Monday, October 13, 2008

Pentecost 22 Sermon -- Matthew 22:1-14 (LSB Proper 23A)

October 12, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus said]: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come.”

What ungrateful people the king in the parable has! He holds a wedding feast for his son, but doesn’t limit the guest list to the elite of society. Instead, he invites people of all walks of life to the banquet. Everything is prepared for a full blowout. The king sends his servants out to gather in the guests with the message: “I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.” No expenses have been spared, but there is also no charge for the guests to attend. The king wants his people to come and join the celebration.

But what do we hear about these wedding guests? Jesus says: “They would not come.” Their desire ran contrary to the king’s desire to celebrate his son’s marriage. Yet, the reaction of the invited guests is worse than their non-attendance. The worse thing is the reasons given, what the invited guests occupy themselves with instead of gathering at the king’s palace for the great banquet.

Listen again to what Jesus says about the invitees’ rejection of the king’s graciousness: “They paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.” Note what the people occupy themselves with instead of attending the banquet. Some go to the fields or to the store, involving themselves with menial tasks, working instead of enjoying a night of leisure. Others are even worse: they actually take the people who bring the invitation and reject it in front of them and then proceed to kill the messengers. There is the full refusal of both what the king offers and the authority he has.

Like last week’s parables, this story of Jesus is a statement of judgment against the people of Israel. The invited guests who refuse to attend the wedding feast are the former people of God, those whom the Lord had delivered and with whom He had made a covenant. But when the One who would fulfill that covenant came and accomplished what was necessary for eternal life, the Jews rejected Him and His servants. Their outright hostility toward the Lord God would not be forgiven. Their invitations were pulled, and in the imagery of the parable, the king’s wrath was visited upon them: “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.”

But what wasn’t ruined by the ungrateful people was the wedding feast. It still takes place. Recall what the king says to his servants: “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.” The king will have guests at his son’s wedding. And he will ensure that other people will get an invitation, be made worthy, be brought to celebrate with his son and to receive his graciousness. Jesus’ words describe the mission of the Church, the reason why He sent His apostles out to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that [He] commanded [them].” His Father wants people as His guests to eternally enjoy what He has to give them.

So you have been invited to the wedding feast of Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father. The Lord God’s servants have brought that invitation to you, bringing you the wonderful news that you have a place at the divine table, a spot reserved in Paradise for you. The Eternal Father is gracious and wants you to share in it. And even though you may not descend from the people who exited Egypt and entered the Promised Land, you have been welcomed by the Lord God into the new covenant. You have been considered worthy of receiving an invitation from Him to partake in the salvation that His Son has achieved.

The focus of the Wedding Feast Parable is on what is yet to happen. There is an “end times” aspect of it. The wedding feast is a description of everlasting life and being in the presence of the Lord God for eternity. Jesus’ story provides us with the language that we use in our prayer: “Gather us together, we pray, from the ends of the earth to celebrate with all the faithful the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end.” Where the Risen and Ascended Jesus is united with His people for eternity, there the wedding banquet takes place.

But there is also a present reality that this parable reflects, a lesson for you to learn for the here and now. Entrance into the heavenly wedding feast begins on earth. The invitation is given to you during your earthly lives. And there is a present-day response to that invitation that is to be seen by the guests. All the rejection that was shown by the first guests took place in time: the people of Israel had been delivered; they entered Canaan; they were spoken to by the prophets; the promised Christ did arrive, even though they refused to accept Him. These are realities that took place in history, in the earthly lives of the Israelites.

The same happens to you. You have been delivered out of spiritual slavery by Holy Baptism. You have been made clothed with Christ and His righteousness, connected to His death and resurrection. That is “the invitation to the feast,” the giving of the “wedding garments” to wear. You are part of the Lord God’s kingdom. And not only that has happened, but you have also had servants of the Heavenly King come and speak to you, to invite you to attend other events that the Lord God has planned and held. But what do you do with those invitations? What is your response to them? Those are questions that need to be asked and answered. By doing so, you find yourself in the parable.

Christians rightly speak about the Lord’s Supper as “a foretaste of the feast to come,” a sort of preview of the wedding feast that the Eternal Father will provide for the Church, the bride of His Son. Yet you know that the invitation to participate in this present banquet often goes unheeded. You know of people who reject that invitation, who absent themselves from the banquet. You may know how you fit that description. And the reasons are not much different than those listed in the parable: “They paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.”

What Jesus describes in the story happens when people become so occupied with other matters that they “pay no attention” to what He has for them. And it’s not just missing a couple of Divine Services here and there, but a habit that develops. Even worse is the outright hostility that some have to the message and messengers of the Lord God, an animosity that arises which cuts the people off from what He has to offer through His chosen means of the preached Scripture, the washing of water and the word, the declaration of forgiveness, and the reception of the holy meal. Such hostility leaves no second chance. Just as in the parable, those who are negligent with the invitation miss out on the banquet and those who reject the invitation suffer divine wrath. This is the full impact and result of unbelief.

But what is promised to those who take the invitation and act upon it? There is an even greater fate, a wonderful outcome. You heard it spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” That is what you have been invited to: not just a feast that fully satisfies, but a removal of everything that harms and plagues you, that causes you sorrow and grief.

The wedding feast that Jesus talks about is the fulfillment of everything that Isaiah prophesied. All of it is meant for you, His people. It is meant for you who have been invited to share in everything that He has earned. It is meant for you who have been chosen by the Eternal Father and made worthy by His Son to share in His graciousness. It is your destiny, set for you in the future at the end of this age when all that is transient passes away.

But there is the present reality that needs to be considered. Jesus wants you to take His story to heart, so that you do not miss out on what His Father has in store for you. It is with purpose that He sent His servants “to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.” The clothing of Christ’s righteousness has been deliberately given to you, in order to bring you to the heavenly banquet. But none of that will be of value, if the first words of Jesus’ parable apply to you: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come.” The wedding feast will still go on, but invited guests will be missing.

Rather than missing out, the Lord God desires you speak the words that Isaiah gave to His people: “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.” Those words will be spoken by those who heed the invitation in the present day, by those who are given the wedding garments in baptism, by those who gather where the Lord’s words are spoken, by those who locate themselves where the Lord feeds His people on earth. May that describe you, who have once again been invited to the wedding feast.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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