A Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost + October 15, 2017

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost + Proper 23A
First Lesson: Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 23
Second Lesson: Philippians 4:1-9
Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1399734941_820eb36338_oA few years ago, when I was in my second year of seminary, I had the opportunity to attend a weekend retreat with my fellow classmates at Rosyln, the Episcopal retreat center in Richmond, Virginia. It’s a beautiful place. While we were there, we were blessed to have with us a guest speaker, one of the bishops from the Diocese of Virginia, who was there to talk with us about the joys of ordained life and what we might expect as we prepared to move from lay ministry into ordained ministry. Bishop Ted Gulick was his name.

One of the highlights of our retreat was having the opportunity to spend some one on one time with the bishop, if we desired. So, of course, I took the time to meet with him and to ask him some questions, mostly having to do with his own experience as a priest and bishop and what he loved most about being ordained. Secretly, what I really needed from our conversation was to be inspired and to be reminded of why I was going through the process of being ordained in the first place. You see, as formative as it was, seminary often felt a bit isolated from the rest of the world as though we were living in our own little bubble, detached from everything else on the outside. So, I needed to be reminded in my conversation with Bishop Gulick of why I answered God’s call to become a priest. At that moment, I needed to be reminded of why I said “yes” to God’s call, and it wasn’t so that I could spend three years of my life in seminary, writing papers and taking exams. It was because I knew deep in my heart that becoming a priest was how God intended me to live my life. It was how God was calling me to use the gifts and talents that I’ve been given in order to serve others.

During his visit, the bishop also shared with me and my classmates his most pressing concern for the future of the Episcopal Church, and it’s stuck with me ever since. He told us that the members of the generation to which he belongs spent so much of their lives trying to figure out who is and who isn’t within the boundaries of God’s love and mercy only to come to the conclusion that what Jesus taught during his earthly ministry is actually true. Everyone is in. Through years of conflict and worrying about topics such as race, gender, and human sexuality, he and the members of his generation came to discover that all are welcome and that no one is excluded from the grace of God.  The bishop pressed further and told us that, now that we’ve come to realize that all are welcome- not just those whom we deem worthy of God’s love, we must once again remember how to be disciples of Jesus.  According to the bishop, this is the biggest challenge facing the Church today.  Now that we know all are welcome, how do we go about doing the Gospel work that God has called us to do as a Church? How do we begin to pattern our lives on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth? That is, after all, what it means to be a disciple.

I think that the parable in today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew has something to offer us as we consider these questions. It has something to offer us as we consider the importance of discipleship and how we go about refocusing our energy on living as faithful disciples of Jesus.

The parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew’s Gospel is the last in a series of three parables spoken by Jesus to a group of Jewish religious leaders in the temple. In the narrative, Jesus has already entered Jerusalem, and he knows that his time on earth is quickly coming to an end. However, he continues his ministry of teaching, even to those who seek to persecute him and have him arrested. He tells the religious leaders who have gathered around him a short story about a king who gives a wedding banquet for his son. In the story, the king summons those who were invited to the banquet, but they refuse to come and respond violently to the king’s request, even killing some of his messengers. The king is furious, and he responds by sending his troops to destroy them and to burn their city. Then, the king tells his servants to go into the streets and to invite everyone they see, “both good and bad,” to the wedding banquet, and the wedding hall is filled with guests. This is Jesus’ vision of God’s Kingdom. In the words of one author, “the expected guests are absent, and the most unlikely ones are present.” Those who are considered “insiders” are cast out, and those who are considered “outsiders” are brought in. You can imagine how upsetting this might have been to those who heard it firsthand- the religious leaders in the temple, the most influential and powerful members of society- who are basically warned by Jesus that those who reject God and refuse to follow his teachings will be held accountable for their actions.

Jesus also makes it clear in his parable that the king’s desire for his wedding banquet is a wedding hall filled with guests and that the king’s desire will be fulfilled one way or another, even if that means finding new guests to attend. My friends, God’s greatest desire is a kingdom filled with people from all walks of life who will show up to the wedding banquet ready to participate in the feast. Of course, that leads us to the last and perhaps most controversial part of the parable- the guest who arrives to the banquet without a wedding garment who is then bound and thrown into the outer darkness. What about this man? Why is he treated so harshly by the king in Jesus’ story? Well, if the first part of the parable is a warning to those in positions of power or authority- those who are considered “insiders,” this part of the parable might be considered a warning to those who think that Christian discipleship doesn’t really require us to do anything other than show up. If we, as a Church, want to seriously focus on discipleship as a way of life, we must remember that responding to God’s invitation and showing up is only the first part. Like the king in our parable for today, God desires something more from us. God wants our participation in the work that began with Jesus. God wants our participation in the building up of his kingdom. Many are called, but only those who clothe themselves with the wedding garment and participate in the feast will be suitable for the riches of God’s Kingdom. Amen.chosen for the riches of God’s Kingdom. Amen.

 

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