October 9, 2011
Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer, amen.
Today in our gospel reading, we come to the end of a trilogy…a trilogy of parables, that is. The past two weeks we have heard Jesus telling parables, and today is no different….but as we hear about this king and the wedding feast he prepares, it is helpful if we hear it in the context of the other parables.
This section started off with the chief priests and the elders questioning Jesus’ authority. Jesus shares a parable about the two sons and a father who asked them to work in the vineyard. One says he will, but then decides not to, and the other says he won’t but changes his mind and does end up working that day. A challenge for those in authority to hear that tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the kingdom before they will.
The second parable we heard last week. About the absentee vineyard owner who sends slaves to collect the rent…the slaves are beaten and killed….so the owner sends his son. The tenants of the vineyard treat the son the same way, in hopes that by killing the heir, they will inherit the vineyard.
After this parable, the chief priests and Pharisees realize that Jesus is talking about them. They want to arrest Jesus, but have a fear of the crowds, so they do not.
Today’s parable follows those two…and speaks about this wedding banquet that a king prepared for his son. Those surrounding Jesus, especially the chief priests and the Pharisees, know that this is directed at them. They would have heard that God has prepared and elegant banquet for his Son, but those who were invited have chosen not to attend. For whatever reason, they are not going to the banquet. So the king has sent his slaves out to the main streets to gather whomever they can find to come to the banquet. In the Greek, the word for main streets translates more as cross roads, not necessarily the main streets in town, but the cross roads where the main roads diverges to other cities. These slaves are being sent out, out of the city, out of the inner circle, to see who they can find to invite. And…they invited both the bad and the good. (Get that….everyone is invited! Everyone!)
But then comes the unsettling part of this parable. In the midst of the celebration, there is one guest who is not clothed appropriately. In Jesus’ time, at special banquets and celebrations, clothing was available at from the host, so everyone would be dressed appropriately. Kind of like those fancy restaurants where a jacket is required…they usually have a few on hand in case the diners didn’t know the dress code in advance. Yet this one guest just doesn’t’ have the robe, and doesn’t have a reason for not having one either. He’s speechless.
So the king has him bound and thrown into the outer darkness…where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth….the gospel of the Lord?
Really? This is the last parable in this trilogy? Again, here I am looking for the happy ending…and this guy has been thrown out of the banquet because many are called but few are chosen. Ugh.
But think about this. You’ve been at a party where someone is not having a good time. They came to the wedding and they are at the reception, but they are a bump on a log. They are not happy. And you just can’t seem to get them to have a good time. They don’t want to dance, they don’t want to talk, they’d rather just sit there. The joy is there….the fun surrounds them….but they don’t see it…or don’t want to let it break into their hearts….and change them.
But I’m here to tell you that God’s joy will win out in the end.
All of these parables speak to us, about the kingdom of God. When we think about the kingdom of God we often think about what happens after we die. We think about heaven…..and hell. We wonder what will happen after we die….or where we will end up.
If you’re looking for the difference between heaven and hell, here it is. In hell, there is a huge feast laid out on the table, but everyone's knives and forks are so long that they can't get the food to their own mouths. Struggle as they may, in the face of all this food, they starve.
In heaven, the story is almost exactly the same. There is a wonderful feast laid out. The knives and forks are so long that you can't get your food to your own mouth. The difference is that, in heaven, the people stop trying to feed themselves and instead use their long knives and forks to feed each other. No problem!
Now…take that next step with me. The kingdom of God is here and now. No, seriously it is.
So how are we called to live in the kingdom here and now?
How are we called to be embraced by God’s love and joy?
How does the joy of God break into our hearts….and shine forth in what we do and say?
Here are a few examples:
“Tonight I lectured on my passion! Assistive Technology. I do this every week in the Fall but tonight I felt my passion speaking out as I taught six students how to write by scanning using a switch to type a sentence 1 letter by 1 letter on an onscreen keyboard. I thank God every day that he gave me this passion and joy is sharing it. One day I will help kids succeed in their school and environment again. But until that day I will continue to watch people become amazed at what the possibilities are. I love assistive technology!!!”
Can you feel that passion? Can you feel God’s joy breaking through the heart of this person? Can you see the joy? It’s here and now.
This past week, I had the opportunity to visit a parishioner at the hospital. The first day I visited was his birthday. Due to his liquid only diet, he did not get the hospital birthday cupcake :( nor did he get to go to Shady Maple Smorgasbord for his free birthday meal. I was there as 3 staff came in to get an x-ray and they were laughing and talking with all of us, and genuinely enjoying their vocation.
I got to visit again the next day and the wife of the patient said, "You know what one of the nurses did, Pastor?" "No...." I replied.
She said, "The nurse called Shady Maple to see if the hospital could send a note so he could get his free meal when he gets out of the hospital. The restaurant said no, they used to do that but too many people worked the system that they had to stop."
But the nurse took that extra time.....to see beyond herself, to see the patient as more than just a patient, but as someone in community with her. There is love, there is joy and there is abundance here and now.
Can you see it?
How are you called into daily vocation, living your life in the kingdom…at the wedding banquet here and now… sitting at a bountiful table, surrounded by God’s blessings of family and friends, of food and shelter, of companionship and support….how are you feeding others around you?
C.S. Lewis writes in his book, The Great Divorce, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell . No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”
No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it….
Look for those ways to see God at work through you.
Tell others about those amazing experiences.
Share that joy in your heart, in your life and in your community.
And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen.