Preached October 21, 3012
St. Matthew 22:1–14
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
We continue now, late in the second half of the Trinity Season, wherein, having considered God’s love for us, our responsibilities of duty, and the sufficiency of God’s grace to fulfil these duties, we now reflect directly on Christian character and virtue—how a Christian must live. The popular image of the Christian life is that of a somber, joyless, pinched, rule–bound, shriveled soul — not very attractive at all. This image is one of the tools of the devil in turning people away from Christ. None of us can deny that being a Christian is a serious matter, and that being a Christian definitely changes our lives from the hedonistic life we might otherwise live. So, is the devil correct? Listen again to the words of the Collect for the day:
O Almighty and most merciful God, of thy bountiful goodness keep us, we beseech thee, from all things that may hurt us; that we, being ready both in body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish those things that thou commandest; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Did you catch the part about being ready, both in body and soul, to cheerfully accomplish God’s will for us — to do this cheerfully? The theme for this Sunday is cheerful obedience and service to God. That in itself is a concept that presents some difficulty to the nonbeliever, the idea of being obedient and being cheerful about it at the same time. Obedience itself is very difficult for most, and the idea of doing it cheerfully is considered really reaching by those who do not love God.
Exactly how are we to do this? Let us look first at the Epistle lesson for the day where we read, Ephesians 5:15-16 See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
To walk circumspectly means to be watchful on all sides, to be wary of danger from every direction, to be constantly on guard. This may sound strange to us today because we think of ourselves as living in a relatively safe society; we don’t need to go about armed on the streets to protect ourselves, at least in most places. But in terms of spiritual danger, we are every bit as much at risk as were the first century Christians, perhaps more so because we are so little conscious of the danger. There is false teaching coming to us from every direction; from our churches, from our schools, from our government, from our neighbors. Many of the most popular personalities today teach all of the wrong things by what they say, by how they act and how they live. The laws passed by our government are increasingly profoundly anti–Christian in many respects. What we see on the television is usually entirely contrary to Christian teaching. We must be prepared to resist this, and to say to others that this is wrong. These things attack us constantly in our daily lives, and call for our unending vigiligance.
At the time that St. Paul was writing, the heathens pretended to be wise, and Paul is calling them out, saying that they are really fools, and that we should be truly wise. In almost 2000 years, this has not changed. We today are seeing a resurgence of militant atheism, claiming to be the only rational, scientific way to live and ridiculing those who live by faith. Many popular books have appeared just in the last five years pushing this idea, and there are a number of popular lecturers promoting this idea today. We should not be afraid of these people; their arguments are ultimately empty because they cannot answer where we came from or why we are here. Random events do not explain the life of faith at all.
Paul goes on to say that we must redeem the time because the days are evil. Our days are given to us by God; they are the time allotted to us. Each of us has a particular number, although we don’t know the number of them; God knows. We are not to waste them, but rather to use them to accomplish the work that God has given us to do. It is so easy to be lazy and self indulgent, but that is not the Christian way. The days are evil in the sense that these are dangerous times, something that is evident to anyone who simply looks around. We must make use of the time we have, because it is not at all clear just how much more time we may have.
St. Paul goes on with a very essential instruction: Ephesians 5:17 Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. We cannot possibly hope to fulfill that which the Lord commands if we do not understand the will of the Lord. This means that we must be diligent in prayer and meditation, to discern the will of God for our lives. It is not as simple as saying, “OK, God, I’m ready, what do I do?” and expecting to know what God’s will for us is. We can read the Bible, the Commandments and other things and be pretty sure what His will for us is not, but what His will is for each of us requires much more time and prayerful discernment.
Ephesians 5:18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; This is not a condemnation of moderate alcohol consumption, although it is a condemnation of drunkenness. The reason for this is that the drunken person cannot be filled with the Holy Spirit, being too filled with alcohol to have his wits about him. The Holy Spirit works in the mind of man, and requires that we be in our right minds in order to be able to receive Him, and St. Paul exhorts us to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God. This shows itself in Christian joy, unlike the joys of the world, by causing the Christian to Ephesians 5:19-21 Speak(ing) to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, sing(ing) and mak(ing) melody in your heart to the Lord; (to) Giv(ing) thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; (to) Submit(ting) yourselves one to another in the fear of God. This is the joyful appearance of the Christian who is committed to the Lord, following His ways, and looking to fulfill the will of the Lord in his life.
In the first part of the Gospel lesson for today, the various invited guests are all busy with other matters and decline the invitation to attend the Wedding Feast for the King’s Son. Each of them had some other, entirely earthly matter of business to attend to: one to his farm, one to his merchandise, and one simply killed the King’s messengers. They did not discern the Lord’s will in their lives, and they went their way. This is exactly contrary to what we must do as Christians, thus we pray in the Collect that we will not be like the guests in the parable who refused to accept the invitation, but that we will accept the invitation of Jesus Christ to come to Him and receive His salvation: “that we, being ready in body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish those things that thou commandest.”
The second part of the Gospel reading, considers a man thrown out from the wedding feast for “not having a wedding-garment.” At first glance, this appears to be a very hard teaching, a puzzle, so what is the point here?
Remember first that this is no ordinary human wedding feast, but rather the Wedding Feast of the Son of God, so this is a divine event, not a human wedding feast. To come without a wedding–garment has nothing at all to do with clothing in the ordinary sense, but rather speaks of spiritual preparation to come before the Lord, the King. If our hearts are not made clean, made holy, we cannot face God. We are reminded of this in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, in the Exhortation for announcing the next celebration of the Holy Communion (pp. 86–87), where we read, “…so that ye may come holy and clean to such a heavenly Feast in the marriage–garment required by God in holy Scripture, and be received as worthy partakers of that holy Table.” God invites us to His holy Table to receive the Body and Blood of His Son so that “our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body and our souls washed through his most precious Blood,” as we say in the Prayer of Humble Access (BCP p.82). We dare not refuse that invitation, but let us come with cheerful and loving hearts. Many are invited to the feast. Let us be sure that we fail not to respond.
May today’s Collect be our fervent prayer, that we may be “ready both in body and soul” to serve Him and to cheerfully accomplish those things that He commands.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.