Updated: Oct 16
a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.
October 15, 2023
MATTHEW 22:1-14 NRSV
1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Did I say last week’s piece of Holy Scripture was a little crazy? Well, this week’s passage just called last week’s and said, “Hold my beer.” I mean, we have crazy king who kills people who refuse his invitation to a wedding feast. We have crazy guests who refuse a free party, all you can eat, cake included. Does it get any crazier?
It’s important to remember these are “stories.” Despite those who want to use them as prescriptions for how we ought to act, they aren’t always. We call them parables. They aren’t reality as such. What they do is generally depict something about the way things are and then twist it in a way that surprises us. The effect is to get us to think about what we consider reality. Keep in mind Jesus often told these stories with outrageous elements. I think it was for two reasons: to keep the audience’s interest, and to make us think.
As I said last week, the religious leaders who were the primary audience - for last week’s parable and this week’s as well – were holding on to their reality – what we might call ‘the status quo’ - tightly. They were not open to any alternative realities. They were not interested in Jesus’ description of a “kingdom of Heaven,” or a “kingdom of God.” They knew that any talk about alternative “kingdoms” was dangerous if the Governor or the Emperor heard about it. In Jesus’ way of speaking God could invite them to all the wedding banquets God could offer, and they wouldn’t attend because Caesar was a bigger threat than God for them. Their purpose in life was to play the role of “religious leaders” while keeping the Romans happy.
So what is our purpose in life? What about your purpose in life? I want to suggest that we all need a purpose in life. Too many of us don’t really think about it much. Too many others of us have the wrong purpose, even if it isn’t a bad purpose like crime or evil. Is your purpose in life all about your work? What if you are retired, which most of you are. Is it to be the perfect spouse? What if you are divorced or single or a widow or widower? Is your purpose, is my purpose, tied up in a role we play? Or is it something deeper? I might say it this way: “What is your ‘Why’ for living?”
Have you ever thought about this? What is God’s purpose? Some might say God’s purpose is to save everybody from hell. Someone else might say it is to be worshiped and adored 24/7 by 100% of people. What if God’s purpose is to get us all to come to the party? That’s what a wedding feast was - and is – a great big party! Jesus is describing the ultimate fulfillment of God’s reign a wedding feast. Many of Jesus’ parables are about parties. I don’t believe Jesus intended the wild details of killing the guests who refuse to come to be put into practice by Christians. And I don’t believe it was only supposed to be a party after this life. For far too long Christianity has been used by the powerful to keep the powerless in line by promising them a reward – a party - in the afterlife. And a lot of times that party sounds pretty dull, if you ask me. I believe fully that we have misused Jesus’ words by making them into a promise for the afterlife when he was talking mostly about THIS life. His vision was the fulfillment of God’s reign – God’s party – in this world, in this life!
So let me suggest that if God’s purpose is to throw a huge party for all of creation and all of God’s creatures, then our purpose must be to come to the party. I like that! Why would anyone refuse to come to a party? Maybe they think the Guy throwing the party is evil, or hateful, or whatever, I don’t know. So this parable has me thinking about reality and questioning my concept of reality. That’s probably a good thing. If my why is supposed to be celebrating God’s wedding feast all the time, not just after this life, then I need to reconsider my why, maybe?
Most of you know Tammy and I are big fans of the music of Jimmy Buffett. When we got to Jacksonville, we were looking for a way to connect with people beyond just our church folks. Tammy found out there was a Parrothead Club there. Again, most of you know, but if you don’t know, “Parrotheads” is a nickname for Buffett fans. Now, when we decided to join the club I learned something that I really liked. Every Parrothead Club has to go by the motto, “Party With a Purpose.” They do that by engaging in an amazing number of charities and community service projects. Our club did trash pick ups on the beach, raised money for Altzheimers, walked in walk-a-thons for scholarships and other causes. One of the last years we were there they raised over $27,000 for charitable causes! And they weren’t much bigger than this church, really. That’s knowing your purpose and living it.
Now, I’m not suggesting we need to start serving margaritas and cheeseburgers for our communion, although I’m not against having them afterwards. But my point is if our purpose is to celebrate God’s purpose in our lives maybe there is more we can do, or different things we can do to celebrate that. Maybe we need to invite people to party on Sunday with us more! Do you think more people might say yes if you said, “Hey, we are having a party Sunday at 10 am with a lunch after, wanna come?”
The character in the parable that is confusing to most is the poor guy who did come to the wedding but didn’t have on the right clothes and that weird king has him bound and cast out into some horrible teeth-gnashing place. Weird, huh? Well, I read somewhere that in those days it was the custom at wedding receptions for the wealthy folk to give their guests a robe to wear while they were at the reception. So, if that is true, the explanation I get from this is that, the guy who was not properly attired was at the feast, but didn’t really want to be there and not wearing the robe was a way to protest being forced to party. Who wants someone like that at your party, huh? Grouchy old Uncle Frank over there on the couch, frowning at everyone, arms crossed, refusing to dance, or eat cake, or enjoy himself. Might as well throw him in the pool, at least everyone else will get a laugh out of it. And who knows, maybe Uncle Frank will lighten up!
I have some sympathy for those religious leaders Jesus was trying to get to lighten up back in his day. We “religious leaders” often get way too serious about our jobs. Some think they are supposed to control everyone’s behavior, save everyone’s soul, and perform every religious act perfectly or God may strike them down. But that’s just wrong. Jesus tells the outrageous story as outrageously as possible to help us recognize just how ridiculous we can be when we make religion a burden, faith a requirement of perfection, and life a sad, dreary time of keeping rules and fearing God’s wrath.
Every one of us is facing untold problems. If I sat down with you and you told me every thing that keeps you up at night, or I told you every thing in my life that worries me we’d both be crying our eyes out. In the meantime, God keeps sending out invitations to join the party God is holding for us. Because when it comes down to it, the wedding is on, and God wants to marry us. Yep, that’s right. God loves you so much God wants to marry you, throw a big party for you, invite all the people on earth and in heaven to eat cake, drink the champagne – or the sparkling apple cider – and even do the chicken dance. And you know why God keeps inviting us to party? Because God knows that this will all work out ok. All these problems and tragedies and terrifying problems will be made right. That is God’s promise – to redeem all things and Jesus’ resurrection is a sign of that. It is the foreshadowing of the resurrection of all things. And that is a perfect reason to party. In the end, nothing, not death, not evil, not suffering can defeat God’s intention for redemption, for the transformation of all things for good. That is God’s promise. That’s a pretty good reason to party, and in doing that we praise God. To celebrate God’s redemption. That’s a real party.
In the face of all the problems of life, I try to remember this parable, and my purpose in life is to celebrate. The wedding feast is on. Let’s go. You say you need a reason to celebrate, a reason to praise God? I got ten thousand reasons. Let’s go. AMEN.