Sermon: Pentecost 17, 15 October 2017, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 15th October 2017

 Rev. Paul Weaver

RESPONDING TO GOD’S INVITATION

 (Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106; Philippians 4; Matthew 22:1-14)

Holy Week is for us a time for meditation and reflection. The first Holy Week was a very different time for Jesus and his disciples. It was a time of increasing tension and conflict.

After his entry to Jerusalem followed by the crowds, Jesus had turned the traders and moneychangers out of the temple, and cursed that fig tree which had no fruit. He had refused to answer a question about his authority which had been asked by the local leaders, because they would not answer his question about what they thought of John the Baptist. And he was telling stories with a particularly uncomfortable bite to them.

In one story there were two sons asked by their father to work in the vineyard. One said he would not, but then changed his mind and did the work requested. The other said that he would do what his father wanted, but never actually did anything. Out of that story Jesus warned the Jewish leaders that tax-collectors and prostitutes would go into the kingdom of God ahead of them, because those outsiders had believed John’s message and actually repented. The leaders had made no response.

And then we heard last week that story of the tenants in the vineyard who refused to give due payment to the owner, and indeed treated violently those who came seeking the payment. Again Jesus gave a very severe warning to the Jewish leaders, that they would be tossed out of God’s vineyard and that others would take their place.

And in today’s reading we have another parable with a dark edge, a reminder that Jesus’ parables are not always nice simple stories with a lovely moral.

As we heard, this parable is about a king who plans a wedding feast for his son. According to custom, the initial invitations have gone out and people will have a reasonable sense of when they should be prepared to come.

When everything is ready, the king sends out his servants to let people know that it’s time to come to the feast. But the servants get fobbed off with excuses and arrogance words. Indeed, when he sends out a second group of servants, they are treated with violence and even murdered.

The feast is ready, and those invited are not willing to come, so the invitation now goes out to all and sundry in the streets – the good and the bad. These people are very willing to come, and so the banquet hall is filled with guests.

It’s actually a parallel story to the parable of the vineyard. In that story we could say that the rightful claims of God are rejected by those who owe him. This time it is the wonderful generous invitation of God that is refused by those who should know better. And no doubt many of Jesus’ listeners got the sense of what he was saying: the leaders and teachers were ignoring God’s call, but others less reputable, the outsiders, were hearing and taking up the call. They would receive God’s blessing, which Jesus saw being refused by the religious and the respectable.

Were any of Jesus’ listeners able to see that he was also pointing towards the message of the Gospel going not only to the actual people of Israel, the Jews, but to people of all races and backgrounds? That is ultimately where Jesus was heading with this story.

But that is not the end of the story. There is yet another part, a sting in the tail. For the king finds a man at the wedding feast who is not appropriately clothed, not wearing a wedding robe. He has nothing to say by way of reason or excuse. And he finds himself tossed out.

Now the experts have had a great time debating about this second part. The big question is this: if people have been invited in straight from the streets and lanes, they won’t have a chance to find or buy some wedding robes, even if they can afford to do so. Isn’t the king being completely unreasonable in expecting people to be wearing them?

Some people have suggested that the king had suitable clothes available to give everyone as they arrived, and this person had arrogantly refused to put them on. Others have all sorts of other theories.

I’m inclined to suggest that we lighten up on the details: after all, it’s just a story making a point. I don’t think that many people who receive a wedding invitation are likely to murder the messenger either! Jesus is just adding to the drama of the story!

What we need to see is the point Jesus is making! He is pointing out that people can miss out on God’s blessings by rejecting them or refusing them. That’s the first part. But people can assume they’ve qualified for the blessings, and still miss out. That is the point of the second part. You might think you’re in, and then discover that you are actually out. It’s a very serious warning.

Now Jesus doesn’t give a direct explanation here of what exactly he is getting at. He is clearly saying that people can take for granted that they have God’s salvation, and in fact miss out on it. They might even be religious people, respectable people, perhaps churchgoers. But why would they miss out? Why would they be tossed out, as the story depicts it? We have to look elsewhere in the scriptures to find some hints.

Perhaps a good start is to go back to that parable from last week. Jesus warns that the original tenants will be removed from the vineyard, and others will take their place. These other tenants are people who will give the owner the fruits that are due to him. And I suggested last week that we might see the fruits in terms of faithful service and obedient living. We could pick up that image of fruit and remind ourselves of what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit” – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We could describe it as “Christian character”, as we allow God the Holy Spirit to do his work in us. Indeed, in his letter to the Colossians, Paul actually tells his readers to “clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience”.

Perhaps we can put it like this. The invitation of the Gospel is to “come as you are”. We don’t have to work or be really really good or really religious to earn an invitation to God’s kingdom. The invitation is to all and sundry: to all of us. But though we can come as we are: we must not stay as we are. If we want to become God’s people and receive the blessings of God’s people, we need to be willing to seek to live as God’s people.

We are saved as we respond to the Gospel in faith, but as James reminds us, “faith without works is dead”. If our faith is the real thing, it will make a difference to our lives.

If we have become God’s friends, God’s children, we need to live as God’s friends, God’s children. If pleasing God does not matter to us, how can we claim to be his people? Of course, as Christians we will trip ourselves up and make mistakes and do the wrong thing far too often. But if we are God’s people, we will seek to live as God’s people.

So there it is: this lovely and worrying story of Jesus. The invitation to God’s kingdom is freely offered to us all. In faith we have accepted his generous invitation. But we need to wear that robe. We need to allow the fruit of the Spirit to develop in us. We need to live the life of God’s children. Amen.

Paul Weaver