Sermon for Proper 23, Year A October 15, 2017

Isaiah 25:1-9                       Psalm 23                              Philippians 4:1-9                               Matthew 22:1-14

Today’s readings are ones of promise and comfort until you get to the last couple of verses of our gospel when the king, who has opened the doors for everyone to attend the wedding feast, commands that one who arrived underdressed is to be bound and thrown “into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Jesus concludes this parable by saying, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

I so much prefer Isaiah’s promise that God “will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.”  His promise that God will “destroy . . . the shroud that is cast over all peoples . . . he will swallow up death forever.” And, that God “will wipe away the tears from all faces.”  For people who struggle in life, these promises offer hope.  Psalm 23 also offers us reason to give thanks to God with its promise that the Lord is our shepherd who will lead us “beside still waters,” “revives our souls,” and guides us “along right pathways.” And, it too promises us a feast, for God will spread a table before us in the presence of those who trouble us, suggesting that we will be at peace with our enemies.

The gospel parable is also a promise that God will welcome all comers into the kingdom.  When the guests make excuses for not being able to attend, the king sends his servants into the streets to “invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” This parable has a dark side, however.  First there is the part where those invited mistreat and kill some of the king’s servants, and the king sending his troops to destroy their city.  Then, there is the king’s response to the guest who arrives underdressed.  In the scriptures, a wedding banquet is a metaphor for God’s kingdom, so we need to what this parable says about those invited into God’s kingdom.

Those invited first, represent the people of Israel, God’s chosen people who ultimately reject Jesus.  Those who not only reject Jesus, but who kill him are answerable to God. In this part of the parable, the king executes judgment upon them.

The parable does not end here.  The king extends the invitation to everyone, but there is a catch.  Jesus says, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”  And, he says this after telling us how the king treats the man who is not wearing a wedding robe.  This is a sign of disrespect and because he did not show the proper respect, he is thrown out and made to suffer.

I don’t like the parables and passages that talk about judgment for two reasons.  First, I believe that the Apostle Paul had it right when he said, “nothing can separate us from the love of God,” not even death.  I believe that just as Christ conquered death, his redemptive love will ultimately reach each and every human being that we might find our way back to God, our creator.

Second, I don’t like the thought of suffering for all the mistakes I’ve made.  I expect God to be a gracious and a forgiving host – not one like the king who executes cruel judgment on people like me for my ignorance.  I want my Lord to show me right pathways and to set a table before me that I might join in the heavenly banquet and be at peace with my enemies.

I understand the king’s way of dealing with those who have mistreated and even killed his servants, but how he deals with the guest that was improperly dressed hits too close to home.

I was a transfer student to the School of Theology at Sewanee, so I was not instructed along with the incoming students how to dress at various occasions throughout the school year.  I did wear dress clothes to attended my first Good Friday service only to discover that it was the custom for students to wear their black cassocks.  I stood out like a sore thumb and I was greatly embarrassed.  I was not called out by the dean for my transgression, but I did feel like weeping and gnashing my teeth.

So, you see, I identify with the wedding guest who got it wrong.  I often get it wrong about things more important than what I am wearing.  Thus, I may at times deserve to be bound and cast out into the darkness, I may deserve to be to made to weep and gnash my teeth – but I want to experience Christ’s mercy.  And, I do believe I will.  Unfortunately, I also understand that we learn a lot from our suffering.  If we never experienced embarrassment, feelings of guilt or regret, we would have no reason to change our behavior.

When Jesus told this story, his listeners would not have thought the kings actions were unexpected or unwarranted.  The level of violence in the parable was to be expected of a king – so the message was really quite simply.  God’s invitation to the heavenly banquet is for each and every one of us, but we cannot feast on God’s bounty unless we come with hearts open to received his abundant love.  We can’t just walk in off the street and expect God to do everything for us.  To be chosen is not be given a handout, but to accept God’s call to service.  When we are chosen we are given great responsibility.

Yes, the Lord will guide us to right pathways, but only if we are willing to go and accept the responsibility that comes with being among the chosen.

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, you have blessed us with the abundance of your love, help us, we pray to accept your invitation to be filled with your Spirit that we might experience your peace and draw others to you.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.