Sunday, October 6, 2013

Homily for The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 20)

Matthew 22:1-14; Ephesians 5:15-21; Isaiah 55:1-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a party, a festive wedding banquet, in which everything is prepared, ready, and free, to which you are invited, so that you need do nothing at all but come. You don’t even have to buy a new suit or gown, for wedding clothes are included in the invitation. And yet, you refuse to come. You make excuses. Or, you insist on paying for your dinner, wearing a suit or gown of your own purchase and choosing. Haven’t you heard the saying, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth?” The kingdom of heaven is a gift to you. You cannot buy it. You cannot earn it by your works. And, you certainly don’t deserve it. But it is yours for the taking, absolutely free, no strings attached, as a gift. You are in, by the Father’s, by the King’s gracious working. Only you can make yourself to be out.
But, this is a parable, an analogy. The kingdom of heaven isn’t really a wedding feast, although there will be a feast and a wedding, but the kingdom of heaven is a relationship of love between a father and a son. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.” Long before the invitations were sent, the guests invited, the beasts slaughtered, and the dinner prepared, long before all that, there was a father and a son. The son is getting married, and the father is going to throw a wedding feast for his son whom he loves. It’s all about the son. The banquet is for him and his bride whom the father loves. Indeed, the father’s love for his son is what makes the wedding feast to be the incomparable free gift of grace that it is. For, the father has done everything for the sake of his son because he loves him. And, that’s why absolutely everything that is necessary is already prepared and there is nothing for you to do, nothing for you to bring, nothing for you to buy, nothing for you to earn or to deserve, but it’s all free, absolutely, completely free by grace, and by grace alone, because of the father’s love for his son.
Yet, this isn’t any ordinary wedding banquet, for the kingdom of heaven isn’t any ordinary kingdom, and the King of Heaven isn’t any ordinary king. Likewise, the invitation isn’t any ordinary invitation, but it’s more like an offer you cannot refuse. Of course, you actually can refuse it, and, sadly, many do, but what I mean is that you shouldn’t refuse it, you shouldn’t want to refuse it, and, if you truly knew the nature of the invitation you have received and the implications of its refusal, you wouldn’t want to refuse it. No, this is no ordinary banquet, but this banquet is life, and its refusal is death. To refuse the King’s gracious invitation is to say, “No thank you, I’d rather die first.” Be certain of this, you will! This is why Jesus warns you of the grave implications of refusing to come to the wedding feast, or of insisting that you come on your own terms. Twice the king appealed to the invitees to come to the wedding feast, but they refused. Some even killed the king’s messengers! Therefore, “the king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” The wrath of God is not His proper disposition towards us, but rather His alien, or foreign disposition towards those who refuse and reject Him, but it is nevertheless real and uncompromising. Yet, no one need face God’s wrath against sin, for the invitation is to all through Jesus Christ – It is His wedding feast, and the Father, the King, would have His banquet hall filled.
Thus, the king said to his servants, “Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find. And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.” You see, badness or goodness are not conditions for participating in the wedding feast, but it is acceptance of the king’s gracious invitation. It was, and it is, by the king’s grace alone, for love of his son, that anyone is invited. It is by grace alone that you are saved, it is by grace alone that you must be saved, for it is by grace alone that you can be saved. Those initially invited were found unworthy because they refused and rejected the king’s gracious invitation. However, those invited later were not found unworthy even though some of them were bad. It is not badness that condemns you, or goodness that saves you, but you are saved by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ.
Still, one of those guests gathered from the highways and the hedges was found by the king in the wedding hall without a wedding garment. The king had him bound hand and foot and cast into the darkness outside the gates. Why such harsh treatment to one who had responded positively to the king’s gracious invitation? Well, again, it is by the king’s grace alone that anyone enjoys his banquet, which includes, not only the invitation, mind you, but the proper attire as well. In order to demonstrate the totality and completeness of his grace upon his invited guests, the king in Jesus’ parable even supplied the proper wedding attire. His guests need not purchase, borrow, or worry about having the proper clothing, for all would be provided by his grace alone. Free means free – period! Thus, the king asked the man, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” To put it another way, “What arrogance and disrespect, to reject and to refuse the wedding garment I have provided for my guests!” Grace is the only way in. You are invited by grace, and you must be clothed by grace. Anything that you do and put your trust in will surely put you out.
But, again, this is a parable. Therefore, we’re not even really talking about a wedding or a banquet, and we’re certainly not talking about the proper tux or gown! The wedding garment is Christ’s righteousness, given to you by grace alone in Holy Baptism. The only way that you can enter into the kingdom of heaven is through Christ: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” Christ’s righteousness must cover you. Jesus’ blood must cover you. And, holy Baptism gives this gift to you, purely and freely by grace alone – no strings attached. You don’t even have to understand it. You don’t even have to believe in order to receive this gift. But, this gift gives all that is required: It forgives sin. It clothes you with Christ’s righteousness. It even creates faith that clings to Christ alone. It’s a gift of God’s grace – perfect, pure, and holy, unlike any other gift you could ever imagine or receive! That’s what the man who was cast out had refused and rejected. He had refused and rejected God’s gift. He had refused and rejected Christ’s righteousness. Therefore, he had no standing before the King, and necessarily, he was cast into His alien wrath.
But, here’s the real kicker: You’re not just guests at the wedding. You’re the Bride! The wedding garment of Holy Baptism isn’t a tux or a gown, but it’s a wedding dress, pure white and spotless. Jesus says that “many are called, but few are chosen.” Indeed, only one is chosen – You, His precious Bride, the Church! “From heaven He came and sought Her to be His Holy Bride. With His pure blood He bought Her, and for Her life He died.” Though you are many, you are one body, His body, flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone. He will never leave you or forsake you, and nothing can separate you from His love. His Father loves you because He loves His Son. Graciously He gives you all things, for He sees you as one flesh and one body with His Son. In Him, nothing is spared or reserved, but all things are yours. But, apart from Him, you have nothing.
That’s why Jesus warns, “Whoever is not with me is against me” and “You cannot serve two masters,” for you are wholly His by grace alone, or you have no part with Him at all. That is why the Prophet exhorts you to “seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near,” for the time is coming when the gates to the wedding hall will be shut, and outside there will be darkness, weeping, and the gnashing of teeth. But, the good news, the Gospel is this: No one need be found outside! The invitation is to all, whether Jew or Gentile, good or bad, believer or unbeliever. It is delivered by the Holy Spirit through the Word of the LORD and it has the power to create faith when and where He pleases. But, don’t try to buy or to work your way in, and don’t try to wear your own garment of works and pride – you will be cast out. But, come without money. Come without works. Just, come, and receive. For the LORD is good, and He graciously gives to all whose eyes look to Him, to those who desire the goodness of the LORD.
Come, now, and receive His gifts. The invitation is for you today to feast on this foretaste of the Great Wedding Feast of the kingdom of heaven. All is prepared for you, the Bride, to receive the goodness of your Groom. “Our Bridegroom and our Lord is He, who gives us our identity; and He whose promise can’t grow old has nothing that He will withhold. For this is He who did ascend and preaches still to all earth’s end through all His preachers who proclaim salvation in our Savior’s Name.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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