This sermon was preached Oct. 15, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran Church Cherry Hills Village, CO. You can watch it live at http://www.bethanylive.org
The texts are Isaiah 25: 1-9, Philippians 4: 1-9 and Matthew 22: 1-14
I have been left speechless more times than I would like lately. Sometimes there are simply no words for what we witness around us in the world. What words are adequate for a beautiful new baby? Or for the miracle a loved one was hoping for? What do we say about fires that rage out of control, killing people, destroying not only property, but also livelihoods. What do we say to loved ones diagnosed with cancer, Alzheimer’s, mental illness or heart disease? What do we say about teens taking their own lives believing that is the only answer despite our pleas to the contrary? What do we say about nations at war and innocent people caught in the crossfire? What do we say when dialog seems to only break down to fundamentalism, blaming and shaming? What do we say? Do our words matter? Do our actions matter?
I resonated with the man in our Matthew parable who was speechless and I wonder if we misunderstand why he was cast out. Jesus tells a parable about a king who invites people to attend a wedding feast for his son and he is refused by people who fancy themselves too busy with their own lives and priorities to attend. Remembering that the parables that Jesus told were steeped in hyperbole, the king became enraged and burned down the city. That is the king decided to see what would happen if the peoples self-selected priorities and tasks were taken away. What happens when everything that we think is important is gone? What happens when priorities, ideas, tasks that we have built our lives around come crashing down? That can render one speechless and in despair.
Then the kings sent his slaves out again, to gather all they could find, the good, the bad and the ugly to come to this feast that the elite, the self-important and self-absorbed had rejected. The king filled his hall with people who did not refuse for whatever reason, and I don’t believe that these people were more altruistic or truly understood better than the first batch of invitees. No, more than likely, these were people of a social rank who wouldn’t normally be included and so how could they say no? This reminds us that inclusion is a tricky thing: to radically include all people regardless of social status, economic status, race, color, gender, sexual orientation, or any other human made category, means that someone else may exclude themselves so to not be included with “certain people.” The slaves of the king couldn’t help who excluded themselves when the first call came to be part of the feast of abundance and love. And the king understood this on some level as well, and so instead kept inviting and including-gathering all that he could.
Then we come to verse 11 with the unsettling tale of the man not dressed correctly for the wedding feast. Scholars have lots of theories on these verses but all admit it’s notion of judgment is troublesome. When confronted with not being dressed appropriately, the man is silent. He has nothing to say. Perhaps he knows that he should say something, but is worried that his words will be inadequate or will spark controversy. Or will his words fall on deaf ears? Or will his words not match his actions and he will be called a hypocrite? After all of this radical inclusion why now is this man excluded for a seemingly small infraction as failing the dress code? After all, he DID respond to the invitation…isn’t that enough? Is it really just about not having said yes to the dress? Or is it his lack of response that sends him to the outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth?
The last three weeks we have wrestled with the parables of Jesus around what it means to fully participate in the kingdom of God and by who’s authority we are included. As good Lutherans, we focus on the unconditional grace, love and mercy of our loving God through Jesus Christ, and this is good. But Matthew is challenging us to not stop there. Our theology must not end with comfort for ourselves, peace of mind that we are ok, that since we don’t earn God’s grace, we don’t have to do anything. These parables are a corrective for that line of thinking that I know lulls me to complacency far too often. God’s grace for ME, God’s unconditional love for ME, God’s uses of God’s authority for ME. This is most certainly true and it has seismic consequences for how I am then in relationship with other people and how I am called to live. God most certainly uses her authority to include all people: people I don’t like, people I would never associate with, people I fundamentally think are wrong. It’s also clear that for God it matters how we live together. So much so that God sent Jesus to show us how. Jesus gave away his own power and authority to eat with tax collectors, prostitutes, lowly fishermen, and women. Jesus used his authority to bring the children to him. Jesus used his authority speak up for the voiceless. Jesus declared that in the coming of the kingdom, God will use her authority to free the imprisoned, give voice to the oppressed, bring light to the darkness. Jesus stood speechless before Pilate instead of using authority to save himself. Jesus suffered and died on the cross in solidarity with all who suffer and die, revealing the power, strength and authority of God to swallow up death, and as we are reminded today in Isaiah 25, and bring us all through suffering to eternal life. Jesus constantly used his authority for the sake of other people and Paul urged the Philippians and us to keep doing those things that we have learned from Jesus, using the authority of love and grace given to us from Jesus, for the sake of bringing in the peace, shalom, of the kingdom of God.
It might seem easier, like the man without the robe at the banquet, to remain silent when asked how we are included as a child of God and how we or others belong. But remaining silent is not our call-we are called to speak out against injustice, to speak out in solidarity for the oppressed, the weak, the powerless, the voiceless. To not speak is to be in the outer darkness, to be separated from the truth of God’s kingdom. But more than our words, God calls us to action. What we do matters. We wear the robe of Christ, as given to us in our baptism. We sometimes forget that baptism is not only about personal salvation but is a public proclamation for what God has already done through Jesus Christ and that we are co-workers in community with God for the sake of reconciliation, justice and peace for all people-no matter what. God wants us to use the authority that we have through our baptisms, authority that only comes from God, for the furthering of this mission. Colton, you will now have an active role in this mission from God. Your actions matter little man, not because your salvation is at stake but because God’s mission in the world is at stake. People desperately need us to not only open our mouths about God’s love and mercy, but even more desperately need us to boldly use our lives to show them God’s love and mercy.
Our busy lives distract us from our own invitation and from extending the invitation to our neighbor from God to participate in the abundance, joy and rejoicing that is offered to us all. Our busy lives tell us the falsehoods of scarcity, worry, entitlement, status, autonomy, independence and using our authority for our own gain. We lull ourselves into complacency that little ol’ us doesn’t matter. Jesus says different, you matter, because you are a part of something bigger, more abundant, more creative, more than you can ever imagine in the heart and life of God. Your actions do matter: Go to candlelight vigils, speak prayers and sing songs of healing for those who grieve from tragedies, go to a sick loved one’s bedside with tears, prayers and a casserole, go to the Red Cross to donate blood or money for fire or hurricane victims, go to the funeral, or more importantly, go and visit with the grieving several weeks later, go talk to the beggar on the street corner and ask her how she is, go to a memory care unit and listen to stories for the hundredth time with a smile, holding hands and a tear, go and offer compassion and reassurance to youth as they struggle growing up in a world that demands perfection above all else, go and bring Christ with you to the outer darkness, go to where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth in order to point to the light that the darkness cannot and will not overcome.
Yes, sometimes our words may not seem eloquent, or adequate but we are not to be left speechless or powerless in the grace, mercy, love and authority of Jesus Christ. Rejoice in the Lord always, let what we have learned from Jesus be known to people around us; use our words, tasks, lives and authority for healing and uplifting of people on the margins; God’s power and strength surrounds us always with peace that goes beyond the end of conflict and moves us all into the wholeness of the kingdom of God where all are invited, included and loved.