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October 18, 2015 A+D
St. Matthew 22:1-14
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The servants gathered everyone they found. They made no distinction.
This is good news for us. It doesn’t matter how lousy you are, how infected, how contagious. All are gathered in. And everyone is clothed with the same gentle hands and eats of the same feast and is proclaimed to be the immaculate, stunning, and lovely Bride of Christ Himself.
Yet this is not a very nice parable. It is not politically correct or inclusive. This is a warning and a hard lesson. Many are called, but few are chosen. Not everyone goes to heaven. The Lord has atoned for the sins of the whole world. All are invited. No one need pay for his own sins, go unclothed or hungry, but some choose to anyway. They refuse the invitation and they stay out of heaven.
But it is even worse than that, not only does not everyone go to heaven, but there is actually a Hell, it is not as though you just miss a great party, you miss a great part and are thrown into the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, into a fiery, eternal furnace, where the worm does not die. There is an afterlife – either a life of joy in Christ, in the midst of beauty, love, and peace, or an on-going death of loneliness where men are handed over to their sorrow and anger.
The distinction between the citizens of heaven and Hell’s prisoners is found in the wedding garment.
This parable warns us about false sons. They are like Simon Magus. They want the power of Christianity, but not the cross. Or they are like Herod, wishing to see some miracle, curious and interested, but distant. Or they are like Nicodemus before his conversion, coming by night, speaking out of both sides of their mouths, calling Jesus “teacher” on the one hand while insisting on their own way and understanding on the other.
These aren’t people who declined the invitation. They are false sons in the wedding hall. They come to the hall but they will not be clothed by Christ. They insist on their own garments, their own ways. They do not leave their sins behind.
It makes me incredibly uncomfortable when people say to me “My Jesus would or wouldn’t do that.” It is typically an insistence that their Jesus isn’t the Jesus of the Scriptures. They say: “My Jesus wouldn’t send anyone to Hell.” Or “My Jesus wouldn’t care about fornication if the two people loved each other.” It turns out in every case that their Jesus is just like them. He loves what they love and His morality and goodness is defined by their tastes and experiences not by His Word. His ways are just like their ways. He does not speak in the Scriptures but through their fallen hearts and in accord with their hardened consciences. In this way, many people set themselves up to be the man who has come into the banquet hall who insists on wearing his own clothes rather than being clothed by Christ. They set themselves up, therefore, to be bound hand and foot and tossed into the outer darkness.
Kyrie Eleison! May God protect us from that! May He keep us in His Word in the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of Peter, Paul, and Luther. For it is possible to come to church and yet be a self-righteous, self-satisfied hypocrite, to insist that God meet your demands and be like you and change to mold Himself to modern sensibilities – all while despising the judgmental, old-fashioned Christians that you deem to be hypocrites. You can fool all the world and maybe even fool yourself, but you can’t fool God. The only way you come into the Kingdom is if you shirk your own righteousness, if you repent, if you stop insisting on your own way, and are clothed with His righteousness.
The Lord says: “Take your clothes off and get sprayed down for lice; you can’t bring your crap in here and you can’t pretend to be something you’re not. You are a sinner. You need to be de-loused, un-infected, and humbled, emptied of yourself.” Those are harsh words but necessary. They set up the surprise. The initial humiliation of Baptism, which strips a man bare and then drowns him as unworthy for the Kingdom, is fleeting. The delousing is not only painless but a great relief. And we find ourselves in the hands not of a prison guard, but a gentle and respectful Lover, who clothes us with His own garments, who calls us and makes us lovely, who says: “Friend come up higher, but not as a guest. Be my Bride bought at a terrible price but without regret, gladly and willingly. What the world despises I love and I make you Mine.
This is good news for sinners, for people with regrets and embarrassments, for liars and failures and perverts. It doesn’t matter how lousy you are, how infected, how contagious. He has invited you and that makes you worthy. And now, having come to the hall at the Word of the Lord, having been washed in His Name and clothed by His grace, come to the Feast, come higher, come, buy and eat without money and without price, leave your filthy rags behind and you’re your destiny. Come be at one with the Lord, pardoned in His compassion, the Bride of His mercy. The King awaits and is eager to feed you
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.