Creekside Church
Sermon of October 18, 2020

"RSVP"
Matthew 22:1-14

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! We’re continuing with our sermon series on the gospel of Matthew and the teaching and parables of Jesus. This week’s parable from Mathew chapter 22 is one which may have more contemporary resonance for us -- maybe especially for Kurt and Lisa Vardaman, who -- as you heard -- are traveling to a family wedding this week. Weddings, like so many other events and gatherings, have undergone some changes in the past 8 months: some have been postponed, some have been moved outdoors, guest lists have been reduced, and receptions look different than originally planned. Some couples may have forgone a ceremony completely, and just gone to the Justice of the Peace -- maybe they’ll have a reception at a later date, maybe not. It’s all part of what we’re living with right now.

You might remember -- the people who remember it best aren’t here today -- that the last Sunday we met here at Creekside before we shut down for the coronavirus was March 15. We got the announcement about public schools going virtual on Saturday afternoon, and some churches decided not to meet the next day. One of the reasons we were here that Sunday was because Creekside was hosting a wedding reception that day for Sharon and Cal Graber. All this is to say that weddings and the parties which happen to celebrate a marriage have always been a big deal: a chance for the families of the bride and groom to welcome guests, and extend hospitality -- including a generous amount of food and drink. Of course, it’s easier to plan for and prepare a banquet if you know how many people are going to be there.

The parable which we are considering this morning -- and Matthew tells us it’s a parable which Jesus is sharing, as opposed to an actual event -- is about a wedding banquet. At least, that’s what it’s about on the most literal level. But as Jesus says right up front, this story is really about the kingdom of heaven: along with the disciples, we are being invited to consider how the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a wedding banquet. This isn’t a story about marriage -- we’re not told anything about the love, commitment, or faithfulness of the couple involved -- this parable is about preparation, invitation, and especially the response of those who are invited to the banquet. And in this parable, the response of those who are invited is rude, insulting, and even criminal. This is a king who is giving a wedding banquet for his son, so we know two things right away: 1. It’s never a good idea to say No and insult the king and 2. It’s gonna be a heckuva party. Oxen and fat calves, all the best of everything. And these guests, personally invited by servants of the king, say Nope, they’re not coming. The king sends a second set of servants to ask them again, and the potential guests don’t even take the servants seriously. “Sorry, I’m busy that day. Married a wife, bought a cow; I cannot come.” Even to 21st Century hearers, these are pretty lame excuses. Even worse, some of the servants are mistreated and even killed, which will get you a black mark on the guest list for sure. I’m sure that both Jesus and his listeners are thinking about the prophets who extended an invitation to God’s people and were ignored or persecuted. The guests who ignore or despise the invitation and the messengers are not worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven: this is a shot aimed at Jesus’ Jewish critics, especially the Pharisees.

So this king send his servants out to round up random strangers and bring them to the hall for the banquet. Like any collection of random strangers, they are a mixed bunch -- both good and bad. This is a shockingly indiscriminate invitation: the implication is that even Gentiles (gasp) might be included in the invitation to the kingdom of heaven. People who had not earned their way in at all: Republicans, Democrats, all kinds of riff-raff who don’t agree with me. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus says when you have a wedding banquet, invite the poor and the crippled and the blind and the lame. Good heavens. Why would we want to celebrate with people like that? Because we are people like that. Jesus is advocating a radical form of hospitality; one which privileges the poor and disabled, instead of the rich and the capable.

This is where our response to the invitation from the King is crucial. If we believe ourselves to be self-sufficient, and justified by our own good behavior and hard work, we don’t need to accept this invitation, we can go off and take care of our own business and ignore the kingdom of heaven. There’s a term for this kind of behavior: it’s called being self-righteous, and it’s the way to hell. Not just in the next life, but in this one, too. Not acknowledging our own brokenness -- not simply the infirmities which other people can see, but the anger, hurt and resentment which disable us in ways that are not immediately obvious -- to act like we can manage our lives and go about our business without the need for other people, and especially without the need to accept an invitation from the King is a recipe for disaster. There are people around us who need to be reminded of that invitation from the King. We need to be reminded of that invitation from the King -- it’s extended to anyone who will take it seriously. Accepting the invitation to be part of the kingdom of heaven, to believe in the goodness of God and the salvation of Jesus Christ--accepting that invitation is the only way to the path of meaning and purpose, and out of the dead end of self-righteousness.

And what about this poor guy at the end of the parable who shows up without a wedding robe, and gets tied up and thrown out into the outer darkness faster than you can sing “Just As I Am”? That part of the parable has always troubled me -- it doesn’t appear in the version in Luke. If everyone is invited, can’t we just show up however we are? I have made my peace with this part of the parable -- at least for now -- in part because of my study of previous passages from Matthew. Here’s where I have landed, and I’d be happy to hear comments from you afterward, because I think this goes to an important discussion of Christianity. I believe that each one of us, no matter how spiritually impoverished, blind, or broken is invited to the wedding banquet of the kingdom of heaven. We each have the invitation to relinquish the illusion of our own righteousness and self-sufficiency, to confess that we cannot achieve our own salvation, and that we need the grace -- the unmerited favor -- of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Are you with me so far? Here’s the part that’s tricky: accepting that invitation, the part where we acknowledge Jesus as Lord -- that is not the end of Christian life; that is the beginning. At whatever chronological point of our lives we accept the invitation -- as children or young adults or older adults or close to the end of our lives -- we are expected to clothe ourselves in Christ and his righteousness. We have already been invited to the banquet, and that invitation is free, but there are expectations for how guests look and behave when they show up. Just because we didn’t have pay to get in, doesn’t mean we can accept the invitation and then act like it doesn’t make any difference in how we behave. That would be disrespectful to the King. Even if accepting the invitation is a once-in-a-lifetime event, we need to get up and get dressed in our commitment to the kingdom every day.

I love Jesus’ image of the kingdom of heaven as a wedding banquet. Kurt and Lisa, we send our blessings as you travel to Florida for a wedding ceremony and feast: I know your wedding clothes are already on their way with drivers who are going before you. For the rest of us, pay attention to the invitations you receive in the coming days and weeks. Literal invitations to participate in events and memorials and outreach where we all are guests of the King: don’t get so distracted by your fields and commitments that you forget to RSVP and miss out on the hospitality which is extended to you and the opportunity to mingle with the other guests. And be sure to clothe yourself in the hospitality, compassion, and love of Jesus Christ -- that is the way we honor the King. May God bless you and keep you. Amen

 

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