preached on the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23) at Holy Cross Anglican Church in Baton Rouge
Please pray with me.
May my heart’s affection, my mind’s attention, and my soul’s submission be to you, oh Lord, my Savior and my Redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God is a God of stories, of good stories. He is a God of true stories told beautifully, complex stories which in one verse span all humanity and the depths of an individual’s heart. God is, therefore, a literary God, giving us a book, a sacred text filled with not only stories, but stories spanning all sorts of literary genres. And today we consider another parable concerning the kingdom of heaven. Like all parables, our parable today is realistic, describing a scene which could just as well fit into this world. And in so presenting characters which look like us, we therefore will be left with an important response at the end of the parable: with which character do you sympathize?
Please turn in your Bible with me to the Gospel of Matthew chapter. (give them time to turn there). I would like to read for us today’s passage, Matthew, chapter 22, verses 1-14 (read it).
I asked the question earlier. With which character do you most sympathize? This is perhaps the scariest question we can ask ourselves upon reading any biblical parable. For in the complexity of a biblical parable, we may find a plethora of meanings, a complexity of responses as we sympathize with one character for one reason and find ourselves sympathizing with another character for an entirely different reason. Still, even if upon reading the biblical parables we make continuous and almost unending connections, our parable today has four important truths we cannot miss.
First, there is indeed a wedding feast and it will happen. One thing we see in this parable is that the wedding feast is happening, not because the son and the bride have determined it, but because the king has determined it. And in so making the determination, nothing, not even the rejection by the initial guests will thwart the king’s plan to have a wedding feast.
Second, the wedding feast will cultivate different responses. The text—and our own experience as Christians who have shared the gospel with others, who even preach the gospel to ourselves—tells us of four different kinds of responses to the king’s feast.
The first kind of response we see is by those who were initially called by the king, who acted indifferent to the servants’ call. The king in his faithfulness sent yet more servants, and this time they explained the details of the feast. Not only did the guests act indifferent the first time, but the second time they showed contempt for the king’s message, caught up in their worldly goods they resigned back to their other interests, which had far more value to them than the king’s invitation.
The second kind of response were also among the initial guests, who upon the second attempt by the servants, they did not return to their worldly possessions, but they instead seized and killed the servants, as we had seen done to the prophets of old. These, therefore, acted in greater contempt and kindled the king’s wrath, thereby ushering in their own destruction and the destruction of their city by the king’s army.
The third kind of response was from a much broader sector of people, those called from among the main streets, those not among the initial guests but adopted now as the king’s guests, showing that the king’s invitation, to those both good and bad, had no discrimination of persons, no limit to whose hand it may fall, among all those in the streets. The wedding halls was then filled with these, those who came from among the multitudes to attend the king’s wedding feast.
The fourth king of response we will consider a bit later.
Third, the third truth this parable tells us is that the wedding feast is the King’s, and that means there will be no wedding crashers. There will be none out of place, none who do not belong, none who the king himself has not accepted and verified. All wedding guests are to participate not under their own assumptions and standards, but upon the king’s standards. The king determines the conditions and criteria for entry and the conditions and criteria for acceptance at the wedding feast. The king, and not the servants, as the text tells us, will be the one who determines the authenticity of a guest’s appearance, the authenticity of his own standard. In an age where we want the authority to be ours, where we want to set the rules of engagement, this is perhaps the hardest part of this parable to hear. “Fine,” we say, “the king can have his wedding party.” “Fine,” we say, “the king can make his invitation and fill the halls with whomever he wishes.” But the moment the king begins to discern, to discriminate (in the proper sense of that term), to judge (also in the proper sense of that term), to decide who stays and who does not, our sinful hearts call foul. We say the king is not being equitable. We may even say the king is not acting Christianly. As we read this moment in the text we may even think the king is being trite, superficial, one who gives gifts and then snatches them up for no good reason. And we will continue to wrongly believe these, until we consider the king’s standard and what it means.
