Grace and peace to you, from God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, this is a nice little story we have from Matthew’s Gospel. What title would you put on this story? Usually we call it the "Parable of the Wedding Feast.” Maybe the "Parable of the Wedding Feast from Hell” would be better! Now, this not just any wedding feast. It is the wedding feast the king is giving is for his son. So only the wealthiest and connected people are invited. To be invited to such a banquet was a great honor, not to mention a great opportunity to network with the other wealthy guests — and maybe have a word with the king too!
There is only one problem. The invited guests refuse to show up! When the king requests your presence at his son’s wedding, especially in the time Jesus is talking about, it’s not a good idea to not show up. It can be dangerous to displease the king. The guests know this, and refuse anyway. In fact, their refusal says more than that they just don’t want to come. By refusing to attend the wedding, these folks are questioning the king’s authority to rule the country; and even more, they are questioning his son’s claim to be king after him. What an insult! And just in case the king doesn’t realize the rebellious nature of these guests, some of them beat and kill the messengers who have been sent to escort them to the wedding! The king’s response is swift and terrible. He declares war, and destroys the cities of those who killed his servants. The king then has his servants fill the wedding hall with whomever they can get to come — good and bad, rich and poor.
That’s what we might think the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Everyone is invited to be a part of the celebration of God’s love. Everyone is welcome. No one is left out. This is not what some imagine Heaven to be like. Some people believe there are people who won’t get into heaven: people who are bad; people who don’t believe in God, maybe even people they don’t like! So when Jesus tells the people the Kingdom of God is like a wedding feast put on by a king and everyone off the street is invited, that may make some of us uncomfortable. But then we get to the second half of the story Jesus is telling — the part about the guy who shows up for the wedding wearing his old dirty work clothes instead of a wedding robe. He gets thrown into the darkness to weep and gnash his teeth. It seems a little harsh doesn’t it? All he did was forget to change before going to the party. But remember, this party is being thrown by the king. And when I read the commentaries, I learned that it was the custom at a wedding to provide robes for the guests. So, what is up with this guy? Maybe like the guests who refused to come to the party, this guy is disrespecting the king — not by refusing his invitation, but by mocking the whole grand event by showing up in his overalls.
It this also the Kingdom of God? Will God throw us out of the Kingdom for not dressing right, or not doing exactly what God wants? I don’t think so. We have to remember that this is a parable. And parables are told to make a point. Granted this parable is way over the top with its punishment, and war, etc. But maybe we are called to see that the problem with this guest is that he is not fully participating in the celebration. The Kingdom of God is not just about showing up. If it were, we would baptize the whole world and be done with it. No. God calls us to repent and follow Him. God loves us just as we are. And God also loves us enough to call us to change our ways. To allow God’s love into our hearts is to be changed by that love.
It would be like showing up for worship every Sunday only for the purpose of seeing friends or catching up on the latest gossip. I am here to tell you, if that is the only reason we are showing up to church, we could get all that at the diner, or Starbucks, or at the local bar. And we wouldn’t even have to get up on a Sunday morning!
Participating in the Kingdom is more than showing up. It’s about allowing God’s love to change us. Allowing God to teach us to trust and love each other as God loves us. If God is living, acting, moving throughout our lives and the lives of all of creation, we too are called to be active in our faith. Being a child of God, being part of the Kingdom is about acting, as much as it is about being. It’s about allowing God’s love to flow through us and empower us, to serve our neighbor, to take a step out of our comfort zone, trusting and honoring God in everything we do. Amen.