Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (LSB-A)

Matthew 22:1-14; Philippians 4:4-13; Isaiah 25:6-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
To say that Jesus’ Parable of the Wedding Feast is perplexing might seem to be an understatement. Our Lord seemingly turns upside down our expectations and our understanding of the meaning of some fundamental terms concerning our Christian faith – invited, worthy, called, and chosen. To be invited is not necessarily to be worthy. To be called is not necessarily to be chosen. What then do these words mean? Jesus would have you see that your invitation to His wedding feast in heaven is not on account of your worth, your value, your merit, your decision, your choice, or anything in you at all. That you are invited is the gracious gift of the King, God the Father, and not an indication of your worthiness to be invited.
No, your worthiness is bound up in your host, your King and LORD, alone. Will you receive your host’s gracious invitation in Spirit-created and given faith and trust and bear forth its fruit of fear, love, and trust – that is, obedience, – or will you reject it in sinful, rebellious unbelief, demonstrating that your fear, love, and trust are in other things that you have set before your LORD, the stuff of His creation which you worship as false gods and idols? Similarly, Jesus would have you see that, simply because you are called is not the same thing as your being chosen. And, herein lies the mystery of predestination and election –  “Many are called, but few are chosen.” What does this mean? The LORD’s Gospel call goes out to all, to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile. Therefore, many, even all, are called. As in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, the Sower scatters His Word/Seed everywhere, upon all kinds of soil/hearts, without discrimination. However, just as the seed only takes root, grows, and bears fruit in the good soil, so only those are chosen “who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” And so, it is the fruit that you bear – fear, love, and trust in the LORD, along with obedience – that makes you worthy and chosen and elect.
In Jesus’ Parable of the Wedding Feast, the King, His Father, sent His servants to call His invited guests to the feast, but those who were invited refused to come. The King, being good and kind, patient, and longsuffering, sent even more servants proclaiming that everything was prepared, that there was nothing they had to do but come and enjoy the feast, and still they refused to come, and some even treated the King’s servants shamefully and murdered them! Those invited who refused the King’s gracious invitation and murdered His servants were the religious leadership of the Jews, the Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, and scribes. They were invited by their gracious King, but they refused the invitation and rejected Him. The King was angry and He destroyed the cities of those murderers. Those invited were called, but they were found not worthy. They did not fear, love, and trust in the LORD, and they did not bear the fruit of faith. They murdered the LORD’s servants who were sent to them with His gracious invitation, the Gospel, and, ultimately, they murdered the King’s Son, Jesus. It is no coincidence that this parable follows directly after the Parable of the Tenants in which the tenants of the Master’s Vineyard murdered His servants and, finally, His Son. Both of these parables occurred in the days following Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus had the religious leadership of the Jews squarely in mind.
Still, the King sent out His servants yet a third time, this time “to the main roads,” to call and to invite “all whom they found, both bad and good.” You see, there it is, as clear as day – your invitation is not based upon your merit, your worth, your works, your faith, or anything else inside you, but your invitation is by the grace of your King and LORD alone. And so, the King’s hall was filled with the bad and the good regardless of anything attributed to themselves, just like this church today! For, only the sick can be healed. Only sinners can be forgiven. Only the dead can be raised. If you are a guest of the King, it is because of His gracious invitation. And, do not think saying, “Well, I still had to accept the invitation and come,” that you have contributed something. That’s sophistic nonsense. Before your accepting and coming was the LORD’s gracious invitation. Truly, you remain invited even if you reject His invitation. This is the LORD’s doing, alone, and it is glorious in our sight. Do not succumb to the devil’s temptation to reduce the LORD’s grace from a truly free and unconditional gift to a mere prod in the right direction. You are either saved by grace alone or you are not saved at all. You are either invited or you are not. But, all have been invited in Christ Jesus, therefore all are without excuse.
