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Sermon for the 20th Sunday after Pentecos1

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Sermon for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Matthew 22:1-14 Then he (the king) 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 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, it’s 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. John's Gospel opens with Jesus making more wine so that a wedding reception wouldn’t be a flop (John 2). He eats and drinks – 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 Jesus’ resurrection. Then there was the Last Supper. All this feasting is a foretaste of the great, final, and happiest party of all, the big marriage supper of the lamb in heaven (Rev 19). In Jesus, the world is invited to party – 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." That’s pretty blunt isn’t it? Those invited abruptly said, "No, thank you I don’t 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 beaut 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 – 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 has been spared to make his son’s wedding reception the best thing ever. 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." Luke’s 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 gotten married and so cannot come."
The rest made it crystal clear that they weren’t interested in the king’s stupid invitation by seizing his servants, treating them disgracefully and then killing them.

Don’t we all get involved in making excuses why we can’t 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 couldn’t count them. Do something like sell tickets to a congregational dinner and you realise how accomplished we are at making excuses. Or look for volunteers to help in the Sunday School, or committees of the congregation.

In the parable those invited might have had good reasons why they couldn’t 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 wanting to spend an evening at home with your new wife or husband. It’s not that the excuses given weren’t valid but how important were they in comparison to the king’s invitation.
Beethoven could have used his deafness as an excuse but he felt composing beautiful music was more important.
Louis Pasteur’s 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 – he suffered from chronic tuberculosis – but he didn’t 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 to trying to help the people in Calcutta when there were so many, but she believed this was God’s call for her and look what an impact she had on the lives of so many around the world.

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 don’t have the time?
We were called into the church, the Body of Christ, at our baptism, can there be anything more important than worshipping together and coming together as his people to find strength and guidance from his Word to us?
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 use all of this as an excuse but hasn’t the king sent us an invitation to celebrate as his guest in his kingdom.

Jesus is saying in the parable that those invited might have had good reason why they couldn’t accept but there was no reason good enough or important enough to turn down the invitation to this glorious wedding feast.

The king’s 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 – 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 preferred to follow their own agenda instead of spending an evening in the king’s mansion.

They are the Pharisee in the temple congratulating himself on what a great success he had been in his religious life.
They are the older brother pouting out in the darkness because he considered himself too good to go in and party with his father and prodigal kid-brother.
They are the religious, conscientious, right-thinking folk who complained bitterly when a prostitute came in, and let her hair down, and made such a fuss over Jesus.
They are all of us who believe that our good deeds, our piety, our moral lives, are good enough to get us into the king’s house.
They are all of us who believe that the king is good natured, gracious and senile enough that he won’t take offence when we don’t accept the invitation.
They are all of us who have made excuse-making an art form turning down invitations from the king not only to come and celebrate but also to serve him in his kingdom.

The reason why Jesus made the king’s response so awful and violent was to show how dead wrong they had been to snub the king’s invitation and to think that the king is so kind and such a pal that he won’t 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 – the good and the bad alike were invited. Now that fits in very well with the kind of person Jesus was. He didn’t 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 Samaritans. These people obviously didn’t hesitate to come to the wedding feast. Jesus goes out of his way to make winners out of life’s losers. Bad people aren’t the problem, after all Jesus dealt with sin on the cross. Jesus doesn’t snub the bad and invite the good. He invites all. It doesn’t matter how terrible you think you have been, or how unworthy you are to come into God’s presence, that’s no problem. God’s 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 mothers 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 world’s 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 couldn’t attend. They came trusting the king, believing they would be accepted even though they didn’t 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 – 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. "Where’s 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 – 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 – ordinary people from off the street, people who have been invited. And God is incredibly generous in freely inviting people 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 can’t 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 Capon’s ‘The Parables of Judgement’, Eerdmans 1989 has been a valuable resource.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
St Luke's Lutheran Church, Nambour - 10th October, 1999
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