Monday, October 13, 2008

Sermon - Pentecost 22 - Matthew 22:1-14

Matthew 22:1-14
Pentecost 22
“Come to the Feast”

Today we come to another kingdom parable of Jesus, and this one uses the picture of a wedding feast. As usual, the earthly story has a heavenly meaning – here are both words of law and judgment but also grace and mercy. Here again, Jesus points us to the Gospel, and the free gift of salvation he offers, which he won for us at the cross. Let's take a closer look at the parable of the wedding feast.

As usual, the stories Jesus tells capture our imagination. The king throws a feast for his son's wedding. He invites the guests, but strangely, they don't come. You'd think they would be honored. You'd think they would come quickly and joyfully to the feast – not just any wedding, but a royal wedding – an invitation from the king himself! But some ignore the invitation – we aren't told why. Then the king invites them again, and they find better things to do – tending the farm, minding the shop. Even more bizarre, some mistreat the servants bearing the invitation and even kill them. Talk about “don't kill the messenger!”

Here the heavenly meaning is clear. God the Father, the king, sends invitations of grace and mercy, not to a literal wedding feast, but to faith in his Son. And here, Jesus summarizes the history of God's chosen people – who repeatedly ignored his grace and mercy, and even mistreated and killed the prophets. Soon their mistreatment of God's messengers would reach its apex as they put the very Son of God to death. They would even kill the Apostles, all of whom met violent death except for St. John.

And so, Jesus predicts the destruction of ancient Jerusalem, which came to pass nearly 40 years later. In 70 A.D. The Roman general Titus sacked the city, and dispersed the Jews from their homeland. The very temple of God was destroyed. Jesus knew it would happen. It was the punishment of God upon a people who, as a whole, rejected his repeated calls to faith, and finally refused to hear the good news of his son. But it is a mere shadow of the final destruction in store for all who reject the Christ in this life – a foretaste of the condemnation and wrath to be revealed on the day of judgment.

So the king turns to others, inviting anyone and everyone to come to the feast. Here we have the invitation to the Gentiles. The Gospel is free and freely preached to all people – rich and poor, men and women, young and old, from all tribes and languages. And so we have seen the good news of Jesus Christ touch every corner of the world. Most of us have come to the kingdom only through this world-wide invitation, and thank God for that. For now we enjoy the blessings of his banquet, the lavish food of his feast.

What about the garment? In ancient wedding custom, appropriate dress for such a high occasion included a special garment which was provided by the host. To reject it was to reject the host's generosity and favor, and would have been a social insult. The man seemed to accept the invitation, but in reality didn't. So the king treats the man harshly who was found without proper attire. He had no excuse for his lack of wedding garment.

The garment reminds us of the robe of Christ's righteousness each of us has received in Holy Baptism. There he covers our sin with his grace and mercy, which keeps us our whole life through. When, at Christian funerals, the body of our loved one is brought here to God's house, a white pall – a garment – drapes the casket, to signify that robe of righteousness.

And we do well to receive this garment. For too often we are tempted to think our own clothes will do. But the filthy rags of our own good works do not make us presentable. Only what he provides will do. Only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are we made righteous and holy. Our own works are simply a response to his goodness, but they don't earn us a thing. Salvation is a free gift. The invitation of the king is without cost.

And what Lutheran could read a story of a great feast given by the king and not think of the Lord's Supper. For in this royal feast, he gives us all the same blessings – forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. We are worthy to receive such things only by faith, and especially faith in the promises of Christ, “this is my body- this is my blood.... given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins”.

The feast of the Lord's Supper is also a foretaste of the feast to come. It's not an accident that Revelation pictures the kingdom to come as a wedding celebration – the great consummation of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, and his bride, the church. When we gather at his table here, we gather with all the people of God from all times and places, and even those already gathered to him.... we join at table in a grand feast of celebration and receive his bountiful provision. What could be better?

In this parable which Jesus told during Holy Week, he compares the kingdom to a great wedding feast. And he warns of destruction and dishonor for all who reject the invitation and the king's provision. But for those who receive the gifts he gives, the King and his Son provide a royal banquet without end. Thank God that through his Son Jesus Christ we are invited to the feast. May we wear his robe of righteousness with thankfulness and celebrate with him eternally. And today, receive our foretaste of the feast to come, as we gather at his invitation.

In Jesus' Name, Amen.

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