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Are You Attending the Feast on God’s Terms, or on Your Own?

+ In the Name of Jesus + Are You Attending the Feast on God’s Terms, or on Your Own? Sermon on Matthew 22:1-14 for Pentecost 20 (Pr 23) October 15, 2023
  1. It is October—but the Gospel readings for the last two Sundays and today are from Jesus’ teaching during Holy Week. They are a series of three parables that were spoken together, and should be considered together. These were spoken to the people in the temple courts, including some of Jesus’ enemies: the chief priests and Pharisee.
  2. The first was the parable of the workers in the vineyard. People were hired at different times of the day, but the owner pays them all the same—a standard days wage. Those hired first were jealous, but the master was equally generous to all. The first parable seems reasonable until the wages are paid, but the master is paying graciously, on his own terms.
  3. The second was a parable about an owner who rented his vineyard out, but the renters were greedy and didn’t want to give the profits from the fruit. They abused and killed the messengers the owner sent, and finally killed the owner’s son, hoping that the vineyard would become theirs.  Here, the master is normal and reasonable, but the renters are disregarding the master’s terms and operating on their own, thinking they can get away with it all.
  4. In this week’s parable, the son is alive again, and the King invites people to his son’s wedding banquet.[1] Some refuse to come outright. Some find different things to do when they hear the invitation. Still others react violently to the invitation. So the King invites anyone who can be found to fill his banquet hall. Still, someone tries to come in on his own terms.
  5. All three are about how the Gospel is a matter of dealing with God on God’s terms. God’s grace is about his economy, his business, how he wants to act with people. God’s work is about his mission, what he wants done, and what he wants his people to do.
  6. Let’s look now at this parable, a parable about an invitation. This is something that is familiar even to us in our culture, some 2,000 years removed from Jesus’ time. We still have weddings and invitations and receptions. But this is a King’s invitation. This is a royal wedding. And the banquet is even described for us. “…I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.”  This was at time when meat was reserved for high feasts. This was something special. Who wouldn’t want to go? The refusal of the first group is unreasonable—even rude because it is the refusal of a King’s invitation. The refusal of the second group was insulting because they found other things to do. Those things are more important than a King’s invitation? Surely not! Some of this seems to be a replay of the parable of the renters in the vineyard who abuse the messengers and kill them. The King’s terms are gracious reasonable. The people’s response is not.
  7. The wedding invitation is the gospel. “Come, follow me,” Jesus says.  “Come to me and I will give you rest,” Jesus says. “Be of good cheer! Your sins are forgiven!” Jesus says. “Do not let your heart be troubled. I am going to prepare a place for you,” Jesus says. “Believe in me and have eternal life,” Jesus says. That’s the invitation. That’s the gospel. Who wouldn’t want to go? Who wouldn’t want what Jesus gives? But as it is in the parable, some refuse outright. Some find other things they think are more important. Some take offense at the thought they need forgiveness. Some take offense at the thought of an eternal reward that is freely given and not earned.
  8. Then there’s that guy—the guy in the overalls, fresh from the barnyard, who comes into the wedding banquet. He didn’t change or spruce himself up for the occasion. What does that represent in the parable? For a long time, I thought “This must be a separate parable.” Now I see, this is part of the same parable, and his problem is the same as the others—only instead of refusing to come, he comes, but without any intention of changing. “Aren’t I good enough ‘Just as I am’?” He is coming on his own terms. The host wants you to enjoy the better things he has for you. Approach God on his terms. Leave everything of yours behind. Put on and take in everything he has to give. An old communion prayer I remember said: “Take off from them the spotted garment of the flesh and of their own righteousness, and adorn them with the  garment of the merit purchased with your blood”(Liturgy and Agenda, 1921).
  9. Today’s Second Reading sounds like it’s a couple weeks early—it sounds like a reading for Reformation. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  By faith we are righteous. We are righteous because of God’s invitation, and because of his pronouncement—that he counts us as holy because of the holiness of Jesus. Paul said that earlier in Romans:  But now, completely apart from the law, a righteousness from God has been made known. The Law and the Prophets testify to it. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all and over allwho believe. In fact, there is no difference, 23 because all have sinned and fall short of the gloryof God 24 and are justifiedfreely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:21-24). We are God’s children because he has invited us, cleansed us, and clothed us with Christ (Galatians 3:27). These are his terms—his most gracious invitation, his most gracious sacrifice, his most tender work, reaching down to us to lift us up to him.
  10. “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”  Hear and cherish God’s invitation. Hear and cherish the love of your God, preached to you. Hear, cherish, and welcome Jesus, the heavenly bridegroom, but also the greatest messenger of that love, yes, he himself is that living Word, displaying the love of God in all of his life. Come to the banquet. Appetizers are served here weekly. The main courses are yet to come.  
[1] In The Peoples’ Bible: Matthew, the authors take this as a prophetic hint of Jesus’ resurrection.

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