18 Pentecost Proper A23
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 22:1-14
October 12, 2014

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
44 "Ye Lands To The Lord Make A Jubilant Noise"
425 "All Depends On Our Possessing"
310 "Thy Table I Approach"
270 "Jesus Calls Us O'er The Tumult"  


TEXT (vs. 2-6): "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servantsto call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come.  Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’  But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them."

             This morning, I want to call your attention to a couple of advertisements that have been on television quite a bit recently.  To be exact, they are actually public service announcements; but they occupy television advertisement slots, so they're more like commercials to me.

            One of the first commercials shows quite an elaborate model train set, with the train running on its track in its make-believe world.  Then they have a bunch of gerbils dressed up in crazy outfits riding the train and doing other stunts.  You have to watch it through to the end to figure out what they're trying to do.

            The other commercial shows four guys dressed up in wild colored outfits.  They dance around singing about how they're going to put ants in the pants of people.  That's something my mother used to say when I was restless and fidgety; she'd say, "What's the matter?  Do you have ants in your pants?"   

            The first message presented by these commercials is how meaningless these things are.  Who really cares about gerbils running around a model train setup?  Or who really cares about four guys singing about ants in someone's pants? 

            That's what really drives to the heart of what these commercials are talking about.  At the end they'll say that children will spend 20 minutes watching gerbils on a train or guys singing about ants in their pants, and they won't think a thing about it.  But it only takes two minutes to brush their teeth.  So what's the matter?  Why do children choose to watch some meaningless mindless drivel for hours, and yet they are too busy, too tired, or just too lazy to take a measly two minutes to brush their teeth?

            The choice doesn't really seem that difficult.  But yet something as quick and simple as tooth brushing is something that adults even find to be an interruption and an inconvenience.  And to top it off, bad oral hygiene is simply gross, and nasty, and disgusting.  So why do people opt to forego tooth brushing just to gain another two minutes to do something mindless and unimportant?

            I'm using this to lead into the situation in our Gospel lesson for today.  In the days leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus, he is having dialogue with the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, and the Scribes, and the other Jewish leaders.  Amongst Jesus' teachings are the parables we've had for the last two Sundays:  the parable of the two sons, and the parable of the tenants.  Now Jesus comes at them with the parable of the wedding feast.  And this was no ordinary wedding feast either; the King himself was the host.

            In modern terms, we might think of the royal weddings we have observed.  The wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton was quite the affair, who now hold the title as the Duke and Duchess ofCambridge.  I watched this wedding on television as did millions of other people all over the world.  It was held in Westminster Abbey inLondon, and was it ever the grand affair!  The Archbishop of Canterbury performed the wedding ceremony.  And I can still hear the people assembled singing, "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling."  The whole thing was nothing short of awesome.

            The invitation list for that wedding had over 1,900 names on it.  What if your name was on that list?  What if you were offered an all expense paid trip toLondonto attend that wedding?  What if you were given an entire new wardrobe to wear?  How would you feel if you were able to be a part of all those festivities?

            I know if I had all of that offered to me, I would certainly make every effort to attend.  Even though it would be a challenge for me for several reasons, who would flatly refuse an invitation like this?  If I couldn't attend, it certainly wouldn't be for a lack of trying on my part. 

            When we read this parable in Scripture, we probably don't realize just how big of an affair this wedding was.  It would have had all of the trappings of the royal weddings we have seen, and probably was even more lavish than that.  This was not the kind of affair that someone takes lightly.

            Those to whom Jesus was speaking knew all to well what a royal wedding would entail.  This was the King we're talking about, and it was his son that was getting married.  This was a celebration for the entire kingdom, and not just some low-key family celebration. 

            So the invitations go out to the various people.  When nobody came, the king sent his servants out to tell the people that the feast was ready, the table was set, and that they should come join in the celebration.  But still they rejected the invitation.  They were just too busy with their own lives to take the relatively short amount of time it would have taken to come to the wedding feast.  They just couldn't be bothered.  Some of them even abused and killed the servants who came and gave them the message.  Can you believe it?  These were the type of people who were far too busy watching gerbils ride around on model trains or people dancing around singing about ants in their pants than come to the celebration at the invitation of the king.

            This was a lavish affair, the likes of which most of us will never experience.  This was the prince's wedding, and money was no object.  When the guests arrived, there were all sorts of amenities awaiting them.  They were given accommodation and servants.  They had the use of mineral spas and baths.  They were given a complete wardrobe of proper wedding clothes.  And the celebration feast went on for days, if not weeks.  Nobody in their right mind would ever refuse such an invitation.

            But they did.  One after the other refused, saying that they were just to busy with all sorts of sundry items.  And if the refusal wasn't enough, it was punctuated by the violence experienced by the servants, some of whom were even killed, just because they extended the invitation to the king's wedding feast.

            One commentator states, "This meant that there were always two invitations to a party.  The first invitation was to inform everyone that plans were under way.  This is the invitation that had the RSVP.  Those who could attend would reply that they were coming.  The second invitation informed the guests that everything was ready for them to come to the party.  The people who received this second invitation had already promised to come.  It was an incredible insult to excuse yourself after you had already promised to attend.  Turning down the second invitation of the king was treason.  Mistreating the servants who brought the second invitation was an act of war."  

            The banquet in this parable is the kingdom of heaven.  God is the one who has lavishly provided this banquet for his children.  He has done so out of nothing but pure love for his people.  He wants the very best for them; and furthermore, he wants everybody to join in this feast.

            Those who extend this invitation are the servants of the King, who is God himself.  Those servants are the prophets, apostles, evangelists, and virtually every disciple there is.  These servants are the ones who represent the king in various different ways. 

            The guests who refuse to come or who find all those excuses are the unbelievers.  Instead of coming to the table, they turn tail and head their own way.  They are just too busy to be bothered with God.

            The people who are at the table are those who have come from every walk of life.  In verses 9 and 10 of our text for today, the king tells his servants, "Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.  And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests."

            These are the believers.  They weren't outside beating on the door demanding to be let in.  The servants went and found them and brought them to the banqueting hall.  They came and gladly enjoyed the feast prepared for them.

            But then what happens?  Listen to 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.

            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're too occupied watching gerbils on a train or watching guys with ants in their pants.  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.  That's what that wedding garment that Christ gives us actually does.

            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.

            People will always come up with excuses as to why they cannot come to the King's banquet.  We might have the opinion that having our attention diverted by gerbils on a train or guys with ants in their pants is a pretty silly illustration.  But do you know what?  Most excuses that we have are just about as silly. 

            God wants all of us at his heavenly banquet.  So let's remove all of those gerbils and ants in our lives, and come to the banquet.  Your own place at the table is there waiting for you, which will be yours for all eternity.