Summary: When God "invites" us to a banquet, it’s not just another party that we squeeze into our busy schedule if we have the time. It is a royal feast and we lay down our lives, if necessary, in order to attend.
Sermon: Scary Party
Text: Matt 22:1-14, Eph 5:15-21
Where: Arbor House
When: Sunday, Oct 24, 2004
Occasion: Trinity XX
Who: Mark Woolsey
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.
Why does this passage remind you of Episcopalians? Because many are cold, but few are frozen!
Today’s Gospel lesson is doubly appropriate for us. First, because it is anticipatory of the climax of the church year, Christ the King Sunday. This occurs about a month from now and is a celebration of the complete and visible rule of Christ over the whole universe. Second, because it is quite a scary story, reminding us of the civil, or rather pagan, season of Halloween that so many will participate in soon. You may ask, "How is this a frightening tale? I wasn’t the least uncomfortable when you read it.". This, of course, is part of the problem, in that we ignore or miss much of what Scripture has to say. Just think of the elements of this story. We have ridicule, murder, revenge, extreme anger, armies of destruction, wholesale destruction of property, party guests in special clothes, fright to the point of speechlessness, capture, and torture. Hollywood would be proud!
II. Kingdom of God
The theme that ties this whole story together is that it is a picture of the Kingdom of God. Once we understand that, and the context in which it is given, we begin to get a glimpse of what it is we signed up for when we were baptized. It is, indeed a sobering picture. Today’s culture, when it even thinks about God at all, sees Him as a benevolent sugar daddy that kisses our boo-boos, carries us when we are too weak to walk, and "is there for us", regardless of our sins, or "alternate lifestyles" as they might be called. Instead, according to Jesus’ story, we see here a king who has no fit subjects, only rebels and scounderals. He chooses to have mercy on some - actually the least deserving - not because they earned it, but simply because He wishes to honor His Son at His Son’s wedding. You see, we are accustomed to our civil republic in which we each have a share in it’s rule when we choose our leader. But the kingdom of God is first of all a Kingdom. He rules absolutely. When He "invites" us to a banquet, it’s not just another party that we squeeze into our busy schedule if we have the time. It is a royal feast and we lay down our lives, if necessary, in order to attend. Said another way, when God says jump, our only question is, "How high?". We misunderstand this to our peril. Let’s briefly examine the various people that are mentioned in this parable, their response to events, and their fate.
III. The nobels.
People are funny. Our nature is to focus on the trivial and ignore the important. We hate what is good and love what is evil. We avoid the desirable and desire the avoidable. Mary and I experienced this recently when we had some extra tickets to a nice banquet. We must have asked 5 or more families if they would like to come free to this good meal and worthy cause, but did not find a single taker. Similarly, in this parable we see the nobels of the land, the smartest, richest, and strongest, receive an invitation to the highest, best, most wonderful event of all their lives. What was their response to their sovereign? They snubbed Him: "I’m too busy with my work." Every day we make this same response to our God. "I’m too busy to pray or read the Scripture, or go to church." Looking again at the parable, we see these same people’s response to the second summons was even worse: they imprisioned, beat, and killed His messengers. What was the King’s response? He sent His armies to kill all the nobels and burn their towns. I think He was disappointed they did not accept His invitation. We can see this as a warning to us, but it also was a warning to the Jews. As the first subjects in God’s kingdom, they should have recognized Jesus and submitted to Him. Instead, they rejected Him, eventually killing Him. God’s response was to send the Roman armies and devistate the Holy Land. Yet the King was determined to have a full house at His party.
IV. The Homeless
Have you ever run across a homeless person? One who lived under a bridge and begged money from passers by? A breeding ground for thieves, prostitutes, and other low life? Do you know how these persons smell? These are the people who the king brought to His feast. If the nobels of the previous group represented the Jews, guess who that leaves to represent this rabble horde? Us. Although we have a hard time seeing it, this is how our sins cling to us. You would think that maybe these people would have jumped at the chance to attend a party that is normally way our of their league. Yet from a parallel passage in Luke 14, we learn that even these people had to be compelled to come. Why? Because they are just like us. We think that we choose God, and He is so happy to have us. We don’t choose Him; He chooses us, and then has to force us into His kingdom. We’re going straight to hell, and yet we fight Him who is determined to save us from that horrible destination. And then, after all that effort on the King’s part, some of us still manage to show up at the party in the wrong dress. Why is this so important? Because just outside the party doors is anguish, pain, and misery. This is a pretty scary party indeed! This dress is the only thing that keeps us in the party. What is it? It is Christ’s righteousness given to us by faith alone. Because this white robe is all that covers our dark hearts - just like the clothing that I wear. That’s what this white robe over my black clerics stand for. This robe of Christ is the only thing standing between us and outer darkness. We all try our way, whether it’s the good life of the nobels, or the getting-by life of the street people. But in the end nothing saves us except His righteousness. And even that is not something we ask for. God has to compell us to come.