Saturday, October 4, 2008

20th Sunday after Trinity

"The Feast"
Matthew 22:1-14
20th Sunday After Trinity
October 4, 2008

In the name of the Father and of the  Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen
I. The King
It’s a simple story, and you’d think it would stay that way. The king has arranged a marriage for his son, and he is sparing no expense for the festivities. He sends out the invitations to those whose company he desires—and who is going to say no? This is the king! At worse, you accept it because you want to make sure the king knows you showed up. At best—and this is a really good “at best,” this is going to be the celebration of the year. The entrĂ©e is not going to be chicken, and it’s not going to be a cash bar. The band is not going to be the queen’s aunt’s son-in-law who has a garage band and needs a gig. There will be food and drink in abundance. Everything is going to be perfect. You don’t want to miss this party.

But the guests don’t want to come. Ever the gracious host, the king sends out servants to invite them personally: “All the work has been done, and all things are ready! It’s all free for you! Come to the wedding feast of my son!” Once again, who would say no? You’d have to be blind, hostile to the king to skip this invitation. Yet some decline his invitation, saying things like they must keep working on the farm or at the business: crazy, but some people prefer to muck out the cattle stalls than to spend a day with the king. This is where the story takes a really ugly twist: rather than say no to the servants, some seize them, treat them terribly, and kill them.

The king invited them to a party in goodwill, and they RSVP with the blood of his servants. Such evil must be dealt with, so it should come as no surprise that the king sends out his army and destroys those who killed the messengers of good news, subjects who want nothing to do with him. So what now? The plans are already set. The marriage has been arranged and declared, and the king will not go back on his word. Even though the guest list proved hostile, he will still have guests at his son’s wedding. He says to his servants, “The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 'Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.” The servants go out and find whoever they can. It is, no doubt, a motley crew—not the sort of people who you’d normally find around the king. They often have lower incomes and checkered pasts, held back by one problem or another. Nevertheless, the servants extend the king’s invitation, and the wedding hall is packed with guests. They would be a scruffy looking bunch, maybe even laughable to the king’s enemies, but the king takes care of everything. As goes the custom of such weddings in Jesus’ time, the king even gives each guest a wedding garment to wear. This is his son’s wedding, and he spares no expense. Whoever receives his invitation and comes to the wedding receives clothing, food and drink by the king’s doing. Once they’re in the feast, they’ll all look like the king’s own children, because the king provides all.

Yet, when the king surveys the wedding hall, there is one man who doesn’t wear a wedding garment. Please note: this is not a matter of poverty on his part, because the king has clothed all. Rather, the guest has said, “I will go to the king’s hall, but only on my terms as I am.” His appearance is a sign of disrespect to spite the king, and the king does not take the offense lightly. “Friend,” he says, “how did you come in here without a wedding garment?” When the man has no response, the king commands his servants, “Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” It is an honor to be in the presence of the king, and certain behavior is required; it is a great pity that the man is unprepared, since the king sought to give him everything he needed. If he does not desire to be the king’s guest, then he has no place at the wedding.

It seems odd, but the king will come under attack. He will be criticized for destroying the first set of guests, even though they killed his servants who came with good news. The headlines will be all about how he throws out the one guest into darkness, even though it was the man’s own fault. In fact, while many notice such aspects of the parable, they’ll miss the amazing, wonderful point: the wedding hall is packed full of people who had no idea they would be guests of the king. If you’re one of the guests who scoffed at the king’s generosity, then you’re not going to like this story. Now, if you started out as a commoner on the byways, this parable has a very happy ending. When the day began, you were nobody out there somewhere. Now, the king has given you all good things. And as long as this feast lasts, you are the king’s people, members of his household.
And here’s some more good news: the feast is going to last forever.

II. You’re Invited
Remember, this parable is about the kingdom of heaven. In Revelation 19, heaven is called the “marriage of the Lamb” (v. 7): it’s a wedding feast! The Lord goes on to say, “Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” (Rev. 19:9). Here is your reason to rejoice, today and always: the Lord calls you to that marriage supper.

