An Unorthodox Wedding Banquet
Go to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find. — Matthew 22:9
Have you ever been invited a big wedding or other special celebration and ended up RSVPing “Not able to attend”?
I would guess that all of us at one time or another have declined such an invitation. I know for us, and probably many of you, we have family and friends scattered all over the country and even the world,
And because of the cost of flights or the time it would take to get there and back, we have regretfully had to turn down the invitation and miss the big celebration.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus tells a parable about an invitation to a big wedding banquet thrown by a king for his son. It has the makings of a great story, culminating in a big joyful celebration,
But instead, it turned out to be a very unorthodox wedding feast. Because soon after the invitations go out, the wheels start falling off and everything spins out of control.
If this was a Hallmark movie, viewers would turn off the TV and vow never to watch anything on the Hallmark channel ever again. Because they are all supposed to end with a big happy wedding, right?
But in this story, the original guests who received invitations didn’t bother to RSVP, even after the king sent out his servants to personally invite them.
So the king gave them another chance, and sent his servants out to them again to invite them. But this time, the best responders were people who ignored the servants and went off to do their own thing,
And everybody else rounded up the servants and killed them.
This didn’t please the King, and so he sent troops in to kill the murderers, and while they were at it, they burned down their city.
But the wedding must go on, the king says, so he instructs the servants he had left to go out to the main streets and invite any warm bodies they could find to the wedding feast, good people, bad people, and everyone in between.
And they came and filled up the banquet hall for the wedding.
End of story, right? Not really.
Because there’s a problem. One of the guests doesn’t put on the proper wedding attire. The king confronts him, the guy has no good alibi, and then the King has his people tie the guy up and throw him out of the banquet and into the darkness, where people are weeping and teeth are gnashing. Not a good place to end up.
So what began as a joyful wedding celebration ends up transforming from a Hallmark movie to a Lifetime Network thriller and maybe even something that you’d see on Dateline. In some ways, it fits the horror story genre.
This is one of those passages in the Bible that leaves people scratching their heads, asking “why is a story like this even in the Bible?” It leaves us pastors wondering, “how am I going to turn this into something presentable to my congregation on Sunday morning?”
If the King in this story indeed represents God, then this view of God doesn’t fit nicely into my understanding of who God is, at least the way that I want him to be. You see, I am drawn to a God who is kind, gracious, forgiving and peaceful.
And I do like that the King ends up inviting and including all kinds of people at the wedding banquet. This fits my belief in an inclusive God who welcomes everyone at the table in his kingdom.
But then this story seems to show a God who is not kind, but mean; not gracious, but vengeful, not forgiving, but condemning; not peaceful, but violent.
And as much as we try to sanitize stories in the Bible and things that Jesus said, there’s no amount of Clorox wipes that can clean up this story so it would be approved for a kids’ Sunday school class, maybe not even for an adult Bible study.
But it’s right here, in the Bible, and it’s a scripture in lectionary readings for today, so we’re going to deal with it.
I’ll start off with a disclaimer and say that I don’t know how to make sense of everything in this parable. There are things that I don’t understand and cannot even attempt to explain.
And as I read some commentaries of scholars to try to glean some wisdom from people smarter than me, most of them were just as baffled as I am, and couldn’t offer much help. So I’ll quote scripture here and cling to the promise in 1 Cor. 13, which says:
“we see in a mirror dimly, but someday we will see face to face”. That someday just won’t be today!
So instead of using any more time to try to tackle the things that baffle me about this story, I’ll focus on lifting out a couple of things that I have a little more clarity on and see what we can learn from this parable.
First, it’s important to understand a bit about the genre of parables. Jesus told a lot of parables, and he told them to describe what the Kingdom or Reign of God is all about.
So usually the King in a parable represents God. Now I believe that God’s most essential character trait is love; that’s God’s essence—God’s love expresses itself over and over again through his kindness, compassion, grace, mercy and forgiveness.
And I wish that God’s identity would end right there. But being a God of love also means that God cares about justice, and with justice, there are judgments made,
And sometimes those judgments fall upon people who refuse to act justly toward others. God created all people in his image, and God values and loves all people.
I believe that God has a special concern for those who are poor and on the margins of society, and because these folks are powerless and can’t defend themselves.
God stands on their side and defends them against people who mistreat them, who seek to devalue them and rob them of their God-given dignity, and try to take advantage of them for their own gain.
This is a actually a recurring message of the prophets in the Old Testament, and we also we it in the New Testament in places like the song of Mary, the Magnificant, where she proclaims that the rich and powerful will be brought down and the poor and lowly will be lifted up with the coming of the Messiah, the Savior.
The audience for this parable was the same audience that heard Jesus’ words on authority that we talked about a couple of weeks ago, and so it included religious leaders like Pharisees and temple priests, who were the keepers of the gate of their religion, the power brokers so to speak.
These leaders were hard of heart and constantly criticizing Jesus, and like the original people invited to the wedding banquet, they rejected the invitation to understand faith and the Kingdom of God in the new way that Jesus presented it, a way that was good news to ALL people.
And because they believed that people who didn’t follow the kosher and cleanliness codes of their faith were “unclean”, they considered them “sinners”, “deplorables”, and they were not welcome at their banquet tables, both literally and figuratively. Heck, they wouldn’t even eat from the same food truck as these people they considered disgusting.
Not only that, but the religious establishment of the day believed that these kinds of people were unworthy of God’s love and unfit for inclusion in the community of faith. And they put up barriers to keep them out.
Now we know that the author of this parable is Matthew, and from what we know about Matthew at the time he wrote this gospel is that Matthew was a leader of a community of Christ-followers which included both people from Jewish background as well as non-Jews, or Gentiles, many of whom had not so stellar backgrounds.
