Sermon for October 12th
Scriptures: Matthew 22: 1-14, Philippians 4:1-9
The Parable of the Wedding Feast
Imagine for a moment that you just received an invitation- an invitation to a royal wedding. Originally, you were not invited, although you wished you had been. And at the last minute as you sat imagining what it would be like, one of the king’s servants comes to extend an invitation to you. You rush to the wedding, after all the feast is ready and the king is waiting. You join the mass of people entering the banquet hall, smelling the delicious aroma of roasting meat. Everyone is seated and the king arrives. The king looks out at the banquet hall and scans the guests, and then his eyes seem to land on you. He comes toward you and says, “Friend, how did you get in here without wearing a wedding robe?”
And you are speechless.
We have all been there. It’s that moment when you realize everyone is wearing stilettos while you are rockin’ kicks, guess you didn’t get the memo. Those nightmares come true when you are naked at the party, on the spot at school, unprepared for work…. at the wedding without a wedding robe. And your deepest fear has been realized- everyone has found you out. They have seen the real you and they have rejected you.
Here at church we all come like this. We all come, insecure- wanted to hide our sin and shame- afraid of being exposed. Yet it is this very place where our true nature is revealed. We are in bondage to our sin and we cannot free ourselves. And although it is terrifying to be truly vulnerable and revealed, after we admit this, we can breathe a sigh of relief. No more posing as a good church person- as the perfect mother, brother, councilperson, Sunday school teacher. We can be honest with our faults and failings. And for the first time in a long while, we can show our true selves. We do not have to hide, pretend, or pose any longer.
When we enter this sanctuary, often, the very first thing we do is our liturgy of Confession & Forgiveness. It is as if we say- wait! Before we worship God, before I stand next to you as my brother or sister in Christ, before we do one more churchy thing- let’s be real, let’s be honest. Let’s do what we need to do and confess our sins to God and one another. Let’s be honest about our true need for God.
This scripture today, exposes that true need. We may ask- why does there have to be judgment like we see in our scriptures? Why does God judge people, including us? Without giving an honest judgment about ourselves, we will never find the truth of who we really are. A world without judgment does not takes seriously the sins and suffering, and war that we see all around us every day. Without judgment, there can be no justice.
On our own, we all stand before God and each other without our wedding robes on. On our own, we are thrown into the outer darkness. On our own, we are left to weeping and gnashing of teeth. Yet in this crazy, beautiful thing of our faith, we believe something miraculous happens. We believe that in our baptism God clothes us in Christ. Although our sinful nature never disappears, we also have a new identity in Christ. We are sinners and saints at the same time. During baptism we wear white or receive a white cloth to symbolize this new identity. And this white robe stays with us throughout our faith journey as a symbol that we are baptized in Christ. We wear it again as we are confirmed, as our ninth graders will do in just two weeks. Our leaders wear it in worship. And in death as the white funeral pall is placed on the casket or urn- our baptismal robe again surrounds us as we are commended to God.
Clothed in Christ, we can be in true community with others.
Our parable today is another violent, dramatic, and unsettling teaching of Jesus from Matthew. It is the third parable of judgment Jesus tells to the Pharisees and chief priests. Here Jesus uses this ‘once upon a time (hyperbolic) story’ to shock his audience. He is trying to prove a point to the religious leaders. Yes, you are invited to the feast of God- but you also have a responsibility to care for the people in your flock. You are called to justice and love. You are not beyond God’s judgment simply because you are in charge.
There is clearly judgment and law in this parable. But there is also gospel. There is a wild and disruptive theme of inclusivity. The king invites all to the banquet. He has his servants scour the city for the good and the bad. This gives us a vision of the kingdom of God. God is out to invite all to the feast. God searches our cities for the homeless, unemployed, mentally ill, outcast, imprisoned, strangers, the last of all the last- and extends an invitation to them. Wow! It is such good news, it is almost impossible to believe.
As I was traveling in my car this week, I was listening to WPR on the radio when I heard a story that people had a hard time believing. It was the story of a Roman Catholic nun who secretly ministered to transgender people. Somehow this nun, Sister Monica, had showed compassion to one person, and found her calling. People would call her or email her out of the blue and say, “Do you really minister to trans people? Are you really a nun?” No one could believe that this nun would help people that seemed so far out of norm of the ministry of the church, especially the Catholic Church. But she did. Sister Monica felt that ‘loving God makes us more human’ rather than our spirituality separating us from people. She shared that what touched her most was that the transgender people she worked with loved God just like she did. She provided pastoral support and spiritual direction to people as they faced the many difficulties that comes with being a transgender person. The show reported that 40% of transgender people in one study had attempted suicide. What a staggering and saddening statistic! Sister Monica continues this ministry she believes is central to the gospel, even though it could get her into trouble.
‘When we try to live by the gospel we sometimes get in trouble,’ one of the nuns who worked with Sister Monica said. Maybe we get that today at Hope Lutheran Church. This gospel is a dangerous thing. It is not politically correct. It shines light on ourselves as sinners. It calls the world into judgment. And it reaches out to those not usually invited to society’s table. It is radical and at times impossible to believe. But we come to church asking, “Is it true?” Can God love me as I am? Can I be forgiven? Can I be accepted by a Christian community? And we find in our baptism, a resounding “Yes!” and a beautiful robe to wear to the banquet.