Sermon for Sunday – the trouble with wedding guests…

Scripture readings for the day (Proper 23A)

Today’s Gospel tells us a wonderful parable – though with a fair amount of violence and other disturbing details. Like all parables, it is a bit murky in its meaning. Let’s review…

The King – from different story…

The King, standing in for God, throws a party – a wedding party to be specific. A wedding party puts us in mind of Jesus – the bridegroom.

And God invites the “A” list of guests. This will be a great party and all the right people will be there. Except there is a problem… The “A” list people decide God’s little party is not quite the social event of the season. In fact, they decide it’s completely miss-able.

Which is good news for us – since we’re, more or less, the “B” list. And we don’t need to be asked twice! Off we go to the party and we have a blast. Except for that looser guy who gets bounced. But we’ll come back to him…

A happy wedding couple – from a different story…

The obvious interpretation is that the “A” list is Israel, and the “B” list is the gentiles – including but not limited to Christians. God’s chosen people refused the party, ignored the prophets and executed Jesus. We embraced Jesus and came to the party. Story over – we can all go home… our eternal home in Heaven, that is. Salvation is ours. End of story.

But – not so fast. There are really two distinct cautionary tales in this Gospel, and we need to hear them both.

First – it might have been helpful 2000 years ago to think of this as a story about Jews and Christians. But over the years we have, at least subliminally – and at times very explicitly – begun to think of ourselves as God’s chosen people, the new Israel, the new “A” list.

So, we need to pay attention to the cautionary tale of the “A” list people.

Busy shops in Jerusalem

Most of them blew off God’s party for understandable reasons. They had businesses to run, enemies to defend against, crops to harvest, children to raise, important matters to sort out.

Any parallels for us? We have economies to tend, businesses to run, families and households to maintain.

We would love to live in peace and unity with all of God’s children, but Capitalism, the dominant economic system in our world, only truly works when you can win it all. And for someone to win it all, someone else must lose it all. The “have nots” are just as important in our economic equation as the “haves.” Economic injustice is, as they say, is a feature, not a bug. And it keeps us away from God’s party.

So… sorry God – we’d like to come to your party… We’re sure the Kingdom is a really great. We’ll get there eventually. But not right now. We want to build a newer and bigger home, get a better car; We’ve got COVID 19 to worry about and the ever-flailing Eskom. Our economy is in trouble. We’re sure it’s a very lovely party, though… Please, God, accept our regrets.

Moreover, it is very tempting and remarkably easy to start to understand our will as God’s will. If we could examine the hearts of the “A” list guests in today’s parable, we’d probably find that most them weren’t bad people trying to do bad things – though, to be sure, a few of them were. We’d probably find that they were mostly good, decent, hard-working people who thought they were doing God’s will by tending to their own concerns.

This is the first cautionary tale, and it is one that those of us who live in privilege need to hear again and again.

I promised you two cautionary tales and there is one more detail that I said we’d come back to…Remember that guy who got kicked out? What’s up with him?

Ill-dressed wedding guest getting the boot…

This is a detail of the parable that has always bothered me. This poor guy gets dragged off the street with no warning to come to a party. And then he gets yelled at because he isn’t dressed properly. It seems really unfair, very “old testament.” And the punishment, being sent more or less to hell, is way out of proportion to his crime… breaking the dress code.

Well I don’t think a fashion faux pas is really the issue. I bet if we could peer into his heart, we’d find that he only came to the party for the food… or the wine… or because he was curious and just wanted to watch… or he was bored. Or he didn’t have anywhere else to be so why not follow the crowd…

I think he is the inverse of the “A” list crowd. They stayed away for poor reasons. He came for poor reasons. He might have been physically at the party, but I suspect he wasn’t fully present at the party – just going through the motions.

And so here is the second cautionary tale: When we do decide to come to God’s party are we really completely going to the party? Are we truly being present? Are we all in? Or are we going through the motions?

I know somebody, a salesman by trade, who goes to Eucharist pretty much every Sunday because, as he says, “it can’t hurt, and it just might help.” Selling things is his whole life. He lives to “ink” contracts. He believes that its just possible that going to Eucharist might improve the odds of another contract being inked. When he comes to the God’s Eucharistic banquet it isn’t as a form of surrender. He’s dressed for success rather than for a wedding banquet.

And while I’m wondering about him, guess what? I’m not present at the party either. If I’ve really lost myself at this party, I’m no longer really interested in judging the other guy. And when I am judging the other person, my ego is still firmly in control. I’m not wearing a wedding robe, but rather my own garment of self-righteousness.

Now I don’t think coming to God’s party means being stupid or ignorant. I don’t think it means just letting go and accepting that whatever will be will be. It’s pretty safe to say that at God’s party we won’t just get drunk and eat ourselves sick.

God has given us some rules of etiquette. Through prayer, scripture, community life, and our own God-given intellect, we can begin to know and live in God’s way.

Jesus summed up those rules in about two sentences: We are to love God fully, completely, totally, and without reservations. And we are to love other people and ourselves. Love is an active, not a passive. So really going to God’s party involves loving God and God’s creation and acting on that love; nothing more, nothing less…

Acting on our love of God, ourselves and other people can take infinite forms. Being really present at God’s party means acting on behalf of justice and mercy. It means treating ourselves, our brothers and sisters, and all of God’s creation with respect.

Ultimately, being at God’s party means not protecting our own interests but giving away our very lives.

So, when and where is God’s party. It is not next weekend, or next month, or next season… God’s party is here and now and always and at all times. Going to God’s party is a process – we do it one day at a time.

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