The fourth and final truth this parable tells us is that it is not only the king who sets the standard for acceptance at the wedding feast, it is the king provides the garments. And we see that it is the garment, not the person, which is the token of acceptance into the wedding feast. In the ancient world royalty would have provide their wedding guests, their friends and special guests, with wedding garments for the event. To refuse these gifts, to refuse to wear them was an expression of the highest contempt. (Gen_45:22; 2Ki_10:22; Est_6:8; Est_8:15.) These garments were not only to be worn at the event, they were to be worn especially in front of the one who gave the garments. And therefore we see yet a fourth kind of response to the wedding feast: he who attends the wedding feast of the king and yet refuses to wear the king’s appointed garments. This wedding guest, though he answered the call to attend, came on his own terms, by his own criteria, refusing the garments offered by the king. And his end was destruction.
And here is where our attention and imaginations should fix themselves on what comes next in the liturgy: the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper. And this is where the parable is perhaps the most convicting for each of us here today. For we ought to see that we are among the guests called in from the highways. We are those invited, and how will you then dress yourself as you approach this table? In whose garments, in whose righteousness, will you attempt to throw on yourself so that the King would accept you? So, come, you guests. Called by the king from the highways and byways. Come to this table, provided to us as a foretaste of the Great High King’s wedding feast. Come being robed not in your own garments, in the garments which are yours alone, the garments which are stained with your own sin, even the filthy rags of your good works. Come and eat and drink of Christ our King, putting on the garment which the King himself has prepared for you, not of yourself, but of him. This table is for you, for those who put on Christ in your baptism, that the King would be satisfied in himself, seeing upon you his own standard of righteousness. Christ Jesus is our criteria for salvation, for entrance into God’s presence, and there is no other that will be allowed. There is no feaux fabric with which we may cover ourselves which would trick the king’s eye. There is one Savior, and he is our garment.
Now hear, as we close our time, two poems by George Herbert.
The Invitation by George Herbert
Come ye hither all, whose taste
Is your waste;
Save your cost, and mend your fare.
God is here prepar'd and drest,
And the feast,
God, in whom all dainties are.
Come ye hither all, whom wine
Naming you not to your good:
Weep what ye have drunk amisse,
And drink this,
Which before ye drink is bloud.
Come ye hither all, whom pain
Bringing all your sinnes to sight:
Taste and fear not: God is here
In this cheer,
And on sinne doth cast the fright.
Come ye hither all, whom joy
While ye graze without your bounds:
Here is joy that drowneth quite
As a floud the lower grounds.
Come ye hither all, whose love
Is your dove,
And exalts you to the skie:
Here is love, which, having breath
Ev'n in death,
After death can never die.
Lord I have invited all,
And I shall
Still invite, still call to thee:
For it seems but just and right
In my sight,
Where is all, there all should be.
The Banquet by George Herbert
Welcome sweet and sacred cheer,
With me, in me, live and dwell:
For thy neatnesse passeth sight,
Passeth tongue to taste or tell.
O what sweetnesse from the bowl
Fills my soul,
Such as is, and makes divine!
In some starre (fled from the sphere)
As we sugar melt in wine?
Or hath sweetnesse in the bread
Make a head
To subdue the smell of sinne,
Flowers, and gummes, and powders giving
All their living,
Lest the enemie should winne?
Doubtlesse, neither starre nor flower
Hath the power
Such a sweetnesse to impart:
Onely God, who gives perfumes,
And with it perfumes my heart.
But as Pomanders and wood
Still are good,
Yet being bruis'd are better sented;
God, to show how farre his love
Here, as broken, is presented.
When I had forgot my birth,
And on earth
In delights of earth was drown'd;
God took bloud, and needs would be
Spilt with me,
And so found me on the ground.
Having raised me to look up,
In a cup
Sweetly he doth meet my taste.
But I still being low and short,
Farre from court,
Wine becomes a wing at last.
For with it alone I flie
To the skie:
Where I wipe mine eyes, and see
What I seek, for what I sue;
Him I view
Who hath done so much for me.
Let the wonder of this pitie
Be my dittie,
And take up my lines and life:
Hearken under pain of death,
Hands and breath,
Strive in this, and love the strife.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.