This was my last sermon preached at DBCC.
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:1-14
I did not want to write this sermon. I started it on Monday. I went to the Louisville Seminary library and did the exegetical research that I was taught in seminary. Over the course of the week I chatted with a few ministry collogues about how they would approach the text this week on Twitter. I talked it over with Meredith. I read blogs. I read the news. I put this sermon away to say good-bye to a few folks in the community that I have worked with over the last three years. I tried to forget that this sermon was due. I ignored the need to write it. I pretended it was not there and went on with my day. The sermon would not leave. It haunted me at night. It demanded to be written.
Actually, this sermon began the moment I knew I would be leaving Douglass. I knew that I was scheduled to preach today. I glanced at the Gospel lesson for today and cringed. What’s up God? My last sermon here falls on this parable, The Great Banquet. That burns.
I don’t want to depart from here having this parable be the last thing I preach from. Why not Philippians 2? And talk about work out our salvation with fear and trembling knowing it is not our work but the work of God in us that equips us to work for Gods good pleasure.
Better yet, I’ll preach from Matthew 13 the Parable of the Pearl! I love that parable. I can depart with a call to continued pursuit of that pearl to which we are willing to sell all to acquire.
How about the Prodigal Son parable, I have always wanted to preach a departure from that parable. I spent almost a year preparing a sermon for when I left Kenya that I never got to preach…
I struggled on what to do. I procrastinated. I went to the zoo. I prayed. I packed a little. I mourned. I realized…I did not want to write this sermon. If I wrote this sermon the end of my chapter here at Douglass was truly near the end.
I do not do well with endings. I hate good byes. I would rather just duck out in the middle of the night with a note on the fridge that says, “Thanks for everything…”
I can’t do that. Departing in the middle of the night is not the right thing to do. Well, its not the right thing to do to people/someone you love. Struggling for words, the right words to say thank you and good-bye is what you do when you are in a relationship, even when it hurts to think about it.
- Doing the right thing.
- Out of ones element.
- Being prepared.
These are the elements of our story today. An important leader is excited that their child is going to be married. He has met the man of his dreams. Someone that makes him laugh and feel silly when he sees him. Someone with whom he wants to spend the rest of his life with.
This leader is so excited that they want to throw a party for his son and his fiancé. They gather up a list and hired a bunch of day laborers to go out and invite the who’s who of their world. But know one shows up.
This leader sends out another invitation and hires even more day laborers than before and each one was sent out personally to each invitee. The day laborers enticed the invitees with the knowledge of an abundance of locally grown, organic food, micro brews to flow like rivers, the best DJ money could by, and they’ll get to rub elbows with all kinds of celebrities!
Some of the invitees flat out ignored the invitation saying they were busy. Others scoffed at the invitation and angrily struck down and killed the day laborers.
This leader heard the news and was upset. They were so upset that they called their friends up and they went down to each invitee’s house and killed them and burned down their houses.
The important leader was still excited for his son to be married. They went down to Home Depot and hired some more day laborers and instructed them to go up and down Bardstown Road, Frankfort Ave, and Fourth Street Live inviting everyone they could to come to the party. The day laborers went and invited everyone they could. The banquet hall was filled with all kinds of people, black-white, gay-straight, old-young, homeless folks, alcoholics and addicts, folks in recovery, hipsters, heshers, vegans, and carnivores. Everyone showed up until the hall was packed!
The important leader came out to thank the guests for coming and saw that one of the guests showed up in a tuxedo t-shirt. They were asked why they had not dressed appropriately. No response was given. The bouncers showed up and dragged this tuxedo clad guest out in to the back alley and “handled business.” “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
See what I mean. What do you do with this? Joy. Celebration. INVITATION! Rejection. Murder. INVITATION! Inclusion. Judgment. Exclusion. Confusion…
This is the Relationship, Faithfulness, Doing the right thing, Discomfort, Awkwardness, Out of ones element, or Being prepared, that I promised you. This is messy. It is ugly. It is real.
What is God speaking to us? This is the part I wrestled with. I wanted to leave you with a nice clear, concise message. Something that I could deliver, smile and drop the mike, “PEACE, I’m out.”
You know that scene in the movie about the couple that seems to have everything against them. They always miss each others returned affection by seconds. They are on different paths in life; one is going to college and the other just hopes for a job at 7-11. They are odd. They are special. They are the plot to a Hollywood film.
There is a party where antics ensue. All kinds of couples, couple. Deep mysteries are revealed to some. Awakenings happen. Kegs are drained. Our two distant, escaping loves share a moment. They are thrust together by cosmic forces! They depart the party hand in hand with the sun rising and music playing. Credits role. Dilemma arrives and is solved in less than 90 minutes. Bam!
Life is more complex than that. Life is not solved in 90 minute segments. Life is lived in moments that string together that hash mark between ones birth date and day of death.
This parable evokes a broad debate. Is God the King? Is Jesus the King? Do the wedding garments represent, love? Is it a lesson against the affairs of business and a life of gain? I do not think that it is about God at all.
This is a call for us to explore faithful responses. The problem arrives when the “in-crowd” rejects the invitation to go. They assume they don’t need to go to the party. We focus on where God is in the story. God is and is not in the story. The lesson is in that we are all of the actors in this story, at one time or another. The King, the invited guests, the rejecters, the scorned, the slaves, the welcomed strangers, and the unprepared guest. It is not who you are or where you are at. The sin is to assume it is not you that needs to work on your faith.
Our lives are comprised of relationships, relationships that demand from us responses. As Christians it is one relationship in particular that influences all others. It is in seeking a faithful response to “love thy neighbor as thyself”, that is realized as “unfeigned love” from a “pure heart”, that extends an unconditional hand of friendship that loves when not loved back, that gives without getting, and that ever looks for what is best in others.
This unfeigned love delivers us to do the right thing in the midst of discomfort, awkwardness, and readies us to be prepared. It is what sustains us as we enter in to relationship with others. Relationships that are good and bad. Relationships that challenge our ideas, hopes, and dreams. Relationships that bear witness to the complex diversity of Gods fearfully, wonderfully made creation.
Unfeigned love does not sanitize relationships and make them easy. Even with unfeigned love relationships are messy. This is what I want to leave you with today.
We embrace unfeigned love so that we might live in community, a community that draws us nearer to God. We are part of this community not for ourselves, or a legacy. We are part of this community so that we might not be the same. That Gods love and transformation might be embraced. It is in community rooted in unfeigned love that the fullness of God is realized.
We take your story. We take my story. We take those arcane stories we read about in the Good Book. We weave these together as one. In diversity, in frustration, in fear, in joy, in hope, in love, we fashion OUR stories to the story of the one who has gone before us.
I want you to imagine with me. I invite you to close your eyes. Remember the new parts of your story, as God is revealed…encountered…embraced. Remember as God becomes fuller and that unfeigned love extends an unconditional hand of friendship. Remember that love given when not loved back. Remember the giving without getting. Remember looking for what is best in others.
What is God stirring on your heart? Who are you at the banquet feast? How is God calling you to relationship with others? Who is God calling you to love? Where is God calling you to be?
I invite you to open your eyes…
Relationships are difficult. They can’t be fully explored in 90 minutes or even in a 20 minute sermon. They do not fit in to any particular time frame. They can be rejected. We run the risk of missing the fullness of God in our rejection. “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
What is God preparing this world for? What is God preparing this nation for? What is God preparing Douglass for? What is God preparing you for?
“Look for a dare to be great situation.”