Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year A – Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – October 15, 2017
In Indianapolis this past July, Sarah Cummins was planning to get married. She’d been planning her dream wedding for two years, working overtime, scrimping and saving for the $30,000 event. But the week before, the couple called off the wedding. Left with heartache and a nonrefundable venue, she wondered what to do. After all, she had 170 plated dinners lined up for a Saturday night at the Ritz Charles. As she was cancelling everything, she says she started to feel sick about throwing out all of that food. And so, working with the event planner, they rearranged the reception area and began calling local homeless shelters, inviting the residents to her party, complete with wedding centerpieces. Sarah even arranged for buses to pick up the residents and their families and local stores donated clothing so that everyone could look their best. That evening, the community enjoyed bourbon-glazed meatballs, goat cheese and roasted garlic bruschetta, chicken breast with artichokes and Chardonnay cream sauce and, of course, cake.
As Cheryl Herzog, a director at one of the shelters said, “Being homeless is stressful for an entire family. ‘I suspect having the chance to experience a delicious meal with your family in a beautiful space like the Ritz Charles will be very special for them.’” From pain and sorrow, came generosity and joy for a community. The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a bride who invited the poor and homeless to enjoy new clothes, a lavish meal, and time with others in a beautiful place.
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. … ‘Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’”
Banquets, receptions, and feasts are supposed to be full of people. They are supposed to be shared together, at once a display of the host’s generosity, graciousness, and wealth, but also an event meant to bring joy and often to celebrate. But who is invited? Who gets to come to the feast? Who gets a seat at the table? I remember when Jeff and I were planning our wedding and trying to figure out how many people we could invite. Then there was the issue of, “well, if we invite so-and-so, we need to invite this person, too…” What a headache! Familial and societal expectations are never really displayed so much as at weddings.
But Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like wedding banquet where the normal attendees don’t want to come and all the unexpected people – “both good and bad” – show up at the king’s request. The king wants the wedding hall jam packed, and so he sends out his slaves to bring everybody in from off the streets. God is like that king, inviting the good, the bad, the sinner, the saint, the rich, the poor, the religious and the seeker.
As Lutheran rapper, yes, Lutheran rapper, Agape sings,
Even though I haven’t read my Bible in a year,
Do I still have a welcome place waitin’ for me here?
Even though you saw me at the bar last week,
Do I still have a place that’s safe for me to speak?
Even though I cursed on the court playin’ ball,
Do I still have a place that will care for me at all?
Even though I feel a little different than you,
Can this still be a place that I can feel renewed?
And even though I shout during service in my wheelchair,
Can this be the place for me where people still care?
Come as you are, all are welcome, Come as you are…
All are welcome. The invitations are sent and God wants the party full to the brim with every kind of person under the sun. Each week Christ prepares a banquet in our midst and is not only the host, but gives us his very self.
Sadly, though, sometimes we’re like the first party guests the king invites. We don’t want to show up. We make light of the invitation, brushing it off. Or we go about our business, thinking it’s more important. As Gregory the Great wrote, “But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business. To go to your farm is to involve yourself excessively in earthly toil. To go to your business is to long for the gain brought by our worldly activity. Neither takes notice of the mystery of the Lord’s incarnation. They are unwilling to live in accordance with it.” They fail to take notice of the mystery of the incarnation. They miss the mysterious presence of God in their every day lives. They are so busy with their own stuff, they miss the wonderful, extravagant life God is inviting them into. They go through life with their eyes shut, missing the kingdom of God present all around them. And so God reaches out to those who are alert, and eager to follow those stirrings of the heart inviting them to something more.
Then we have this tricky bit about the poor guy who shows up with the wrong outfit. Maybe he just came in from working or was too poor to have a wedding robe? But seriously, everybody else had time to find the right garb – what’s up with this guy? And he seems to know he wasn’t really supposed to be there in his present state because when the king calls him out, he’s speechless. Needless to say, it doesn’t end well for him.
But if everyone is welcome in the kingdom of heaven, what about this fellow? Do you have to do something to be in the king’s good graces? No. The kingdom is breaking in even now. In baptism, you have been clothed in Christ’s righteousness and you are a new creation. The king asked for a garment, but he also generously gave you one to wear.
All are welcome in the kingdom of God’s grace. Through Christ’s work on the cross, we have even been given the appropriate attire. But we have to wear it. The invitation is not to be taken lightly or ignored. It is for our joy, our freedom, our life, and our hope that we embrace the sometimes difficult way of discipleship. And so we prepare ourselves to receive what God has to give. We worship, come to communion, read scripture, pray, and serve others here and in the community. We don’t like hearing, “for many are called, but few are chosen” because it means something is expected of us, which makes us nervous. Yes, God invites us, seeks us out, and pursues us with a relentless love. And that’s breathtakingly beautiful. But we are also given the opportunity to respond to that love. There is the responsibility to live out our faith. So do we dress up in our finest and follow Jesus on the journey of discipleship? Or do we make excuses not to attend the feast or half-heartedly show up without the proper attire?
There is a last temptation in this parable: assuming the role of the king and choosing whom we will allow in whether in personal relationships, in groups, in congregations, or in society. We want all to be welcomed so we can live in the kingdom, but we want to be the ones who get to say who belongs and what that looks like. However, that’s not our call. We are all fellow attendees at the banquet of God’s grace. And we are called to welcome others like Sarah Cummins did at her wedding banquet, even if that requires making sacrifices. To see God’s kingdom around us, in the least, the marginalized, and those whom society has disregarded or ignored. To experience the joy of God’s kingdom as we did worshiping with adults who are differently abled from Green Meadow Homes on Wednesday. To pay attention to what God is doing right in front of us like we did yesterday during the Children’s Interfaith Concert, where children of different backgrounds and beliefs came together to play, work, and sing for unity and peace. It spoke of God’s love and hope active in our world. Thank you, Jen and children! All of this is beautiful, but it also asks us live outside what might be our comfort zones and to confront our preconceived notions and prejudices head on.
Because the incredible thing is that all different people come to the banquet, but we are made into one people in Christ. We are united in and by something far greater than ourselves. We are nourished by this amazing grace, and though we continue to fall short, we continue to be forgiven and transformed. We are fed here so we can invite others to know God’s love for themselves.
We will always be wavering and struggling with how to respond to God’s grace. And we will be tempted to take God’s invitation lightly or be so busy with what we deem important that we neglect the life in front of us. But Christ has already clothed us in his righteousness. We are invited to trust that that garment fits like a glove, and, with it, we cannot only attend the feast God sets for us, but invite others to the party. So come as you are. The kingdom of heaven has space for you and you are welcome to this table of grace. May Christ prepare and adorn your hearts to receive him and to go share the invitation with others. Amen.