Sermon for Proper 23, Year A

October 15, 2023

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

One the reasons I like the parables is that there are so many different people we can identify with.  The wedding reception is no exception.  There is the king whose invitations are rejected, and the slaves who were sent out to those invited to encourage them to come.  There are the people who were mistreated and even killed some of the slaves because they did not like the king.  Then there are the townsfolk who get invited by the king to fill the banquet hall.  And, of course, there is the man who is clueless about how he should be dressed and is bound and thrown out into the outer darkness, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 

One of the reasons I don’t like some of the parables is that the treatment of the people who sin is often harsh and don’t fit with my understanding of a loving God.   Another reason, is that I often identify too closely to one of the characters who is judged to be unworthy.  Take, for example, the man who shows up dressed inappropriately.  I’ve been that person.  In seminary it was the custom to dress in black for the Good Friday service.  My first year there I was a transfer student and no one had shared this with me.  So, I showed up dressed like I did for other services wearing a pair of khakis and a dress shirt.  I stood out like a sore thumb. 

Thankfully, I was not bound and thrown out into the outer darkness, and the only gnashing of teeth was out of my embarrassment.  Thus, the king’s response to the man not wearing a wedding robe disturbs me.  Afterall, he showed up, didn’t he?  Those first invited did not, but he did.  Just showing up; however, is not enough.

This parable is not about what the guest is wearing or not wearing, it is about respect.  The man makes no effort, he shows no appreciation for having been invited in.  The king throws open the doors and invites everyone to come and this man simply wanders in. 

God invites us to experience the kingdom. Yet to truly experience it, we must give of ourselves in return.  We are invited into a relationship with God and without that relationship we simply cannot experience God’s kingdom.  When I remove my personal experience and read the parable with this in mind – it makes sense.  The binding of the guest is symbolic of what we do to ourselves when we fail to open our hearts to God. 

Just showing up is not enough.  Relationships require us to take risks, to be vulnerable and that is difficult for many of us to do.  So, we may show up, but not invest ourselves in our relationships. This can leave us feeling alone.  Being thrown out into the outer darkness represents what it feels like when we avoid meaningful relationships.

In both our Psalm and Isaiah, God prepares a feast for us.  The wedding feast represents the feast offered in God’s kingdom.  In the Psalm, after the Good Shepherd leads us through valley of the shadow of death, the psalmist says, “You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.”    What is different here is that in the psalm it speaks of not only following the shepherd, but trusting that the shepherd will keep us safe.  This trust is comforting, even as we walk through difficult and fearful times.  In trusting God to lead us, we find the hope expressed in the final verse, “Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

Included in our reading from Isaiah, is a passage often read at funerals:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts 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.  

This feast is what comes to the minds of the people who are listening to Jesus tell this parable.  The feast at the end of our journey, the feast when God will destroy the shroud that is cast over God’s people as it says in this passage:

And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.  Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

God will wipe away our tears and save us from our times of trial.  Times such as we are living in today as nations are at war and our nation’s leaders are not united and are unable to find common ground.  Many of us, too, are struggling in our own lives to find peace.  We need to experience God’s kingdom; we need to have the shroud lifted so that we may see clearly God’s love for us and put our trust in God so that we might find comfort and peace.  Then, we can rejoice in the salvation God offers us.   

          As Jesus often does, in this parable he puts a twist on this image of the feast.  God might invite everyone to the feast, the doors are open to all who want to enter, but how we enter is important. Respect and gratitude are required if we wish to remain.  God cannot wipe the tears from our eyes if we turn our face away.  We cannot experience the kingdom unless we are willing to open our hearts and enter into a relationship with our Lord.

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, help us accept your invitation to enter into a loving relationship with you that we might enter into your kingdom and experience the peace that you offer.  Help us not to turn away, but to turn to you for help and comfort as we face the chaos of our lives.  Nourish our souls that we might then share your love with others.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.