Eighteenth Sunday in Pentecost A, October 12, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
Following Jesus is, well it’s… wonderful, amazing, fulfilling, exciting, and peaceful, but it isn’t easy. It isn’t easy because it requires faith, and faith requires you to release control of your life and your decisions to God’s direction. Faith is the substance of things that we hope for, but as of yet unseen! To live a life following Jesus requires living by faith and not by sight!
This is the message that our gospel reading leads us to this morning; it was the message that Jesus was speaking to the Jewish leaders and others that were listening to Him teach, and it is the message that He is giving to us this morning. This morning, Jesus speaks this message to all of us who are baptized: live a life of faith by living on the edge! But as I said, this kind of life isn’t easy; it never has been.
Throughout the history of the Kingdom of God here on earth, we have seen a picture of disappointment, fear, doubt; we see sin becoming stronger, while the joy, courage, and faith of those who live in and proclaim the kingdom seems to be getting progressively weaker. Jesus story about a King who invited many to his son’s wedding banquet is told to illustrate this very point. Like His story, the history of the Jews and even our history displays sinful people refusing God’s offer of grace. Within the ranks of these sinful men are a mixture of open and defiant sinners and those who seem like real believers, but secretly they’re posers, unbelievers; Jesus says that the time is coming when they’ll be unmasked! Within His story, Jesus has wonderfully compressed all of the New Testament time and even our time, into one story.
What we need to remember throughout the story is that the wedding and the invitations to attend it pictures God’s grace; His undeserved mercy, forgiveness, and love for all of sinful mankind. But this grace can only come through Jesus Christ, the living Son of God! The banquet table and the feast that’s being served on it represents the feast of victory for our God; a victory that celebrates first the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and then the very same thing that’s promised to each and every person who is seated at the feast of victory. Well almost every person. You see in Jesus’ story, there is one person who doesn’t belong there. There’s one person who isn’t wearing the robe provided by God! That one person represents a vast number of people who refuse to turn to Jesus as their Savior, Lord, and King. And the change of clothes they refuse to be fitted with represents the new identity that each of us is offered and given in our baptisms.
Throughout the life of every person ever created, there are God-created opportunities to receive this new identity, to put it on if you will, to walk around in it and become comfortable in it. But God in His wisdom allows each of us to reject this new identity and that is what causes tension; it’s what makes us feel like we’re living on the edge of joy and disappointment; the edge of courage and fear; and the edge between faith and doubt!
Living on the edge means living between joy and disappointment. Have you heard about the family that moved into the neighborhood of a local congregation? Well the good saints of that church decided to reach out to that family when they heard that they had 12 kids and were for the most part poor. They invited the family to divine service and even brought a package of wonderful suits and dresses to them and said, “We want you to know” they said, “that you and your entire family are welcome at our church anytime. We have bought you these gifts and we want you to feel comfortable and at ease in our congregation. We hope you can use them” and they left. Well Sunday came and the congregation waited for the family, but they never showed. Wondering what could have possibly happened, some members of the board of elders returned to the home and found the family just getting back, all dressed in their new clothes. “We don’t mean to be nosey but we would like to know what happened. We had hoped to see you this morning in church,” the head elder said. The father answered, “Well, we got up this morning intending to come. And we sure do appreciate your invitation. But after we showered, shaved, and dressed, why we looked so good we wanted to show off our new look to the folks of my wife’s old church.”
Now that’s a funny way of talking about a serious problem. Invitations are sent to many to come to church but so few people respond. It’s frustrating. Many of you have reached out to neighbors or friends and asked them to come to church and you know all too well the disappointment, how few respond.
Maybe that is why we find this morning’s parable so familiar. But we must remember that Jesus has told us that the Kingdom of God has always been like this; it’s like a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son and many would not come. They are just too busy to respond. But not you… here you sit at the table! You got in, so put aside your disappointment and receive the joy of the Lord.
Living on the edge means living between courage and fear. In Jesus story the royalty, which represented the Jewish nation were the first ones invited to the feast! As a group, they would not come, so they were destroyed. In the year 70 AD the nation of Israel, the city of Jerusalem and more importantly their temple, their way of life and worship was destroyed, all because they would not come to a new Holy City, the Kingdom of God which can only be entered through the Son of God, Jesus Christ. But their empty seats will not even be noticed because God is no longer inviting a nation of people, but all people from every nation, tribe, and tongue; that means He is inviting you!
