The Rev. Craig A. MillerMatthew 22:1-14October 11, 2020The King Will Have a PartyA number of years ago at a presbytery meeting, the sermon during the worship service was preached by a man who was retiring and moving out of the area. He told the story of one of his children going off to college, and thinking about all the parental words of advice he could share to help his child in this new journey. So he simply said, “Remember who you are.” Remember who you are as a child of God, as someone claimed by God, as someone loved by God. Remember who you are. That’s really what the Old Testament prophets were saying to the people. But the people didn’t remember. They forgot who they were. They forgot that they were called into a covenant relationship with God, that covenant that was established at Mt. Sinai, in Exodus 19, when God declared that the people of Israel were now God’s royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people. They were God’s people because God chose them. It was not through any actions of their own, not because of their strength, but because of their powerlessness and the goodness of God. Over time, the people forgot about all of that. They forgot about the covenant relationship. They forgot how they were called to live in that covenant relationship with God. We know what that is like. After you do things for a while, you maybe get into a routine where you don’t think about things, or the people with whom you are doing them, and maybe take things for granted, or the intensity of the feeling is forgotten. There may be times when we think that what we have is ours, rather than being a gift from God. There may be times we look around us and instead of seeing the beauty of nature that surrounds us and understanding it all as a gift, we instead think we can own it or control it or abuse it. We talked about that last week. In the Lord’s Supper it is important that we hear the words, “Do this, remembering me.” The great Jewish scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel said one time, “Much of what the Bible demands can be comprised in one word: remember.” Yet we often forget. Near the end of Jesus’ public ministry, during that time after his entrance into the city of Jerusalem and before the meal he shared with the disciples when he said to them, “remember,” he was engaged in some question and answer sessions with the religious leaders, and then he told some parables that did not endear him to those leaders. He told the parable about the laborers in the vineyard. He said that tax collectors and prostitutes might well enter the kingdom of heaven before the religious leaders because the leaders didn’t understand what Jesus was doing, or were too proud to listen to Jesus, but the prostitutes and tax collectors got it. Last week you heard about the parable of the wicked tenants, those who took over the vineyard and sought to own it for themselves. Now today we hear the parable about the wedding banquet, and how those who were first invited effectively forgot about the privilege of being invited to the banquet celebrating the wedding of the king’s son, forgot about the privilege of being in relationship with the king. They went on their merry way doing whatever they were doing, and they ignored the invitation of the king. The people who had been invited forgot who they were. The invitations to the banquet went out, but the people who were first invited were focused on other things. In a former church I served, I was preaching on this passage, and in the congregation was a member of the church who was the widow of a man who had served in Congress for several decades, and was a very powerful person in the House of Representatives at the time of his death. I talked about getting an invitation to a state dinner at the White House, and how most people would not schedule something on top of that invitation. After the service, Joyce came by to greet me, and I said, “I would imagine you got some of those invitations to state dinners.” She responded by saying, “Oh yes, and a state dinner was something you would not miss.” But a lot of the people who were invited to the wedding banquet of the king’s son chose not only to ignore the invitation, but to do harsh things to the king’s staff – beating them up, even killing some of them. Needless to say, the king was not happy, and that anger was clearly evident in what he did. By the way, do not take the “God is like the king” idea too far and think that God will destroy a lot of people. That sounds too much like God causing hurricanes to hit certain places because of issues like abortion or homosexuality (why do people always talk about those issues, not things like God being angry at injustice or lack of compassion?), as though God is a God of destruction rather than of mercy and grace and invitation. And remember, this is a parable. Anyway, the king had a big space to fill in his banquet hall, and he was determined that the hall was going to be filled with people to celebrate his son’s wedding. The king was going to have a party. So he told his servants to go out and invite whoever was out in the streets to come into the banquet hall. They did that, inviting the good and the bad. See how the invitation is not dependent on the works of the people but on the invitation of the king? And the hall was filled with all kinds of people who didn’t expect to be there, but who were probably planning to have a great time. Imagine, there they were minding their own business, going about their own business, planning a night in front of the television – or worse, a night on the street – and all of a sudden they are in the midst of this great banquet hall with an incredible feast before them, and in the presence of the king and the king’s son. It was a really good day for those who said yes to the invitation. Now, in that kind of setting, the king would look around and say, “I’m glad you are all here, because we are going to celebrate my son’s wedding. So tell you what. Ladies, you go into that room, and men, you go into that other room, where there is clothing that is appropriate for a wedding banquet – all of it provided for you, no rental charge. Go in, freshen up, let my people help you with the attire, and I’ll look forward to seeing you in a little bit.” An invitation to the banquet. Tuxedoes and gowns provided for you. What a night! Why would someone say no to wearing the tuxedo? It’s all been a gift, right? So if someone is still refusing the entirety of the gift, the king will confirm the person in that decision. But it is about responding to the gift, remembering that it is all a gift. We are in a covenant relationship with God in Jesus Christ. We have done nothing to make that happen; it is all a gift. We have not created it; we have been called into that relationship. God so loved the world long before we ever showed up in the world, and God so loved the world that God gave his son to the world in order to redeem the world. Jesus went to a cross long before any Christian theologian thought about terms like atonement or justification by grace through faith. Jesus went to a cross long before anybody ever thought that would be a good idea. Paul says in Ephesians that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. Ephesians 1:4 Grace is a gift. Faith is a gift. Life is a gift. We simply have to put it on and wear it with joy and gratitude and humility. You know, it is sometimes hard for us to understand that we’re not the ones in charge when it comes to the life of faith. We want to be in control, as the first-invited guests of the king wanted to be in control, so much so that they took matters into their own hands and beat the servants of the king (the prophets). But we’re not in charge; we’re not in control. We are called to surrender our lives to God, to Christ, to the one who created us and loves us and provides for us and calls us to follow Jesus. We don’t need to tally up our good deeds, or wonder if we’ll be good enough to get an invitation to the banquet. As we are in the covenant relationship with God, we already have that invitation. We just have to show up and put on the clothing that is provided for us. As Paul puts it in Colossians: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Colossians 3:12-13 This parable is a parable of judgment, as the religious leaders were the ones being criticized for forgetting who they were. But the parable is also a parable of grace, because grace was – is – extended to those who were not initially invited to the banquet. Those “outsiders” (we can call some of them, say, Gentiles, which is more good news for us) were no longer outsiders; they were included by the God who is so very inclusive. We have been invited to the banquet. We need to remember who we are. The offer is extended. The invitation has been made. Go to the wedding banquet and have a great time.