YOUR INVITATION IS IN THE MAIL!
The text for this sermon is Matthew 22:1-14. Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on October 12, 2008, the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The gospel lesson today is about invitations to a banquet and who responds and who does not. Our bulletin cover for today is the best place to start in understanding Jesus’ Parable of the Wedding Banquet. The man on the left is the servant of the king who has been told to go out and invite people from the streets since his originally invited guests have not responded. You know he’s a servant because he has a garment over his arm, much like a waiter might carry a towel. We in the church also see Jesus in this servant, Jesus who humbled himself and acted as a servant to wash the feet of the disciples before the Last Supper.
There are the guests. They come from the streets. One seems to be handicapped and doesn’t stand. All three seem to be giving their full attention to the one giving the invitation. One is even holding a garment and perhaps contemplating whether to put it on in order to attend the wedding banquet.
There is going to be a “rub” to this story, something that seems out of character in the usually grace-filled message of Jesus. Pastor Carol reminds me from time to time that good preaching doesn’t avoid but faces head-on those tough passages in scripture. Why are they there and what should we learn from them?
The Parable of the Banquet Table is recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke. The part about the king seeing someone without a proper garment and ordering him thrown out is only found in Matthew. Before this sermon is over today, we’re going to address Matthew’s addition, but let me first put this parable in context.
Jesus is in Jerusalem and he is taking great care to speak to the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders during the last few days of his earthly life. He will speak to them in parables that consistently lift up the theme that God wants to save his people, the Jews, but the hard-heartedness of the Jewish leaders is forcing God to seek other people to be his People. Jesus’ message is going to force the Jewish leaders to get rid of him. I believe that Jesus knew this full well and is purposefully pushing them to react.
I know about invitations. This past week we sent out a number of invitations to people for our Building Dedication and Reformation Festival on October 26th. These invitations went to folks in community government and neighbors and folks in the construction industry. Will they respond? I hope so. You and I also have received the invitation from Bishop Jim Mauney (see your October newsletter). Will we respond? I hope so!
Last week Pastor Carol and I spent a couple of days visiting my aunt and uncle in Brookville, Pennsylvania. During that visit I experienced something that is utterly amazing to me. I was able to read the journals of my grandfather, Pastor John B. Kniseley. He entered something in his journal everyday from 1916 to 1974. He went a step further and put in newspaper articles and pictures about all of us in the family, articles about births and graduations and weddings and deaths. I didn’t even know these journals existed.
He recorded my birth on May 25, 1949, and my baptism on July 10, 1949. I read the invitation he sent to my grandmother to attend his college graduation. I saw the government-issued certificate exempting him from military service in World War I because he was clergy. I saw the progress and completion in 1934 of a 3-story Christian Education Building for St. John’s Lutheran Church in Northumberland, PA. I saw his 1944 appeal letter to the congregation in Pittsburg to pay-off the mortgage on their facility that had been carried since the Depression so that the “men and women returning from military service overseas would not have to face that burden.”
In the Second Lesson today, St. Paul speaks about the Book of Life and in this letter makes the not so subtle plea for two members of the congregation, Euodia and Syntyche to start getting along better. He says they are in the Book of Life as well as Clement and other co-workers. This Book of Life is mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament and referred to 6 times in the Book of the Revelation. I’m reminded that everything we do in this life is recorded somewhere. Perhaps my grandfather’s journal is a reminder that life does matter, it does matter that we are here on earth and our lives with all the ups and downs make a difference, especially to the Lord.
Now, back to the “rub” of today’s parable: But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen (vs. 11-14).
What is this garment? Now we need to think in spiritual and theological ways. The wedding garment no doubt speaks of the righteousness that God, the gracious host, provides for all who respond to his invitation. God issues an undeserved invitation to undeserving people, and in addition provided the righteousness the invitation demands.
Some people thought the clothes they chose were the best clothes, not these host-provided garments. One pastor in our synod described his son’s tee shirt. His son is really into sports and this is what the coach had them put on their shirts: “There is no I in teamwork.” Perhaps on our heavenly garment it will simply state: Not I but Christ Jesus.
What do the final words of the parable mean: Many are called but few are chosen. Here I suggest we not hear the usual explanation of that phrase that sounds so limiting, but simply accept the literal meaning. Few are chosen (the Jews though slim in number are God’s chosen people). The many represent all the rest of us and God graciously has opened his banquet table to all the rest of us.
Please accept your invitation. Amen!