Monday, 03 October 2011 00:00

"A Gracious Host", October 2, 2011

"A Gracious Host?"
Matthew 22:1-14
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
October 2, 2011
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

The church is set up this way because we are still aglow from the wedding of Jay Cooey and Katie Michaelson last night.  It was a great event and the happy couple is still reveling with family and friends before heading out on their honeymoon.  As far as I can tell, everyone did what they were told, and the only tears that flew were happy ones.

It seems odd, then, that we look at the scripture today of a less than happy wedding.

Weddings are by and large joyous affairs, where the happy couple is taking a step into an unknown future buoyed by those who love them.  But weddings were not always so.  Some were for land and property more than love.  Kings make arrangements to expand holdings based upon the nuptials of their offspring.  Is this the context for the wedding feast in today’s scripture?

"The Kingdom of Heaven might be compared to this," said Matthew.  It sounds like a brutal and horrible wedding with a nasty father of the groom. I’m not sure I would want to be invited to such a wedding. The one throwing the wedding, "the King" seems like he has some issues to work through. Look at what happens when the invitations go out.

First, the people don’t want to come. Then the people laugh at the king. Some even kill his slaves. Then the king comes back and kills all of the people who killed the slaves. He then invites anyone else to come from the town. When someone came to the wedding without the right clothes, the king throws this one out. The king leaves us with the message that many are invited, but few are chosen.  It’s not the most welcoming and affirming of weddings.

 

This has led to a lot of kooky interpretations. John Calvin looked at this parable to support his doctrine of divine election, which says that some were chosen for salvation by God, and we don’t know who is in and who is out.
Most interpreters have seen God as the King.  We are the unfaithful and un-loyal and ungrateful subjects who don’t know a good feast.  But is this the God we know from most of Jesus’ teachings?

I mean, it doesn’t seem like the God of the Sermon on the Mount that says judge not lest ye be judged.

How could a benevolent God be so arbitrary, violent and picky about our clothes?

How could a God like this be worthy of worship? Fear, yes.  But worship?

How do we know when we’re wearing the right clothes?

How do we know when to not upset this God for fear of our eternal damnation?

Many commentators see this parable as a repudiation of Judaism. The Jewish people were invited to metaphorical wedding feat of God. Some scoffed at the invitation—they ignored Jesus. Still others killed the ones sent by God. And God punished them, possibly by destroying the temple in Jerusalem. And finally, the Gentiles, the nations were invited to the feast from the main streets of the towns, but they had better watch their presumption. For God is not easily mocked and might well punish those who step out of line.

This line of thinking has supported anti-Semitic actions and thoughts.

This line of thinking has fueled the flames of punishment if the proper pious vestments are not worn at all times. We need to please God with our pomp and our circumstance.

This line of thinking has kept people out of the church if they didn’t follow the right path. They were thrown into the sea where weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth are the norm. And many have chosen the would-be smarter path of not showing up at all.

But this can’t be all there is to the story.

Radical Jesuit Catholic priest Daniel Berrigan says there must be a better way of looking at this story.  Berrigan says that the only way this makes sense is if is being ironic and downright subversive.  The New International Version translates the first verse: “the Kingdom of Heaven is like…”  But a more accurate translation is found in the New Revised Standard Version.  Jesus says that “the Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to” the following wedding feast. It may be compared, or contrasted to such a feast. A key here is to look at the host of the party. We know that God is a gracious host.  But is the king God?

The person throwing the party is a king. We all know how kings operate. This king sounds like many kings throughout the world. The king is full of presumption. The king demands his way. The king has slaves. The king is feared. The king has an army. The king has great wealth, in fact the greatest wealth in all of the land. Only the most foolish would dare mess with a king. The most foolish, or the most clever.

The king throws a feast for his son and demands people to come and attend. But people see through this king. No one attends the wedding, even those invited. This is treason. This is disobedience. This is juicy and delicious to those who think the king is really an emperor with no clothes.  Preaching the liberating Gospel was outlawed by the king of England, but George Leisle and his church continued to preach and make converts, despite the king’s orders.  There’s a better feat that they’d rather attend.  It’s a feast of freedom with a gracious host, not a duplicitous feast thrown by a barbarian.

