Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
October 19, 2014
As I have been doing for my past two sermons, we’ll continue to look at a section of the covenant that exist between me and the congregation. The third part of the covenant is a shared ministry. Ministry is something in which we all participate. I hope you have viewed this shared covenant; if not, check it out online or stop by the office for a copy. Much of this section of the covenant in which I refer to today deals with our assigned task in carrying out the various aspects of ministry: pastoral care, outreach, mission and education. We’re all in this together! In the sermon, I want us to focus on the church’s main mission as set forth by Jesus Christ. We are to be his witnesses and to make disciples. We are to invite people into God’s kingdom! If I was to speak of evangelism, many of you will cringe and have visions of knocking on strange doors or preaching on a street corner. So let me rephrase our purpose. We’re to invite people to a party. We know how to party, to have a good time and so did Jesus. He was always at dinner parties and he describes heaven as the ultimate dinner party, the heavenly banquet, the grandest homecoming ever! Doesn’t it sound better to invite people to a party instead of beating them over the head with the Bible? Of course, we must make sure it is the right kind of party. Our passages from Scripture today both speak of parties—one good and one bad. In our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we learn of an atrocious party in the wilderness. The Hebrew refugees from Egypt celebrate after they’ve molded the golden calf. This is kind of like the “Burning Man” festival, which occurs over Labor Day weekend every year in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. This passage reminds us of how we, as a part of the human race, are willing to sacrifice for the wrong things! The Hebrew people took off their jewelry and gave up their treasures in order to have a “false god” in which they could see. Of course, God’s envoy, Moses, crashes the party and refocuses the people’s attention to the one responsible for their deliverance. In our New Testament reading, we’re going to hear about another party—the heavenly banquet. This parable is an allegory. The king clearly represents God, the son for whom the party is thrown is Jesus. Those who send out the invitations are prophets and missionaries, and those who reject the invitations are those who refuse to hear the gospel. This parable is the third of three parables in which Jesus attacks the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem. In all three, there’s a foretelling of the church, of God’s attempt to invite everyone (including gentiles) into the kingdom. But this parable has a different twist. There’s a catch. Not only is this good news for those of us who are not children of Abraham, but there is a warning about coming to the party unprepared. Let’s look at the text… (Read Matthew 22:1-14)
I would like to draw your attention to the passage at the beginning of the bulletin which comes from Eugene Peterson’s memoirs. Peterson grew up in Montana as a son of a butcher. As he looked back on his life after four decades of ministry, he realizes the role his father and his father’s butcher shop played in how he viewed ministry. The West, well into the first half of the twentieth century, could be a rough place. Two blocks from the Peterson’s butcher shop was a brothel. Of course, good people wouldn’t be seen there but there was always gossip and scuttlebutt in the air about this den of iniquity. The women were looked down upon by respectful townsfolk. But not in his father’s butcher shop. There, they were treated with respect. His dad insisted on calling them by their “Christian names” and would not allow any gossipy talk about the women occur in his presence. There were also many Native Americans living on the edge of the town and many held racial prejudices against them. They were poor and alcoholism rampant. Again, Peterson’s dad insisted on treating them with respect. When they came in to purchase a cheap fatty piece of meat, the only thing they could afford, his father would slip a nicer cut of meat into their package. Peterson summaries what he learned about church from his father’s shop in this manner: A congregation is composed of people who, upon entering a church, leave behind what people on the street name or call them. A church can never be reduced to a place where goods and services are exchanged. It must never be a place where a person is labeled. It can never be a place where gossip is perpetuated. Before anything else, it is a place where a person is named and greeted, whether implicitly or explicitly, in Jesus’ name. A place where dignity is confirmed. Friends, this is what we’re called to be about. A congregation consists of people like us. We are not worthy, but are thankful we have been called by a gracious God and therefore strive to create a place that reflect the values of the Kingdom to the world and demonstrates an alternative to the present reality. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus combines two parables. As an overview, I suggest the first parable applies to what we are to be doing and the second is a reminder that we’re really not in charge. The first parable is about the party… more specifically, a wedding banquet. The king who is throwing the party sends out an invitation telling people to be ready. Everyone in the king’s court is busy as they roast calves and prepare that huge ox… The idea of two invitations is important. The first alerted people to the upcoming feast. The second invitation was sent right before the feast was to be served. It’s like ringing of a bell at the Ponderosa Ranch, Ben Cartwright calling Hoss and Little Joe to the table. But there is a problem. The call to the table is issued and everyone has an excuse. The king then sends out others to call people to the table and this time, as if they are tired of being hounded, they beat up the messengers. This infuriates the king and he has their city destroyed. But dinner is prepared and it’s time to eat. Without refrigeration, this food will all go bad, so he now extends the invitation to everyone. Instead of respectable guests, peers of the king, we now have the homeless, those with physical limitations, and those who are not normally invited to such gatherings fill the hall. Everyone enjoys the food and drink and the king is happy until he sees one person without a wedding robe… Now, I wish Jesus had ended with the first parable, for that one is easy to understand. The King is God and I think it is fair for us to see ourselves, as Christians, as either those who were invited late to the dinner (the first group was a warning to the Jews who didn’t accept Jesus) or as the King’s slaves who are sent out to gather in guests for the feast. I’ll come back to this line of reasoning in a sec… When man who was without a robe was unable to answer the King’s inquiry about why he wasn’t dressed appropriately (and I’ll avoid making a comparison here to dress code debates I’ve have heard about at the Landings), the king has him bound and tossed into the outer darkness. Wow, this hard to understand. Don’t you agree? And it’s even harder to accept… But here it is in scripture… How might this passage apply to us? What can we learn from it? As I was thinking about this passage, I realized that I could preach several sermons from it, but today I want us to think of where we would fit in the passage. As I said earlier, we are either those who are drawn into the feast by the king’s servants, in which case we should be extremely grateful or we are the slaves who are inviting others into the banquet. Actually, I think we can be placed in both categories. We experience the first as we’re drawn into a relationship with Christ and then, as his disciples, we are sent out to invite others. That’s our mission, our shared ministry. We’re to change the world, but not by some big program but by making disciples for our Savior, one at a time… Now, let’s look at the one who came underdressed to the banquet. As I said, this is a hard passage. Why wasn’t he wearing appropriate attire? We don’t know. If he didn’t have a robe, why didn’t he say so? The king, who has been gracious to the point and is even kindly in the manner he approaches the man (calling him “friend”) may have provided him with an appropriate robe. Of course, that’s speculation, but what we’ve learned about the king is that although he can be angry when his servants are mistreated, he is generally gracious. After all, he extended multiple invitations to his guests and instead of letting the food go bad, opened up the banquet hall for everyone to come and enjoy. What does this mean? Ultimately, I think this passage reminds us that we’re in the business to invite others to the kingdom, regardless. The worthiness of those who come, who answer the call, isn’t our business. That’s God’s business. We’re given an assignment, God can sort it out. Jesus tells another parable, that of the grain and the weeds, where we also told not to judge but to let each grow, reminding us that the judgment is not our responsibility. We’re to live gracious lives, inviting others to come to meet Jesus. This is not just my job as Pastor, nor is it just the job of the Elders. All of us who are disciples of Jesus are called to be both inviting and welcoming of others. How well do we do this? What do we need to work on to be for efficient? Let me know… Today, we have a homecoming dinner as we welcome those who have come back after having spent their summers in cooler climate. We welcome you back, and we remind you of your assignment as we take seriously this “shared ministry” in which we are engaged. Again, welcome back! I feel privileged for the opportunity to join you on this journey. Amen.