Sunday, October 12, 2014

18 Pentecost

October 12, 2014


Isaiah 25.1-9; Matthew 22.1-14

+ I did a wedding last night. Now, weddings, for the most part, for me anyway, can be wonderful and great, or truly a cross to bear. Last night’s was one of the good ones.  The bride was a long-time friend of mine. The banquet afterward was probably the closest I’ll ever get to doing a big, Catholic, Stearns County German wedding. It was truly a party. With polka, even!

But I gotta say, I thought a lot about this Gospel reading for today, last night. It’s just such a pointless story isn’t it? I know, I shouldn’t be saying that about a parable. But, to be honest, I just don’t like it. The structure is so off.  If this was a short story in one of my writing workshops, it would’ve been torn apart and reassembled. There’s almost nothing, at face value, worth redeeming.

But, let’s not throw it out yet.  Let’s not completely abandon this story just because we find it unpleasant.

(If you find this unpleasant, wait until my book of short stories is published…)

First of all, it definitely seems that Matthew definitely has an agenda in this story. Obviously Matthew is directing this at the Jews. And when we see it from that perspective, it kind of starts making a bit of sense.

The first guests, as we discover, are the nation of Israel. The first slaves represent the prophets, who were also beaten up and killed for trying to tell them what God wanted.
The second slaves are the apostles. And, if you notice, the second group of people are very different than the first group. They’re the Church.

At this point, “everyone” has been invited. “Everyone” is an important clue to this story. “Everyone” means everyone.

So, what Matthew is trying to have Jesus tell us is that Israel ignored God’s message, and as a result, the Kingdom was given to others. That’s certainly what we’ve been hearing in our Gospel readings lately. The Kingdom can—and has been—given to others

So, we have these slaves going out and inviting everyone. The apostles were called by Jesus to do just that. They were called to invite everyone—not just the elite. Not just the best guests. Everyone.

That’s great. That’s wonderful.

What happens next is the real pivot here.  The second coming essentially happens. The King arrives. Now, that sounds great. We’re all looking forward to the Second Coming. We’re all looking forward to the King arriving.

But wait…. It’s not all pleasant and beautiful. Why? Because someone gets thrown out. This poor guy who isn’t wearing a wedding robe gets thrown out.

What? That’s not what we want for this story. If everyone gets invited, who cares if someone is wearing a robe or not? Now it sounds terrible to us.

But, but, but… Let’s keep it in the context of its time.  At that time, not wearing the wedding robe that was provided to the guests was an insult. It was essentially a way of saying that, Yes, I’m here at the wedding, yes I’m going to eat and drink, but I’m not really going to participate. I’m going to get what I need out of this, but when I do, I’m gone. I’m not really going to make a commitment to this feast. I’m going to be a bad guest.

And this is the real gist of this story.

Now, the good thing about this is that, it’s all about choice. We have a choice. We choose to go. We choose to be a good guest or a bad guest. God did not make us into mindless robots, after all.

But there are ramifications to what we choose.  My motto for life, as you know is: the chickens always come home to roost.

The fact is, by not wearing the robe, we’re not really present. We’re saying no to the King.  For us, it’s kind of the same here. We can be here. We can sit here in our pews. Or up there in the presider’s place. But we don’t have to be a part of it all. We can be obstinate. We can cross our arms and critique everything about the sermon or the liturgy or the music or the way the altar is set up, etc.  We can close our minds and hearts and be bitter and complain. We can nitpick or backbite or stomp our heels because we don’t like it.  We’ve all known those kind of people in the church.  I’ve done it myself.

Or we can be a part of it all. And not just here, in church on Sunday. As we know, it’s a lot more than just church on Sunday that makes us Christians—that makes us good or bad Christians. Ultimately, it is about what we do out there. If we are jerks to people, if we are close-minded, if we judgmental, if we’re sexists and homophobic and mean-spirited, then we’re not really doing a good job as Christians. If we refuse to love, we’re refusing the wedding robe.

The fact is, everyone is invited to the banquet. I say it again and again. We’re all invited. And it really isn’t that hard to get in. But sometimes it is really hard to be a good guest at the banquet. Sometimes, we really just don’t want to participate. Sometimes it’s just easier to cross our arms and pout in the corner.  Sometimes it’s easier to not love and respect others.  Because, we’ve so often not been loved and not respected by others.  And that’s our choice to react like that.

But it’s not what is expected of us. We’ve been invited to the banquet! We should be glad! We should be excited. We should don that wedding robe and do whatever else needs to be done to be a good guest. Because, it’s not fun being all by one’s self on the outside of the party, looking in at everyone who’s there.

And that’s where we put ourselves.  That’s where we often go to pout and feel bad about ourselves.

Luckily our God, who truly does love us, who truly does want us at the banquet, never lets us stay out there—outside the party—for long. The invitation from our God keeps coming. And we have many opportunities to put on that wedding robe and rejoin the banquet.  That’s all the bad guests had to do to rejoin the party.

So, let us put on the wedding robe. Let us not cast ourselves off into the exterior.  Let us not alienate ourselves with our bitterness and anger.  But let us join the banquet in love. Let us heed the invitation. Let us celebrate, and be joyful and be glad. That’s what our Host wants from us.  

And when we do, we can truly echo those words we hear today from Isaiah:
“This is our God, the one for we have waited…Let us be glad and rejoice in our salvation.”

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