Sermons

Isaiah 25:  1-9; Philippians 4:1–9; Matthew 22:1–14

Oh, Matthew.  Why couldn’t you just have stopped while you were ahead? When you were putting together your Gospel, and you wrote this story that is shared in other gospels, why didn’t you end where the others do?  Why did you have to add that awful part at the end about the guest being bound and thrown into the darkness simply for not wearing the right clothes?

It seems so contradictory to what Jesus taught.  Did he just mishear the story?  Or did he have his own agenda in mind, without any regard whatsoever to those of us who, 2,000 years later, would have to preach on these words he wrote?

Of course, modern scholarship tells us that Matthew did add this ending to a parable that is shared with other Gospels to further his own agenda.  Matthew wanted his largely Jewish audience to know that all are welcome to the party, but just showing up isn’t enough.  He wanted his audience to know that they needed to put on the wedding garment, meant to be the wedding garment of Christ, if they expected to stay at the party. 

 

All were welcome for Matthew, but there was a hitch.  Put on the wedding robe or get out.

This passage is used to support the supercessionist idea that Christianity is better that Judaism, that Christianity was meant to replace Judaism as the one true path to salvation. 

That is an idea that neither I nor the Church support and must be renounced and rejected.

So why keep this part of scripture in the reading? Why not just leave it out with all the other parts of scripture we’d rather not encounter on an otherwise lovely Sunday morning?

And there, I think, is exactly the reason.  In that question is what this passage holds for me today, in this moment.

Just showing up isn’t enough.  In order for the dream of God to have any hope of realization, we have to be willing to give something up for the good of the greater whole. Even if it makes us uncomfortable. 

I’m not talking about all agreeing, and certainly not looking or dressing the same.  After all, we worship a God who created the diverse world in which we live.

I’m talking about the fact that, to achieve any larger purpose, we might consider whether, in the decisions we make and the goals we seek, whether these decisions and goals are about us, individually, or about seeking and serving the God who made us.

In a world that sells perfectly constructed personalized experiences meeting the unique needs of each consumer, building beloved community can set us back on our heels a bit as we discover it will never be what it could be, if we were the only one here.

But I never want to be the only one here.

I want to be surrounded by people who see the world differently than I do, who experience God differently than I do, who get different things out of worship than I do.  

I want to encounter people who stretch me to appreciate and celebrate those differences as opportunities to grow and learn more about the people with whom I worship.

If I were to cut out all the parts of scripture that don’t suit me, I wouldn’t have the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I’d have the Gospel of Jeff.  And in my edited Gospel, you better believe Jesus would start sounding like he agreed with me all the time.  Convenient, yes.  But not the truth.

The wedding guest in today’s Gospel refuses to give up anything. He goes to the banquet, but only so far.

They just couldn’t give up their customized experience to join the larger celebration.

It seems that, more and more in this world, we are growing further and further into segregated niches of belief; increasingly unwilling to compromise, refusing to sacrifice even the smallest bit, for the good of the larger whole. 

Public discourse is scripted, meant to appeal to something called a “base”, reinforcing already held beliefs, pushing us further and further into the opposite corners of the banquet hall.

But the feast is in the middle.

We are given a feast to enjoy, but all too often the strings attached are of our own making.

We want racial justice and equity, but white people are reluctant to give anything up to achieve it.

The same is true for all equity that we profess to seek.  Those in historically dominant groups must be willing to give something up if there is to be God’s justice in this world.  But giving something up is hard.  Maybe we’ve come to the party, but are we ready to put on the wedding garment?

When someone dies in the Christian church, whether they are buried in a casket or an urn, the casket or urn is covered when it brought into the church by a cloth called the pall.

The point?  Before God, we are all one, simply beloved children of God.  The wealthiest among us who are buried in gold caskets appear before God just as the one in the pine box.  The beautiful hand crafted urn or the plastic container from the funeral home. 

Both are the same before God.  We ask, at that final moment, that something is given up in order that something greater might be received.  It can be a difficult conversation for a family who spent a great deal of money on the ornate casket, or picked out just the perfect urn. 

This it is not just how we are to be buried.  It is how we are meant to live. 

It is a constant invitation from God to join the banquet.  Matthew reminds us that all are invited to this party, good and bad, Matthew writes, all are brought in.  Whether we are able to enjoy the banquet, though, depends a bit on us and our willingness to put God’s dream for the world ahead of our longing to be comfortable. 

Too often we start from a place of “what do I think?”  “what do I want?”  “What do I need?”

Today’s parable invites us to run those questions through the filter of “What might God think?”  What might God want?  What does God need?

It reminds us that we are made in the image of God, though we continue to try to make God in our own image.  As a favorite quote from Anne Lamott reminds us, “You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

It can be difficult, as the unfortunate guest at the wedding banquet soon discovers. I certainly do not agree with Matthew that the guest who refused to put on the gown is thrown into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I do think, however, that refusing to put on something bigger than ourselves makes the banquet to which we have been invited awfully hard to enjoy.  We cast ourselves out of the party.  But God keeps inviting us in.  God never stops seeking us out and drawing us to the parting, inviting us to join in the banquet of life God offers us.

And why would God invite us to a banquet we were not meant to enjoy?

AMEN.

© 2017 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

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