Now for some people this can cause fear; even fear that can paralyze them. They see how God punished the nation of Israel for the way they mistreated their invitation, and so they see God as an angry and punishing God. But if they see Him in this way, as if He has dark storm clouds draped across His face, they aren’t seeing Him correctly! The very fact that He has invited you first in the waters of your baptism, and the fact that you are seated here right now hearing about His mercy and forgiveness proves that He is a God of love! And because He loves you, He says to you this morning, “Take courage, put on your new baptismal identity and rest at my table of peace!”
Well finally, living on the edge means living between faith and doubt. In Jesus’ story, the king invited everyone to the feast. Many have responded, and the dining hall is filled with guests, but there’s a problem. The king sees a man who isn’t wearing the appropriate wedding attire. He is wearing an old, perhaps tattered robe, obviously the garb that he wore in everyday life, his street clothes. “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe,” the king asks. The man was speechless, so the king had him bound and tossed into a place called outer darkness. Jesus concludes the parable with these solemn words: “Many are called, but few are chosen.”
What we learn from Jesus story is that everyone is invited into the Kingdom of God, but not everyone will respond to that invitation. But we also discover that even if you get in you’re not really in unless the King chooses you to stay! And here is where doubt can creep in; here is where we begin to ask what does it take to really get in?
Well it all depends on what you are wearing! In your baptism you have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness; in essence, you’ve put on Jesus’ robe of righteousness. No work or accomplishment of your own can be included. Naked you came into this world and naked you must leave, accept for the righteous robe of Christ. Remember, when we’ve done all that we can we are still worthless servants, because we’ve only done that which was our duty to do. [Luke 17:10]
If our garment isn’t the good life we live on this earth for Jesus, then what is it? It’s faith in what Jesus has done for us! Theologians call this the imputed righteousness of Jesus which becomes our hope and the object of our faith. Because faith is the garment that is put on us, all we can do then is rest in it or wear it. Another way to think of this is to say that our faith is like a cup, it simply holds God’s free gift of righteousness. In your baptism you can say that, “God has clothed me with His garments of salvation, and He has covered me with the robes of righteousness.”
And here you have the close of Jesus parable. Oh wait, there is another little matter to address isn’t there? If the banquet table represents the Kingdom of God, then how did that unbeliever get in there? Isn’t there a great divided between heaven and hell so that none may cross? Yes there is, so that means that the banquet table isn’t necessarily the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is the Kingdom of God! Is there a difference? Yes and no! What we need to remember is that the Kingdom of God is where God’s people gather around His gifts. What are His gifts? Well they are His means of grace, or His means of faith! Chief of all of these gifts is His Word, Holy Scripture, which is not just your invitation to the banquet but the very Son of the living God, Jesus Christ. Within God’s Word you are given the gift of faith to believe that you really belong in God’s Kingdom, both here on earth and in heaven. So what is the Kingdom of God here on earth? It is the church, the very bride of Jesus Christ, which receives not just His Word but His Sacraments. In your baptism, you have been ushered into the Kingdom and at His Table, the Holy Communion, you feast as royalty! As each of us receive these gifts, we are reminded that we are living a life of dependence on God, a life of faith that’s filled with tension between heaven and hell. But Jesus assures us that because we are resting in Him and receiving His gifts we will one day join Him at His eternal table of feasting where there will be no more suffering, pain, disappointment, fear, or doubt, and this is the gospel, the good news that gives us peace and joy. But there are some here, in Christ’s church who will not put on this new baptismal identity. There are some who are simply posers, mere impostors. They refuse to be changed and they will not respond! They already have the reward of living in God’s Kingdom, His Church, but they will not be allowed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and eternally find their seat at His banquet table.
For these poor souls, there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth in a dark place where they will be forever bound and kept. All because they would not receive the Word of God; all because they would not keep fighting to retain their baptismal identity; all because they would not confess their sinfulness and be fed their Lord’s meal of forgiveness!
Yes, living the life of faith is living on the edge, but if you are resting in the gifts of God through Jesus Christ you have been assured that even if you experience disappointment, fear, and doubt, one day very soon you will only know joy, love, and peace, all because you walked by faith and not by sight!
Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen!