Monday, October 10, 2005

Sermon - Matthew 22:1-10[11-14] - Pentecost 21

21st Sunday after Pentecost – October 9th 2005
Matthew 22:1-10[11-14]
“The Wedding Planner”

I. Introduction –
Ah, weddings. Perhaps, in our culture, the grandest celebration of them all. Not the birth of a child, not graduation, no other life event brings such expectations of a big – well, party. Ok, a reception. Whatever you call it, weddings are a big deal for us Americans. So much so, for some people, that there is a whole new profession called “wedding planner”. People whose job it is to organize and plan the wedding, in all its many details. In fact there was even a recent big-budget Hollywood production called “The Wedding Planner”. Weddings have really become a “big deal”.

I wonder what God thinks of all this. I suppose some people go too far and take their wedding day over the top. But for the Christian, it seems proper for a wedding day to be a celebration. Certainly God is in favor of marriage. Even Jesus himself attended a wedding in Cana – it’s where he did his first miracle turning water into wine. And Jesus tells the parable that we read today - comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to… a wedding.

As we read it, and unpack its meaning, we will see clearly how God prepares the banquet, invites his people, and makes us ready for the festivities. For God himself is the original “Wedding Planner”.

II. The Kingdom of Heaven is Like…
“The Kingdom of Heaven is Like…” Any time Jesus uses this phrase, we know we are in for a parable. We know there will be characters and things standing for other things, and a heavenly meaning slightly hidden in the earthly story.

Here the king is, of course God. The banquet is for the wedding of his Son, Jesus. The bride is, for now, anonymous. But the wedding guests first invited are the people of Israel, the Jews. Later, other guests, gentiles are invited, and populate the wedding hall. The wedding banquet itself stands for the kingdom of heaven, the church on earth, and ultimately in heaven.

So here, God, the king, is the wedding planner. He makes everything ready. The hall, the food, (the D.J.?). And he sends out invitations. As his servants describe the event, they show that the king has spared no expense in throwing a party that would be one to remember.

One recent study claimed that Americans will spend $125 billion on 2.1 million weddings in the year 2005, for an average cost of $26,327. That’s a lot to spend – more than some people make in a year. But it pales in comparison to what God has spent preparing the wedding feast of His kingdom.

The cost for this heavenly wedding is paid in blood. The blood of Christ, that is. In reality it is not the fatted calf that is slaughtered, but the Lamb of God who is slain. Jesus crucified for sinners, this is cost of our gathering together with God. Truly the King spared no expense.

III. Those Who Ignore, Those Who Insult.
In the parable, the king had prepared a magnificent celebration, yet, shockingly, some ignored the invitation. They had better things to do – work in the field, tend to the business. How strange, how rude, ignore the king’s invitation for the monotony of everyday life. Even when they heard the lavish feast described, some simply ignored it.

Others, even worse, insulted and mistreated the messengers – and by so dishonoring the invitation enraged the king. So much so that he wiped them out, burned their city. There is no middle ground, no neutrality toward the king. Either you are at his party, joining him in celebration – or you are on the receiving end of his wrath.

This parable was told to the Jewish leaders who ignored the message of Jesus, insulted the messenger, and eventually had him put to death. Clearly here Jesus is also predicting the destruction of Jerusalem – which came true just 40 years later. But after the Jews, as a whole, rejected the Messiah, others would listen, others would be invited. The Gentiles are welcomed to the marriage feast. The kingdom, the wedding celebration must go on!

Sometimes, you and I do ignore the king. Sometimes we even insult the messenger and the message by our sin. Oh, how patient our king is with us. But the real difference between those inside and outside of the banquet hall is one of faith. Those who believe the invitation are those who receive the blessings. And they are– and we are – saved.

Through faith in Jesus Christ we are saved from the burning anger of God. We are forgiven for our inattention to his will, and indifference to his ways. God does not send his armies to destroy us, as we deserve – instead he prepares for us a rich feast. He invites us to his party. Through his word and in his sacraments, God gives us mercy, not judgment

IV. The Bride, The Robe, The Feast
This parable is special in a way. For there are some connections which are screaming to be made. They are not part of the strict meaning of this particular parable. But they are connections that we simply must make concerning the Bride, the Robe and the Feast itself.

For one, the identity of the bride. In Ephesians and in Revelation, and in other parables of Jesus, God tells us that Christ is the bridegroom and we, the Church, are the bride. It’s a profound metaphor that helps us better understand the relationship between Christ and his people. The hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation” develops this scriptural theme marvelously. “From Heaven he came and sought her, to be His holy bride, with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.” Those who say that Jesus never got married - they need to read a little more carefully. As the bride of Christ, we, the church are joined with him in a bond of love that will last even beyond death – into eternity.

This parable also has a little epilogue. The king comes in to the party and finds a man not dressed properly. As wedding customs change over time, and the attire changes too, still what seems constant is that wedding clothes are special. In our day, it’s a white dress for the bride and tuxedo for the groom and groomsmen (and usually something extremely unflattering for the bridesmaids). But in ancient times, custom held that a white robe was the only proper attire for a wedding. And if you couldn’t afford one, the host would provide the garment for you.

This is key to understanding Jesus’ meaning. For the man improperly attired was one who sought entry into the kingdom on his own. It doesn’t work that way. The king threw him out. We can only join the party if we do so wearing the robe that HE provides – and now we must draw on other scriptures again. Revelation 7 speaks of heaven’s residents wearing white robes “washed clean in the blood of the lamb”. Paul tells us to “put on Christ”, whose righteousness covers us like a garment.

While on the robe, we must also speak of baptism. There is a reason that a white robe or gown is the traditional baptismal attire. Some churches even provide the garment themselves. What a wonderful picture of the righteousness of Christ that is provides us in our baptism, which guarantees us a place in his kingdom, at His wedding banquet.

Finally, the feast. What Lutheran hears about food God has prepared without thinking of the Sacrament of the Altar – Holy Communion. For here, God prepares for us a rich feast of Christ’s own body and blood – spiritual food which nourishes our souls with the forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation. Is that what this parable is about? Yes and no.

Perhaps most directly, Jesus was speaking of the timeless celebration of simply being in his kingdom. But certainly scripture points us forward to the final banquet, the consummation of the kingdom. When Christ comes again and all his people are gathered together into the banquet halls of heaven. What a celebration that day will be.

But while we wait, here on earth, we have a “foretaste of the feast to come”. Each time we gather and kneel at his altar, and receive the sacrament, we are getting a sample of what’s in store for us one day. A glimpse, a slice of heaven, and the marriage feast of the Lamb.

Perhaps you are not married, but hope to be some day. Maybe you have already been married for many years. Or perhaps your spouse has already been called home to the Lord. Regardless - we can all celebrate here on earth the great marriage of Christ to his church – and celebrate with all the faithful one day at the great feast in heaven. Properly attired in his robe of righteousness, washed clean in the blood of Christ, receiving mercy instead of punishment. This is the feast.

And so today, as always, the invitation of the king goes forth. Come to the wedding feast. Come today. Come always. In Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.

V. Conclusion
The kingdom of heaven is like a great wedding feast – prepared by the king. What a blessing to be part of the festivities – now, and forever!

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