Message by Pastor Pokora – October 11, 19th Sunday after Pentecost

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

Each week our parish coordinator, emails the Gospel for the coming Sunday to friends and members of our congregation in a weekly newsletter. I forward the lessons to a friend of mine, who lives in Ankeny Iowa. He not only reads the Gospel email, but often comment or asks a question, which sets me thinking. His questions prompt me to begin my sermon reflection and preparation. This week he read the Gospel and replied he didn’t get the point. I wasn’t surprised. This text requires a little extra thought.

As you have heard, Jesus told a parable to his disciples about a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. Unfortunately, the individuals invited to the wedding banquet were neither excited about nor impressed with nor interested in attending the banquet. This king doesn’t have the cache Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain has where public officials and society leaders scrambled for an invitation to her grandson William’s marriage to Kate Middleton.

The king believes a misunderstanding occurred and sends his servants back a second time, asking the local nobility to show up. He tells them, “I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and fatted calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” Ha, ha. This is one tough crowd. Not even a second invitation moves them.

The invited guests make light of the invitation. Some leave for their farms, while others seize and kill his slaves. This is a big no-no. The first rule in Emily Post’s book of Etiquette is don’t make the king mad. Well, these folks make the king really upset. He sends troops to destroy the murderers, and burn their city. This action illustrates the old saw to never turn down a free lunch, especially from a king with a short temper and armed soldiers at his command.

The king is exasperated. He commands his servants to go out in the streets and gather anyone they can find, both good and bad, until the wedding hall was filled with guests, which they do. But now we come to the part of the story that Ron Beltz founding perplexing. In the midst of the crowd attending the banquet, the king spies a man not wearing a wedding robe. By now it ought to be obvious to all that this king and his quick temper should not to be disturbed. The king becomes outraged. He directs his anger at the man who came inappropriately dressed for the feast.  The king calls his attendant and says to them, “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 and few are chosen.” The invitation alone is not enough. You have to be prepared.

To my friend, and to us as well, the king appears to overreact a tiny bit. We understand why his royal highness worked himself into a frenzy over people who killed his slaves. That was not a good thing to do. But here we have this poor chump scooped off the streets and brought into the wedding banquet. We know already everybody and their brother had been drug in off the street. But it seems a tad harsh to bind this fellow hand and foot and throw him into the outer darkness. Frankly, if the king’s dress code could be applied to modern weddings in our own community, half the attendees would find themselves tossed onto Tanglefoot Lane. The story concludes with that teasing/testing line, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Understanding this text requires some historical background to interpret the message. First, we recall Jesus borrows the parable’s wedding imagery from the Prophet Isaiah. Hear Isaiah 61:10: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole shall exult in my God for he has clothed me with the garment of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with jewels.” The wedding imagery speaks about being ready to receive God and enter the kingdom.

When Matthew wrote his Gospel, Judaism and Christianity were in the midst of a nasty divorce. Judaism rejected Jesus as the Messiah. Christian were excluded from the synagogue and left to follow a separate religious path. It wasn’t pretty.  Matthew wrote in the thick of this titanic struggle and uses the parable of the wedding banquet to make a point. The people who reject the Son are the religious leader of the time. The wedding banquet is Matthew’s way of speaking about entering God’s kingdom. He wants to say those who reject Jesus lose their place in God’s kingdom. The people welcomed into the banquet from the street are those who accept Jesus as Lord and enter the kingdom.

Now we come to the guy who left his tuxedo at home. When Christianity opened itself to the Gentiles, people flooded in the doors. But within Christianity a debate took place about what is required of these recent converts. Matthew intends to close the loopholes that admit anyone. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” The Gospel of Matthew sets a higher bar for Christians, expecting the Christian community to live their faith out in word and deed, in discipleship. Isaiah describes those ready to receive God, as wearing the robe of righteousness. The guy at the table doesn’t have that robe of righteousness. He’s not prepared to enter the kingdom. That’s why this parable concludes with the admonition that many are called but few are chosen. Some folks are ready and some aren’t.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German, pastor, theologian and martyr, lays this whole debate out in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, where he distinguishes between cheap and costly grace. You may recall Bonhoeffer offered this definition of cheap grace: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ living and incarnate.” Cheap grace is self-bestowed, worth nothing.

Bonhoeffer describes costly grace, on the other hand, as costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a person his life, and it is grace because it gives that person the only true life.” Costly grace is linked directly discipleship. Discipleship sets us apart from the world around us. We live in this world, but we do not conform to its vanities, pressures, temptations. We are the body of Christ, the Church, living according to God’s will and purpose. Discipleship follows Christ.

Today, through our Gospel God, invites you to God’s great banquet. Do not cast that invitation aside, but gladly accept it. Come prepared, however, for the banquet. Be clothed in the robe of righteousness. Be prepared for discipleship. The Apostle offers this insight into the meaning of discipleship: “Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.