Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | October 12, 2014

2014.10.12 “Put on Your Party Clothes” – Matthew 22: 1 – 14 (Luke 14: 15 – 24)

Central United Methodist Church
Put on Your Party Clothes
Pastor David L. Haley
Matthew 22: 1 – 14 (Luke 14: 15 – 24)
October 12th, 2014


Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come.  Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’  But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.  The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.  Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’  Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” – Matthew 22: 1 – 14, New Revised Standard Version


Like you, Michele and I occasionally receive wedding invitations. If I’m officiating at a wedding in the near future, it’s usually not a surprise; but if I’m not, sometimes it is, and it becomes a guessing game. So we ask: “Who do we know that’s getting married?”

Opening wedding invitations is a ritual in itself, like opening a Russian matryoshka doll. There are multiple envelopes, little pieces of paper, lace and ribbons, all intended to convey the special nature of the occasion.

Once inside, most invitations follow a similar style:

Mr. & Mrs. So and So

request the honor of your presence

at the marriage of their daughter, ________,

to ______________

on Saturday, the ____ of October,

at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Upon receiving wedding invitations, some people – especially women – ask, “Do I have anything to wear?” Others of us – especially many of us men -ask a different question: “Do I have any legitimate excuse not to go?”

Don’t get me wrong, I love weddings and wedding receptions as celebrations of joy, it’s just that most of them today are so ritualized, you rarely get to spend any time with the people you most want to talk to, the guests of honor: the bride and groom and their families. Because they’re seated way up there, and you’re seated way back here.

And, of course, while generally weddings receptions are without surprise, every now and then there are moments of surprise, even terror. A few years ago I did a wedding for one of my fireman friends. On this occasion I was seated at a table with some of my very best friends, and we were – let’s say – celebrating.  The reception went on as receptions go on, and the father of the bride got up and made a speech, and then the best man got up and made a speech, and then he said, “And now Pastor Haley is going to come up and make a speech.”  It’s kind of hard to hide under a table when you’re wearing a clergy collar but I tried. What he was supposed to have said was “say a prayer” not “make a speech; a prayer I could handle; a speech, well, I’ll already said all I had to say.

Perhaps it was such experiences that led to the universal excuses  given by guests who received wedding invitations in the story told by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. As we heard, it is a story with shocking twists and turns. But what could it possibly mean? Never, ever – turn down an invitation to party?

In Matthew’s Gospel, the setting for these parables is Jesus  teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem. Even in that dramatic and often confrontational setting, Jesus rarely gives straightforward answers, but responds with questions, or tell stories, in order to make people think, stories that still make us think.

What happened was that Jesus told these stories, which initially circulated orally, but when the Gospels were written some 40 years later, these stories would get used in different contexts in different ways, often expanded or allegorized.

For example, there are three versions of this story. The simplest and perhaps closest to the story Jesus told, is found in an early Gospel not even included in the New Testament, the Gospel of Thomas. (See below) Another version is found in the Gospel of Luke (14: 15 – 24), and finally there is the version we read today, Matthew 22: 1 – 14, the longest and most allegorized version of the three.

To hear these stories is like watching a “who done it” on TV; there are twists and turns and even flashes of violence. That they are not to be taken literally is indicated by the absurdity of what happens; it doesn’t make sense. That’s because they are not stories that are supposed to make sense, they are stories that are supposed to make you think.

Consider this story, for example. A King is throwing a lavish wedding banquet; but it doesn’t generate a lot of excitement among those invited.  Really – you get an invitation from the King and you’re not going to go? If any of us had gotten an invitation to the wedding of Prince William and Kate in 2011, or for that matter, any Presidential inaugural ball, would we really have send our regrets, unless we had a compelling excuse?

But apparently, not just one or two, but all those invited had such an excuse: the day arrives, and nobody shows. The king sends out not one but two groups of servants, saying, Tell those people I’ve invited to come to the wedding banquet! Tell them I have prepared a great feast! Everything is ready! The oxen and fattened cattle have all been butchered, the wine is decanted, and the table is laid out just so.”

Off go the servants, carrying the king’s message to the errant guests, who STILL pay no attention. One goes to work; another does paperwork.  The story takes a dark turn.

The servants must have been so pesky that the guests turn on them, beating them up and killing them.  For inviting them to a lavish banquet for free? Does that make sense to you?  I might try to come up with an excuse not to go to a wedding reception; I’ve never considered taking it out on the mailman.

News of this puts the King in a murderous mood: he unleashes the helicopters and riot troops; before we know it, the murderers are murdered, and the king’s own city is a pile of smoldering ash.

But it gets weirder still. Even with the city decimated and smoldering, the dinner is still on! Apparently, while the soldiers slashed and pillaged and as huge flames devoured the city – small sterno burners kept the dishes hot, waiting for the guests – anybody – to appear. This King is determined to have this banquet!

