Sermon for Sunday, 11 October 2020
By Revd George Mwaura
Isaiah 25:1–9 and Matthew 22:1–14
An invitation that demands our response
Living God, we thank you for sending us your word with power over the years making this church a green pasture where the souls are nourished and healed in Jesus’ name.
In less than two months’ time, we will enter the season of goodwill and gift sharing. But some of the gifts we receive have a way of changing our lifestyles.
A friend of ours told us a story of how their granddaughter was given a pair of rabbits against the family wishes and advice. Now, no household can take in a pet and go on with life as usual; absolutely not. Certain changes are inevitable. In fact, the rabbits in question had to be returned after some time, because their care was beyond the capability of a child.
But consider an even more humongous lifestyle change like having a baby. Suddenly, life is turned upside down. Gone are the days of carefree living. Gone are the nights of uninterrupted sleep. Soon you are yawning all the time and the fridge is filled with jars of juice, milk, and other foreign baby formulas. Please do not misunderstand me. The gift of a baby is precious beyond all measure, but there is no denying that it is a gift which calls for some serious, and thoughtful responses from its recipients
Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast and the guest without a wedding garment calls us to consider a similar kind of gift – one that claims our response and necessitates adjustment in our lifestyle. That gift is the invitation by Christ to participate in the Kingdom of God; to seek and enjoy that condition of life where faith, hope, and love are celebrated and practised.
Jesus said that the offer to participate in this Kingdom is like being invited to a wedding feast. Some people make all kinds of excuses for not accepting the invitation. Perhaps they know that if they accept the invitation they will be obliged to respond appropriately. In today’s parable, the king who was giving the marriage feast invited anybody and everybody when his so-called friends snubbed him and failed to show up. As people often do when there is a free meal, the new guests arrived in large numbers. And what a feast it was! Not your usual Burger King, kebabs, or take-away fish and chips: no sir! There was only caviar, shrimps, oxtail soup, prime ribeye steak and gallons upon gallons of sauvignon blanc!
Shortly after the guests arrived, the king made his appearance, thinking to himself: these may not be the people I thought would be here, but at least they have responded and honoured me. They have saved me from the embarrassment of a full table and nobody with whom to enjoy it. So, the king began to mingle as any good host would do. As he walked around the banquet hall, he came upon a fellow who had not bothered to put on the wedding tunic given for the occasion. The king stopped in front of this fellow and asked, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without the proper attire?’ Silence fell throughout the hall – the poor fellow stared tongue tied. Without hesitation, the king had the man thrown out.
Jesus then concluded the story with a comment about many being called but few being chosen. It is a very loaded statement.
For years, this parable troubled me. It troubled me because I did not understand it. It seemed to be a puzzling story of ruthless judgment, where a poor fellow was badly treated for a minor breach of protocol. Surely the king overreacted I thought to myself! Besides, the Gospel tell us we should not judge others based on appearances.
But further research into the social customs of Jews in Jesus’ day brought to light a fact that has changed my understanding of the parable. It still bothers me even now, but for different reasons. You see, in Jesus’ day, when a king or any influential person gave a marriage feast, the host also provided wedding garments for all who attended. These loose-fitting tunics were worn over regular clothing and were distributed to the guests as they arrived. The host’s expectation was that the invited guests would slip on the garments before entering the banquet hall. Jesus’ audience would have fully understood and appreciated this social protocol.
Given this explanation, then, you’ll see that the guest who was thrown out was not a victim after all. He was a callous and ungrateful person who took what was offered but failed to show appreciation and respect. He had been honored with an opportunity to be part of a royal feast – but he refused to put on the appropriate tunic provided by the host.
This is both good news and bad news for you and me. The good news is that we are all invited into the Kingdom of God to join the party. The bad news is that some of us will be ashamed of the way we look when we get there. We will be ashamed, not because our appearance is unacceptable, but because we took the grace and generosity of God for granted. Instead of responding with appropriate changes in our lifestyles and actions, we will have tried to enjoy the feast of God’s grace on our own terms- without bothering to put on the wedding garment. The invitation into the Kingdom of Heaven always demands our response. God’s grace is free, yes, but it is not cheap, and we are called to respond to what we have been given and to do so in ways that show our thanksgiving for the Giver of all good gifts.
The connection between this parable and the nature of the Church is inescapable. It raises some disturbing questions about our understanding of the Church’s calling. Questions about what it means to be a member, to belong. You see, being inside the banquet hall is not sufficient by itself; no, no. It is only the first step. The real issue for us has to do with remaining open to the continuing change and growth which God expects in return for the gift of Salvation. And Salvation, my good friends, is not a product we possess; Salvation is a process in which we participate. It is a process of responding daily in service to God and our neighbours to the abundance and richness of God’s grace.
The wonder of the process is deepened by the realisation that God never expects us to respond with what we do not have: never! For example, God does not expect me to sing solos every morning on a Sunday (and for that we can all be eternally grateful) That’s why we have the choir! God does not expect you or me to add an hour to every day in order to have the time to do God’s work and serve our neighbour; no! God does not expect you or me to borrow money in order to give it away to charity, oh no! God, however, does expect us to be channels of the grace we have received. That means we respond not as an afterthought with leftover time, leftover energy, leftover money, but we respond with what the Bible calls our first fruits. In other words, God asks only for the wedding garment of faith and love to be put on by all who come to the party. And the garment itself is God’s own gift.
I would like to think that all of us are eager to put on that garment of grateful response. But if we have put them on, we still must be attentive to the garment’s condition. It’s easy to become so involved with enjoyment of the feast through the years of our lives that we forget to check the condition of the garment every now and then to see whether it’s wearing a little thin here or there, or whether some repair or mending is needed. Our response to the invitation is never finished; it only changes character from time to time as our circumstances change. The need to respond is equally strong in every stage of life. Friends, the feast of the kingdom has commenced, and invitations are extended every day. And along with the invitation, God provides the garment of response. God even sends us the Spirit who continually urges us on saying: go on, put it on, put it on. I pray you will.