He has done all that is necessary to prepare it. Rather than kill the fatted cattle, He has sacrificed His own Son: the Son must die for the bride to be delivered. He has also raised His Son, Jesus Christ, from the dead: the wedding will take place. The marriage feast will happen. Throughout the centuries, He has called out His invitation. To Israel in the Old Testament, He sent prophet after prophet after prophet. The words might have been different, but the invitation was always the same: “Israel, I have promised to send a Savior, and I will keep My promise. Because He will die for you, heaven is yours. Therefore, turn from false gods and idols that cannot raise you from the dead. Forsake those sins that keep you from Me. The wedding feast is coming, and it is all for you!”

You know what happened. Time and time again, the people refused the invitation. When the Lord continued to send prophets to call them to the wedding feast, they began to beat them, persecute them, scorn them…kill them. Eventually, the Lord had enough. He allowed first the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, to conquer and captivate Israel. If people did not want His help and protection, He would not force them to be safe. Because they rejected Him and killed His messengers, they and their cities were destroyed.

The Lord still faithfully sends out His messengers today: not just to Israel, but to all nations. Around the world, pastors publicly preach, in the stead and by the command of Jesus, the Good News that all are invited to the feast of heaven for Jesus’ sake. All around the world, Christians share the Gospel as they have opportunity. All around the world, the Holy Spirit works by that Word. People hear and believe by the Spirit’s work, and so they are numbered among the wedding guests for eternity. However…many also do not believe. In fact, many seek to persecute the Church for the message of Jesus.

As protected as we are, it is difficult to believe that Christians suffer, and suffer terribly, for proclaiming the Gospel. Houses are lost, children are kidnapped, and Christians are killed for the faith. The king’s messengers still die for inviting people to the feast. In America, we are still quite safe, perhaps suffering a snub in the neighborhood or the loss of a job for our faith. But should you witness such trouble or be its victim, the devil will use it to turn the screws. He will seek to convince you to abandon Christ, lest you suffer hardship for the faith. When you are tempted to moderate your faith to avoid trouble in this world, confess the sin and be forgiven. For the sake of Christ, the eternal feast is yours.

As you go about your life, beware of one more temptation—it is the temptation of the guest without wedding clothes. When the Lord invites you to the wedding, He gives you all good things. By His Word, He gives you the faith to believe and thus He transforms you into His own. By Holy Baptism, He clothes you with Christ and His righteousness (Gal. 3:27); by water and the Word, you are prepared and robed for the wedding. By His Holy Supper, He keeps you fed and nourished until the marriage feast of the Lamb in heaven; and indeed, each Holy Communion is but a foretaste of the feast to come. In heaven, we will stand in the glorious presence of the risen Savior, and the feast will go on forever.

Therefore, do not sin by seeking to wear your own clothes to the wedding. Old Adam will always tempt you to believe that heaven is yours because you have done enough good, or haven’t done enough bad to be kept out, or you’ve been doing better than others have and so God should cut you a break. No matter how you slice it, such temptations say that you go to the wedding by your own efforts. They say that your righteous works are proper attire to wear in the presence of God.

Therefore, heed the Word of the Lord from Isaiah: our works are not glorious before God! “We are all like an unclean thing and all our righteousness is like filthy rags” (Is. 64:6). The one who seeks entry into the eternal feast by his own efforts seeks to wear filthy rags to the wedding. In doing so, he snubs the Savior who died to clothe him in righteousness; and he will be cast out into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. That is why you rejoice daily to confess your sins and rid yourself of filthy rags; and that is why you daily rejoice in the forgiveness of Christ, who clothes you with white for the wedding day. For this is the Good News: you have a place at the marriage feast of the Lamb, and the feast will last forever. You’re not just invited to an everlasting marriage feast. You’re invited to your wedding, where you’re united with Your Savior forever. In Christ, your Bridegroom, yours is not an eternity of outer darkness, weeping, and the gnashing of teeth. In Christ, the banquet feast of heaven is yours, for He has made it so: for you are forgiven all of your sins. Amen.