21st Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus dear friends in Christ, “Where are you going? What are you doing? Can I come too?” There’s this powerful feeling that I’ve noticed in my children and it’s the fear of missing out. They don’t want to miss out on something. Maybe I’ll offer to take one of them with me wherever I’m going and most of the time another one will say, “Can I come too?” Or, if one gets something special another one will surely say, “Can I have one too?” They don’t want to miss out. But it’s also something adults struggle with as well, right? “I really don’t want to miss that.” “I hope that they invite me.” “I don’t want to miss that sale.” It’s become an American tradition to stand in long lines on Black Friday so that you don’t miss out on a good deal. But whether or not we miss the party, miss the sale, miss the experience, there is finally only one thing that if everyone understood it, no one in the entire world would want to miss out on and that’s THE Wedding party.
This is the third parable in a row that Jesus told to the Pharisees and teachers of the law who were looking for a way to trap Jesus in His words. It’s holy week and in a few short days Jesus would die on the cross. In this parable Jesus spoke about a rich banquet a king had put on for his son. This banquet would have taken many days to prepare and the king had apparently invited a bunch of people to attend his feast. And they apparently rsvp’d that they would come. This feast would have been a once-in-a-lifetime party, one no one would want to miss, the king is pulling out all the stops on this one. So, it was about time for the banquet to be held and so he sent his servants out to those who had been invited. But what we see here is shocking: “they refused to come.” What?? The banquet of all banquets and they refuse to come? What callous rejection! What a slap in the face to the generosity of the king!
So what did the king do? Here again in this parable it defies what we normally would expect to see happen on this earth. What king would take such callous and contemptuous rejection and send other servants to invite them once again to his once in a lifetime banquet? What Jesus is picturing here again is the unearthly and extraordinary patience of God. The king sends other servants to say, “Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.”
But what happened after the king’s second generous invitation? “They paid no attention and went off.” They were totally unconcerned, couldn’t have cared less and went away. WHAT?? “One to his field, another to his business.” WHAT?? The field, the business were more important, more pressing, deserved more of their attention than the king’s banquet of a lifetime. WHAT?? Then what we hear next is even more shocking and horrific: “The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.” WHAT?? The king had graciously invited them to the banquet of a lifetime, the party of all parties, the feast of all feasts and what do they do? Viciously, brutally, heartlessly, ruthlessly insult, mistreat and even murdered the king’s servants!
Now, let’s stop there and ask the good Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” The king is clearly God the Father, the son who is getting married is Jesus. The call and invitation is the gospel call that comes through the means of grace – the gospel in Word and Sacrament. Through the means of grace God calls out to sinful, starving humans: You don’t need to die from your sins, here is my Son he has provided everything needed for your souls- forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. The cost to him was beyond all imagination, but the cost to you is nothing. Come and eat! Simply trust in him who lived and died for you!” God has extended the gracious invitation to His heavenly banquet feast out through His servants. At Jesus’ time that call went first to the people of Israel. But not only did many disregard it, focus on other things, but even treated God’s messengers horridly and murdered many of them. But even today we see the same reactions to God’s gracious invitation, don’t we? We see both bland indifference and vicious hostility. Some people are way too busy with their lives to be concerned about the heavenly wedding banquet, others are brutal and vicious, they’re not going and they don’t want anyone else to either. But what about even in our own hearts? Maybe it’s not so much the vicious hostility to God’s gracious call, but bland indifference. Perhaps the field is more pressing or the business is felt to be more important, needs more attention. How excited are you, am I about the gospel invitation to the feast of a lifetime? Do we have better things to do? Are we in no hurry to get to heaven? Is God’s Word a back burner item that we’ll get to if we have time?
Notice, however, that the king’s patience does run out. God will not allow His love that reaches out to sinners be insulted forever. There comes a point when God will act in holy and righteous anger against those who viciously or indifferently rejected his gracious invitation. “The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” God’s divine and holy wrath will fall on all those who despise and reject His gracious invitation. Instead of the heavenly banquet they will spend eternity suffering horridly in hell.
