22 Pentecost Proper 23a                      
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 22:1-14 Sermon                                        
October 12, 2008

Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
438 "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee"
168 "O God Our Help In Ages Past"
599 "Behold A Host Arrayed In White"
---- "Let All Things Now Living"


TEXT (vs. 11-14): "But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. `Friend,' he asked, `how did you get in here without wedding clothes?' The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, `Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  For many are invited, but few are chosen.'" 

            Stories about weddings...I could spend quite a long time recounting the various experiences I have had when it comes to weddings. 

            During my twenty years in the ministry, I couldn't even begin to count how many weddings I've performed.  I guess that I should have kept a record of all of them.  Apart from the marriage ceremonies I have personally conducted, there are those I've experienced as an organist, as a member of the wedding party itself, or just sitting amongst those in the assembly.

            Of the weddings I have performed, they have ranged from the most extreme and ostentatious, to the simple and tasteful, to the private and personal, and even a few that I'd describe as absurd and ridiculous.

            I guess I should share with you a few stories.  One of the more absurd weddings I performed was one that took place in a hotel dining room.  The bride and groom were dressed in tie-dyed bib overalls, and the bride's bouquet was an arrangement of Tootsie Roll Pops and candy bars.

            Another wedding I did was at the Sunken Gardens in Lincoln, where the couple insisted on being married in front of the waterfall.  Even though I have a voice that can be easily heard, the noise of the waterfall was so loud that even the wedding party themselves could hardly hear me shouting the words I had to say.  Of course nobody else could hear anything at all.

            Then there was the wedding where I was the organist that had to be the biggest comedy of errors I've ever experienced.  It was a rather small and informal wedding, but it was in the church.  The wedding was supposed to begin at four in the afternoon.  I prepared my pre-service music for the appropriate amount of time, plus a couple of other extra pieces "just in case."  But that wasn't enough.  The wedding began twenty minutes late.

            Why?  The bride forgot the marriage license at home and had to go back and get it.  The best man forgot the rings and had to go back and get them.  And the worst thing of all was that the groom was bringing the cake to the church.  He had it sitting in a box on the front seat of his car.  Somebody ran a red light in front of him, and he had to slam on his brakes.  The wedding cake wound up plastered against the side of the box, which was now sitting on the floor of his car.  And I must say that the church ladies did a remarkable job of taking wet table knives and re-icing the cake.

            Then there were things that happened to my dad that I witnessed, like an organist who thought it appropriate to play a medley of Beatles tunes as pre-service music.  Or then there was a bride who got so flustered when a camera flash went off in her face that she dropped the ring.  Or there was the time when the flower girl broke free from the attendant and began to play hide-and-seek behind the altar, and do gymnastics on the communion rail.

            As a result, I have developed my own list of rules when it comes to weddings, most of which are pretty hard and fast.  I have to approve the music being used, which includes a ban on secular music during the ceremony.  I have a strict "no flash photography" rule during the ceremony.  I also have some rather stringent rules when it comes to flower girls and ring bearers.  And I also don't allow couples to make up their own custom vows for the ceremony.  If you want to get a better idea of what I'm talking about, just go on our website and look under the heading of "Weddings at Mighty Fortress."

            There are reasons for having a certain protocol when it comes to weddings, as you can plainly see.  Not only can such rules prevent a wedding from becoming a complete fiasco, but there is a certain amount of reverence and decorum that typify a wedding which is also a worship service.  God is at the center, and all glory must go to him.

            Our Gospel lesson for today is a parable of Jesus.  He uses a wedding feast as a metaphor for the kingdom of heaven. 

            The story is that of a king who was preparing a wedding banquet for his son.  Now if you can imagine the most lavish and ostentatious affair you've ever seen, this would probably pale in comparison to the type of wedding feast a king would have for his son.  If you've ever seen any of the royal weddings in England on television, you might get an idea of what kind of affair this was.

            So the king sends out the invitations to his friends and associates and those who would be normally invited to such an affair.  However, he didn't get the response he expected.  Some used the excuse of being too busy or having other commitments.  And others, for whatever crazy reason they might have had, decided to capture the servants bearing the invitation, and abuse and kill them.  Maybe they thought the king was trying to trick them into something; who knows?

            So the king has these wicked people punished for their evil actions.  Who in their right minds would ever refuse a feast at such a lavish affair?  But they did.

            The feast was ready, the party was ready to get underway, and nobody wanted to come.  So what does the king do?  Verses 8-11 give us the rundown:  "Then he said to his servants, `The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.  Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.'  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests."

            Just think of the people that would have filled the banquet hall!  It would have not only been the average person on the street, but it would have included the homeless, the derelicts, the drunkards, the prostitutes, the drug dealers, the robbers, the thieves, the pimps, and so forth.  Anybody and everybody that you could imagine would have been at this feast, regardless of their position in life.

