What Not to Wear….

2014-09-12 Sermon on Matthew 22:1-14

Have you ever noticed that our worship is a lot like a wedding banquet? I mean, take a look around.
We’ve got this beautiful hall. We’ve got the flowers. We’ve got the banquet table. Candles. Music. I’ve got my robe on. I *think* we’re all….. whoa! Friends, where are your robes!?!? How did you get in here without wedding robes? Got you! Goes to show you that’s the kind of mess you can get into with Jesus’ parables. And funny, he tells a lot of them, doesn’t he? Anyway, today’s gospel is pretty challenging – just what is Jesus telling us here?

I mean, talk about mixed messages! Wedding invitations, rejections, murder, angry king destroys city. And then there’s a banquet ANYWAY. And everyone wants to go to an angry king’s party, right? But at any rate, it’s an incredible party because everyone’s invited. Everyone. People who would have never dreamed of it. Heck, people who didn’t even know that they wanted to go. Everyone’s there, the king should be overjoyed, right? No! Friend (air quotes), how did you get in here without a wedding robe? Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Seriously? But Jesus, that’s all messed up!

Well, maybe not so messed up, if you think about the context of this parable. So, Jesus has been proclaiming good news to the Jews throughout Galilee. One Jew to another, changing the lives of God’s chosen people. But then, shock! He heads for the Mediterranean coast, to the gentiles of Tyre and Sidon with the same message. And isn’t that just a little political? The Jews think, this is OUR God – how dare you! And the gentiles think – but you’re a Jew! What could you possibly have to say to us? But nevertheless, they ALL hear. And just what is Jesus preaching? The kingdom of God has come near, like a wedding banquet, and folks, this is what it looks like! Healing and forgiveness are for ALL people now, and let me show you how it works. And he does! This is good news!

Except, there’s always a catch, right? It’s not ALL good news. Jesus has a thing or two to say about Jerusalem and the temple and that whole endless system of legal rules and sacrifice. The priests think they know exactly what God wants, and they intend to control it, just like always. What does Jesus have to say about it? I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I have come to call sinners, not the righteous. Old wineskins can’t hold new wine – they burst. Only new wineskins can hold new wine. I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. These are LOADED statements. So, you can bet word travels all the way to Jerusalem, the epicenter of religious power. Surely the priests think, well, this is the temple, Jesus is a nobody from nowhere, who cares what he has to say about us? Well, that works until Jesus heads straight to Jerusalem, and right to the temple. And there’s going to be trouble! You think, no Jesus, don’t go! They’ll destroy you! The disciples tried their best to stop him, but nothing in heaven or earth could keep Jesus away.

So, he gets to the temple, and what happens? Sheer chaos! Jesus overturns the tables of the moneychangers and drives them out of his Father’s house. He heals and teaches and touches untouchable people, and breaks the sabbath. Jesus single-handedly breaks up everything that the authorities have put into place. Well, NOW Jesus is a problem, and they’re FURIOUS! So, they demand to know – Jesus, who gives you this authority? And Jesus gives them parables, including today’s, which they don’t get, and we don’t quite get it either, to be honest. But perhaps now it makes a little more sense. You priests and scribes, with your rules and sacrifices and fundamental injustice! Since the beginning of time, God has always invited you to the wedding banquet, and you reject it every time! The prophets tried to tell you, but you killed them! And what do you think God is about to do to you in return? This very temple will fall. That’s heavy duty judgment right there. But, this isn’t just about the priests and scribes. No, Jesus has been everywhere, inviting all people, Jews and gentiles and us, to the wedding banquet, and we’re all coming in. And what always happens when people get religion? Rules and sacrifices, and fundamental injustice. We’re no better, when we judge and condemn and exclude. There is room for everyone at the banquet, but yet, we judge who’s a real Christian. We judge who can be ordained. We judge who can receive communion. We call all manner of things social ills and think that’s faithfulness, because we’re convinced we know exactly what’s wrong with people. We talk about sheep and goats, wheat and weeds, and we think we know exactly who’s who. And God tells us straight up, no you don’t.

For every time we think we’ve got on our wedding robes, God sees through our false fronts and shadow selves, and sees us for who we really are. We’re naked. And speechless. Everything we’ve done to be good, everything we thought was right is now stripped away, and what’s going to happen to us? Weeping and gnashing of teeth? And then, Jesus takes it one step further. Many are called, but few are chosen. Chosen? Are we chosen? Jesus, you said the kingdom of God has drawn near. You said we’re all invited. And now you lay this threat on us?  Just goes to show you, you can’t trust anyone, not even God. That warning, that’s for us, right? Deep down, that’s what we really want to know. That’s the ONLY thing we want to know. But when we don’t trust God, the only answer we have is no answer.

But, brothers and sisters, God has answered, and the answer is indeed good news, because it comes to us in the last place we would ever expect to hear it – good news right in the midst of judgment, of all places! That’s the thing with God – always turning everything upside down. Because when Jesus talks about the chosen, he’s talking about you and me. Jesus chose us by taking our sin, our judging, all upon himself. He takes them to the cross and to death, to the very thing we fear above all things. He empties himself for our sake. And to us, he gives us his own righteousness by freely forgiving us. And in fact, this IS new life, just as Jesus is risen from the grave in three days. Indeed, he already promised us that we are forgiven, and we ALL heard it together. Every hurt and failure that you’ve carried with you to this place, all is forgiven, and Jesus means exactly what he says – no catches, no exceptions.

You are chosen. You hear it every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, for the forgiveness of sins. The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you. FOR YOU – the 2 most important words you’ll ever hear from God. These aren’t just nice feel-good liturgical words. No, this is real forgiveness and unconditional acceptance of who you really are, and God knows exactly who you are. 

You are chosen. You heard it in your baptism, where God claimed you as God’s own child, and filled you with the Holy Spirit, as a promise and a seal, uniting you with Christ. And that’s not all – God declared it for EVERYONE to hear and know. God doesn’t ask, God doesn’t wait for your answer, God chooses, and God chooses you.

And as the Holy Spirit fills you with faith, now you see what you couldn’t see before – you’ve been wearing your wedding robe all along! Your faith! That’s your wedding robe! God has invited you and clothed you for the banquet. And this is ONLY the BEGINNING! Because through this faith from God, we now see everything differently. Where we see injustice and inequity, we see people striving for justice and equality. Where we see hunger and need, we see people feeding those who cannot feed themselves. You see, it’s precisely when the world seems hopeless and forsaken, that our faith grants us hope, a conviction that this is NOT the whole story, and that through us, God is in fact DOING  an unbelievably new thing. St. Paul calls this a peace that passes all understanding, because to the world, this makes no sense. It’s not rational. But yet, in spite of ourselves, we boldly proclaim this hope.

And now, clothed in our wedding robes of faith and hope, we will be sent out into the world. Every place that we find ourselves, our jobs, our clubs, our neighborhoods, all these places are filled with people in desperate need of your hope. It changes lives. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, people will hear your hope even when you don’t realize it. No demand, no sacrifice. And this is why we call it sending, because you have been gifted and filled, and now God sends you with these gifts for the sake of the world. You have been called and chosen by Christ, so go, forgiven and free, and bear your hope. Show off your wedding robe – it’s beautiful. AMEN.

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