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Sermon for 9 October

 First Reading                                    Isaiah 25:1–9

1 O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done
wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.  2 For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of aliens is a city no more, it will never be rebuilt.  3 Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you.  4 For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.  When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, 5 the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled.  6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.  7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; 8 he will swallow up death forever.  Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.
9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.  This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in
his salvation.

Psalm                                                         Psalm 23

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.  2 The LORD makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.  3 You restore my soul, O LORD, and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.  4 Though I walk through the valley of the
shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.  6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Second Reading                      Philippians 4:1–9

1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown,
stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.  2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.  3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.  4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.  6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with
thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  7 And the peace of God, which
surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is
pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  9 Keep on doing the things that you
have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Gospel                                             Matthew 22:1–14

1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying:  2 The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.  3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come.  4 Again he
sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited:  Look, I have prepared my  dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’  5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.  7 The king was enraged.  He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.  8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy.  9 Go
therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’  10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.  11 But when the king came in to see the
guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’  And he was speechless.  13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer  darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”


What shirt are you wearing?

Pastor John Thomas tells about a week he once spent at a Benedictine monastery with a group of other seminary students.  At noon each day he and the other students joined the monks, along with a number of people from the local community, to celebrate the  Eucharist.  One day Pastor Thomas watched a couple of retirement age, make their way to receive the bread and the wine.  The man wore a sweatshirt that said, “I can only be nice to one person a day, and today is not your day.  Tomorrow doesn’t look too good either.”

Pastor Thomas recalls that he had a negative reaction to the man’s shirt.  What was this man thinking?  Thomas wondered.  And why did his wife let him out of the house dressed that way?  Why would he receive Christ’s broken body with a message emblazoned across his chest that read, “I can only be nice to one person a day, and today is not your day.  Tomorrow doesn’t look too good either”?  This situation continued to trouble John for
the remainder of the afternoon.  The next day he again went to the noon Mass and again the elderly couple was at the service.

This time the retired man’s sweatshirt read, “What don’t you understand about the word ‘no’?”   Obviously, Thomas admits, he knew nothing about this man nor of his situation.  But it bothered him that he would want to participate in the Sacrament of Communion
while wearing slogans indicating that he wanted nothing to do with other people.  It’s an interesting perspective.
I have to confess that I seldom pay much attention to what people wear in worship or at the altar.  It’s highly probable that the retired man who wore the offending T-shirts never connected his apparel with what was happening in church.  Most pastors nowadays are
just grateful when lay people show up for worship.  What people wear in most cases is of little consequence, and for the most part, people who regularly attend church generally
police themselves, so offensive or inappropriate clothing isn’t a problem.  People in most cases wear something suitable for the occasion.

This story reminded me of the parable from our Gospel lesson for this morning.  Matthew binds this parable into his narrative sequence by noting that Jesus “once more” spoke to “them” in parables.  “Them” in this instance must be the “chief priests and the Pharisees” who were the target of last week’s parable in chapter 21.  Typical of Matthew, the entire parable illustrates a dimension of the kingdom of God.

The story itself tells of a king who gives a wedding feast for his son and sends out “slaves” to give a reminder call to all those who had been previously invited.  The comparison of
the kingdom of God to a banquet or feast is a traditional image, rooted in Jesus’ own teaching and in the frequent meals that were part of His ministry.  Making the celebration a royal wedding feast for the king’s son, escalates the significance of the event and opens the parable further to both Christological and eschatological significance.

In this parable the invited guests summarily refuse to come.  So the king sends a second set of slaves to the same invited guests with a more urgent message that “everything is
ready” for the wedding banquet.  This time they not only brush the invitation aside, or as other translations say, “they made light of it”, but some seize the slaves, mistreat them, and even kill them.  The resemblance to the previous parable of the vineyard is striking and it’s likely here, too, that Matthew intends the two sets of slaves sent to the invited guests, to evoke the procession of prophetic messengers to Israel.

To this rejection and mistreatment of his slaves, the king’s reaction is fierce.  He sends  troops to destroy the murderers and burn their city.  Although such a fate could simply be part of the story, it’s quite possible that the parable reflects the historical memory of Jerusalem’s fate when Roman troops destroyed the temple and city in 70 AD.  Thus
Matthew may be suggesting that the destruction of Jerusalem was God’s judgment
upon the leaders for their rejection of Jesus.  At the least, it carries the message that rejecting God’s invitation comes with consequences, life altering consequences.

