Who Invited You? – Sermon at Lebanon UMC – October 15, 2023
Let us pray…
Our first lesson today comes from the Apostle Paul’s letter to
the Philippians, the fourth chapter, beginning with the first verse.
1 Therefore, my brothers and
sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in
this way, my beloved.
2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche
to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also,
my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in
the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my coworkers,
whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always;
again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to
everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about
anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let
your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God,
which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in
8 Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and
if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 As
for the things that you have learned and received and heard and noticed in me,
do them, and the God of peace will be with you.
And now our gospel lesson. The Gospel of our Lord and Savior
Jesus Christ, according to Saint Matthew, 22nd chapter, beginning with the
1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in
parables, saying: 2 ”The kingdom of heaven may be compared to
a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his
slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they
would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell
those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my
fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding
banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to
his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his
slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was
enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their
city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but
those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main
streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those
slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good
and bad, so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to see
the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and
he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And
he was speechless. 13 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.’ 14 For many are called, but
few are chosen.”
This is the word of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
When you think of the parables – when you think of the stories
of Jesus –what comes immediately to mind. What are your favorite parables? I think the two at the top of the list would
be the prodigal son and the Good Samaritan. You are familiar with many other
parables. Some of them are really short, you know, pithy parables and some are
longer, more detailed parables. But when you’re asked about your favorite
parables, I’m guessing that there’s not a person here that would say this one
is your favorite parable.
Indeed, when you look at the Kingdom parables, especially
those who those parables that speak of the king specifically, there’s something
about those parables that make us very uncomfortable. If they don’t make us
uncomfortable. Then we probably aren’t really hearing what the parables are saying
because they should be making us uncomfortable. If you really think about it,
for example, the Parable of the Prodigal son. (That’s the name we know it by.) We
focus on that son who goes and squanders his father’s living on Franklin Street
up in Chapel Hill, and then all that money’s gone. He comes back very repentant,
and he’s received into the waiting and loving arms of his father. And that’s where
we typically end the parable. But the parable continues. It talks about the
second son, an older son. The parable begins with the words: There was a man
with two sons. That’s what the parable is
about is, the man with two sons. The Kingdom of God is like this man.
So, when we look at today’s Kingdom parable, we see that the
Kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast. Now that’s
one thing since I’ve retired that I still get to do. Weddings, well, and
funerals. You know those two. I haven’t been invited to do baptisms, which is
sad for me, because that’s one of the things I enjoyed as a pastor: baptizing
people. Especially holding babies and baptizing them. But I still do are
Weddings today are often different from weddings 10 years ago
and 20 years ago. I officiated a wedding recently for a cousin of mine up in
Pennsylvania. It was the second wedding for both, and second weddings are often
quite different from first weddings. They tend to be a little less formal. And
this one indeed was very informal. It was held up in the mountains on an
overlook. We were in the middle of nowhere, I mean nowhere! We took dirt roads
to get up to this this point. Afterwards we came down into a park that they had
reserved for the wedding banquet and the wedding banquet consisted of barbecue
and fried chicken and pizza and potato chips. Not your typical wedding banquet,
perhaps, but a meal of celebration, nonetheless.
So, our story today is talking about how this king is ready to
throw this tremendous banquet. And of course, Jesus uses this image of the wedding
banquet as a symbol for heaven. When I think about heaven, I don’t think about
some of the other descriptions like a place with streets paved of gold. I mean,
what’s that about? You know pearly gates, that does nothing for me. But when
you start talking about heaven as a great banquet you capture my attention. I
can relate to that. Being seated amongst the redeemed. And I don’t know about
you, but you know my favorite holiday of the year is Thanksgiving. And you
know, that’s because we sit around the table, and we share together in
memories, conversation, and food.
So, here’s this, king. He’s having this wedding banquet. He’s
going to be celebrating and he sends out the invitation to remind people to
come and they don’t show up. They were given an invitation and they ignored it with
some of the flimsiest excuses. “I’m gotta go mow the grass,” “I must have an
oil change.” You know, just one thing after another. The sorriest excuses you
Now, here’s where we get into some harsh and uncomfortable
language. Some of these people are rude to the slaves that have been sent to
remind them of the invitation. Sometimes even injuring them, maltreating them,
killing them. So, the king sends soldiers to slaughter them.
Now, when I think about the life to come, I don’t want to think
about slaughter. I don’t think about that kind of destruction, and yet here it
is in the story.
When I think of Jesus I always think of the kind and loving things
he says. How he teaches us about loving the Lord, your God with all your heart,
soul, mind, and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself. This is the
great commandment. On these two hangs all the law and the prophets. That’s the
point that Jesus keeps making. We read how God is love as John writes in his
first letter. God is love, what can be more basic than that? But it’s Jesus.
this person who teaches us about the love of God who also talks about
When we get to the 25th chapter of Matthew, (we’re in the 22nd
chapter right now) but, in the 25th chapter we have that parable of how the
sheep will be separated from the goats. We
have heard earlier about the parable of the wheat and the tares. In the Book of
Revelation, we learn there will be that day when everybody would be raised
bodily and stand before our Lord, who is not only our savior, but also our
judge. The books will be opened and everything we’ve done or didn’t do will be
read aloud. Everything about our lives will be open for everybody to hear. After
that’s done and after we have heard the judgement for what we’ve done and what
we failed to do then the Book of life is opened. Those whose names are there
are brought into the life to come.
