October 15, 2017

19th Sunday After Pentecost Year A

Yesterday, I had the privilege of officiating at the wedding of Mary and George Benjamin’s daughter Laura to her now husband Chip. It was a beautiful ceremony with much rejoicing. And unlike the parable Jesus tells in our Gospel reading today, no one refused to attend or was killed because of bad behavior. So, to get us started in dealing with this difficult parable of Jesus, let me say a few words about who the different characters seem to represent.

The King is God, Jesus is the King’s son, the initially invited guests represent the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, the second group of invitees, the “good and bad” are the common people, outcasts, the poor, tax collectors, prostitutes, that Jesus tends to associate with. The destruction of the city refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE by the Romans. The wedding guest not wearing the proper wedding garments probably refers to someone like Judas who betrays Jesus after being welcomed to the feast but decides not to wear the appropriate attire so as to dishonor the host.

So Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a wedding. Not just any one, mind you, but a royal wedding where the handsome prince marries his beloved, and the king puts on the banquet to end all banquets.

And when Jesus starts talking about the kingdom of heaven, we need to recognize that Jesus is talking about the reign of God and how it intersects with the way we live our lives today.

There’s a problem, you see. The king sends out invitations to all the appropriate people. They accept, honored to be remembered by their sovereign. But the custom in that country is for the invitation issued months in advance to be followed up by another notice just before the event takes place.

Surprisingly, this second notice meets with rejection. People make jokes about it, even though it comes with the royal crest. It seems that those invited have other things to do, deeds not evil, but ordinary. One tends to the farm. Another to his business. Perhaps a third decides that the drawer containing his socks is in urgent need of rearrangement.

This behavior sounds utterly foolish. Who would offend the king in this way and miss the party of a lifetime? But as Jesus tells the story, it happens in the kingdom of heaven. God’s reign is not for everyone apparently.

Some tear up the royal notice that summons them to the wedding feast. The wedding feast of life. They refuse to recognize what should be obvious: that this wedding is not about them. They are neither bride nor groom. It is an honor they are invited. They simply need to show up.

Sometimes we too act as though life is not somebody else’s wedding. However we understand it, we assume life is about us, that we’re the beginning and the end of the whole thing.

And so we decide to protect our lives. We become preoccupied with the past and what we have done, as well as the future and what we intend to do. We would rather stay on the farm, or devote all our time to business, than go to a party at the palace.

And what’s the reason for our strange choice? When we keep to the ordinary grind, we can maintain the impression, at least for ourselves, that it’s all about us. When we accept the invitation, get ready for the banquet and go, then we must admit that we are guests, and the wedding is somebody else’s.

To stay stuck in the usual rut may seem productive and responsible, but it amounts to self-protection, a way to keep claiming that it’s all about us.

Responding positively to God’s invitation to the wedding feast points us in a different direction. We recognize, often joyously, that it’s not about us. The wedding is somebody else’s, and we’re fortunate to be on any version of the guest list. This is God’s party, and that’s worth celebrating.

Trusting God means we no longer need to protect our lives. Our host is more than generous. We don’t have to stay in our rut; we can climb out and join the fun.

The kingdom of God is a party. The wedding belongs to Christ and his bride, the church. We show up at the banquet, and the prince has wounded hands. Jesus has not protected his life; he has offered it, and his Father’s blessing is to bless those that follow him.

Walter Bouman, a professor at Trinity Lutheran Seminary died in 2005 of inoperable cancer. Earlier that year he had received the news that he had only a few months to live. Someone who knew him well remarked that his dying was “faithful, worldly, wise and marked with humor.”

In one of his final sermons, Bouman spoke about the freedom of the Christian:

“The resurrection of Jesus Christ frees us,” he announced,
“to do more with our lives than protect them.
We are free to offer them.
We are called to love the world,
to want clean air and water for everyone,
to give ourselves to the service of peace
instead of blindly following our leaders in senseless wars,
to commit to the cause of justice,
especially when our institutions and our country are guilty of injustice.
This is a big order.
But you are free to pursue it by the resurrection of Christ,
who has put an end to the dominion of death.
We are free for the battle because the victory is already won.”

Walter Bouman was not afraid. Nor do we need to be afraid. We are free for the battle because the victory is won. We need not stay in any small rut where we imagine it’s all about us. Instead we can climb out, get dressed in the splendid robe the king provides us, and walk into the wedding reception, rejoicing, and certain that a place awaits us at the banquet table among those free enough to offer their lives.

The prince with wounded hands has sent me to welcome you to his marriage feast at this altar and in this world. For that may we give thanks to God.