Sermon, Oct. 15, 2017

“Dressing for the Occasion”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC

Matthew 22: 1-14
October 15, 2017

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.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:13 & 14

Hardly friendly – binding the poor bloc’s hands and feet, throwing him out. What did the other guests think of their host? Must have been rather shocking, right? And what’s the big deal? At least he came to the banquet. A lot of folks, good folks, didn’t bother. And now he’s on the outside looking in! Hardly friendly.

But wait. That’s not all. In verses 1-7 we learn of what happens to those who refused to come. The king sends his army and does to them what they did to the slaves the king had sent to remind them – he had them killed and their city burned to the ground. Obviously, things were not going well for the king and when he sends his other slaves out into the streets to bring any passersby into the banquet, he proves his tenacity. He is going to have a wedding banquet and he aint particular about the qualities of these new guests.

I don’t blame the king for his anger. I think he over reacted, but I understand. Our son, Andrew, was married this summer. It was lovely. Set on the pinnacle of a ski resort in Northern Minnesota. Everyone looked their best and if someone had thought it cute to show up in shorts, a tank top, sandals and sun glasses, I can tell you the father of the groom would not have taken it kindly. Quite simply, my son and his wife are worth more than that. So I get it.

And one final note before we move on. You get it, too, right? You understand that the king is very open and welcoming. He invites the very folk who he thinks are both worthy and willing to come. The good folks of the town, I presume. They fail to show so the king invites anyone to come in and join the banquet, literally, anyone. So you get it, right? The king isn’t picky but he will have respect shown for his son.

So if you get it and I get it, there is only one question left. So what? What does all this have to do with us?

It has something uncomfortable to say to liberal Protestants like ourselves. We’re the folks who like to talk about God’s love. I don’t think we get it wrong. At the end of the day a God who would die on the gibbet of shame for the sin, contempt and indifference we have shown does not square with a God who would condemn transgressors to eternal Hell. So in the end, I think we get it more right than wrong. God is love.

But here is the twist. Saying God is love is not the same as saying love is God. In our rush to affirm God’s love we come close to making love our God. The result is a distortion. It results in a picture of God that fails to match the Biblical record. Where is the God who despises injustice? Where is the God who has a complaint against every age? Where is the God who sits in judgment of the nations? We end up with this chilling description of liberalism supplied by H. Richard Niebuhr:

A God without wrath brings man without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministry of a Christ without a cross.”

Our conservative brothers and sisters may focus too heavily on the judgment of God. We do not talk about it enough and the result is a tame and domesticated deity. James Gustafson reminds us of the God we have created:

“We want a God we can manage, a God who comes when beckoned, a God who permits us to say that ‘he’ is here but not there; a God who supports our moral causes and destroys the forces we judge to be evil; a household God and a kitchen God who cares more for us and ours than ‘he’ cares for others who suffer like we suffer, who fears like we fear. We desire to manage and manipulate the ultimate power that has brought the worlds into being, sustains them, bears down upon them, and determines their ultimate destiny. We want to shape God to look like us, to change ‘his’ mind so it is in accord with ours. But such a God is not God.”

Gustafson concludes: “God does not exist simply for the service of human beings. Human beings exist for the service of God.

God will not be manipulated.

God will not be ignored or denied.

God will be God.”

(Gustafson, James M., Ethics from a Theocentric Perspective, Vol 2, University of Chicago Press, 1984.)

While the image of the king in Matthew 22 may not be pretty, it reminds us that Love is not God.

If the first lesson we can take from this passage is a fuller picture of God’s nature, the second lesson is that while we may be justified by faith we are called to live sanctified lives. Simply put, I cannot claim to be a member of God’s kingdom and disrespect the standards of holiness.

I am not saying that I can make it into heaven by changing my behavior to comport more fully with the holiness of God. Such thinking almost drove Martin Luther insane. There is no act so pure that it can be used as a chit for admittance to heaven. But I am saying that my partnership with God should impact my behavior.

I often talk about changing the injustice of the world. I rail against the political indifference endured by the poor. These are critically important to my faith and reflect the concerns of Jesus. But I am not focusing on these grand and lofty endeavors today. Rather, I am calling you and me to more sanctified lives. It is my behavior towards those I love, my judgment of my neighbor, my use of language, that I am focused on today. Will I come to the wedding banquet dressed like a fool and find my personal behavior repugnant to my host? It is time to make ourselves clean.

Finally, we can take away from our text the overwhelming Good News that the call to God’s banquet goes out to all. We do not need to screen the guest list. Indeed, there will be names on God’s list that make my flesh crawl. Jerry Falwell, the founder of Liberty College and the “moral majority,” once said that God does not hear the prayers of Jews – a terrible, thoughtless, and bigoted statement that would have surprised one Jew in particular – namely, Jesus! Yet Jerry is invited too and God hears the prayers of Falwell. Did not the invitation go out to him? It did. It does. And it bothers me.

The Good News is that God’s inclusion will always be broader than mine and broader than yours. This is our final hope because the walls that divide us must be brought low that we might be lifted on high. You are invited. Now dress for the occasion. Let us pray…

 Matthew 22:1-14
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. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again 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.’ 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those 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, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then 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.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.”