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All summer we’ve been invited to dream of what might be through the parables of Christ. We’ve heard about the Kingdom of heaven being like a mustard seed. We’ve heard of unexpected outcomes, cries for mercy, outpourings of compassion and welcome. This morning we’re looking at a party.
This is where this whole thing is going of course. Towards a party. A wedding banquet is what Jesus compares it to. At this point in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has entered Jerusalem. He’s in the Temple and he’s facing opposition from the temple authorities, who are questioning his authority. In response, Jesus speaks in parables. He tells about a man with two sons whom he asks to work in his vineyard. He tells of a landowner who planted a vineyard and leased it to tenants; how these tenants killed his representatives and finally his own son. Thirdly he talks about a man who threw a wedding banquet for his son. Most definitely Jesus is addressing the fact that religious leaders of his day are about to reject the one sent from God. It seems reasonable to assume that Jesus is talking about the coming destruction of Jerusalem when he talks about a city being burned in v 7.
Most definitely Jesus has something to say to us today in this parable. This parable that invites us to dream of what might be; to dream of what is coming as well as what is here. A parable that invites us to look at the table we’ll gather around this morning with new eyes. Eyes of faith that see beyond what’s readily apparent. Let’s ask for God’s help as we prepare to look at this story and hear what God has to say to our hearts.
The first thing that this parable reminds us of is that there is a king. “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” You may say “Well this seems so self-evident that it hardly bears mentioning” – to which I would reply, “I think it bears mentioning because we need reminding.” This is one of those truths that I like to say we need to keep in front of us every day. There is a king who is working out his purposes for the world which he has created. There have been many theories throughout the ages about what will bring about utopia. We get the feeling that things can be better, that they should be better. What is going to bring this about? An economic system? A system of government? Innovation? This story puts forward right from the beginning that the one who will bring about the end of injustice and the answer to all the questions that plague us is the King.
Who gave a wedding banquet for his son. In Jesus’ time weddings were a big deal. I guess they’ve always been. We’ve been through wedding season, you know what I’m talking about. The way invitations worked back then was that an initial invite would be sent out, kind of like a save-the-date, though the exact date wasn’t specified. When the time came, a second invitation would go out. The thing that I want us to stop and think about though, is simply this.
We’ve been invited to this banquet.
Let us never lose the wonder of this. The wonder that we’ve been invited at all. The wonder of the invitation that’s been extended to us to come to this table. The wonder that we can approach a wholly holy and ineffable God through the person of his son who became flesh and walked among us and showed us his glory full of grace and truth. May this be something that always causes wonderment in us. We looked at this verse earlier this summer – “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and create a willing spirit in me.” May this be our prayer friends. May we never take the invitation for granted or shun it. May we always accept it with joyful hearts that we get to do this. To not see anything in this Christian life as an obligation but rather as a gift. The wonder of it all.
And the joy. The invitation is to a wedding banquet. We’ve come through the wedding season. Maybe some of you have been to a wedding recently. I officiated at a wedding back in June. People sometimes ask clergy if they prefer to do weddings or funerals. I always say weddings because they are occasions of unmitigated joy. They’re simply joyful! Even if there have been bad feelings or negative undertones they are put aside on the day of a wedding because it is a joyous event. There are not many long faces at weddings!
Is it any wonder that the Kingdom of Heaven is compared to a man who threw a wedding banquet for his son? This same imagery is used by John when he recounts what was revealed to him – “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderclaps, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready;’” (Rev 19:6-7)
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory. For an invitation has been made. The way has been opened for us through the Son of God. This is simply good news. Are there demands placed on us in this Christ-following life? Most assuredly. We’ll talk more about those in a few minutes. Before there are any demands, though, there is simply an invitation. Come to me all you who are weary and bearing heavy burdens. I have told you these things that in me you may have peace.
This is the hospitality of God. I always admire the idea of hospitality in Jesus’ day. It’s still abroad in many cultures of course. I often think our own North American culture could do with more of it. Someone has described it much like this - not to provide hospitality was a discourtesy; to refuse hospitality was a deliberate insult. The invitation is to not refuse him. “How Can You Refuse Him Now” is a great country gospel song sung by Hank Williams. How can you turn away from his side? We sang it a couple of Good Fridays ago here.
