Sermon: Pentecost 19, 15 October 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Sunday 15 October 2017, 19th Sunday after Pentecost

Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Matthew 22:1-14

-There was a man who had two sons.

-In a scenario that I’m sure every parent has faced at some time or another,

-The man asks the first child to go off and do some work in the garden.

-With that surly attitude beloved of parents with teenagers,

-He says ‘I won’t!’,

-But then he has a change of heart and gets stuck into the work.

-Being a fair parent,

-The man also went to his second son with the same request.

-Son number two gives an entirely different response,

-He does what every parent dreams might one day happen,

-Without attitude, argument or angst he says, ‘I go, sir!’

-An hour or two passes and the old Dad hobbles out the back to a surprising scene.

-Surly son number one is hard at work sweating away at the requested task.

-However his sycophantic sibling is nowhere to be seen.

 

-That was the parable Jesus told in the temple court,

-When the chief priests and elders began questioning his authority.

-And he followed it up with a question;

“Which of the two did the will of his father?” Matthew 21:31

-It poses an interesting dilemma doesn’t it?

-Does obedience depend upon attitude or action?

-Promise or performance?

-Jesus asks a simple question with only one correct answer,

-Which the Jewish leaders give,

-‘The first.’

-And now comes the sting;

“Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.” Matthew 21:31-32

-Surly son number one represents everyone who the chief priests and elders would consider the dregs of religious society,

-Tax-collectors and prostitutes.

-They’re the ones thumbing their noses at the religious mores of their society.

-They’re the ones saying ‘no, no, no’.

-But when confronted by John the Baptist’s call to repent because the kingdom of God is coming,

-They’re the ones who reached and grasped hold of it,

-Unlike the religious hierarchy who have the show of righteousness,

-But are actually rejecting the Father’s call.

 

-Jesus followed that parable with two further parables that escalated the tensions between himself and the Jewish leaders.

-Last week we heard the parable of the vineyard,

-And the condemnation of the Jewish hierarchy as unworthy tenants.

-Rather than being fruitful in the vineyard God had given them to steward,

-They failed to lead the people into a deeper relationship with God.

-And worst still they rejected the Son who’d been sent by God.

 

-In ch22 a second confronting parable is told,

-This time it’s about another common situation that the people would know,

-A wedding banquet;

“‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” Matthew 22:1

-That phrase kingdom of heaven,

-Or kingdom of God,

-Was used by Jesus to describe the goal of his mission,

-He’s come to inaugurate God’s kingdom on earth.

-One definition of kingdom is a place where a king rules and the people obey.

-The first part of the definition is obvious.

-A kingdom has to have a ruler,

-Someone who’s in authority.

-But the second part is a not so obvious but essential element.

-Down through history there’s been no shortage of examples of kings who were rulers in name only,

-Their kingdoms were in revolt,

-The citizens didn’t recognise their authority.

-God is the king, the ruler of this world,

-Yet human beings are and have been in revolt against his divine authority.

 

-At the beginning of Mark’s gospel Jesus says,

-‘The kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the good news.’

-With Jesus’ arrival in our world,

-The kingdom has come near,

-Jesus began the process of restoring his rule in this world that he created,

-And drawing people to faithful obedience.

-I mentioned last week that Israel was created to be God’s people,

-In God’s place,

-Under God’s rule.

-Israel was meant to be the kingdom of God on earth.

-But they continually failed.

-That should give you a bit of an idea why Jesus speaks in these parables the way he does,

-Because he’s speaking into a situation of what should be but isn’t,

-Which becomes clear as the story develops;

“(The King) sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 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.” Matthew 22:3-4

 

-The process for a banquet in those days was that you sent out an initial invitation that was a bit like a Facebook date saver,

-Or one of those emails that says ‘keep this date free.’

-You don’t want people getting double booked.

-Following that first notification there came the second invitation which said,

-‘Everything’s been prepared, come join the party.’

-But the response to this is somewhat unexpected,

-They don’t come.

-So a third invitation is sent that explains that the food’s now on the table,

-And what a feast it is,

-Oxen, fatted calf, chocolate self-saucing pudding!!!

-The message behind that third invitation is,

-‘Hey this is going to be a great party, you’d be mad to miss it.

-‘This is an honour you don’t want to pass up.’

-Who in their right mind would pass up an invitation to be a guest of the king at the wedding feast of a prince?

-This lot;

“But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them.” Matthew 22:5-6

 

-Two different responses but equally foolish.

-The first is of indifference,

-Other things take a higher priority,

-Their house, career, business.

-All good things in their own right,

-But fall short of sharing and celebrating in the joy and happiness of your king.

The second response however is more sinister and dangerous,

-It’s open revolt against the king,

-They assault his servants,

-Abusing and even killing those who represent the ruler of the land.

