Sunday Sermon – Brenda, AiM

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)18th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST   – “A TALE OF THREE BANQUETS”                                                             

TEXTS:   Isaiah 25:1-9; Psalm 23; Matthew 22:1-14                                                                            

Grace and peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace.

“This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” The joyous response sings out from the Isaiah text – for God indeed, had provided a shelter for the poor, a victory celebration which included a feast beyond all imagining, a feast so sumptuous, so rich – and all peoples, all nations are invited! All expenses paid – totally all inclusive. The graciousness of the Host is humbling – yet exciting. It was what the people had been hoping, dreaming, and waiting for. Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation!

* Who, in their “right mind”, would ever pass up such an invitation?

A table has been set. Again, a meal of abundance and richness. The guest list might be a bit tricky for the person in charge of the seating arrangements. But the Host is personally well known and can be trusted. No harm will befall the guests. The hospitality basket is waiting for you in your guest room. No expense is spared. It is the red carpet treatment! The meal is exceptional and so is the wait staff. No cup remains unfilled. The generosity of the Host is overwhelming and legendary. Surely, this goodness and mercy experienced in the house of the Lord will follow all – forever.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         * Who, in their “right mind”, would ever pass up such an invitation?

The paparazzi have been on edge for weeks since the announcement was made. The royal son is to be married! Everyone is vying for a coveted invitation…speculation as to where and when and of course, what the bridal couple would be wearing for the ceremony has been splashed all over the entire country. Then suddenly, out of the blue, you open your mailbox…And, there it is! That invitation you never dreamed would come let alone have your name printed on the envelope. The invitation says, “Bring no gifts – just come – your presence is all that is required. Appropriate transportation, housing, and apparel will be provided for you upon your arrival. All expenses paid. Simply come and celebrate with us!”   The hospitality of the Host is limitless and over-the-top!

* Who, in their “right mind”, would ever pass up such an invitation?

“Oh, but wait! Let me check the date of the wedding banquet. Umm, are you sure it is at this time and on this day? Ah, you see, I’m very sorry Mr. George Clooney 😉 I am not going to be able to make it to your wedding because, um, you see, there’s this really good TV show coming on and my DVR isn’t working right. Oh, and there’s this really good sale going on at the mall and I need to pick up a few things. Thank you so much for the invitation, but I really need to get the leaves raked up before the snow comes.”

* Who, in their “right mind”, would ever pass up such an invitation?

Yes, whom, indeed…

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Jesus told a parable indicating that the blessings of God’s kingdom are available to all, but the invitation is not to be taken lightly. Matthew’s version of the Wedding Banquet is harsher than Luke’s version; and, the final line “Many are called, but few are chosen” can make us very uncomfortable. Wondering who is “in” and who is “out.”

Many scholars, theologians and everyone who is preaching on this text have wrestled with it. We don’t like the judgmental aspect of this part of the gospel maybe because it applies to each of us personally. Yet, we have no squeamishness at other times making our own judgment calls about other people, who should be invited and welcomed in, who should be kept out. “Thank God, we would respond appropriately to the invitation.” Right?

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As is the case with all of scripture, it is important to look around at the text and see what was going on. Matthew’s gospel was written down a least a half century after Jesus’ death and resurrection – sometime after the Romans burned the Jewish Temple in 70 A.D. That context was a watershed moment for the life of the Jewish community. Seen as “God’s punishment”, they grieved, wondering where God was, now that their Temple had been destroyed. The community had also been fragmented as some Jews remained faithful to their religious tradition while others were now embracing Jesus as the Messiah. A schism had occurred and that tension shows up in Matthew’s gospel, and in particular, this parable; perhaps comparable to Martin Luther’s writings during the Reformation with his sharp comments and opinions toward Rome and the Papacy which followed similar lines.

Those preaching on this text wrestle with possible allegories and metaphors about clothing and being clothed in Christ’s righteousness as well as ancient Jewish wedding customs. They debate whether this fits solely into the context of its time or if it is eschatological – serving in an apocalyptic, or prophetic foretelling of the future ie. “This is a wake-up call story to keep us watching and waiting for the Second Coming of Christ.” Perhaps you have heard sermons in the past that have chosen a particular angle to bring home the point.

“Tell those who have been invited: everything is ready! Come to the wedding banquet!” the king said. But one by one they found excuses. All of which were duties that were good. They weren’t sinful or against the law. It’s just that the invitees made a choice of preference and priority. One by one, choices that didn’t include the king. In fact, the text says, “They made light of it and went away.”

Even though there is definitely a judgment (the folks who made excuses chose to excuse themselves from an amazing opportunity), there is also an amazing opportunity for grace. That is the point that jumped out at me this past week…

“Then he [the king] said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore, into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

As disciples of Jesus, we are called and sent out to invite all whom we meet – both “good and bad” – to come to this banquet, this Feast of Forgiveness and Grace. Our call is to continue to invite and welcome. Judgment is reserved for the Lord. We are also invited to join in at the Lord’s Table where indeed the cup of his grace is running over. Where the honored Guest at the table becomes our Host. Welcoming all people, loving, healing, transforming hearts and lives as we dwell in the house of the Lord…forever.                                                                                                                                                               *Who, in their “right mind”, would not want to experience hope and wholeness in their life?

Or, for the lives of their neighbors?

Even though all of life includes Stewardship – in the coming weeks we are especially focusing on this aspect, this discipline of following Jesus. Scripture repeatedly speaks of tithing our financial resources ten (10) percent. In this coming week, as you remember the Parable of the Wedding Banquet and the banquet tables set in Psalms and Isaiah, think about how you spend your time. Does God receive ten (10) percent of your time during the month, week, day? What invitations and sumptuous tastes of God’s goodness might you be missing as the schedules of busyness are put into place?

I know for myself and probably most of us, our days are filled with good things to be done or attended to. In most cases, we aren’t tempted by the gross, harmful things.

We are tempted to overdo by settling for the good, and in the process, we ignore God’s invitation to come for the best. Spending time in daily devotions with an open heart is to sit at that banquet table. Bible study with others brings encouragement and builds community. Choosing to come and participate in worship clears the heart, mind and palate to receive the cup of God’s love which forever runs over. Feasting on the Word brings strength and courage for our journey of faith and our life of service.

The graciousness of the Host is humbling – yet exciting!

*Who, in their “right mind” would be too busy to pass up such an invitation?

It is what all people have been created for and are hungry for whether they realize it or not: to be loved and whole. It is what all people have been hoping, dreaming and waiting for.

“This is the Lord for whom we have waited: let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation!”                                                                                              

* Come, your place at the table is ready. Thanks be to God. Amen.

– Brenda Tibbetts, Associate in Ministry