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Chapter 21 of Matthew’s gospel begins with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem
and the whole city in turmoil as the Passover approached,
not unlike the turmoil in Jerusalem this past week.
Jesus immediately goes to the Temple Mount and drives out all those buying and selling
in the temple courtyard, as the tension between Jesus and the chief priests and elders continues to grow.
The unsettled crowds of the city regard Jesus as a prophet,
and gather around him in droves to hear the next story that he will tell.
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: ‘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. 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.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” 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.
‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. 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.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’
We will set aside for a moment the difficult questions this parable engenders,
and remember the background for the parable is the joy of the messianic feast,
the celebration of a great banquet to be experienced in the presence of God and all God’s people.
Unlike John the Baptist who lived in the wilderness and spoke of impending doom
with the coming kingdom, Jesus lived among the people,
sharing their daily life and seasonal celebrations.
Jesus came “eating and drinking”, the gospels report, and referring time and again
that the prophetic vision of the messianic banquet had arrived with his presence.
The Church, let alone the world, have probably never fully understood
the joy that Jesus intends for humankind.
Certainly, Jesus bore heavy sorrows and untold burdens,
and he shed tears of anguish in the garden of Gethsemane,
but Jesus also knew wonderful times of joy, he ushered in the joy of the kingdom of God.
One of my favorite renderings of Jesus is of him standing on a fishing boat
on the sea of Galilee laughing and smiling with his disciples.
I can easily imagine that Jesus spent many days smiling, laughing, and enjoying the wonders of creation.
He knew the joy of cooking breakfast on a beach over an open fire,
of hiking to the top of a high mountain and enjoying the beautiful view,
of celebrating at weddings, like the one in Cana, with family and friends.
That particular wedding was such fun that the host ran out of wine!
Some people view Christian faith as requiring them to do all kinds of things they don’t want to do
and give up all kinds of things they would like to do. This is not the way of Jesus!
The way of Jesus is not like the old hermits in the wilderness who denied themselves every good thing.
The way of Jesus is not the way of those who always say “no” with a stern face
and never say “yes” with a smile.
Jesus was not a gloomy person, but a joyful, loving, laughing person
whom children adored and whom crowds flocked to see and hear.
Someone has said that an unhappy Christian is a contradiction in terms.
To be a Christian, to be a follower of Jesus, is to know his joy, to feel his love,
to be well in one’s soul even in the midst of trial and tribulation.
One of the great travesties of life is when someone refuses to partake in joy.
Have you ever known someone who refuses to dance even when everyone else is on the dance floor?
Or someone who refuses to sing even when everyone else in the entire room is singing?
They miss out on joy, and no matter how hard you might try to encourage them,
they seem determined not to have fun, not to enjoy the grace of living.
William Purkey began his career as a beloved public school teacher.
He had a passion for teaching and for leadership and became a tenured professor
at the University of Florida, writing numerous articles and books, particularly on leadership.
A popular quote that has been attributed to Purkey:
“You’ve gotta dance like nobody’s watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt, Sing like nobody’s listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.”
The presence of Jesus, Son of God, the Promised One, was and is! an occasion for celebration, for joy.
When Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God, he said it would be like a fantastic wedding feast.
He said that the coming Kingdom of God will be like a king throwing a tremendous wedding feast
for his beloved son and his bride.
I have often said that our culture does not offer enough celebration in the context of faith.
Melanie and I love to dance, but the only time we dance these days is at a big wedding reception,
when there are already plenty of others on the dance floor.
The people of the church need more celebration, more reasons to laugh and sing and dance!,
not only in secular venues, but also in and with the faith community.
The Apostle Paul seemed to grasp this joy that Jesus intended.
Though Paul had a thorn in his side, though he was under constant anxiety and in turmoil
because of the churches which he oversaw and the persecution he endured,
nevertheless he wrote numerous times:
be joyful in the Lord, rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!
Paul knew that the heart of Christian experience was to be joyful in the Lord,
to gather at table with the Lord and others and enjoy fully the feast of the King.
Jesus came to usher in and host the Old Testament vision of the grand messianic banquet,
when all the peoples of the world would gather together in God’s presence,
be welcome, be at peace, and be well-fed.
We should note at this point how Matthew and Luke differ in their gospels.
Luke’s gospel, written to a Gentile audience, focuses on the message of radical inclusion of outsiders.
Matthew’s gospel focuses more upon the insiders,
on the privileged Jewish audience who may or may not respond to Jesus’ invitation.
Matthew’s parable of the wedding feast, like Luke’s version, refers to including outsiders,
but the force of his telling is on those who ignore the invitation!
Matthew warns elite insiders to stop making excuses for not participating in what God is doing!,
to set aside business concerns and even family concerns and show up! for heaven’s sake
to celebrate with the King.
In Matthew’s gospel, the king was rightly upset when they didn’t respond.
He was incensed when his gracious invitation was ignored.
Most likely referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by the Roman army,
Matthew’s parable includes the sending of the servants to burn the city and destroy the murderers.
Even so, no matter the response of those who took the invitation lightly,
the banquet hall will ultimately be filled.