Having declared those that rejected the invitation as “not worthy,” the king now sends his slaves into the “main streets”, literally, the thoroughfares that presumably ran through the villages and out into the countryside, telling them to invite “everyone you find”.  The  faithful slaves do as they are told and fill the wedding hall with guests, including the “good and bad”.  Here again is another link to last week’s parable where the treachery of the tenant farmers results in the vineyard being taken from them and given to a people who will produce its fruits.  In the current parable, the formerly invited guests are replaced by a new set of invitees.  If the originally invited guests are the leaders of Israel who reject God’s prophetic messengers and therefore suffer punishment and loss of their invitation, the newly invited guests are presumably Matthew’s own community composed of Jews and Gentiles, tax collectors and prostitutes who respond to Jesus.  But Jesus doesn’t end the parable here; He adds a new element that goes beyond that of last week’s parable of the

Jesus adds a little addendum to this story, another parable if you will.  When the wedding feast is filled with guests, including the “good and bad”, the king goes in to see the invitees.  Inside the hall he finds a guest who is not wearing a “wedding robe” and asks the man how he got in without wearing the required garment.  The address “friend” in this passage has a certain ominous tone in Matthew; (see 20:13; 26:50), and the man is speechless.  Having no answer, the king then directs the attendants to bind him and throw him outside “into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”; a typical Matthean descriptions of judgment.

Matthew’s addition to the parable expresses his characteristic theology.  Even though called by God, the church remains a “mixed” reality including good and bad and stands under the same call to repentance and good deeds as Israel itself.  So, too, is the threat of judgment on those who do not produce the fruits of repentance.  Matthew does not define the meaning of the “wedding robe” that the hapless guest fails to wear, but it may have
symbolic meaning, expressing repentance and a new life of good works.  In other New Testament traditions, putting on new garments has a similar meaning.

One commentator suggests that special wedding clothes may have been provided at the door by the host, free to all who came to the banquet.  This may reflect a tradition in Jesus’ time.  Providing the guests with a wedding garment would have been particularly  important in Jesus’ parable because many of the guests were drawn from common walks of life, their clothing was dirty or ragged.  So, in order to maintain the dignity of the occasion these special garments would be available at no cost.  To reject them would be to reject the host’s generosity.  It would be an insult.

So who is this poor man who failed to dress appropriately for the wedding and what does his rejection of the offered garment tell us?  Surely he was aware of the solemn nature of the occasion.  He reminds me of dreams some of us may have had where we find ourselves at a party and everyone else is nicely dressed, but we’re in our pajamas . . . or less.  It’s
an uncomfortable position.

Some of you may remember a comedian from the early days of television named George Gobel.  Gobel’s most famous line was, “Well, I’ll be a dirty bird.”  Gobel was a master of
self-deprecating humor.  At one festive affair he was asked how he felt to be among so many well-known celebrities.  He described himself in his typically humble way.  “I feel,” he said, “like a pair of brown shoes in a room full of tuxedos.”  Obviously, you don’t wear brown shoes with a black tuxedo, not at a fancy, dress-up affair.

Of course, people are not as concerned about their dress as they used to be, but most of us conform when it is a formal occasion, particularly a wedding.  This man didn’t, and the king was enraged.  What was there that caused the king to react so negatively toward this man’s lack of wedding apparel?   It couldn’t have been his worthiness or unworthiness to be at the wedding.

In the parable Jesus made the point that both good and bad were accepted at the king’s table.  This is what grace is about, God’s amazing grace.  Both good and bad people are
invited by God to receive the gift of God’s love.  It sometimes bothers us that the riff-raff of
society have as much claim on the kingdom as we do, but Jesus stated that fact several times.  God loves sinners, which is good since we all qualify.  Therefore the worthiness of the man is not the question.  Could it then be that the man couldn’t afford the required garment?

The status of the man’s bank account would have been irrelevant to Jesus.  In similar parables that Jesus told, it’s obvious that God wants His house filled . . . with the
poor, the maimed, the blind and the lame.  In this world we may cater to the wealthy, the
athletic, the well-connected, but in the kingdom, according to the teachings of Jesus, the well-to-do, the so-called beautiful people, are at the bottom of the totem pole.  It’s a tragic mistake to equate wealth with worth.

When somebody dies someone may ask, how much were they worth?  They mean, of
course, how much money did they leave behind?  It’s unfortunate but there are a good many people who have huge bank accounts who are very close to worthless as human
beings.  Conversely there are many people who will never accumulate much of anything of material value, but their passing will be greatly mourned by those who knew them and loved them.

How many of you knew that the artist Rembrandt was declared bankrupt in 1656?  He had to sell his wife’s grave in order to survive.  Things didn’t improve from there.  He died penniless in 1669.  How much was Rembrandt worth?  Not much in monetary terms at the time of his passing but, to the art world, few people have been worth as much.  The man who didn’t have on the wedding garment wasn’t evicted because of his financial status or the fact that he couldn’t afford better clothes.  Jesus was clearly biased in favor of those who couldn’t afford fancy garments.

