Time to Party!

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18th Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 25:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14
Oct. 12, 2014
Peder Stenslie

When my children were small, one thing that always got them excited was a birthday invitation.  It didn’t matter if the invitation came from a kid they didn’t know very well.  They still got excited.  That’s because they knew birthday parties were full of good stuff.  There’s cake and ice cream, gifts and games, friends and fun.  That was something they knew they wanted to be a part of.  They didn’t think, “Well, I’d better check my calendar and see if I got anything better going on that day.”  No.  Everything else in their mind became secondary.  The party came first.

The 1st point I want to make about today’s Gospel lesson is that that kind of excitement is the proper reaction to the invitation Jesus speaks of in his parable.  “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” Jesus begins.  “It is like a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.”  In other words, we’re talking about a great and wonderful party.

Our reaction to this invitation should be… in fact, the only reaction that makes any sense is… “I wouldn’t miss it for anything!”  Like young children anticipating a birthday party, everything else should fall to the side in our minds as we focus on the good things God has prepared for us… the good things he intends to give us.

What God ultimately wills for life… for us… that is what the banquet refers to.  A little glimpse of the meaning of that invitation is given in today’s Old Testament lesson:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines…
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.

This Old Testament passage is reminiscent of one of the last visions of scripture, in Revelation, chapter 21:

”See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

God “making all things new…” that is the party to which we are all invited.  With our whole lives… our hearts and minds, our hopes and actions… we are to respond to that invitation now… as it is given.  We begin that party now… and it carries us beyond this finite world of sin and death to its fulfillment when we are made fully and forever alive by God.

Why would people refuse this invitation?  What does it means to reject the invitation?  These are important questions we are left to consider.

Most of Jesus’ parables, like today’s Gospel lesson, are about the Kingdom of God.  They strive to teach us about the way of God, so that we understand how things truly are in this world.  The Kingdom of God parables are meant to help us see the truth about the fabric of creation, the web of life…. what we are meant to become, how we are meant to live.  They are meant to help us understand what God intends to do in this world and how he invites us to be a part of it.

Many of these parables, however, also carry a warning about how our sinful human nature causes us to miss these most basic truths about life.  How it blinds us from seeing or understanding what is valuable… what is real… what it means to really live.

The message of today’s Gospel lesson runs along the same lines.  The parable of the rejected invitation warns of the danger of not thinking… not seeing… not sorting out what is truly valuable in life and what is not.

Those first invited were pronounced to be “not worthy” by the king.  What do you suppose that means?  What does it mean to be “not worthy?”  Our first inclination when we hear those words is to assume that it means we earn an invitation from God by good deeds and holy living.  But that’s not the case here.

After the first group of invited guests rejected the invitation, the king sent his servants into the streets to gather everyone “both good and bad” to come to his banquet.  “Both good and bad….” The Greek word for bad (πονηρός) is really strong here.

So it wasn’t by righteous living that people made themselves worthy of being invited to this party.  Everyone was invited… both good and bad.  And both good and bad came… and celebrated together.  That is wonderful news!

What made them worthy is that when it mattered… when the invitation of the king came to them, they understood that it was a priceless treasure.  They set everything else aside and got themselves ready to party.

Today’s parable is a call to accept God’s invitation to be a part of the life of God’s Kingdom.  How amazing is that?!  Who wouldn’t leap at that opportunity!

It is also a warning for us to open our eyes… open our minds… and think!

Life is short.  Don’t mindlessly plod through our time here, going this way and that, pursuing whatever sparkles before our eyes, looking attractive, desirable… important.  That is the way of the fool.  It leads nowhere.

And so Jesus — when he gives us his wondrous invitation – he warns us to have both eyes open and mind (and heart) fully engaged so that we can see beyond what our foolish human nature impulsively thinks is important in life.

Christ’s promise is that if we open our eyes and see the incredible value of his invitation to life… and if we open our hearts to the riches of his kingdom, he will do his part in us and with us.  He will make things new and good.  He will set before us a feast we could never imagine.

What we all need in life – and this is the critical piece here – what we all need is a real connection to our creator, a connection through which God feeds us, teaches us, strengthens us, and shapes us.

Through that connection, and from nowhere else, life begins for us.

Living well means thinking hard and reflecting deeply on what really matters in life.  God, in Christ, has drawn near to each of us.  In doing so, he has extended to each of us an invitation.  The invitation says:  “Open yourselves to me, trust in me, learn from me and I will give you life… I will teach you how to live.  By my strength you will stand in the face of hardship.  By my joy you will smile.  By my love you will grow.”

May we all be wise enough… as wise as a little child… to know that that is one party only a fool would walk away from.