Paul talks about that in our reading from Philippians today. Paul
is urging them to be of the same mind. He asks his loyal companion to help
these women. We don’t know the name of this loyal companion. He never says
exactly who it is. He mentions those who have struggled beside him in the work
of the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my coworkers whose names
are in the Book of Life. That’s what it comes down to. Whose names are in the
Book of Life.
Paul is in jail when he writes to Philippians this wonderful
letter. We refer to it as the Epistle of Joy. He writes, “Rejoice in the Lord
always. Again, I will say, rejoice in the Lord.” So, let your gentleness be
known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but by
prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God and the peace of
God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in
How do we do that? He says, look around. He says whatever is
true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is
pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there’s any excellence, if there’s
anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Think about these things.
And you know that’s wonderful advice.
Remember what it was like at the beginning of COVID? We got an
email from the bishop saying that we were going to shut down on a certain day.
Then it was to shut down for a few weeks! My immediate reaction was to think about those
Sundays without taking up an offering. How in the world are we going to survive?
And then it turned out to be not just a few Sundays, but months, maybe years.
And I just let myself focus on something so horrible, so, so terrible and I
wasn’t seeing things that were so good and wonderful around me. I finally realized
that God was indeed at work.
Yes, that first month was horrible, but people finally
adjusted. We figured out ways for people to participate. I had an incredible
staff. We were able to put together a worship service each week. That was broadcast
mostly live with some of it prerecorded. Kevin, our music director, did these
incredible anthems and hymns by bringing in people one at a time and recording
them one at a time. He had software that put all those pieces together and he
just did a wonderful job. I couldn’t see that at the beginning. But I finally
did. And I realized that God was blessing us even in that difficult time.
Now, I want to go back for a moment to “whatever is just.” In
the Greek there is the work δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosuné) which means justice or
righteousness. We have these two words in English that come to us from
different origins. They are not exactly the same because we use them a little
differently. But basically, justice and righteousness represent the same
concept in New Testament Greek. So, Paul is asking us to focus on what is just
what is right, you know, what is righteousness? And that’s the whole point of
the story that Jesus is telling in today’s gospel text.
In today’s parable Jesus talks about a king sending his slaves
out to invite people to the marriage feast. Finally, he says, go out to the
highways and the byways and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.
And the slaves went out into the streets. They gathered all the people they
found, both good and bad. The King didn’t care if these were good people or bad
people. He didn’t care what they’ve done, did do, didn’t do. He says invite
them. They’re all invited. Invite them all. So there imagine this tremendous
banquet hall full of these people. They came from the streets, the highways,
the taverns and pubs and wherever else they were. They’re brought into this
place and the celebration begins. The music is playing.
Now, the king enters and walks around greeting people and he
comes across a man who’s not wearing a wedding garment. He stops. He says, why
is it you’re wandering around here without a wedding garment on? The man is
speechless. He doesn’t know what to say. The King orders his slaves to grab him
and throw him outside. Cast him into the outer darkness.
When I was younger, in high school, I’m thinking this is not
fair. How can it be fair? Here is this man who isn’t wearing suitable clothes.
He’s not wearing a suit or tuxedo or whatever is appropriate. He’s thrown out.
But he hadn’t planned for the invitation. Is it right to expect to have a
wedding garment? I remember something I’ve
read before. I can’t remember where. But it was the custom in those days for
royalty to provide wedding garments for those who needed them. Everybody could put on these outer garments.
Everybody could dress in fine clothes. So, this man chose not to put on the
Now, what is that garment? What does it represent? Let’s
consider two possible interpretations. Perhaps the garment represents
righteousness. Maybe it represents holiness. You might wonder what’s the
difference. But let’s consider them.
The first interpretation is that this garment represents
righteousness. By trusting in Christ, the righteousness of God is imparted to
us. This righteousness comes from a source that is not our own. We can’t earn
it and we don’t deserve it. By trusting in the grace of Jesus Christ, that
righteousness is given to us.
The second possibility is the garment represents holiness. And
that’s what Fanny Crosby is writing about in the hymn we sang earlier. This
wedding garment is holiness. The Bible says that the day will come when we will
be presented without blemish. Now I’m not there yet. But we know this. We know
that when we don’t look back and only look forward and we press on to make it
our own God will grant it. That holiness. We will stand before him on that day
without blemish. That’s what we celebrate. That’s what this wedding garment is.
Now, the King sends us to invite everybody from the highways
and byways. We are to invite them to the wedding banquet. What a wonderful task. All receive the
invitation to this celebration prepared by our Lord.
In the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Let us pray...