There’s a told story about John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.  The story may be apocryphal, but it reveal’s Wesley’s heart.  In Wesley’s time the churches in England were
only for the rich.  You had to have fine clothes and be clean to attend church in the 1700s.  To make sure that the poor couldn’t ruin their fine places of worship, the churches were built up high in a rectangle without any steps to enter them.  You could only get into them from a carriage.  It’s said that John Wesley had steps put in his churches so the poor could enter to worship God.  It’s a seemingly small thing, perhaps to you and me, but what an enormous step for the poor.   Like John Wesley, Christ was biased in favor of the poor.  So what was it?  What caused the king to be so furious at the guest who was not appropriately dressed?  If it was not that his background had been questionable or that his bank account had been lacking, what was it then, that got him into so much trouble with the king?

Could it be that this man represents all those who accept the free gift of grace who
call themselves Christians but who in their personal lives show none of the signs of actually being Christian?  As someone has said, grace is free, but there are standards.  It’s expected if you accept Christ’s free gift of eternal life, that from that day forward, you
will seek to adopt Christ’s character as well.  Or, to put it another way, you are invited to
be a guest at Christ’s banquet table, but you’re not allowed to spit in His face with unacceptable behavior after you’re there.  We’re not talking about legalism here or what
is sometimes called, works righteousness.  It’s true that we’re not saved by our good
works, but good works are the fruit of being saved.

More likely the wedding robe is symbolic of putting on Christ.  In order for us to get into the eternal wedding feast, we need to accept the gift of salvation freely given in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We must put on the robe of righteousness.  Thinking we can get into heaven by our own righteousness is a kin to works salvation.  Jesus said “I am the  gate, no one enters the sheepfold except through me.”  We must put on Christ’s righteousness to be saved.  We must put on the garments of salvation in order to be part of God’s eternal wedding feast.

The man in Jesus’ parable chooses not to put on the provided garment.  And when the king saw him, he said, “Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?”  To this question, the man was speechless.  Could this man represent the countless thousands of people who think that God will allow everyone in, that salvation is somehow universal?  Does this man symbolize those who espouse the belief that once saved always saved?  That
God would never reject anyone no matter how they lived their lives?  God offers the gift of salvation to all who believe, but we must accept the gift and put the robe on.  And in putting on the robe of Christ’s righteousness we will bear fruit worthy of salvation.  But this man refused the king’s generous gift and chose to instead try to get in of his own accord.

So the King tells the attendants, “Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Arrogance isn’t a sign of repentance; it’s a sign of self-centeredness.  And Jesus doesn’t end the parable here, He adds these cryptic words of warning:  “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

In one of his books, author James Moore tells an old Japanese legend of a man who died and went to heaven.  As he was shown around, he was much impressed with the sights, the beautiful gardens where lotus flowers bloomed, mansions built of marble and gold and precious stones.  It was all so beautiful, even more wonderful than he had imagined!

But then the man came to a very large room that looked like a merchant’s shop.  Lining the walls were shelves on which were piled and labeled with what looked very much like dead mushrooms.  On closer examination, however, the newcomer to heaven saw that they were not mushrooms at all.  Actually, they were human ears!  His guide explained that these were the ears of people on earth who went diligently to their places of worship and listened
with pleasure to the teachings of faith, yet did nothing about what they heard; so after death, they themselves went somewhere else and only their ears reached heaven!  It’s an odd story with little theological grounding, but it makes a point.  While it’s true that we are saved by our faith in Christ and our faith alone, a reading of the Gospels contains  convincing evidence that there are expectations of those who eat at Christ’s table.  We’re to live by Christ’s teachings.

Augustine, one our early church fathers, writing in about the year four hundred, comments about the wedding garments that the bride and groom wear for the wedding, the wedding garment that all people are to wear.  Augustine said that garment is charitable love.  “Charitable love for your neighbor.  No, not just family love for your spouse and children.”  Augustine, in his sermon on this text, says that even the sparrows love
their own family.  That’s no big deal.  We love our families; so do the sparrows.  But we’re not a sparrow; we’re human beings.  We are made in the image of God.  We’re made to make this world a better place . . . And we have all kinds of excuses not to do this:  “I can’t.  I am busy.  I’m busy taking care of my family, taking care of my job and taking care of my home.  I have a thousand and one excuses so as to avoid helping the world be a better
place.”  But this is the garment Christ asks us each to put on when we come to his banquet table.  Charitable love; the love of God.

This poor man who did not have on the proper wedding attire earned the wrath of the king, but we shouldn’t feel sorry for him.  He received the same invitation everyone else received.  He was to be the king’s guest, at no cost to himself, at a magnificent wedding
feast thrown for the king’s son and his bride.  But when they handed out the free wedding
garments, when they asked him to dress appropriate for the event to which he had been invited, he refused.  This was his choice, just as it’s our choice when we accept Christ’s invitation to come to the banquet table.  Will we put on the garment of Christ’s love?  Will we put on the garment of salvation or will we arrogantly assume that we can do it on our
own merit?  The choice is ours and ours alone to make.  God’s invitation and gifts are free to all who will accept them.  Only a life based on faith and good works will be acceptable for those who wish to live within the reign of God.   AMEN

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