However, “when the King came in to look at the guests, He saw there a man who had no wedding garment.” Now, this was an impossible thing, for the host, the King, provided even the appropriate wedding garment for each invited guest. The only way that this one guest did not have a wedding garment was that he refused to wear it. He didn’t sneak in. He was one of those bad or good who were invited. However, now that he was in, he must have refused to wear the provided wedding garment. Now, much ink (or bytes) has been spilled attempting to explain what the wedding garment represents. However, the wedding garment is not what is essential here, for this unclothed man was already in, he was already a guest just like all the others, he was invited. So, the wedding garment cannot be baptism as many are want to claim, and neither can it be faith, for the unclothed man was already an invited and present guest. No, the wedding garment must be something else. What we must focus upon, however, is not what the wedding garment was, but how it came to be that this invited and present guest, who was most certainly provided a wedding garment, came to be found not wearing one. Again, he must have refused to wear it. If that is the case, then you can well see the disrespect and the irreverence this man showed toward his King. His refusal to wear the provided wedding garment was a display, even a confession, of his lack of fear, love, and trust in the LORD. Now, if the King were merely an earthly monarch, we might consider his reaction to be overly harsh and extreme. However, this King is the LORD God who alone is righteous and holy. He had provided everything for the feast and had graciously invited and clothed all present. To refuse His grace now and disrespect and dishonor Him so would be the height of rebellion and treason meriting the fullness of His wrath against the man’s sinful rebellion and unbelief. This is a parable of judgment, just like the Parables of the Tenants in the Vineyard and of the Wheat and the Tares. The King had the man bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. On the Day of Judgment, the tares, like the unclothed man at the wedding feast, and all who refuse the LORD’s gracious invitation in Jesus Christ, will be bound and thrown into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
Once again, it must be stressed that it was the Jewish religious leadership whom Jesus had squarely in mind in this parable, though it has application for all of us. The LORD had sent them numerous servants bearing His gracious invitation through the prophets of old up to John the Baptist who pointed squarely at Jesus in their presence proclaiming, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” and they rejected them and murdered them, and, finally, they murdered God’s only-begotten Son. They were invited. They were in. But, their refusal to believe, in fact, their rejection of Jesus in spite of who they believed and knew Him to be, damned them to hell. They were invited, but they were not worthy. They were called, but they were not chosen. And, even worse, they were false shepherds, even wolves in sheep’s clothing, and they failed to tell their flock that the LORD’s invitation was for them as well. Therefore, because of their refusal and rejection of the King and His Son, the invitation went out to others, even to all, to the bad and the good, and the wedding feast was filled with guests.
The wedding feast is for your Bridegroom Jesus and for you, His Bride, the Church. God the Father is the King and host of the feast and He has graciously invited all the world in His Son. Many are called, indeed, all are called, but few are chosen. To be chosen, to be elect, is not only to be invited, but it is to hear the Word and “hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” The fruit you bear is obedience and good works. They are not the cause of your invitation, but they are consequence and confirmation of it. Thus, your Lord Jesus proclaims that He is the Vine and you are the branches saying, “remain in Me and I will remain in you, and you will bear much fruit.” Fruit bearing is not an option. Producing the fruit of obedience and good works is the living proof of your being chosen and elected. Therefore, St. James declares, “Faith without works is dead.” This is NOT works righteousness. Your righteousness is in Jesus and is the sole reason you have been invited. But, faith in Jesus is living, not dead, bearing the fruit of fear, love, and trust in the LORD, that is obedience, and love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness for your neighbor without discrimination or exception.
Therefore, if you are concerned that you are not one of the chosen (the elect), know that the chosen are chosen through the call of the Gospel. Worldliness, hostility to the Word, and distractedness from the Word plague all Christians because of our sinful flesh. If this cuts you to the heart, this foretaste of the Great Wedding Feast to come is precisely for the purpose of binding up your hearts and comforting your troubled consciences. “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” You are invited, but only the life of the Vine Jesus flowing through you and bearing fruit makes you worthy. You are called, but only fear, love, and trust in the LORD above all else makes you chosen in Christ Jesus. Behold, the feast is prepared. Everything is ready. Come and eat. Come and drink. The life of Jesus the Vine is poured out for you to forgive your sins anew, to strengthen your faith, to equip you for good works, and to send you forth bearing good and much fruit in service of your neighbor to the glory of the LORD. Jesus’ blood and righteousness are your glorious dress, even your wedding garment. You are invited and worthy, you are called and chosen, that the world may see it. Go forth in peace.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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