically, God's generosity is free for all and it doesn't come cheap. It requires us to be “all in,” and requires us to adopt an ethic of love, but the reward is beyond our imagination.  

God has written a lesson for the rest of mankind;
If we're slow a responding, he may leave us behind.
He's preparing a banquet for that great and glorious day
when the Lord and Master calls us, be certain not to say:

I cannot come to the banquet.

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