But that doesn’t deter God from issuing His loving and winsome invitation to many, many more. “The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find. So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.” Can you imagine that? One moment you’re penniless and homeless on the street. You don’t know where your next meal is going to come from. Then all of a sudden you get the invite of all invites, you get whisked away to the feast of feasts, the banquet of a lifetime! This is awesome! God’s gracious invitation to eternal life through faith in Jesus goes out to any and all- those who’ve lived an outwardly bad life as well as those who’ve lived an outwardly good life- they’re all invited!
Then the king comes to his banquet. But when he’s there he notices a man who isn’t wearing wedding clothes and so he asked him, “How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?” The man was speechless. The king then had him tied hand and foot and thrown into the outer darkness. What’s going on here? What are these wedding clothes and why didn’t he have any? Notice that the man is speechless. That’s very interesting. You see, he could have said, “I don’t own any nice wedding clothes, I’m too poor, that’s why I don’t have any.” Or, he could have said, “I didn’t have a chance to run home and change, that’s why I don’t have any.” But that’s not the reason. You see, there are all kinds of people here both poor and wealthy, many people wouldn’t have had wedding clothes and notice that everyone was whisked away right off the street to this banquet so no one would have had wedding clothes. What happened at these banquets was that the royal host would hand out wedding clothes to all of his guests. So, the fact that this man doesn’t have wedding clothes is a great insult to the host. He rejected the clothes the king graciously provided. He’d rather wear his own meager, shabby clothes, it was a terrible insult to the host. So, what does the host do? Has him tied hand and foot and thrown outside into the darkness.
Now what does this mean? Here the Lord is warning against a “sham Christianity.” The wedding clothes are the only clothes that will work when it comes to eternal life. You see, there are two ways of going near to God, but only one works: you can wear your own clothes or you can wear His clothes. Over and over again in the Bible God pictures the righteousness, the holiness, perfection as something with which he clothes us through faith. You see, God takes away our rags of sin and gives to us freely as His gift the perfect righteousness of Jesus which clothes us. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” “For all of you who have been baptized have been clothed with Christ.” What this man was saying by refusing the wedding clothes was that he was relying on himself for salvation. There’s really two kinds of this. There are people who have nothing to do with God but are relying on themselves, “I’ve lived a pretty good life, I haven’t been that bad, surely I’ll be accepted into heaven when I die.” But if they aren’t relying completely on Jesus and His righteousness they will be cast outside into the darkness. The other kind is more sinister. The other kind could happen to anyone of us. People who at one time place all their confidence in Jesus and his perfect life and death, but then slowly over time begin to rely on themselves, “I’ve been pretty good, God must owe me, I deserve a good life, I’m better than others.” Forgetting that my place at the heavenly wedding banquet is mine only totally, completely, and amazingly by grace.
So what do we do with this parable? What’s the message for us? Two don’ts and a do. First, don’t be indifferent to the invite. God has graciously invited you to the eternal wedding party in heaven. Don’t make God’s Word and sacrament a back burner to your life, like the first people the king invited. Second, don’t wear the wrong wedding clothes. God has given you the only wedding clothes you need for eternity, God has clothed you through your baptism with the robes of Christ’s righteousness. Don’t rely on yourself, you’re at the wedding feast only because of God’s incredible, amazing grace. And lastly, do. Do relish and rejoice in the wedding feast that is yours. You’ve received the invite, through faith in Jesus you’ve rsvp’d that you’re going, you’ve been given the wedding clothes, the feast is ready and at just the right time the King will take you there. Rejoice! In the meantime he’s given you a stack of invitations, he’s given you the gospel message to share, the King wants his wedding feast to be filled with any and with all, and he wants you and me to share the invites, to share with our lives, with our words and with our actions: come to the wedding banquet! Amen.