Filed under: Sermons
We’re heard three parables about the kingdom of God these last weeks. These last two have been rather violent, and all three are confusing! The big idea Jesus is trying to express is that God has sent him as the most powerful invitation to everyone in the world to come and join the kingdom party. There have been other invitations and other invitees, but this is the big one!
Once upon a time, when God had an exclusive relationship with the people of Israel, the invitation list was limited to the chosen few. But that didn’t always work out so well. So God’s decided to fling open the banquet hall doors, and welcome everyone to celebrate. There isn’t a head table or preferred seating for a select few, each and every person is invited to come. No matter who they are, what they’ve done, or where they’ve come from, everyone is a welcomed guest.
Today’s parable describes a deadly fate for those who ignore the reminder invitation and for the one who doesn’t come ready to party. In Jesus’ time, someone throwing a big party would send an early invitation, like a save the date card, and then send a second invitation when the party was ready. Those who first accepted the save the date invitations aren’t interested in attending the party now that the feast is on the table. The parable’s king wages war on those who reject the invitation, as dinner waits. (Remember, this is an illustrative and instructive story, not history.) Next, everyone on the streets is compelled to come in. Someone comes without his party clothes on, and the king is so mad, he throws him out into a place of misery. This is the part that always gets to me- what right had the king to be mad when he was the one who made this guy come at last minute?! Maybe he couldn’t afford new clothes or didn’t have time to shop. Why should he be punished? Once again, I need to step back and remember, it’s a parable, not a verbatim example to transfer to my relationship with God.
As a parable, it invites me- and you- to search for its meaning. Consider your strongest reaction, feel your way into the characters. What is God’s message through this poetic prose?
As I’ve thought and studied and prayed about this text, my first reaction was to simply avoid it and preach on Philippians instead. But such a strange parable needs to be acknowledged. Still, I was drawn to Philippians. Then I realized that this verse from Philippians is really the key for my finding myself in this parable.
In Philippians, Paul is speaking to a community of Christians who have been strong in their commitment and involvement in lives of faith. Two women have been especially good leaders, but are currently facing some sort of disagreement. To them, Paul directs instruction that points back towards Philippians chapter 2, reminding them to be Christ-like in their actions and minds, willing to give of themselves for the sake of the gospel. Then Paul gets to the verse that has been especially potent for me, verse 6. In slightly different language than what we read, Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
I’ve been wearing this verse for the last 4 and a half months. When my wedding band became too small towards the end of my pregnancy, I found a ring with this verse on it while at the Synod Assembly. It was at a point in my life when I had plenty to be anxious about. Highest on that list were all the fears about having a baby: baby’s health, delivery, parenting, maternity leave. Along with those specific anxieties were all those I carry every day about finances, success, relationships; things I’ve done and neglected to do…
I know most people carry other verses close to their hearts, like John 3:16, but it’s this verse, Philippians 4:6, that carries one of the most necessary of God’s messages for me. “Do not be anxious.” God’s invitation is for me to trade in my anxiety for trust – for faith. God’s gift is forgiveness for my failures, love for my loneliness, life for this day and eternity. God’s hope is for me to focus on the bigger story of love shown to me and the whole world through Jesus, rather than each little blip and bump of my day in my own little world.
This verse, with its law of reminding me that I too often live in worry, and its gospel of God’s gift of faith that frees me from worry, is the key to my living into the last part of our parable today. I find myself in the man who isn’t clothed for the party when I ignore the gifts of faith God gives to me. I’m not joining in the kingdom celebration, clothed as the baptized child of God I am, when I’m living life trapped in anxiety and self-doubt. God wants us to live kingdom life with joy! I remove myself from the party and suffer with gnashing of teeth when I live as if I haven’t received the welcome I have through Jesus.
Joining the kingdom party isn’t going to look the same for each one of us. We have different ways in which we continue to avoid God’s invitation, different clothes we put on rather than the party clothes God offers. The expansive nature of the parable allows us to hear God’s law of judgment and gospel of freedom in a way that echos our lives.
Through Jesus, you are invited to the kingdom party. This party is not only something we enter into at the resurrection, but is for our lives here and now. We’re not here at church only to stand by and watch some religious stuff that has no relevance to our lives. Jesus wants us to join in his kingdom, not just as a spectator, but as one who is involved and active!
Pastor Jeff and Laila and I were at the football game Friday night. At the game, there are the players, coaches and refs who are making the game happen. Without them, there would be nothing to watch. The rest of us aren’t actually playing the game, but we’re more than just passive spectators. Adults are standing at the sidelines, or hiding from the wind in their cars, but you can tell that they’re emotionally involved with the cheers, bated breath, or cringes, depending on what’s happening on the field. Kids are practicing and duplicating the game on the field, tossing a football and tackling each other. We’re all a part of the game, creating an experience for each other. Although some bodies may have been still, eyes were not glazed over. We all were taking part in the game.
God wants us all to take part in the kingdom. We’ve all been invited, we’ll all be welcomed through Jesus. It’s time to trade in the clothes that have become dirty with years of life’s wear and tear for clean, white party clothes. The kingdom is here. The party has begun.