October 11, 2020, Lucky Rabble, Matthew 22:1-14 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000218
Carroll and I have been members of a variety of churches in the course of our lives: Roman Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Wesleyan, non-denominational and Episcopal. There are lots of differences from denomination to denomination, but if there is one thing that all Christian churches seem to have in common, it may be this: we spend a lot of time gathered around tables, eating. There is something holy about sharing food. Whether it’s in the intimacy of your family, or at a big, noisy community supper, sharing a meal is a physical manifestation of our fellowship with one another.
In the beautiful passage from Isaiah, God describes the coming of his kingdom into the world fully, at long last, at the end of this age, as a great and glorious banquet for all people: a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. In the 23rd psalm, David says that God spreads a table for us under the very noses of our enemies. And it’s no accident that when Jesus wanted to give us a sign to remember him, to remind us that he loves us and will always be with us, he commanded us to gather around a table, where he feeds us with himself. The act of gathering around a table and sharing food is both the sign and the occasion of our fellowship, with one another, and also with God. And so, we can expect that this parable that Jesus tells about the wedding feast will have something to say about fellowship.
For the people who were standing around in the Temple on that day, the chief priests and the elders, and the others who had gathered around Jesus to hear what he had to say, this was a parable about God’s invitation to the people of Israel. Jesus was speaking to devout Jews, men who had been steeped in the teachings of the Law and the Prophets, from the time they were little children. The people of Israel were the chosen guests in the story. Beginning with Abraham, God had invited them into fellowship with him. But the parable brought a charge against God’s people. They had treated God’s invitation with contempt, going their own way, and rejecting his servants the prophets who were sent to them, mistreating them, killing them. And when his feast was ready, when in the fullness of time he sent his Son into the world, they didn’t show up.
And in the parable, when the chosen guests had gone their own way, like willful sheep, the king in the story sent his servants out to pull people in off the streets. Good and bad alike, the servants of the king invited every one of them to sit at the glorious banquet tables, gleaming with silver and crystal, piled high with food. The lame and the blind, the beggar and the pickpocket, the prostitute and the tax collector and the leper, the servants brought them in, every one, to fill every seat in the great banquet hall. And it wasn’t hard for Jesus’s audience to read the meaning of that. He was forever offending their sensibilities by reaching out in fellowship to the misfits and ne’er-do-wells, the unclean and the unwanted. Jesus already had quite a reputation for sitting around the table with tax collectors and sinners, enjoying fellowship with the very last and the very least – just as all that rabble in the parable filled the seats at the king’s wedding feast. That was the meaning of the parable for those of the chief priests and elders who could hear it, who were there to hear Jesus’s words on that day.
We, on the other hand, we hear this parable from a very different place. You and I and every Christian, past, present or future, we hear the parable as members of the lucky rabble who have found ourselves pulled off the streets and dragged out of the gutter and invited to a feast of fellowship we neither desired nor deserved, as the collect says. We find ourselves blinking in the light of the glorious banquet hall at the invitation of the king’s servants. And first of all, the parable gives us a very good picture, I think, of who we are, and what the Church is. Here we are, a mixed bag of bad and good and everything in between, each and every one of us. I’ve heard the saying many times, but it bears repeating, that the church of Jesus Christ is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints, and that is certainly the truth. We have been invited to sit at the king’s table, not because we are particularly deserving of recognition, not because we are of any special race or social class, not because we have deep understanding or perfect morals, not because we know the secret password and follow the rules, but purely and simply because we have been brought in by order of the king himself.
Paul makes it very clear, in chapter 11 of his letter to the Romans, that our acceptance doesn’t mean that the people of Israel have been excluded once and for all. Paul asks, rhetorically, “Has God rejected his people? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles. But if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” Because, Paul goes on to say, “The gifts and the invitation of God are irrevocable!” Our acceptance, then, doesn’t mean that God’s chosen nation has been rejected for ever. In the mystery of his grace, the invitation still stands open for them…
…as it does for us. Because this is a parable about invitations, and along with the Jewish people, we face the same challenge: to respond to God’s invitation to sit at his table, and to enjoy fellowship in his kingdom, today and every day. But for us, the stakes are infinitely higher. We live on the other side of that watershed moment in the world’s history, when the King’s Son came to dwell among his people, and to win the victory over death, just as Isaiah prophesied, “he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.” From where we stand, we know that that mountain was Calvary, where our Lord gave his life for us – and the world was changed forever. It is a fearful thing, an awe-some thing in the real sense of the word, as well as a joyful one, to be invited to sit at the king’s table.
And that is why we do what we do on Sunday mornings. We come, not by tradition or compulsion, but because we have been invited by the king to come to his table and to have fellowship with him. We don’t come because we are worthy, we are made worthy by his invitation. We don’t gather around the table because we have chosen each other like some kind of select society, we gather together here because he chose us, bringing us in from the highways and byways of this world, feeding us right under the very nose of the enemy, leading us in love to green pastures, always and forever being both our gracious host and the holy food that sustains us. As we pray in the service of Morning Prayer, “O that today you would hearken to his voice!”
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