The guests are engaging in civil disobedience.  They are giving their own nonviolent resistance to evil and brutality.

The king doesn’t know what to do with this. He is dumbfounded. He then sends the second wave of slaves to the guests, this time enticing them with food—implying that the food will go to waste. This wave gets the same treatment, but add laughter at the king to the rebuttal.  Sadly some of the revelers get out of hand. The slaves get killed—like pawns in a chess game. This gives the king the permission to use the ultimate weapon at his disposal, righteous retaliatory violence.  It’s like destroying a whole country because a member of their race has killed some of a king’s subjects.

The king not only kills those who killed the slaves, he goes way overboard. He kills the whole town and burns their village. And still he is being laughed at. Who has the real power now?

Finally, he compels the people to come from the main streets. He doesn’t invite them. He forces them to come.  These are people who are not originally invited to the feast. These people are not the elite. But the king is desperate to have someone like him. He makes alliances with those who used to be his enemies. Or at least with those whom he used to ignore. These people come to his feast, but the king doesn’t know how to deal with their culture. He doesn’t know how to have fun with people so different than he. He doesn’t understand their jokes. He doesn’t know how to be a very good host. He is not sure he trusts these people. He can’t relax, because his friends have abandoned him and there are more of his new guests than there are guards.

The guests don’t seem to thrilled to be there either. But at least there was food. The king can’t relax, can’t be a gracious host.  He can’t deal with the change around him.  That’s when the king found a scapegoat and told him he was wearing the wrong clothing. He puts this person in stocks and sends him away. The king couldn’t celebrate his own son’s wedding without punishing someone.

Everything that Jesus had said up to this point seems to say that the ways of God are not the ways of the world. Is this the Kingdom of Heaven? Is this what God is like? Can God be positively compared with this king?

Of course not.

The God that Jesus describes throughout the Gospel is the exact opposite of this king. This king is ruthless, whereas God is kind. This king is vengeful, while God is merciful. This king embraces violence while God says “thou shalt not kill.” Jesus tells the people of a God who is the exact opposite of worldly kings.

I saw Facebook status update this week with a picture of Charlton Heston as Moses on the banks of the Red Sea.  The caption read, “Pharaoh was a rich job creator.  So why did God side with a community organizer?”

Jesus said "you have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’, but I say to you Do not resist the evildoer with violence."

Jesus said "you have heard it said ‘love your friends and hate your enemies’, but I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

Jesus said ‘you have heard it said, ‘don’t murder’, but I say to you don’t even get angry."

Jesus said that all are welcome at his table. All are part of his wedding feast. "All who do the will of God are my brothers, and my sisters and my mother and my father."

Jesus welcomed the lepers and the outcasts, every person whom organized religion had called unworthy.

Jesus said that God has called you worthy. And if a king tells you that you have the wrong clothes on, then consider the source. For none are unworthy at my feast.

Jesus said the kingdom of God might be compared with this king’s banquet, but those who follow Jesus will find that the king is not at all like God.

So, welcome to the wedding feast of Jesus. That’s what the true church of Jesus Christ is all about.

This is a feast for the Spirit where all are welcome.

This is a feast where there are no boundaries.

This is a feast where the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

This is a feast where the poor are lifted up and the rich are sent empty away, as Mary sang in her Magnificat.

This is a feast where the former nobodies are God’s somebodies.

This is a feast where no one can call you an outcast and get away with it.

This is a feast where we celebrate love in all of its forms.

This is a feast where we mourn for the world that is blinded by its own greed, its own lust for power, its own temptation to put God and God’s people into a small box.

This is a feast that witnesses to something new and glorious, and blessed by God.

On this world Communion Sunday, we remember our interconnectedness with the entire world.  And as we eat from this table we commit ourselves anew to join God in the healing of the nations. We stand with George Leisle, our sisters and brothers from Nicaragua and all those excluded from places of power and influence.  For we are welcomed to this table by God—a gracious host who seeks to have us establish the kingdom of heaven here on earth.  May we be wise enough to tell the difference between an ungracious host and the loving God who encourages us toward healing and peace.  Amen.