19th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who invites us to the banquet. Amen
So, I always get a little uncomfortable
when gospel readings
include people being thrown into the outer darkness
where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
To be fair,
it’s supposed to make people uncomfortable,
the threat of being cast out
is used to motivate those on the receiving end of the message
to act in a way that avoids this action.
However, I’m more uncomfortable with it
because it doesn’t square with my understanding of God,
who is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,
who sent Jesus to save the world.
And yet this was a teaching common in the early church
which Matthew deliberately included in his gospel,
the teaching where Jesus tells the story
of a King hosting a wedding banquet
on the day of the banquet
he sends servants to remind everyone who has rsvp’d yes
that the banquet is that day,
and the servants are ignored.
So the King sends more servants,
who describe this great feast
that has been prepared,
surely free food will bring them in,
but those invited go on about their business
or stay behind to kill the servants.
So the king, enraged,
takes a moment before dinner,
to wreak vengeance on them, and destroy their city
and after that he feels a bit better
but he still has no one to eat his banquet,
so he sends his servants back out to gather anyone available,
it doesn’t matter who they are
whether they are good or bad,
the King wants those seats in the banquet hall filled
and so the servants do this
and they fill the hall,
and the king comes to look at his full banquet hal
l and he sees someone,
just dragged off the street,
not wearing a wedding robe,
and the king confronts the guy
and asks why aren’t you wearing a robe?!
And when the guy has no answer
he is thrown out of the banquet hall into the outer darkness.
The good news of the Lord?
Why does Matthew include this story?
I think he includes it
because once we get past the hyperbole and ridiculousness of the narrative,
it points to a central and uncomfortable truth:
the truth that most humans will reject the invitation of God
to participate in the abundant life of God.
The abundant life of God that starts in this life.
As Jesus travels around,
teaching, preaching and healing,
he spreads the news of the kingdom or God’s reign on earth,
God’s reign is in direct contrast
to the way the world works,
think of the beatitudes,
blessed are the poor in spirit,
those who mourn, the meek,
those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
the merciful, the peacemakers,
these are the attributes valued in the kingdom of God,
rather than the powerful,
the violent, the rich, and the manipulative
that seem to be blessed in this life.
Jesus’ message preached primarily to the powerless, the victims, the poor and the manipulated
is that life doesn’t have to be this way,
in fact God desires pretty much the opposite
and you can start living that way now,
you don’t have to wait.
With Jesus, God come to earth,
kingdom living starts now!
And it looks like a banquet
where everyone is invited
and the best food and drink is served,
shelter is provided and God lifts the burdens from every shoulder
and all this is freely given,
offered to everyone both the good and the bad.
It sounds so good
it’s hard to imagine that anyone would turn down the invitation.
And yet it happens,
the grace of God is offered
and is ignored or actively, violently rejected.
because the invitation is for more than a banquet,
it is for a way of life
which means giving up the way of life where wealth leads to power
and power leads to the illusion of independence.
Think about it,
why would those initially invited go to the banquet
when their businesses will allow them to provide their own banquet?
We think, why would we go through the pomp and circumstance
and trouble to go to someone else’s dinner
when we can come up with something just as good,
better even because we can avoid social obligations
And in our quest for independence,
we turn down the grace of God.
We pass up our seat at the banquet
because we think we can do just as well for ourselves
if not better.
We don’t talk about this very often
but the truth is that we humans are free to resist and reject the grace of God,
and we do.
Because we are addicted to independence.
We are addicted to doing things for ourselves
so much that we even turn down invitations from God.
Because to accept grace
means admitting that we need help,
that, we can’t do it on our own,
because accepting grace means
we are then responsible to others, living in community.
But God made humans to live in community,
life is better when lived together
even though a small amount of independence
must be surrendered to be a part of community.
The other Pastors and I were talking about this at our weekly text study
and you know what this reminded us of?
All of the older folks we’ve walked alongside
who have been adamant about staying in their own homes,
maintaining their independence,
even though it often means increasing isolation.
And invariably when something happens
where they can not avoid it any longer
and they move into a community,
and when we go and visit
we hear some variation of the exclamation
“this was the best move I ever made,
I should have done this years ago!”
Because now, even if they are still doing most things for themselves
they are living in community.
We gain so much more than we lose
when we accept the grace of God
and yet again and again we resist
and if we’re confronted,
like the man without a robe,
we often have no good answer for why,
why when we have been offered the chance to live in the kingdom of God,
we would turn down that invitation.
Now you might be wondering,
with all this talk of resisting God,
is there any hope?
And if it were just up to us,
I’d say no.
But it’s not just up to us,
God, knowing that left to our own devices
we would never be able to fully live into the kingdom of God,
no matter how hard we tried,
Jesus who died on the cross
to save all of us stubbornly independent humans
who will only be right through our association with Jesus.
At our baptisms,
we are joined to Jesus
and God promises that we are God’s,
And we know that God keeps the promises God makes.
Even as we go about our lives turning down the many invitations God sends
to participate in kingdom living,
even if we turn our backs on God
exiling ourselves from the presence of God,
God still loves us,
sets out a banquet
offering life and forgiveness
and invites us to come to the table
because no matter what we do,
God is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
the banquet is ready,
come and eat,
there is a place for you. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.