The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
St. Matthew 22:1-14
The Wedding Feast Is Ready
Proper 23 A, 09 October 2011
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Consumer Reports publishes a little booklet entitled “How to Clean Practically Everything.” It tells you what solvent to use for a particular stain. Glycerin will remove the stain from a ballpoint pen. Boiling water will remove berry stains. Vinegar will remove crayon. Ammonia will remove bloodstains. Alcohol will remove grass stains. Hydrogen peroxide is good for permanent marker stains. Use bleach on mildew. Lemon juice works well on rust. But the book lists nothing for sin stains. Nothing can wash away the stain of sin, nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Try as they might, those outside of Christianity scrub away at sin in vain. Prayers to an unhearing idol do nothing. Prayers to anybody other than the Lord are useless. Prayers apart from the name of Jesus are to no avail. Shedding your own blood or giving away billions is all meaningless apart from Christ. In order to be at the Wedding Feast of Jesus the Bridegroom and the Bride, His Church, one needs the wedding garment of Christ, His righteousness, as Revelation 7 says, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” That robe is not bought, or earned, or deserved. It’s given to you by Christ, by grace, through faith.
There has been a lot of talk about the end of the world in our Scripture lessons this month. There is much more of that to come, especially as we approach all Saints’ Day and the Sundays at the end of the Church Year in November. The Lord’s Supper is sometimes called “a foretaste of the feast to come.” Matthew 22 gives a picture of this feast to come as Jesus tells His parable:
And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come.
The trick to understanding a parable is to see the point of contact—and then not push the details too far. What can be understood so far? The King is God the Father. Jesus is His Son. His servants here are not unlike the servants He sent to the vineyard last week, the prophets, apostles, and pastors.
“But they would not come.” Who’s “they?” For those listening to Jesus the first time, it was the faithless descendants of Israel who refused to listen to the Word of God, to attend Synagogue, to make the appointed sacrifices, and have the right heart within.
Today? Here is where it hurts. Today it is our brothers and sisters in Christ who are not with us. There are many of our congregation’s 300 family units missing this morning out of the 800+ baptized members of Immanuel. God has gathered you here today around His Word. And the rest? The text says, “but they would not come.” I warned you that it hurts!
Again he [the King] sent other servants, saying, 'Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.' But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.
It is an encouragement to pastors when bulletins from far-flung sister congregations of the LCMS show up on their desks or under their study doors. That means when you traveled, you remembered that the Lord didn’t take a vacation from saving you. You prioritized the time to spend with God’s people and His Word. Keep that up! And feel free to ask for suggestions of where to worship when you travel. I’ll help you by contacting the congregation’s pastor ahead of time.
On the other hand, let’s be honest. Seasons of the year may become an idol to many of us. Summer or Fall come around and attendance may drop for church, Bible Classes, and Sunday School. Why is that? “But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.” It’s not as if they hadn’t been told. They were told about the banquet TWICE!
Pastors hear a lot of lame excuses for not being in church. Consider this one: “Sorry, we couldn’t make it. I had to chop wood.” That’s an actual excuse. Why is that funny, you may ask? In one of the original editions of Luther’s Small Catechism, there was a picture, a woodcut, above the Third Commandment. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. The picture above the commandment is of people whom the Lord has gathered around Word and Sacrament, listening to the preacher. What’s going on outside? Looking out the church window, you can see a man chopping wood.
Now can you better identify with the King and His frustration, His righteous anger?
The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.' And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.
The text teaches us that there will be a judgment. The kingdom will be judged on the Last Day. That’s the bad news. We have the warning of the counter-example of many Jewish people in the time of Jesus.
Some Jewish people did come into the wedding banquet and gladly wore Jesus’ wedding garment. All of the first Christians were Jewish. All the disciples were Jewish. All of the authors of the New Testament with the possible exception of Dr. Luke were Jewish. Church historians tell us that one million Jews were Christian by the end of the first century. Not every Jewish person rejected the wedding feast.
Even so, as a nation, Israel rejected Jesus. But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.
The elders, chief priests, scribes, and teachers of the law along with temple employees and some average people put Jesus to death. And this was under the eye of the Gentile Roman Government. And our sins put Him there, too! Anti-Semitism is therefore just as inappropriate as blaming today’s Italians for the actions of Pontius Pilate.
We Christians, that is, Jewish believers in Jesus and Gentile believers together, are the new Israel, the Holy Christian Church, new guests in the wedding hall. And there still is room!