            But then what happens?  Think about the few verses I read at the beginning of my sermon.  Reading again verses 11-14: "But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. `Friend,' he asked, `how did you get in here without wedding clothes?' The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, `Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  For many are invited, but few are chosen.'"

            Allow me to explain that these verses are not the most popular verses in this parable.  In fact, some versions of the lectionary stop this parable at verse 10, and eliminate what I just read to you.  The reason this happens is because it sounds rather harsh and judgmental.  Why should someone be excluded from the feast because they weren't wearing the proper clothes?

            Remember that this was a lavish affair.  We would call it a "tux and formal" type of occasion.  If some of us have to go to some sort of special function, we'd go and rent a tux or a formal so we would be properly attired.

            In this case, the king paid for everything, which included the proper garments to be worn.  All the people attending had to do was to put on the clothing the king had provided for them.

            But of course there always has to be a renegade amongst the crowd.  He refused the king's clothing, and did it his own way.  It would be like someone showing up to a formal occasion wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt.  And because the man was a maverick and refused to dress as it was required, the king had him thrown out of the banquet.  The man wanted to accept the king's gracious invitation, but he insisted on doing it his own way and not the king's way.

            Comparing the kingdom of heaven to a banquet or a feast is nothing new.  In fact, in our Old Testament Lesson for today, from Isaiah 25, verse 6 tells us:  "On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine--the best of meats and the finest of wines."  This paints a beautiful picture for us.

            So let's apply the metaphor in our Gospel lesson for today.  The banquet is the kingdom of heaven, and God himself is the king.  He wants his banquet hall to be filled with people, so he invites the people who should be more than happy to attend.  But what happens?  They create excuses as to why they cannot accept God's invitation.  And the prophets, apostles, and evangelists are the servants God sends out with his invitation.  These spokesmen of God are mistreated by the people, just because they are spokesmen of God and are extending his gracious invitation to them.  They abuse them, torture them, and kill them.  They have let God know that they are just not interested.

            So God focuses his attention on those who don't reject his invitation.  He accepts the dregs and derelicts of society, those whom the people of society have classified as inferior.  He provides them with the wedding clothes, and they come to his feast.

            The wedding clothes the king provides is the righteousness of Christ, the white robe that has been washed in the blood of the Lamb. 

            God has gone into the highways and byways and has invited the likes of you and me.  Maybe we have made excuses as to why we couldn't come.  Maybe we have told God that we're just too busy, or other things are more important than he is.  Maybe we've turned our backs on him and gone our own way more than we'd like to admit.

            But that wedding garment is there, waiting for us.  God himself puts this garment on us, and we are seen as people who are fit to join in his heavenly banquet. 

            Through faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour, we indeed have this garment that makes us righteous before God.  Regardless of whom we are or from whence we have come, that garment not only covers over, but removes all of our sinful past.  The only thing God sees at that banquet is Christ's righteousness and not our sin.

            And that is something that is ours by faith alone.  We don't make this garment ourselves; we don't even put it on ourselves.  This is something that God does for us; the only thing we need to remember is that we don't take it off and throw it by the wayside.

            But what about this man who was found at the banquet without the wedding clothes?  This represents the person who rejects what God has done in Jesus, and decides to go it on his own according to his own rules.   The king sees the sin of the person, and not Christ's righteousness.  And as the Bible says in Ezekiel 18 verse 20: "The soul who sins is the one who will die."

            Verse 13 of our Gospel lesson today says, "Throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."  This is not a pretty picture, but it describes the judgment for the sinner who is not clothed in Christ's righteousness.  One cannot enter God's kingdom on their own terms.  The rules of God's banquet are clear, and there is only one way that this happens.

            In John chapter 14 verse 6 Jesus makes this way perfectly clear:  "I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me."  Indeed there is no other way to come to the banquet of heaven apart from faith in Jesus Christ alone.

            When it comes to weddings, I have my own set of rules that are pretty much set.  And I think I have pretty good reasons for these rules.  The ultimate reason is of course to insure that the wedding is giving all glory to God and not the bride and groom.  Everything in a wedding is to reflect the reverence and decorum of a worship service.  We certainly want to avoid any fiascos that would threaten to ruin such a grand occasion.

            God has his rules when it comes to his wedding banquet too.  With my wedding rules, there is some leeway; ultimately a wedding will be just as binding regardless of what happens.  But with God, his rules are set.  There is no salvation apart from the righteousness of Christ.

            Jesus closes his parable today with the words in verse 14, "For many are invited, but few are chosen."  The call of the Gospel that invites people to come to God's wedding banquet is extended to the entire world.  But only those who are wearing the wedding garment of Christ's righteousness will be chosen.  That garment has been supplied by God himself and it is accepted through nothing more than faith alone. 

            So come to the feast, for all is now ready.