There are reasons to refuse the invitation of course. In the story, they made light of it. In other words, there were heavier matters to attend to. One went to his farm. One went to his business. In Luke’s version of this parable, one was getting married. We can put other things ahead of Jesus. Things that in of themselves are not bad things. Farms are good. Businesses are good. Marriages are good. They can be anyway. They can get in the way. We’ve said through this series that God is not coercive. God is not going to force anyone to accept the invitation. It’s not a decision we can make on behalf of anyone else. I can’t decide for you. You can’t decide for me.
I often say that it’s not an easy thing to follow Jesus’ invitation to come and die. To die to our selves – our own will, our own biases, our own prejudices. To take Jesus’ invitation seriously, we need to ask for God’s help with it every day.
We make the invitation too once we’ve taken it. The thing is, if you’ve made a decision about this banquet one way or another, it’s because someone told you about it. You heard about it from someone. Note that the king is using slaves to issue the invitations. Throughout history, God has used people to make his invitation known. From the prophets of the Old Testament to Christ himself calling out “Follow me” to the apostles being sent out two by two to the church of Acts calling out “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
Hear the invitation. Make the invitation.
God grant that we may be good invitations. Winsome invitations to the Kingdom of God which is like a man who gave a wedding banquet for his son. Which is a cause for joy. God grant that we be joyous invitations in our lives, in our words, in our actions, in our attitudes and thoughts. In our joy. HT writes in TWF “I fear, however, that in this respect we Christians often represent our Lord very badly. The glum, sour faces of many Christians, who frequently look as if they had gallstones (all those how really have them will excuse me!) are poor proclaimers of that wedding joy. They rather give the impression that, instead of coming from the Father’s joyful banquet, they have just come from the sheriff who has auctioned off their sins and now are sorry they can’t get them back. Nietzsche made a true observation when he said ‘You will have to look more redeemed if I am to believe in your Redeemer.’”
May God make us good invitations.
There’s a postscript to this parable. Some people consider them two separate parables, which I think is a good idea. The second part of the parable is, I believe, more for those who’ve accepted the invitation. We’re not to read it and think “Well how could the poor guy have known about the dress code when he was randomly and suddenly asked?” We’re also not to think “Oh yes that’s what those outsiders get!” This one’s for the insiders I think. You’ve made the decision to follow Christ. You make the decision to follow Christ on an ongoing basis. What does this part of the parable have to say to us?
Simply this. As someone has said, while this banquet is come as you are – make your way down the highways and byways as you are – it’s not enter as you are. God wants to give us a new set of clothes. New clothes are exciting. We’re familiar with this from back to school time. Fancy clothes. We’re familiar with this from weddings. What bride has ever begrudged putting on a fancy gown? They make tv shows about the search for one and saying yes! To say yes to this invitation is to accept a new set of clothes. This is a great image no? We get this idea. We like new clothes. I can rarely wait to wear something new. New running shoes for school (or not). Keeping them fresh. There’s a scene in Zechariah where the high priest Joshua is standing before the angel of the Lord and Satan and Satan is accusing him and the LORD says “Is not this man a brand plucked from the fire?” and we read “Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ And to him, he said, ‘See, I have taken your guilt away from you, and I will clothe you with festal apparel.’ And I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head.’ So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with the apparel, and the angel of the LORD was standing by.”
We’re to put on new clothes for this banquet. To prepare. To open ourselves up to being clothed anew by God. By spending time. By praising. By thanking. By gathering. Be showing grace and mercy and love and justice. Paul put it like this – “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another, and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you… Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Coming around this table today is like a rehearsal for the banquet we’re going to. We’re about to enter a new season. As we do, may our hearts be ready for God to clothe us in compassion, kindness, meekness, patience, love. May the joy of this banquet be ours and may God make us winsome invitations to it. May these things be true for all of us.