Salem Lutheran Church

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Invited to Gather & Change

Now isn’t this a cheery text! I mean, just when you think things are looking good the whole premise of the parable seems to take a turn for the worse with those final two verses, when the king says, “ 'Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:13-14). This one man seems to be treated so unfairly.

This is not an easy text to listen to and it is not an easy text to talk about. For many, when we hear this parable we think it is about God’s judgment and punishment, but the more I read this parable, the more convinced I am that this parable is about God’s grace and mercy. It is a story about a God who loves his creation so much that he won’t give up on us and it is a story about a God who continues to invite his people to change their ways. And in the end, it is about a God that will even let his people reject him, and yes, when we reject him, there are consequences to our actions.

So, let’s take a look at this parable. Jesus begins by saying “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son” (Matthew 22:2). This story is about the kingdom of heaven. This is a story about how the King, God, will make the kingdom of heaven available to everyone. You know, as a pastor, I am privileged to be a part of so many people’s lives. One question I hear often has to do with this very subject. It is the question of “Have I done enough?”. It’s that nagging question of have I done enough to get to heaven. We’ve all asked it, or at least wondered it. Have I been good enough? Have I been faithful enough? Have I helped enough? Have I forgiven enough? But none of these questions will provide the answer we really want to hear.

Heaven is not a place we earn the right to go to! No, as Jesus shares with us today, the kingdom of heaven is a place we are all invited to. Now, initially, the king sends an invitation to a select few. The problem is, those select few weren’t interested in coming. Why would anyone reject an invitation to heaven? Well, I would say there are two reasons. The first of which is that one might reject the invitation because we reject God and God’s ways. But to be honest, I don’t believe that’s why most reject God’s invitation. No, I think the most prevalent reason is that we believe we have more important things to do. In the parable, they had business to run and farms to tend to, and to be honest, there were just too many other things that were more important to them at the time. They had things to do, so they rejected the invitation! Twice the king asked them to come and twice the people rejected him. They knew accepting his invitation was critical, but they had their jobs, their property, things they had built themselves, things they were using to define their worth in the world, so they rejected the invitation. This isn’t any different than our world today, is it? Too often we confuse our worth with what we do. For so many of us, our jobs and family situations are deeply tied to our sense of worth. For most of us, even if we know down deep it isn’t what God says, we believe we will be OK, or saved, if we just fight the good fight, if we do our duty and be a good person. The kingdom of heaven is not a place we have to do things to get to, it is a place that God invites us to come to, as we are.

In the parable, the king didn’t stop with that second invitation; no, the king issues a third invitation, but this time it isn’t to a select few, but to everyone, both the good and bad, and this time the banquet was filled with guests who accepted the invitation. God’s invitation to partake in the kingdom is for everyone; now that is Good News!

Now it would be awesome if Jesus had ended the parable there, but he didn’t, did he? Just like there are consequences to rejecting the God’s invitation, there are also consequences in accepting the invitation. In the language of the parable, the banquet was full, but the king finds one of the guests not wearing a “wedding robe.” And when asked why not, the wedding guest could not answer, and so that man is kicked out and punished. You have to feel bad for the man, but before we go to far down that road, let’s remember that this is a parable and it is intended to teach us something.

Now we don’t know a lot about first century royal wedding customs, but based on this story, it was apparently known that if you went to a royal wedding there was proper attire, and based on how Jesus tells this story, most scholars would agree that this man does not represent a poor, unknowledgeable person who the king decides to shame and punish, but instead this is a man who would have known better and chose to ignore what he knew he ought to do. The man chose not to change for the wedding banquet, just like many of us don’t want to change our lives to fully partake in God’s invitation. We, like this man, cling to what we have, what we do and what we think is our worth in this world, and, yet, God invites us to a place where our worth is not based on what we do, but by the fact we are God’s. To continue to live the same way we are living knowing we have received God’s gracious invitation is not an option for us. No, the good news today is that all God asks of us is that we receive the gracious invitation to the banquet and find a changing room, for it’s time to live a new life. This is a story of a loving, gracious, and merciful God who will not give up on us and continues to invite us to the banquet. The question is, are we ready to change our lives.

This month marks the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation. Legend says that on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church. These were 95 statements that Luther felt were changes the church needed to make to help it reform so that it might better be ready to help God’s people live into this incredible invitation. As we look back on history, many attribute his 95 Theses as the beginning of the Reformation.

The Reformation was about change and reform, and that change and reform are things we ought to constantly be seeking so that when that final invitation comes to attend the banquet we will be ready. Today, Jesus is inviting us to change our lives, so that we too might be ready to receive that invitation.

So what ought we change in our lives? I would ask you to seriously think about that this week. What is it that we need to change in our lives, in the life of our congregation, and/or in the life of the wider church so that not only we, but all God’s people, are better equipped to accept God’s invitation? When you leave today, you will find these slips of paper by the old wooden door in the narthex, and I invite you to write on these slips of paper the changes you hope to make or you hope the church will make, and then I invite you to post them on the door with the tacks that are there. The door will be there for a couple of weeks, so please keep praying and thinking about this and then take the time to share them on the door.

Our salvation is not dependent on what we do, but on God’s mercy. May we change our lives so that we might not only live into that but that we are able to show that promise to the world. Amen


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