Preached October 17th, 2010
St. Matthew 22:1–14
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
We begin our meditation this morning with the words of Christ, recalled from last Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. Those who would follow Christ are to be of good cheer. To follow Him properly, we are not to be continually downcast and sad, but rather are to be cheerful, and to bring happiness wherever we go. This is a part of the task of Christians, to bring cheerfulness to others by being cheerful in ourselves.
You will recall that our on–going theme is the practice of the Christian life, the way this life is to be actually lived in the world. We sometimes hear people speak of the privileges we as Christians have, but that tends to put the wrong perspective on our duties to serve, making them appear as simply optional benefits that we are allowed. In actual fact, the Bible never presents the concept of privileges in that light, but rather shows us whatever service we are able to perform is necessarily our bounden duty to do.
Consider first what St. Paul says in the Epistle lesson regarding the demands of the Christian life.
The Christian life demands caution, as Paul indicates in the opening verse, Ephesians 5:15 See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, The Christian man is to employ wisdom in all the relations of life, and to deal cautiously with all. Everyone is watching him, and most of all, God is watching. These words were written long before the days of the ever present closed circuit security camera, but the point was true then just as today because we are always to be examples to our fellow men, whether or not we are conscious of being watched. Further, if we behave wisely, we will never have anything to regret which is not the case with foolish behavior.
There is much evil abroad in the world, and it is all too easy to fall in step with the evil. St. Paul exhorts us not to do this when he says, Ephesians 5:16 Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. We are literally “to buy up the opportunity,” at whatever expense it may be in terms of our own effort and self denial in order to use it for the purposes of God. We must make use of every possible help that comes our way, every means of grace. We need to be awake to every opportunity to do good. We must be seeking to discover the will of God and to act upon it, avoiding the mistake of ignorance and the greater error of disobedience. With this, we shall both profit ourselves and help others as well.
The happiness of Christians is something that is commanded, as St. Paul says Ephesians 5:18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Now this may seem like an artificial or forced happiness, but consider some of the characteristics of it:
Where does it come from? It is not based on the wine and other pleasures of the earth, but on the wine of Heaven. We will not simply drink a little bit of earthly wine as one might in an evening, but rather we will drink our fill of the wine of Heaven.
How is this joy expressed? It will be expressed in holy friendships, as it is spoken “one to another in the fear of God.” It will show itself in Christian song, in the harmony of hearts as well as voices. Its inspiration will be gratitude to the Lord who has redeemed us, and thus it will be like the songs of Heaven. Those drunk with wine here on earth sing, but this will be a very different song, a song like unto that of the Church in Heaven.
What motivates this joy? It is driven by thankfulness, because we are always to be thankful for all things, and everything the Father sends is for our good. Our joy is driven by our gratitude.
Our joy is always kept in perspective by the need for self–restraint, for the need to remember our duty to our Lord and to our fellows. We must never get so carried away that we forget that we owe all of this to Jesus Christ, our Lord, and that we must ever submit ourselves to Him and to each other. It is not in the least bit inconsistent to remember that we must both fear the Lord Jesus Christ as well as love and rejoice in Him.
In our Gospel lesson for today, a great King prepared a wedding feast for his son and invited his subjects to the feast. This was an invitation from the King to his people to enter into his service in a joyful way. They all begged off for various excuses, essentially each being preoccupied with his own affairs and unwilling to come at the bidding of the King. They refused the invitation of joyful service with the King. Eventually the King dealt harshly with these people, Matthew 22:7 But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. There was nothing wrong with any of the excuses offered by the individuals who would not attend the banquet, and of course, the final action that drove the King to destroy the city was when his messengers were murdered. Even so, it is clear that these people did not respect the authority of their King, did not wish to serve him as loyal subjects, and were quick to ignore his summons.
But then the story continues, with the invitation extended to whomsoever they could find in the highways and byways in order to fill the wedding feast. Now we have to expect that such a guest list, composed in this fashion, would be a pretty rough group, hardly comparable at all to the original guest list.
Then we come to a part that I think may cause some difficulty for modern readers; I know that it did so for me for many years. Matthew 22:11-13 11 And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: 12 And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. 13 Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. I know, that as a little boy in Sunday School in the mid–20th century, that passage used to bother me a lot. It seemed so grossly unfair to throw out this poor man who had been dragged in from sleeping under a bridge and then to tell him his clothes were not appropriate? Something just does not seem right here! Of course, what I did not know, and nobody bothered to tell me, was that the host at such a wedding would have provided a suitable wedding garment for every guest. I could scarcely imagine such a thing, but that is indeed how the system worked at that time, so what has really happened in the story is that the wedding guest has, for whatever reason, declined to put on the wedding garment provided by the host. That is the part that we have to read between the lines in order to understand this passage. Thus it is because of his refusal to put on the wedding garment that he is bound up and cast out.
It was not his lack of education; none of those brought in from the highways had any education. It was not his lack of character because some were good men and some were bad. Evidently he did not grasp the significance of what was happening, he was too “out to lunch” as we might say, and that would eventually cost him the opportunity to enter into the joy of the King. It was the fact that he declined to put on the garment of renewal as we talked about last Sunday that he is shut out, and eventually cast out forever.
We can live lives of renewal and joyful service to the Lord God, or we can choose to live for ourselves. This is a choice we make. As with all choices, there are consequences to this choice, in this case eternal consequences. Let us make the correct choice and pray for strength and guidance to stay the course to the end.
The Gospel lesson ends with the grim line, Matthew 22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen. The offer of renewal of life is extended to all, but only a few make the choice to accept it and put on the new man. It is only when they accept the life of renewal in Jesus Christ that they are chosen, that is put on the path of sanctification unto eternal life.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.