A Sermon by Pastor Chico Martin
October 15, 2017
Two weeks ago, we heard two stories of hospitality: The Visit of the Three Angels to Abraham, and the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Then last week we heard Isaiah’s Parable of the Vineyard and its retelling by Jesus. We said, A common theme running through all four stories is the importance of pleasing God with our actions. Specifically, we have seen that God is pleased by actions that are deliberately constructed to eliminate hostility, violence, and injustice from our interaction with others. Furthermore, we have speculated that the root of the behaviors which bring destruction upon ourselves and likewise the planet lies in our confusion of stewardship with ownership; we stake out claims to property which is not ours to own. Humanity is meant to hold each other and the planet’s land in trust for the One from whom we have our being.
Today we heard the Parable of the Wedding Feast. As with the previous stories, we are given plenty of details to visualize the setting, but these are unusually fanciful. We cannot draw a picture of an ancient Jewish wedding ceremony from what we hear in this story; for that, the Parable of the Ten Virgins, which Jesus will tell later, works better. Here, the figurative language is not so soundly drawn, for it relies more on allegory than metaphor. God the King calls the nation of Israel to the Banquet of his Son, but Israel ignores his call. After a second appeal, his servants – prophets, likely – are treated much like the servants of God in the Parable of the Vineyard: they are seized, abused, and killed. In retaliation, God orders his angels to destroy the Israelites, and invites a different people – including all who could be found – to his Son’s banquet, regardless of their worthiness. Somehow one Israelite finds his way in, but his lack of a wedding garment makes him stand out, and when he is recognized, he is thrown out to oblivion. The Parable ends with the anxiety provoking observation, “for many are called, but few are chosen.”
The harshness of this story strikes us, but we remember that it is told during Passion Week, only days before Jesus will be crucified. Had this man who was the Messiah, that is, the savior of his people, not been rejected, what would the banquet have looked like? All of Israel would have feasted, for in Jewish tradition, the successful inauguration of God’s Kingdom in Israel was to be marked by a messianic feast. All of Israel would have been forever united with the one God, Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. Instead, what happens? We get the lonely sense of 12 disciples, one a traitor, in an upper room, where the Son washes their feet and blesses the bread and cup he passes around the shared table of his last supper.
God’s Kingdom is central to the Christian story, but barely understood. Where for instance is this Kingdom? Is it not coterminous with all the kingdoms of the world? And do we not identify it with the activity of the body of Christ, which we call the church, and count ourselves as members?
Let’s go back to the story for a moment. What is that poor fellow who is given the heave-ho wearing that we aren’t? When we hear a story, it’s natural for us to identify with the characters who come out on top, but aren’t we all – at some point during the day – looking very much like that fellow?
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet is a story about God’s judgment, and this should make us uncomfortable. The specter of judgment is like a catch-all for all the inexplicable horrors we inflict upon each other and feel powerless to resist. However, the hopelessness that ensues can abate when we realize that pre-modern concepts of the person are different from our modern notions. We tend to be frightened by threats to our self-interest and self-concern, whereas God’s judgments fall first upon nations and their leaders, that is, on the collective, rather than the individual. As Augustine commented, “The one man stands for many.” The hapless person who is bounced from the wedding was representative of a priestly class lacking in the love “which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (ACCC). The religious leaders’ external profession of faith was at odds with the working of their hearts, so the ordinary person in the streets was left bereft of the care for which God’s priests were responsible.
The life of each one of us is a dependent existence. Why, then, do we find it so difficult to get over ourselves? Why, if the self is illusion, must we always want to be what we are not yet? Is our anxiety necessary?
The church traditionally understands itself as the Kingdom of God on earth. The sacrament of communion – the Messianic banquet – is instituted with the foot washing of hospitality, remembered with the blessing of bread and cup, and fed on in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving. The absence of God, absence which for many seems to be a stumbling block, is also the very absence that forces us “to rework the past into a never-ending present of remembrance” and thereby “ushers in a time of hope.” Collectively, as the church, when we keep our focus on serving God in the world, our devotion pleases God. Wherever we act out of love, and not out of self-interest, our devotion pleases God.
We live in a dark age, when our passionate devotion to God stands in sharp contrast to the world’s passion for self-destruction. The kingdom we enact in the church is a place of refuge, where we remember the life and teachings of Jesus. When we worship together, we redirect our thoughts and feelings, from the objects of the world, to God and the Kingdom. We are sustained by God’s grace and liberated, as it were, from bondage.
The perfection of love is a gradual, hopeful process. Where we meet injustice with justice and division with inclusion; where we feed and clothe the poor, visit the sick and care for the homebound; where we speak truth to power, abstain from violence, and take a knee with the powerless, we follow the path of devotion that our rabbi, the Son of God, laid out for us. In our everyday lives, as our love for God grows, we do our part to bring the whole of creation into the Wedding Banquet for his Son.