That is the central good news of the Gospel lesson today. Others rejected Jesus and they were rejected. That made room for you. You were invited by the Word, by Holy Baptism. By faith you are in the wedding hall, wearing white robes washed in the blood of the Lamb. It can’t get any better than this! You are forgiven! You are free of your sins. You are free of concerns about this life. This world and everything in it will pass away. What happens here is for eternity!
The Lord has your homes and businesses, and your relationships and problems in His hands. Of them you need not worry. “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.” Enjoy the banquet of the Lord’s forgiveness.
But there are others among us. This is another difficult part of the text.
"But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen."
Unthinkable. Someone is at the wedding feast without a wedding garment. In the ancient world, if you came to a wedding without suitable clothing for the occasion, you were provided with them. In this case, someone rejected that gift. Unthinkable! Someone inside has taken off the robe of Christ’s righteousness. “I don’t need it,” he or she may have said. “That Jesus stuff is only for kids. I’m a good enough person. I’m no Hitler or Bin Laden. And I show up quite regular, too.” Don’t let the King hear such words from your lips or your heart. Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen.
You may have considered yourself a Christian all your life, even showing up every Easter and Christmas. Has it sunk in that you don’t get to heaven by being good? Or do you play the hypocrite today and tomorrow do whatever feels good to you? Has it sunk in? It hadn’t for the man I’ll tell you about next.
A British periodical once published this provocative letter: Dear Sir: It seems ministers feel their sermons are very important and spend a great deal of time preparing them. I have been attending church quite regularly for thirty years, and I have probably heard 3,000 of them. To my consternation, I discovered I cannot remember a single sermon. I wonder if a minister’s time might be more profitably spent on something else?
For weeks a storm of editorial responses ensued…finally ended by this [responding] letter: Dear Sir: I have been married for thirty years. During that time I have eaten 32,850 meals—mostly my wife’s cooking. Suddenly I have discovered I cannot remember the menu of a single meal. And yet…I have the distinct impression that without them, I would have starved to death years ago.
There is a lot of profitable work to be done—both for a pastor and for the congregation. Part of a pastor’s time is spent in the Word, preparing sermons, the Divine Service, Bible Studies and the like.
Part of his time is spent out in the community, visiting shut-ins, doing emergency pastoral care, visiting you in your homes. Sometimes his time is occupied caring for the grieving, the hurting, those in crisis. Putting out fires takes a lot of time, as does visiting the households of the congregation. One quickly sees how far off the joke is that pastors only work one hour a week. J
Should it take a crisis to come up for you to invite pastor into your home? Sometimes a pastor may feel uncomfortable just inviting himself over. Please pray for pastors, especially Pastor Rupert, encourage them, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to give your pastor a call when you need him, even just to talk. That’s what I have been called to do here. And the best care I can give is when I preach and teach the Word—all of it—not just the things you like—and administering the sacraments according to Jesus’ instructions.
We see several things clearly in the Gospel lesson the lectionary chose for this Sunday. The parable is about the kingdom and God is the King, Jesus, His Son. Some on the original guest list, some of God’s ancient people, didn’t want to come, didn’t want to RSVP. Don’t be like them. You saw what was dished out to them. That wouldn’t be pleasant. Outer darkness is hell. Literally.
Focus instead upon the Gospel, the Good News that you have been invited to the ultimate wedding reception, the feast of Christ and you, His Bride. Wedding feasts are the best kind of parties. And God’s will be the best ever. Not only that, He’s picking up the tab. He’s given you the wedding garment of forgiveness, the spotless white wool of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—including all of yours.
Others rejected Jesus and they were rejected. That made room for you. You were invited by the Word, by Holy Baptism. By faith, you are in the wedding hall, wearing white robes washed in the blood of the Lamb, robes given to you. It can’t get any better than this! You are forgiven! You are free of your sins. You are free of concerns about this life. The Lord has your homes and businesses, your relationships and problems in His hands. Of them you need not worry. “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.” Enjoy the banquet of the Lord’s forgiveness.
There is still time for more, for the Judgment hasn’t happened just yet. There is room for more. Invite them. Invite your unbelieving spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, family, neighbors, classmates, and coworkers. You don’t have to knock on doors. Invite the people you already know and love. They know you. They respect you. They might even actually hear what you have to say. [The King] said to his servants, 'The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.' And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. Wouldn’t that be a nice problem to have? Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.