Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity - Mt 22:1-14

                                                                                                Trinity 20
                                                                                                Mt 22:1-14

            The television series “St. Elsewhere” ran for six seasons from 1982 to 1988.  It told the story of doctors, nurses and staff at the urban Boston teaching hospital St. Eligius.  The show had a strong ensemble cast that included actors such as Denzel Washington.  It had critical success, earning thirteen Emmy awards for its writing, acting and directing.
            I remember it as an interesting show that I enjoyed watching … until the very end of the very last episode. Like all television series St. Elsewhere eventually came to an end.  Viewers tuned in to the last episode to see how the show would bring all of the stories lines to a conclusion. What they saw was surprising and disappointing.  In the very last scene they learned that St. Eligius was actually a miniature building in a snow globe that an autistic boy looked at, and that the entire series had apparently been nothing more than the working of his own imagination.  Nothing the viewer had watched for the last six years had actually happened. 
            The ending to Jesus’ parable this morning is also surprising, and doesn’t seem like a particularly satisfying one.  Just when things seem to have turned out well, we learn about a very bad outcome, and then it ends.  Yet in fact, the parable is an encouraging word about God’s grace that we have received through Jesus Christ.  And it is also a reminder that God’s grace produces a life of faith in believers.
            The parable in the Gospel lesson this morning is actually the third in a series of three parables that Jesus told during Holy Week, and by the time we arrive at our parable it is quite clear what is happening.
            First Jesus told about a man who had two sons.  He told them both to go and work in his vineyard. The first said he wouldn’t, but then later changed his mind and did. The second said he would, but didn’t actually do it. Our Lord asked the Jewish religious leaders, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They responded that the first did. And Jesus then said to them, "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” Jesus told the leaders that believing tax collectors and prostitutes would be saved rather than the supposedly reputable who rejected.
            Next Jesus told a parable about a vineyard. The owner leased it to tenants and went to live in another country.   When it was time to harvest the fruit he sent servants to get his share.  However the tenants beat and killed them.  So the owner sent his own son, and they killed him too.  Our Lord asked, “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”
            Jesus responded, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.”
            Now in our text, Jesus tells a third parable.  He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.”  This was not just any wedding banquet.  It was for the king’s son.  And we need to recognize that these people had not just been invited.  They had indicated that they were coming. All was now ready, and that is why the king was sending servants to tell them to come.  However, the people had the audacity to refuse.
            Yet surprisingly, the king still wanted them to come.  In fact he sent some more servants and said, “Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.”  The king sent more servants urging them to come to the sumptuous meal he had prepared.
            However they paid no attention as they went off to their field and business. The rest even seized the king’s servants, mistreated them and killed them.  Finally, enough was enough. The king was enraged, and sent his army which destroyed those people and burned their city.
            Next, the king said to his servants, “The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.” Jesus added that, “The servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
            After the previous two parables, our Lord’s point is clear.  He is teaching about the kingdom of heaven – that is, the kingdom of God – the reign of God that had arrived in Jesus. God’s saving work was at its critical moment during Holy Week. And yet, the religious leaders were rejecting it. They were rejecting Jesus. We learn in the verse just before our text that they were looking for a way to arrest Jesus.  Very soon they would set in motion a plan to kill him.
            They were rejecting God’s saving work.  Their rejection would bring Jesus to Pontius Pilate, and then to a cross. They would mock him saying, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
            Jesus showed that he was the faithful Son of God by remaining on the cross. He carried out the Father’s will by dying for your sin.  And then on the third day, the Holy Spirit raised him from the dead.
            Many in Israel may have rejected Jesus. But that could not stop God’s grace.  It could not stop God’s undeserved love.  That’s what this morning’s parable teaches us.  It has now been extended to others. It has been shared with you – with Gentiles who were not part of God’s covenant people. It has been shared with you who are sometimes good, but quite often are among the bad – with you who are sinners.  You have not loved God with all that you are.  You have not loved your neighbor as yourself.  Yet because of Jesus Christ you now have a seat at the feast of salvation – at the marriage feast of the Lamb that has no end.
            However, this morning’s parable does not stop there.  Instead, the ending holds in store a disconcerting surprise.  The king came in to see the guests, and he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, “Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?” The man was speechless. He was in the wrong and there was no defense that could be made. Then the king told the attendants, “Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
            The king’s gracious and unexpected invitation had brought the man to the banquet.  Yet now the king ordered him to be bound and thrown out.  It’s not what we expect.  It doesn’t make for a pleasant ending to the parable.  So what is happening here? 
            To answer this we must consider the wedding clothes that the man was not wearing.  In the Scriptures clothes can be used as a metaphor for good and righteous behavior.  The man was at the banquet, but he wasn’t adorned with the wedding clothes that he knew he should be.  In other words, he was receiving the gift of God’s kingdom, yet his life did not in any way reflect this fact. 
            Martin Luther put it this way when he preached on this text: “From this we easily understand what it means that this man was without wedding clothes, namely, that he was without the new finery with which we please God, which is faith in Christ, and thus also without true good works.  He remains in the old rags and tatters of his own fleshly opinion, unbelief and security, without repentance and knowledge of his misery. His heart does not take comfort from the grace of Christ, nor does he improve his life; he seeks nothing more in the Gospel than what the flesh desires.”
            The invitation to the banquet was based solely on the king’s good will.  He sent out his servants to the main roads to invite all they could find – both good and bad.  And so it is that by God’s grace you have received his saving reign.  God has given you forgiveness and salvation by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, and not by works.
            But God has not called you to faith so that you can remain the same.  He has called you to live in ways that are produced by faith – ways that are righteous and good.  This is actually no different than when Jesus responded in his second parable, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.”
            You are not saved by these things, but where saving faith it present it will do these things.  Jesus Christ put your needs first, and so now put the needs of others before ourselves.  Jesus Christ sacrificed himself for you, and so now make sacrifices for the sake of your husband or wife; your son or daughter; your father or mother.  In these ways faith adorns us with the wedding clothes of those whom God has invited to the banquet.
            In order to make this possible – in order to sustain you in this new way of life – Christ again now invites you to the banquet he hosts here.  He invites you to the foretaste of the feast to come.  He gives you his true body and blood to nourish the new man within in you.  In this way you have the assurance of your place at the feast that will have no end. And by this God enables you to wear wedding clothes here and now.


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