Sermon–October 15, 2017


19 Pentecost—23-A

October 15, 2017

William Bradbury

Isaiah 25:1-9, Psalm 23, Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14

There are two ways to refuse an invitation. One, which is the most honest, is to just turn it down and don’t go in the first place. A king is throwing a big banquet for his son’s wedding and he invites all the right people: business owners and farm owners, people of influence and wealth–the power brokers.  The big day arrives. The grill is heating up and the band is tuning up. But no one comes. Turns out those invited can’t be bothered with spending all day at this wedding. They talk among themselves and decide this party is not big enough for people as important as they are.

It’s the same reasons people give for not attending the King’s banquet we call Holy Communion on a Sunday morning or reaching out to the stranger the other days of the week: either people are just too busy to show up, or they’re too tired to show up or they’re too important.

The king then sends out more servants to reissue the invitation. But the people toss out the messengers.

We know from his teaching that Jesus proclaims a non-violent God who even loves his enemies. So the retaliation in the parable is not God proactively punishing people, rather God allows people the freedom to refuse his invitations and thereby suffer the consequences built into their behavior.

So the self-important work-a-holic who is too busy to go to the party may end up with high blood pressure and insomnia, which may lead to even more symptoms. God isn’t doing this to the person—the person is doing it to herself.

The movie executive who is abusive toward women may end up with broken relationships among his friends, which may also lead to rejection and job loss.

God isn’t doing this to Harvey—Harvey is doing it to himself. 

When we choose to build our lives on our cultural identity—built up from our work, wealth, success, and skin color, to name a few identity markers—we miss our real life, which is found on the identity we are freely given by God.

Jesus says at the end of the Sermon on the Mount: Build your house on sand and your house will fall when the hurricanes of life show up on your shore.

So Jesus continues: Now the king invites the kind of folks who don’t have a worldly identity worth protecting. It’s like he invites the 120 folks All Saints’ team fed Wednesday evening at Eliot Presbyterian, in Lowell—these are not the kind of people you would bother asking what their job is or what college they went to, or about their summer house or which colleges their kids go to. These are the kind of people we don’t know how to talk to at all when we are still trapped by the illusion that identity built on success means something, is real and lasting.

Jesus is trying to shock us, to wake us up, so we can begin to see reality from God’s point of view and not just our own.

But as long as we think we don’t have to imitate Jesus on this we’re just fine with him acting this way.

Then we hear the wedding hall is now filled with guests. Notice—everyone is invited. Good and bad—but the first successful invitees refuse to come. In Luke’s account the parable ends here. But in Matthew Jesus keeps going because he hasn’t finished waking us up.

Jesus says the king runs into one of the down-and-out characters at the punch bowl and says “Friend, why aren’t you dressed properly for this fancy wedding banquet?”

And the man says nothing, so the king kicks him out of the party.

Reading this with our culturally formed vision it makes no sense—after all, how would a street person come across a tuxedo for such a party?

But notice–all the other street people are properly dressed, so as one writer suggests the king has opened his wardrobe so everyone could exchange their rags for a proper robe.

The point is that the man could have dressed for the party IF HE HAD WANTED TO!

Which is to say, Jesus is not talking about clothes that cover the body but attitudes that clothe the soul.

There is only one garment we can wear to this party: it is the freely given garment of Christ–freely given to all—but refused by some.

So it turns out there are two ways to refuse an invitation. One, the most honest, is to just turn it down and don’t go in the first place.

The second is to attend the party, but on our own terms. We want to go to the party wearing our righteousness, our goodness, our faithfulness, our well-crafted identity we have spent years creating.

This man isn’t aware that his hard won resume of school, work, success, and social standing, looks like filthy rags compared to the identity we are freely given by Christ before we are born.

This is why young children are such fun—they don’t have a hard shell identity they have to defend. They are free to be a princess one moment and a garbage collector the next. 

This man chooses the second way of refusing an invitation:  

I remember as a kid being dragged by my mother to visit great aunt Cora. I am not happy because this woman is older than God. Her apartment is way too clean for a 12 year old boy to do anything but sit absolutely still so as not to break anything. But my mother does not leave me the option to refuse the invitation, so I take up the second option—I’ll show up in my body but I will not show up in my soul. My attitude is grumpy and rude. I can’t wait to get out of there and out of my nice clothes to play with my friends.

This man by the punchbowl is physically at the party but his heart and soul and mind are not there.

The King says, Throw him out into outer darknss where there is gnashing of teeth. And we think of Hell.

But progressives don’t believe in hell, do we?

I like Robert Capon’s suggestion here:

He writes, “For hell, ultimately, is not the place of punishment for sinners; sinners are not punished at all; they go straight to heaven just for saying yes to grace. Hell is simply the nowhere that is the only thing left for those who will not accept their acceptance by grace—who will not believe that at three o’clock on a Friday afternoon, free for nothing, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world actually declared he never intended to count sins in the first place.” Robert Capon The Parables of Judgment

Jesus comes to where we are…in order to take us to where he is.

Jesus is happy to climb down into the muck of our lives in order to put his arm around us and lift us into the light of his life.

This is one way to understand the cross—there is no lower place than being hung naked at noon where everyone can see you as a failed Messiah and pitiful sinner.

Wherever we are Jesus is there with us!

But watch out—Jesus means to transform us into the kind of person humble enough to find out that Great Aunt Cora has a wicked sense of humor that makes her the life of the party.