A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho
October 12, 2014
Our passage today is a continuation of Jesus’ answering questions about his authority. “When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
He’s already told them some parables, that we’ve heard the past few weeks, about laborers at a vineyard, and about producing good fruit. He has made it clear that the religious leaders have missed the whole point. And this text continues the theme.
The religious leaders were invited to be God’s people, to participate in the work of the Kingdom, to be guests at God’s Table, to put on garments of joy and celebration and life and hope.
Instead, they kill the messengers and ignore the prophets.
Instead, they kill the heir and ignore the instructions from God.
Instead, they show up to the party with so little respect for the host that they refuse to accept the garments of joy and love and hope, instead wearing the grungy old garments of judgment and righteousness without mercy.
‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’
I tend to get hung up on the garment business in this parable. I think, “okay, Jesus. You’re being a little extreme. This guy wasn’t planning on being at the party, why are you judging him for not wearing his tuxedo on the off chance someone was going to compel him to attend a banquet?”
I don’t think Jesus cares what actual clothes we wear to worship. This is a parable where clothes stand in for less tangible things, like the behavior of our hearts.
I had an experience this week that gave me a different perspective about what it means to put on the right garments when you’ve been invited to the banquet.
As some of you have heard, I’ve recently found my birth father’s family. My birth father died a number of years ago, which I had suspected because I knew he was 55 when I was born. I exist on this planet today because my birth father had an affair with my birth mother. He cheated on his wife with my mother, which leaves me in an odd existential crisis.
Anyhow, I tracked down his daughter this week and I called her and told her I existed and that we were sisters.
I wasn’t sure what sort of response I would get. I couldn’t prove my story, exactly—all I had was a name that my birth mother had given me in a brief phone conversation. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had been upset with me for exposing a sin and a secret that had been kept for 45 years.
She clearly had not been expecting a stranger to call her with such news, but she quickly said, “wow. I have a sister.” It was that simple. She invited and graciously welcomed me to the proverbial family banquet.
She could have just hung up the phone.
She could have said, “yes, you’re my sister. But please don’t tell anyone our father’s name.” She could have invited me to the banquet but then told me not to tell anyone how I was connected to the groom’s family.
Instead, she told her kids, and told her friends. She gave me permission to tell the story on my blog, for the whole wide world to see, or at least the 4 of you who read this blog. She didn’t just invite me to the banquet, she’s gave me a seat of honor at the party.
In a few weeks, I’ve gone from not knowing even knowing my birth father’s name to being welcomed into the McCourt family as his daughter.
It has been overwhelming to be on the receiving end of that kind of acceptance and hospitality. My new sister is inviting me to her home, to meet her family, at the end of the month.
A second cousin has been equally welcoming, sharing all of her considerable genealogical work she has done on the family and sharing photographs of people who look an awful lot like me.
I can’t quite put it in words, yet, but their welcome, their inclusion of me, their generous invitation to a family banquet is changing me.
To be the recipient of that kind of grace, kindness, and love has to change a person, right?
I’ve noticed myself wondering, “am I being as generous and gracious in my interactions with people as the McCourt family has been with me?”
The bigger truth, of course, is that we’ve already received grace, welcome, and inclusion that is even greater than the welcome I’ve received from my birth father’s family.
What I hear in the wedding banquet parable today is that God has invited us to the feast. Whether or not we are particularly worthy or deserving, whether or not we knew we were on the guest list or not—we find ourselves guests of God’s great banquet, where grace, mercy, acceptance, love, and life everlasting are on the menu.
Friends, this is the Good News of the gospel. It is for you and it is for all.
How will we respond to it?
Will it change our lives in visible ways so people will know we’ve put on garments of celebration and gratitude?
Or will we just stay in our garments of “life as it used to be”, before we knew about God’s love in Jesus?
I’m not really concerned about our reputation in the community—I think we do what God has called us to do just because God has called us to do it. But I wonder what the community thinks of when they see us.
Are we the place that welcomes all to the banquet?
Is our joy so visible in our lives that we wear it like a garment that others can see?
Today in worship, we get to celebrate the sacrament of baptism. Kate and her daughter Jumelle will be clothed in the new life. We quote Galatians in the baptismal liturgy:
“As many of you were baptized into Christ
have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
So, as we celebrate their baptisms, let’s remember our own. We’ve been clothed with Christ, not because of our own righteousness or worthiness, but because God has chosen to invite us to the party. It’s that simple.
And yes, the Kingdom of God is a party,
its a celebration,
its a feast of abundance.
Is your faith something that brings you joy? I pray it is. I pray the joy of being welcomed into a new family, of being invited to a joyful feast will transform your life in ways others will see.
May it be so. Amen