Due to technical difficulties, the weekly sermon at Saint Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, North Augusta could not be recorded. I have been asked to provide a written manuscript of the sermon, which was based on Matthew 22:1-14, The Parable of the Wedding Feast. Scripture passage is provided at the bottom of this post.
As a child, my family belonged to Brook-Lea Country Club in Rochester, NY, which offered a full 18-hole golf course, club house, and large pool complete with diving boards. As young children, our mom would take me and my two older brothers to the pool for swimming lessons. After our swimming lessons, the instructors would let each skill level take turns swimming in the pool. After that the life guard would blow his whistle and yell, “Free swim…all in”. Everyone jumped in the pool, some splashing around and others showing off their new strokes to parents, but all of us swimming or working to stay afloat.
This is a more contemporary version of The Parable of the Wedding Feast. The kingdom of heaven is like a “Free swim…all in”.
The king sends his slaves out to the streets and all are invited to the feast: good and bad. Free swim…ALL are invited in. But just jumping in the pool does not make us swimmers and according to this parable it does not get us into the Kingdom either. It takes learning how to swim, it takes work and practice. It takes the effort to at least put on the wedding robe. This is a parable of faith and works. You see if you just work, you will be too busy to accept the invitation, and if you merely show up you will not be the least bit prepared. You will not know that you even need a wedding robe and will just stand there in silence.
Being a Christian means creating a balance between faith, the grace and mercy that God pours into each of us, and the works that each of us are called to do through our Baptismal Covenants. We have the faith piece because that is provided unconditionally by God, but I think many of us get hung up on the works. What do I do? Where do I serve? What gifts do I have? We tend to make it so hard, when Jesus simply says, “It’s as simple as putting on a wedding robe.” We are simply called to respect the dignity of every human being.
I currently live in an apartment in Augusta and have a very basic refrigerator with no bells or whistles, not even an ice maker. I love a tall, ice cold Pepsi with dinner, so I buy a bag of ice every few weeks. Yesterday I stopped at the Circle K around the corner from the complex to grab a quick bag of ice. As I got out of my car, I noticed this man standing on the sidewalk in front of the door to the convenience store smoking a cigarette and talking to everyone who was getting gas. His clothes were torn and dirty and he had a big sack of belongs on the ground next to his feet. I would suspect he was homeless.
No one in the parking lot responded to his greetings, in fact everyone was looking down at their feet as they pumped their gas or moved about. I walked quickly past him, not making eye contact, focused on my own task at hand and honestly, very uncomfortable. I got inside and was ashamed that I had not taken the time to at least look at this man. I paid for my bag of ice and headed out to the ice cooler. God was gracious to me and offered me another chance. You see the man had moved about five feet to his left, which put him directly in front of the ice cooler. Thank you God, now I had another opportunity to speak to this man. We chatted about the upcoming cool weather, the busyness of the pumps, and the awesome Yankees! When I went to retrieve my bag of ice, he got it for me and carried it to my car.
You see as Christians, we are called to see the unseen, hear the unheard, and speak for those with no voice. We are called to respect the dignity of EVERY human being: our elderly neighbors, who cannot get around easily anymore; our coworkers, who grate on our nerves; and the strangers, who do not look like us or act like us. This is what it means to show up to the feast and put on our wedding robes. So yes, many will see and hear the homeless man, but how many will stop and answer back?
Matthew 22:1-14 (NRSV)
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, maltreated 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.’