Once again, at the King’s command, the servants go out into the streets and invite everyone they met, whoever is left in the city streets: rich and poor, good and bad, high and lowsick and well.  Finally, the wedding hall overflows with guests!

Given what’s happened, do this seem like it would be a fun time to you?  Can you imagine everyone sitting at their table apprehensive and anxious – I doubt they enjoying their food – more like choking it down their throats, fearful that the King might somehow feel slighted and blood will be spilled across the rack of lamb.

Especially as the King moves among them, asking: “Enjoying the food?” “It’s wonderful, King – it’s the best food I’ve ever eaten, and this is the best (read only) banquet I’ve ever been to!”

Just when you think it can’t get worse, it does:  the King spots someone without a wedding robe, dressed in T-shirt and sandals. Duh! – of course the guy is dressed improperly – he was pulled in off the street, probably on his way to a refugee or homeless center. Given what’s happened, it would be a miracle if anybody’s properly dressed.

So the King says to the hapless guest, “Dude, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” He was speechless (of course he was, he barely knew what he was doing there in the first place!) Then the king said to the servants, “Tie him up and throw him out, and make sure he doesn’t get back in.” For many are called, but few are chosen.”  Or, as Eugene Peterson renders it: ‘Many get invited; only a few make it.’”  We might go one step further: “Many get invited; few show up.”

OK, so the story may not be realistic. But it is told in this dramatic way to get our attention and to invite us to appreciate its absurdities.  But what is this wild story about?  Do you think I’m going to tell you?

Some clues.  It’s a story told by Jesus, illustrative – as all his stories were – of God’s kingdom. It’s like this: God is throwing this gracious, lavish party, and everyone is invited. There is no guest list, because everybody is invited.  But then – if we don’t want to attend – because we are too busy rearranging our sock drawer or with whatever trivial pursuits we occupy our time, that’s OK – God will ask somebody else; even if that means outsiders rather than insiders.  God is determined God’s house will be filled: this party is happening.  Maybe that’s what this whole enterprise of Creation is all about: God’s joy is so great, God wants to share it with somebody, everybody, anybody who will.

But what if I told you, Jesus is not talking about the afterlife, not some eschatological wedding banquet that will take place in heaven after we die. The wedding banquet – both for those who accept and for those who do not accept – is now.  As Jesus was fond of saying, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”  In the Gospel of Thomas Jesus says, “The kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, but people do not see it.” (Gospel of Thomas, saying 113).  In a remote corner of a vast, mostly dark universe, light and life has burst forth, and out of millennia of time, we are here for a brief moment to share it.  There is a party going on; the music is playing, and it is time to get out on the dance floor.

We say, “I’m sorry, like that poor guy in the story, I’m not dressed properly.”  What if I told you, wedding robes are issued at the door! (which, as I have seen suggested, may have been the case in the ancient world.) You show up in your T-shirt and jeans, and they ask if you want this Versace, Old Navy – whatever your preference – beautiful party robe, tuxedos for the men, gowns for the women.  No wonder the guy at the end stood out, he forgot to get one!

For many of us, this is our problem, the problem of the guy at the end; busted for a failure to party. When we put on the wedding robe God gives us, we are dressed with such virtues as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  And while we might like to join the party, might even have made it inside, too many of us are still clothed in the clothes we showed up in, such as hatred, selfishness, resentment, pettiness, and narrow-mindedness.  Such dress is not proper for the kingdom of God. We’ve got to put on our party dress and get with the program. Because, as Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”

The invitation is in the mail, throughout the pages of the Bible, and written in our hearts:

Jesus of Nazareth

requests the honor of your presence

at a feast of plenty

given by God.

Just below that it says:

R.S.V.P. “Respond, please, if you will.”

Even below that it adds:

“Proper attire required, and will be provided, upon request.”

*   *   *   *

I am indebted in this sermon for many insights to Lance Pape, the Granville and Erline Walker Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas, available at Working Preacher, October 12, 2014.

“The Parable of the Great Banquet,” as found in the Gospel of Thomas, Saying 64:

“Jesus said, A person was receiving guests. When he had prepared the dinner, he sent his slave to invite the guests. The slave went to the first and said, “My master invites you.” The first replied, “Some merchants owe me money; they are coming to me tonight. I have to go and give them instructions. Please excuse me from dinner.” The slave went to another and said, “My master has invited you.” The second said to the slave, “I have bought a house, and I have been called away for a day. I shall have no time.” The slave went to another and said, “My master invites you.” The third said to the slave, “My friend is to be married, and I am to arrange the banquet. I shall not be able to come. Please excuse me from dinner.” The slave went to another and said, “My master invites you.” The fourth said to the slave, “I have bought an estate, and I am going to collect the rent. I shall not be able to come. Please excuse me.” The slave returned and said to his master, “Those whom you invited to dinner have asked to be excused.” The master said to his slave, “Go out on the streets and bring back whomever you find to have dinner.”  Buyers and merchants [will] not enter the places of my Father.”


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