Grace and Peace to you from God our Creator and Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen
How could Jesus tell such a violent scary parable? The kingdom of Heaven Jesus begins…and proceeds to describe an ugly scene of death and destruction as invited guest refuse to come to the wedding. And again, an awful scene of a guest not dressed appropriately being bound hand and foot and thrown into outer darkness. Followed by those wonderfully consoling words: "Many are called but few are chosen."
What kind of God does this story depict? What is Jesus trying to tell those who are listening? What does this mean for us? It is a parable…told by Jesus a short time before he is crucified….and it is a story recorded under some awful circumstance.
This lesson from Matthew was written after the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem. The situation for Jews in general is very tenuous and awful. The little group of Jews who claim that Jesus is the messiah is even more vulnerable…as the government targets them and the tension mounts between the Jews that believe Jesus is the Messiah and those who don't is growing. When the story is told the promise of a banquet…. A place of being invited to be in a safe place of welcome, and protection by the king is a wonderful image of hope. For the earliest Christians in Jerusalem…this parable is a promise of the end of persecution, the promise of God's kingdom carries them through death, destruction and the hopelessness of the Roman culture around them.
As Jesus tells this parable he has tried through the Sermon on the Mount to share the hope and good news of the kingdom of God. He has tried to tell those who would listen about the goodness of God's kingdom…the mustard seed, the pearl, the treasure hidden in the field. He has tried to warn them to change from the church traditions and rules that have developed to divide and label people to being a welcoming loving, caring community. He has tried to shared a vision of hope and love… now only days from his crucifixion…He tries again LISTEN…YOU HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY HERE. Listen you are invited to a wonderful banquet….Listen, the kingdom of heaven is like this…those who don't come are missing out…those who refuse to hear….loose. Those who can't smell the wonderful promise of the banquet ahead…it is awful for them. Listen….everyone is invited…IT is awful for you who choose not to come. Listen how awful it is. So as he moves towards his end…Jesus tries desperately to make it clear how close a great is the kingdom of God… and how wonderful it can be. And the temple leaders, those who are sure they are right, those who have studied the word…those who look with disdain on the little ones…they can't hear the invitation.
Imagine today, a group of persons gathered at the most incredible banquet they have ever seen or tasted. Imagine that they have come from a place where a sniper is shooting people randomly in another city…but they know it could happen in their city too. Imagine that they have gathered at this banquet knowing that on any given morning the clouds could thicken so deeply that over 25 cars can hurdle into one another creating a firestorm and killing randomly. Imagine that they have gathered as their government prepares for war and they know that the young among them may be facing death in a far off desert, that all face possible shortages and limitations or unimaginable destruction as retaliation and anger blossoms throughout the world. Imagine as they gather that some among them are hurting as loved ones battle cancer, disease, hopelessness, mental illness, loss of jobs, and general fear.
Imagine these folks gathered in a place filled with music and hope, filled with life, filled with joy. And in this place, a meal is served that comforts them, gives them strength and ties them together in love. In this place everyone is dressed in a special robe. It is a robe called baptism. It is a robe that they did not have to buy or make. It is such an outfit that each person glows beautifully and the giver of the feast sees each one as a beautiful creation. The king does not see any of their faults, or errors or sins.
And most incredibly, as the banquet continues each person begins to see the beauty of all the others. And they pray for one another, and share their resources with one another giving generously from all they have. They even bring glue sticks for little pre-schoolers, books for children in need. In their baptismal robes they learn to see each others gifts and learn to love each other and see each other as the king sees them wonderful created people all unique, all beautiful, all saints and special guests.
Imagine then that these folks fed and comforted and loved and filled with joy are sent out to bring this joy and hope, love and compassion to others who must live in that scary world of random murder, immanent war and personal fear. They go into a local school and share their time and talents with young people who may not even know about the banquet. They sign up for walks against hunger and stand and pray for peace and justice with others from around the world. And imagine that the people who have been fed at the table go forth and as they bring the peace of God, which passes all understanding…. their hearts and minds are guarded by Jesus the Christ.
And as they go their leader whispers to them…beloved…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy or praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in this banquet…and the God of peace will be with you.
This morning the banquet is set…This morning we have been dressed in our baptismal robes….this morning we are fed with the word and the greatest meal ever prepared…. and this morning we are sent forth filled with hope, and love and the joy of Jesus to shine in the world of car crashes, snipers, immanent war and personal pain proclaiming the good news that the kingdom is at hand….that the kingdom meal is ready…that love and justice, peace and hope are being served.
Imagine what a difference this would make in the life of all who met those banquet goers….imagine what it would be like if we put out our hands this morning and received such a powerful gift. AMEN
Delivered by Susan Ruehle
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer,
Racine, WI, October 13, 2002