Sermon based on Mt. 22:1-14 for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Dear guests invited to the wedding feast: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
People have all kinds of ideas as to what the Kingdom of heaven will be like. Some think it’s like sitting in church all day listening to boring sermons. Some think maybe it’s a place where we can’t ever do what we want or anything fun. Or maybe it’s like Hallmark baby angels bouncing around on clouds while playing their harps.
Well, Scripture doesn’t describe the Kingdom of heaven in any of those ways. Rather, our Old Testament lesson describes it as, “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined” (Is. 25:6). The Kingdom of heaven is described as a great feast; the ultimate banquet where there will be only joy. Our Gospel reading describes it as the wedding feast of the King’s Son; a great feast to which you are invited. It will be the greatest party ever given, the ultimate feast of feasts.
In Jesus’ parable, there are four responses of those invited to the great banquet. One group, upon receiving the invitation of the King, responds by treating the King’s servants shamefully and murdering them. The King is being gracious and merciful towards them, inviting them to his eternal banquet, but they respond in hatred. The King has prepared a great feast and sends out invitations so that he might serve those invited, but they respond with hatred. They hate the King and the gifts he seeks to give so much that they murder his servants.
As shocking as this sounds, it shouldn’t surprise you. This is how God’s servants have often been received by the world. The world doesn’t want to hear about the free forgiveness of sins on account of Jesus’ death on the cross for them. They would rather work their way into heaven. They want to think highly of themselves. They don’t need Jesus. Recall that all except for one of the twelve apostles sent by Jesus met a martyr’s death. They were murdered for bringing God’s invitation to His eternal banquet to people who hate God and His gifts.
A second group of invitees respond to the King’s gracious invitation by paying no attention to it. They had better things to do. They went to their farms and businesses to work. They said: I don’t need to have my sins forgiven; I need to grow my business. I cannot worry about spiritual things now when I have so many worldly things I need to take care of. I don’t have time to go to church; I have too many earthly things to deal with.
This shouldn’t surprise you either. Out of the roughly 300 members here, how many show up regularly to receive the gifts of God? 70? The rest have something better to do. They worry about the matters of this life more than the eternal gifts God wants to give them. They pay no attention to the invitation of the King to dine at the altar of eternal life – this altar where we receive a foretaste of the feast to come.
But lest we get smug and proud of ourselves for being here this morning, there is another group of invitees who responded by accepting the invitation to the wedding feast. A man comes to the wedding feast, but he has no wedding garment. The King as host gladly provides the wedding garments to his guests. Recall that he has invited everyone. He sent his servants to search along the roads and invite everyone – the bad and the good. The King has prepared everything for the banquet. He provides his guests with festive wedding garments for the feast to cover them and make them worthy. But this man thinks he doesn’t need to be covered with the King’s garment. He thinks what he has is good enough. He thinks that he is worthy to be served by the King.
This man is not one of those who responds with hatred towards the King and murders his servants. He isn’t one of the invitees who think they have better things to do. He appears to be just like all the others who accept the invitation. But he thinks he deserves to be there. He doesn’t need the robe of righteousness which God gives to cover his sins. He doesn’t see his sins because he thinks he’s a good guy. He says, “Look at me; I’m here in church because I’m better than other people.” Well, the King responds by showing him exactly how good he is by binding him hand and foot and throwing him into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Finally, there is the fourth group in invitees. The parable says almost nothing about them. All we know is that the King’s servants search high and low; they went along the streets of the city and invited everyone – “the bad and the good” the text says. They were invited and brought to the wedding feast. The text doesn’t say anything else about them, but we can infer from the other three groups that these invitees didn’t respond in hatred. They didn’t make polite-sounding excuses, and they didn’t think that they deserved to be there on their own in their own garments. Rather, they accepted the wedding garments their King graciously offered them. They wanted to be covered with the righteousness of Christ because they knew they were sinful. Their worthiness is not in themselves, but in the fact that their unworthiness is covered by the garments with which the King covered them.
So dear invited guests of the wedding feast: do you despise God’s gracious invitation? Do you have something better to do? Are there things that preoccupy you and get in the way of your invitation to the eternal banquet? Perhaps even seemingly important things in this life, like looking after your farm or business. Or do you see that you are sinful, and the absolute most important thing in your life is to receive the forgiveness of sins and to be received into God’s eternal banquet?
As in the Gospel reading, the heavenly banquet to which we have been invited is open for everyone. All are invited. But those who respond in hatred or have better things to do will not be there. Those who reject the King’s garments will not be at the feast. Only sinners covered with Christ’s robe of righteousness will be at the heavenly banquet.
So also the foretaste of the feast to come, the Lord’s Supper, is only for sinners – sinners clothed in Christ. The Lord’s Supper is only for sinners, all others are excluded. And the preparation of this feast was not an easy one for our Master – it required His suffering and death on the cross. It required Him to be forsaken by the world, His disciples, and even God the Father. But Jesus did it for you, so that He could invite you to this meal, in which He gives His own body and blood for you to eat and drink.
If you hate the free gift of the forgiveness of sins, do not accept the invitation. If you don’t want free gifts from God and don’t want eternal life, then don’t come to the Lord’s Supper.
If you have something more important to do than to receive the body and blood of Christ; if you have something more important than receiving the forgiveness of sins, do not come. The Lord’s Supper is only for those who need it.
If you have some sin to which you want to cling because you’ve made polite-sounding excuses to yourself and others; if you think this sin is perfectly fine in your life and you don’t need forgiveness for it, do not come. The Lord’s Supper is only for those who see that they are unworthy because of their sins and seek to turn away from their sins and to be covered with Christ’s worthiness. If you do not see your unworthiness, then you will receive the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, and you will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord (I Cor. 11:27), so do not come. This is the reason we practise closed communion. It’s not because we think we’re better than others, but because we want to protect those who do not believe as we do from being guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. We want to protect those who do not confess what we confess, especially our visiting friends and family, from eating and drinking judgment on themselves (I Cor. 11:29). So if you do not believe what we confess and have not made this confession your own by publically confessing the faith through the rite of public confirmation in Lutheran Church-Canada, do no come to the Lord’s Supper. Instead, join our adult instruction classes and learn what it is that we believe, teach, and confess. We long for unity in the church, but this can only be possible by being united in what we believe, teach, and confess.
But if you confess what we confess, and if you see your sin, and there is nothing more important to you than receiving the forgiveness of your sins, come to the Lord’s Table. If you struggle in your fight with sin and are weak and heavy laden, come to receive Christ’s true body and blood. Come if you see that you are unworthy and that you have nothing to offer God. In this case I urge you, I compel you to come to the Lord’s Supper and receive the forgiveness of your sins. In this meal God has promised to forgive your sins and strengthen you to life everlasting. This meal strengthens you to eternal life – to the great marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom which has no end.
So I urge you: do not respond with hatred. Do not respond with polite-sounding excuses. Do not look at your worthiness but at the worthiness with which Christ covers you. God our King invites you to His Son’s wedding feast. He covers you with His worthiness so that you can eternally enjoy the “feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined” [Is. 25:6]. The joys in this feast will never end, and this banquet is prepared for you as invited guests. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.