 

-In the previous parable of the vineyard,

-The tenants did the exact same thing to the messengers of the owner,

-Even to the point of killing his son.

-After hearing that,

-Jesus asked his listeners another revealing question;

-‘When the owner comes, what will he do to those tenants?’

-They rightly answered,

-‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end!’

-They acknowledge the requirement of justice.

-The landowner had the right to punish that wicked behaviour.

-Jesus doesn’t bother asking the chief priests this time,

-He goes straight to the king’s response;

“The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.” Matthew 22:7-9

-A wretched end to wretched behaviour.

 

-Some commentators have argued that that wouldn’t happen in real life,

-Who would invade a city,

-Kill it’s leaders,

-And burn it to the ground over a personal slight and the death of a few servants?

-But that misses the point of a parable.

-A parable is a story that makes a specific point.

-And the particular point here is that the seriousness of the punishment,

-Indicates the seriousness of the offence.

-Remember why Jesus is telling this story,

-It’s to confront a leadership that has failed to honour God’s purposes for them as a nation,

-Even to the point of plotting the death of his Son.

-Think back to the parable of the vineyard,

-The landowner sends his servants and they’re ignored, abused and even murdered.

-This king sends servants with an invitation not once but three times.

-The patience and forbearance of the landowner/king is extraordinary.

 

-Did that first line of the psalm grab you as we heard it read out?

“Praise the Lord, O give thanks to the Lord for he is good: and his mercy endures forever.” Psalm106:1

-Sadly we often read a passage of scripture that speaks of the holy, righteous judgement of God,

-Through the lens of our own fallen sense of justice,

-We get indignant at the thought that God would punish anyone.

-Isn’t God loving?

-Isn’t God merciful?

-And the answer is yes,

-That’s why his invitations to the wedding banquet could almost be read as desperation.

-One invitation to save the date,

-Another to say everything’s ready to go.

-A third invitation to say the food’s on the table,

-How much more does God have to do?

 

-Well the parable shows us.

-After bringing judgement upon those who rejected three invitations,

-The king commands his servants;

“The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Matthew 22:8-9

-Another invitation is sent out,

-And this time the banqueting hall is filled;

“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.” Matthew 22:10

-Notice now how Jesus has looped round back to that first parable of the two sons,

-And that question,

-‘Who did the will of his father?’

-It was the surly son,

-The outcast and outsiders,

-The tax collectors and prostitutes,

-The good and the bad.

-These were the people who responded to the King’s invitation.

-These were the ones who responded to God’s mercy.

-And so we see that God is indeed good and his mercy endures forever.

-Even when it appears his mercy has been exhausted,

-The king sends out for unlikely guests to come to the party.

 

-And if God is indeed good,

-And his mercy does endure forever,

-How serious is the offence,

-To hear his invitation to life and treated it lightly,

-To treat it with contempt?

-Jesus adds another warning in this parable,

-And that it is to not treat the grace of God you’ve been given lightly.

-The king comes into the banqueting hall;

“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.” Matthew 22:11-14

-There actually was a dress code for a banquet.

-There were expectations placed upon a guest,

-And as he gazes around the room the king spots one guest who has made no effort at all.

-When he’s confronted he’s speechless,

-His silence announces his guilt.

-And in another harsh judgement the king has him cast out of the celebrations.

-Rather than enjoying blessing and joy,

-Those who fail to respond appropriately to the honour that has been extended to them,

-Will experience grief and remorse.

 

-Notice how Jesus has confronted two responses to the coming of his kingdom,

-The first is that some will refuse to come in,

-They reject Jesus’ right as king and Lord of this world.

-They’re easy to spot,

-They’re the mockers, the haters, the violent rejecters who stand outside,

-And abuse God and his people.

-The second is those who refuse to submit to the norms of the kingdom,

-Who take what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called ‘cheap grace’.

-Like the guest without a wedding robe.

-They have the appearance of piety,

-They say the right words,

-They do the right things,

-But their hearts are far from obeying Jesus and his words.

-They say ‘yes, yes, yes’ but they have no intention of serving the king.

-They’re happy to be saved,

-But not to serve.

-To be justified not sanctified.

 

-But as followers of Jesus we’re to acknowledge him as Lord as well as Saviour.

-With the call to come into the kingdom,

-Is the demand to be changed by that kingdom.

-Someone once said;

“God loves us so much he accepts us just as we are, but he loves us too much to leave us that way.”

-Because we’ve been saved we are to be fruitful for Christ.

-We’re to bear the fruit of good works,

-To grow in the fruits of the Spirit,

-To grow in the good soil and bear fruit thirty, sixty, a hundredfold,

-To take off the old and put on the new

-As we grow into the people of God.