Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Proper 23 of Series A (Matthew 22:1-14)

“For many are called, but few are chosen.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is from Matthew twenty-two, the parable of the wedding feast. Dear friends in Christ, everyone loves weddings! Well, almost everyone. I’m sure there are people that haven’t enjoyed a wedding since their own, and can’t really stand being at them. Since Bethany is not here (at a wedding), you can tell her the next time that you see her that I did honestly enjoy our wedding. Wonderful sermon, good fellowship, and great food. Oh, the food! I have realized by being in a number of weddings over the past few years that the very best thing about a wedding is the food. Some of the best food I have ever tasted was at rehearsal dinners, including a steak about this big. And the food at the wedding itself is no slouch either, plus cake. Who doesn’t like cake! It is no surprise, then, that Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God as a wedding banquet in our text for today. “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.” Jewish weddings were a sight to behold, encompassing several days of joyous celebration, and more food than even a teenager could be expected to eat. Who could pass that up? Apparently, a lot of people.

God established the nation of Israel to be His chosen possession, to be the ones to carry forth His promises, to bring the Kingdom of God to fruition. This great banquet feast was set before them, the bounty of a King who loved His people. And so the call went out. God “sent His servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come.” The people of Israel, God’s chosen nation, rebelled against the God who had set them apart, and refused to come to the feast. They had much more important things to do: “Again He sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business.” God did everything He could to invite them into the feast. He made covenants with their forefathers, covenants to bless and multiply them and to give them the Promised Land. And He did deliver this promised land, after He brought them forth from bondage in Egypt and gave to them His holy Law. All they had to do was obey, and He would bless them, He would defeat their enemies before them. But the Israelites refused. They went chasing after other gods, the gods of the people into whose land they came. But the Israelites did not simply reject this message. They also rejected the messengers that carried it. “The rest seized His servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.” This is the story of the entire Old Testament, as the God who loved Israel so much sent messenger after messenger to His beloved people, and each is rejected in turn. Many were killed, culminating with the King’s own Son, Jesus Christ.

But before we begin to point the finger at Israel, we must first look at ourselves. We too have been invited to a feast, the feast of God’s Word and His sacraments here in this place. And not only in this place, but each and every day we are invited to feast on God’s Word. And what happens? God “sent His servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come… They paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business.” Does this sound familiar? We too have quite a list of excuses for not coming to God’s banquet, whether here in His house or in our homes. The cares and worries of this life hem around us, choking out any opportunity to feast on God’s Word. Work, school, financial stress, and sports all supplant God’s banquet on our list of priorities. Even the menu can often fail to entice us. In our text, the king said, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready.” God has prepared quite a feast for us here in this place, and every time that we dine with Him though His holy Word. He provides strengthening of faith, direction for our lives, and the forgiveness of sins, but we often cut ourselves off from this feast and barely survive on a spiritual starvation diet. What would we say if someone turned down a rehearsal dinner to eat a piece of moldy bread? Pretty crazy, but no less so than cutting ourselves off from God’s Word. By doing this, we are rejecting Christ’s messengers, and the message that they carry. We are showing God what we think of His invitation to dine, much as rebellious Israel did.

For Israel’s violent rejection of the prophets, those servants and messengers of God, the king must respond in kind: “The king was angry, and He sent His troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” He had a right to be angry over their rejection- over our rejection- of His good gifts. The people whom He loved so much, as a husband loves his bride, had despised Him, and for that they deserved punishment. Thus, destruction was the fate for anyone who rejects God’s gifts, all who scorn the wedding feast. As the king said in our text: “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.” For their rejection, for our rejection, we deserve to be weighed on the scale and found ‘not worthy,’ only destined for destruction.

And that would have been our fate had God not sent one final messenger to Israel and all of humanity- His very own Son, Jesus Christ. Israel treated Him as they had treated God’s other messengers: “The rest seized His servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.” Jesus Christ came preaching a message of repentance, preaching of the love of God for His rebellious creation, and for that He was hung on a cross, killed as a common criminal. But in God’s great plan for our salvation, it was only through His death that rebellious humanity could live. This is because Christ did not stay dead- He rose again victorious on the third day, and now He truly sits as the bridegroom in the banquet of heaven. Through His death and resurrection, He has won the feast for us, the feast of heaven, the Messianic banquet. Isaiah describes this in our Old Testament lesson: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” The salvation promised for us is this banquet, the wedding banquet of Christ with His Church. Here the broken marriage between God and His creation is restored, here “He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’” Because God dealt with our sin by dying on the cross, He will swallow up sin and death, He will wipe every tear from our eyes, bringing us to the heavenly banquet, the marriage feast of the Lamb who was slain, Jesus Christ Himself, the bridegroom wed to His Church, all those whom He has called.

And God’s call continues to sound forth to all people, as it once did to Israel. The King sends forth His servants to every land with this commission: “Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.” God calls us, and He does this through His Holy Word, spoken, read, and connected with means. God does the calling, but He continues to call through His chosen messengers. These men, called pastors, go forth throughout the world to preach this message to others, to be the instruments of God’s call. Moreover, all Christians are also sent out into the world to speak the Good News of Christ to those around them, and God works through their witness in words and action to extend His call to all people. Every Christian is therefore one of Christ’s messengers as they speak of the hope that is within them to all those they encounter. This call of God has power, not from the messenger who carries it, and not in the person who hears it. The Word of God has a power of its own, and it is through this Word that the Holy Spirit creates faith in the hearts of people, the faith that grasps the promises of God. The spread of the Word of God is truly a wonderful thing. “And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

And so the Church, the assembly of those called by God through the Word, has both good and bad people in it. What is the difference? We cannot see it, but the King knows. “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” Only those with the proper clothing can remain at the wedding banquet into all eternity. And what are these clothes? Isaiah tells us in our Introit for today: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” Only with the robe of righteousness, Christ’s own righteousness won on Calvary’s cross, can we sit at the wedding feast. And how does God bestow this robe? In our Baptism! In the earliest days of the Church, those who were baptized stepped into the water naked, were Baptized, and as they stepped out of the water they were clothed with a white robe. This robe declared that now Christ’s righteousness covered them, that when God looked at them He did not see a sinful human being, but instead He saw Christ and His righteousness. Whether or not you received such a physical robe on your Baptism day, the truth remains the same. In your baptism Christ covered you with His righteousness, He gave you the wedding garments that you will wear at His feast for all eternity. Cling to your Baptism through every storm in your life, for it is there that you can find the assurance that God is has clothed you with Christ’s righteousness.

Jesus concluded our parable with the words, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” We unfortunately see the truth of these words all around us. Many who are clothed with the Baptismal garments cast them off later in life, abandoning the faith and the robe of righteousness that Christ gave them. Some reject Christ without even putting on those garments. Why is this? It is only because of humanity’s sin that some reject Christ. When a person believes, the credit goes to God. But when a person rejects the wedding garments, the blame goes to that person. In the face of that we can only take confidence in Christ’s promises, not in our ourselves and our own feelings, we cling to our Baptism tightly, knowing that God is faithful to His promises, He is faithful to those whom He has claimed as His own, and we know that He will bring us to the wedding banquet, where we will dine with Him for all eternity, Amen.

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