They were a ragtag group which was looked down upon by upstanding religious folks and excluded from full participation in the synagogue.
So, like many other of Jesus’ parables and teachings, there is a focus here on judgment upon those who try to exclude other people from experiencing God’s love and being part of God’s people.
Being a community that is open and welcoming of all people is important—it’s important to God, and it’s important to us here at Daniels Run Peace Church.
Our vision statement on the cover of our bulletin and at the top of our website says: “Living love, growing justice, welcoming everyone”. In fact, this parable should really resonate with us because the other two parts of our vision statement are also reflected in this parable.
God’s love is shown by his invitation to all kinds of people to the banquet, and we’ve already seen how God’s passion for justice informed the plot of the story.
So this parable is a reminder to us to always be a community that is welcoming to anyone who walks through our doors or joins us through Zoom.
When I first came into the Mennonite Church about 40 years ago, in some churches there was this distinction between those who were “cradle Mennonites” and those who became Mennonites as adults like I did.
Sometimes those of us who didn’t have the right last name or who didn’t know how to sing in 4 part harmony or couldn’t tell you what MCC or MDS stood for, sometimes we felt like second class citizens and not truly welcomed in the church.
Being from Italian Catholic background, I felt some of this stigma and sometimes felt like I didn’t truly belong. But fortunately, I did end up feeling at home in the Mennonite Church, and I think that our denomination has come a long way, and especially in urban churches like ours there’s little if any distinction between those who grew up Mennonite and those who didn’t. And here at DRPC there’s a wonderful diversity of cultures and ethnicities and religious backgrounds represented.
Also, this church made a significant decision just this past summer to be openly welcoming toward people in the LGBTQ community, which expands our banquet table even more.
I have also noticed how this congregation welcomes people wherever they are on their spiritual journey, that you don’t have to be completely orthodox in your theology in order to be accepted as part of this faith community.
These ways that DRPC welcomes all people opens the door for great conversations to happen at our table, and opportunities for us to learn from one another and grow with each other in new ways.
I read some statistics this weekend that alarmed me. Do you know what a “None” is? Not a n-u-n, but a n-o-n-e?
“Nones” are people who claim no religious identity or church affiliation. And overall, there are an increasing number of people who self-identify as “nones” in every age demographic.
In 10 years, between 2008-2018:
In 20 yr olds, Nones have increased from 34-42%.
40 “ “ “ 24- 35%
60 “ “ “ 14-25%
There are many factors which have led to this increase in “Nones”, but some of the reasons are that to the “Nones” the church has become irrelevant, or exclusionary, judgmental toward the outside world, bigoted, filled with hypocrites, and so instead of attracting people the Church is repelling them.
So now more than ever the church needs to heed the call to be a welcoming place for all people. And my hope for us as Daniels Run Peace Church is that we can continue to invite people to our table, and make space for new people at the table, making them feel welcome and helping them feel like they are valued and truly feel like they belong in our community and in the Church, the body of Christ in the world.
So I believe that one big takeaway of this parable is to remind the Church to be welcoming to all people, to resist becoming exclusive in any way and to work at breaking down any barriers that would keep out people who want to get in.
And there’s one other takeaway that I’d like us to pull out of this parable. And it has to do with the last part of the story, the part where the King confronts the guy who’s not wearing the proper wedding clothes.
So what this is telling me is that being welcomed at the table isn’t the end of the story. It matters how the guests behave at the banquet, there are table manners that the King expects people to abide by.
Applying this to the Church, while everyone is welcome in the community of faith, there are certain standards that God desires that we live by, it’s a way of living according to the values of God’s kingdom that Jesus modeled for us and invites us to imitate.
The passage we heard from Colossians gets at this kind of life that we are called to live out as Christians, and it explains it through the metaphor of getting dressed, of clothing ourselves, dressing our lives up by putting on the very character of Jesus.
Paul says, “clothe yourselves with compassion, with kindness, with humility, with meekness and patience.
He says to put on Christ’s character by bearing each other’s burdens, by being willing to forgive one another, and above all, to clothe ourselves with love, because that binds everything and everyone together.
Paul says to clothe ourselves with the peace of Christ in our hearts, and also with a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving.
Clothing ourselves with the character of Christ is like wearing the right wedding garment to God’s banquet table. When we live this way, we present ourselves holy before God and we present a good witness to those in and outside of the church.
To me, this task of putting on the character traits of Jesus sometimes means taking off or letting go of some things that hinder us from honoring God with our lives.
Maybe there’s an attitude we have that is getting in the way of clothing ourselves in Christ—a prejudice toward a group of people, judgments that we make toward someone that writes them off, maybe it’s a negative attitude toward ourself that hold us back from becoming all who God created us to be.
Or maybe we are holding on to an affection that is hindering our love for God and for the things that God wants us to love. Our hearts are sometimes fickle, and sometimes they are captured by an affection for a thing or an ideology or even a that can become an idol, something we worship that drives a wedge between us and God.
Or maybe there are certain actions or behaviors that are becoming habits in us that would be best for us to let go of and replace with a way of living that helps us live in peace and harmony with ourself, with God or others.
God wants every part of our being to honor him—our attitudes, our affections and our actions. These are our wedding garments, what it means to clothe ourselves with Christ and submit ourselves to his Lordship in our lives.
It’s like the song we sang earlier, “just as I am I come to rid my soul of one dark blot, to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God I come.”
So may God grant us the desire to please Him with every part of our being, may He give us the courage to let go of what we need to in order to clothe ourselves with the character of Jesus,
And may we continue to make space in our church and in our lives to welcome people who are longing to experience the acceptance and peace and love of God in a community of faith. AMEN.