A Sense of Urgency

This parable about a wedding banquet gone wrong is a bizarre story (Matthew 22:1-14). Matthew, our gospel writer, extends Jesus’ parable, adding even more dire twists and turns because, scholars believe, Matthew is trying to convey to his audience, and to us, that there is no time to waste. The time is urgent. The time is now. It’s time for everyone to believe in the good news that God has sent His Son, Jesus, as the Messiah.

The more urgent question is – How will we respond?

In its actual setting, Jesus tells this parable while in Jerusalem, with the end of his life in sight. He tells this parable in the context of a debate.

Yes, Jesus is in a debate—about the kingdom of God!

The religious leaders are messing around doing intellectual gymnastics with the topic of the kingdom of God—as if it’s some small matter. “So, Jesus tells (the religious leaders and) us a story to remind us that the kingdom of God is the central question of our lives. This kingdom of God…our response to the grace of God and how we live in obedience to that love and grace – are the most important things in our lives and are not some little side bet issues…This kingdom of God is the central life-deciding issue for all of us.” (Rick Brand, ‘A Black Tie Affair”, preached Oct 13 1996, cited in Pulpit Resource, 2014, p.12)

So, What’s Your Excuse?

The invitations have been sent. The banquet is ready. The servants go out and call, “Come!” It’s time for those on the guest list to get to this great party, the feast that the king is throwing in honor of his son!

But we’re told some who were invited made light of the king’s invitation and would not come. Many others were responsible people who were truly busy. They didn’t have the time to attend.

This should make us catch our breath here! The invitees were so stuck in their daily life demands and schedules, that nothing could change their routine—even God’s joyous invitation. Isn’t that something?! Hmmmm….

How easy it is for us to decline invitations to joyous events, including this one.

We’re busy.

We are all too busy tending to the things that define us! Everything just depends on if it fits into my schedule or not. How tragic for us!

This party, this wedding banquet, will be epic! It’s the celebration that will be talked about for years to come. This is not one of those parties you’ll have to drag yourself to go to. This one will be a blast! This is the one you could have had on your calendar—circled and highlighted and anticipated—like no other party you’ve ever been to. The food. The celebration. The king and his son.

To not attend this party because it’s not convenient? What a missed opportunity! What a regrettable mistake you are making for yourself. How sad. Not only that, to decline this invitation is to disrespect and not honor the king who is throwing this great celebration for his son and his kingdom in the first place.

Lord, forgive us when we are full of excuses. Forgive us when we blow off Your invitation. Your kingdom banquet is starting now! Help us make our participation in your kingdom front and center in our lives.

Extending the Guest List

Thankfully, a different piece of good news in this parable arises when the king decides to extend the guest list. Now literally everyone is invited to this party! The king continues his urgent, passionate search to fill his banquet hall.

One coolest characteristics of parables is that they don’t need us to identify with only one set of characters in a story. We can now heed the warning about excuses and try put ourselves in the second round of those whom the king seeks. The king is going to keep moving forward.

I marvel in this parable that the king turns and invites everyone to the feast—the good and the bad. I don’t know which category of people you see yourself in today, but what a remarkable banquet this has become!

Everyone from the main streets is invited. Everyone. Now the hall is filled with people who look like me and people who do not. People who act like me and people who do not. People who think like me and people who do not. And here we all are. Not deserving of any of this free food and drink at this grand kingdom event hosted by the king to honor his son.

If the king in this parable is God, isn’t it amazing how persistent God is in reaching out to humanity? The king sends his messengers out over and over again with the invitation and the good news!

This king, our God, will not give up. And that is good news not just for us, but for others as well.

We are all here because of an outrageous, gracious, urgent and compelling invitation. How extraordinary!

But there are implications to this event of feasting and rejoicing. A warning remains.

The Wedding Robe

After he arrived, one guest has no excuse for not wearing the appropriate wedding celebration attire. While we can think in our minds—well, of course, that’s totally unfair of the king to pick on this person! Gosh, he just came in off the street for this party. Of course, he’s just wearing what he or she has on when they were invited!

This is where the parable gets stretched pretty far, but remember, Matthew is trying to impress upon early Christians that their answer to the call of the kingdom of God is urgent and important. So, I found this fellow preacher’s insight to be what spoke to me at this point. Here’s what he thought: “God’s gracious invitation always comes to us as we are, but we need to come not as we were. Grace is free, but it is not cheap. It involves change—repentance. (We) insiders are always tempted to take God lightly—to assume once at the table we can stay as we are.” (“Sorry, I’m Busy”, Rev. Dr. Elton Richards, Day 1 Sermon, Sunday October 13, 1996, p. 3)

The king wants those at the banquet who want to be there. What the guest is wearing reflects where their heart is.

It’s one thing to be in attendance. We are here today, in attendance, by virtue of our baptism. We are welcomed into God’s kingdom and into the celebration of this community that’s gathered by the king.

But when we each were baptized in Christ Jesus, the old was washed away and we were dressed anew.

We were, and we are, clothed in Christ Jesus, God’s only Son, our Lord.

By God’s grace, are we remembering each day that we are clothed in him? Do we remember we are forgiven of our sins? Do we wear the fruits given to us by the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control?

Look within and ask—are you mindful that you are in this kingdom to celebrate and party as you’ve hoped and longed to do?

Are you aware that you are robed in Christ’s mercy?

And are you mindful that you are now also clothed so that others can see by your actions that they too can be welcomed and changed by the king?

Open Seats

I hope and pray today that we all pause to lay down our excuses. I pray that we look up and around and give thanks that we, along with everyone out on any street, are invited to be included in this banquet. But I also hope that the mercy, compassion, forgiveness and joy of the Lord so clothes us in all the days ahead, that the whole world can see what it looks like to belong to the Kingdom of God with the life-saving joy that kingdom brings.

And isn’t it great that there are still open seats at this celebration!

Thanks be to God! Amen.

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