When those who received the invitation do not come,
the king will send his servants into the streets to invite all whom they meet.
It does not matter if the guests are lame or blind or disabled, homeless or poor
or of a different race or country.
What matters is that there are seats in the banquet hall to be filled and a grand feast to be shared!
There is a King to be honored and a Son and his bride to celebrate!
Have you ever taken the invitation for granted, the invitation to come and kneel before God’s feet,
to share in the cup and bread, to serve and be served in the ministries of the church?
Next week we will share communion together on the first Sunday of August.
We call it the Lords Supper, the “joyful feast of the people of God.”
We say that “They will come from east and west and north and south and sit at table in God’s kingdom.”
Have you ever taken that invitation for granted?
Have you ever presumed that this meal will always be here for you, no matter what,
whether you feel like showing up or not? Whether you stay away for months or even years at a time?
I wish this parable of the Wedding Robe was not added to the end of this parable of the wedding feast.
I do not like it very much; I wish it were not here.
This addended parable has been greatly misused to make people feel unwelcome or less than.
Even though scholars may argue that it was added later,
or that maybe Jesus said it in a different setting and it was combined by Matthew in this text,
nevertheless, it is here. Appended to this story of great inclusion of outsiders,
we have a parable of harsh exclusion of one who wasn’t dressed appropriately.
Remember that the wedding banquet of a King’s son is an event of tremendous hospitality.
Such an event would be a tremendous celebration for any middle eastern village.
Everyone would have planned their attire for weeks or months in advance,
cleaned themselves up as much as possible, and come dressed “to the nines”.
The parable reminds me of Nicaraguan children who dress up for worship on Sundays.
Many in the village of Los Robles live in small huts with dirt floors,
with no closets or electric irons or clothes washers,
but when they show up for worship, they are smiling.
Their hair is combed and their white shirts are pressed and clean.
They appear before God and others looking as best they can.
They have a sense of reverence and take personal pride in being prepared and ready.
In Matthew’s parable, one guest is found without a wedding robe.
We do not know why he was not dressed as others.
We do not know if he could have afforded the wedding robe.
We do not know if he refused to wear wedding garments that may have been handed out at the door.
All we know is that the grand celebration is happening and he appears unprepared and disrespectful.
When asked by the king, he gives no excuse. He remains silent and does not defend himself.
In biblical references, clothes are often symbolic of one’s character.
Did this man have no sense of propriety? Was he neglectful of even the basic courtesy?
Was he rude and uncouth in the manner in which he showed up?
My grandmother would’ve thought so.
She was very particular about such things.
We still giggle about how she would never put a bottle of ketchup on the dinner table,
but would insist on first putting the ketchup in a bowl with a spoon.
When going to grandmother’s house for a holiday dinner, there were no shorts or sandals,
no T-shirts or jeans, but only “decent”, respectful attire.
To do otherwise was considered rude and thoughtless.
Now, times have changed dramatically, and everyone dresses more casually these days,
but many of you know exactly what I’m talking about.
You know exactly the offense which this man was perpetrating.
At first glance, this appended parable seems so unlike the welcoming Jesus.
To toss out a man caught without the wedding robe
seems so unlike the Christian gospel of grace and hospitality.
And yet, here this parable lies, offered from the mouth of Jesus.
While others made light of the invitation and did not show up,
this man made light of the invitation even with his presence.
He was physically present, yet not thoughtful or sincere, not participatory in the occasion.
He made light of the wedding feast and of the king himself.
Imagine if the one dressed so poorly had been the bride or the groom?
Then, we might understand further the force of the parable.
Imagine a groom showing up for his wedding just after working in the yard,
still in his grass cutting clothes!
The bride would not be happy! She would feel unloved and dishonored.
The king, as host, would feel disrespected.
We dress a certain way or show up at a certain time because we love, because we honor,
because we respect.
The man without a robe either thought too much of himself or thought too little of himself.
He appeared before the king at the wedding of the son without a robe,
without reverence, with no respect for the king nor for the other guests.
And so, he was tossed into the alleyway where there was no light,
no benefit of being in the presence of the king.
What he had taken lightly or for granted now was lost.
Our text for today ends, ‘For many are called, but few are chosen,’
which hearkens back to Matthew 7:13-14
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy[a] that leads to destruction,
and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life,
and there are few who find it.
I really like the gospel of Luke and how it focuses upon radical inclusion for the outsiders.
I confess to be disturbed by the gospel of Matthew and its focus on judgment of the insiders.
Both gospels are the Word of God for the Church today.
Which message does the Church most need to hear and take to heart this day, this season?
Thanks be to God for the invitation to the glorious feast of the kingdom of God.
May we never take it for granted. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
July 30, 2017
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Jamie Butcher was born and raised in the Appalachian mountains of East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. She grew up at Central Presbyterian Church in Bristol, Virginia, and tried to spend every minute of every summer at Holston Presbytery Camp in Banner Elk, North Carolina.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
Join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m.
Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God's Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
205 Sycamore Street, Decatur, GA 30030