22. December, 2014Sermons No comments

Sermon given by Fr. Jim Gordon on Oct. 12, 2014

“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.”

In the name of God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

My wife and I were watching a movie trailer the other night — it was for yet another apocalyptic themed action flick — when we saw a famous line from Yeats: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”

Yeats wrote those lines in the aftermath of World War I, which killed an estimated 37 million people, military and civilian.

It is believed by most scholars that the Gospel of Matthew was written in the last quarter of the first century, which means it was written after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the destruction of Jerusalem itself. More than a million people were killed when the Romans turned that beautiful city into flame and rubble.

For the Jews of the world, including Jewish Christians, in the year 70, things fell apart, indeed, which might explain the differences between Luke’s version of the Parable of the Great Banquet and the version we heard today from the Gospel of Matthew. The parable found in Matthew is more violent, contains the destruction of a city by a king representing God, as well as the famous binding of the man not wearing a wedding robe and his being thrown into utter darkness.

So which is the correct version? Luke’s or Matthew’s? Both could be correct. Jesus could well have told different versions of many parables, and the one we read today from Matthew, with its reference to a destroyed city, could record a prophetic utterance by Jesus. Or, the author of Matthew, inspired by the Holy Spirit, could have recast the parable in a way to help his community make sense of the center of their world failing to hold.

For us today, I want to begin with what’s common to both versions of the parable. And what’s common is that a great feast is given and generous invitations sent. But the invitations are ignored, and excuses are made. People are too wrapped up in their day-to-day affairs to come. And in response, others are brought into the banquet, including those who would not ordinarily expect to be invited.

The message behind all this is familiar. It reminds one of Jesus telling the chief priests and the elders that tax collectors and prostitutes would come into the Kingdom of God before they would because the tax collectors and prostitutes believed the message of repentance preached by John the Baptist while they, the religious leaders, did not.

And the message might also strike a chord within us, too, who can become too preoccupied with the common, everyday things on our plate, the busyness of life, to take time for God. You and me: We ARE invited to the banquet — of that there is no doubt. But do we accept that invitation?

We say we do — that’s why we’re here — but accepting in name only isn’t really accepting. Which brings me back to Matthew’s version of the parable and the famous binding of the man without a wedding garment and his being thrown into outer darkness where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Without some knowledge of first century Palestine, the parable seems incredibly unfair. Here there’s this poor unfortunate who shows up and for whatever reason doesn’t have a wedding garment — maybe he can’t afford one, maybe he didn’t know he was supposed to wear one — and bammo — off into outer darkness he goes.

But, in fact, in Jesus’ day a wealthy man, certainly a king, would provide wedding garments for his guests. And so the man’s not wearing one becomes something else. An intentional affront, an I’m coming as I am to your great feast any darn way I please.

But what is the wedding garment of Matthew’s parable represent? There are different opinions on this, but the one that makes the most sense to me is that of Martin Luther, who said that the wedding garment is Christ himself. And so what do we take away from the parable? That, as Paul tells us in Romans, we are to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer is a part of that clothing, and again, I invite you to stay after coffee time for the DVD presentation of Fr. Albert Haase’s Catching Fire, Becoming Flame. I invite you especially today because the half-hour program is on seven different aspects of prayer.

The man without the wedding garment wanted to show up exactly as he wanted to, without consideration of the great gift that was the king’s — or God’s — invitation. Many of us here today are of the “I gotta be me generation” and may wonder what’s wrong with that? Doesn’t God love me the way I am?

Yes, He does love you, exactly as you are. One of the great truths of our faith is that you and I can’t do anything to get God to love us any more than He already does, and we can’t do anything to get God to love us any less than he already does.

Another truth is that God will meet you where you are. But another is that God won’t leave you there. Faith in Christ is a journey, not a walking in place.

The center cannot hold, Yeats said, and between the threat of Ebola and the videos of the latest ISIS beheading, there’s as much reason to think that today as there was in the aftermath of World War I.

But the center has to hold. And the center will hold. For the center is Christ himself.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote these words:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Beautiful and wise words from Paul, written when he was in prison in Rome, awaiting a sentence of death.

Last week, I heard an NPR interview with a man by the name of Stephen Rouding, given from his home in England, where he had just returned after spending time in Liberia. In his first posting with Doctors Without Borders, Rouding had gone to Monrovia, Liberia, into the very heart of the Ebola outbreak.

He went to manage teams of people who collect the bodies of the Ebola victims — up to 25 bodies a day. He not only had to collect bodies of Ebola victims, he had to explain to grieving families why their traditional custom —a beautiful custom — of washing the bodies of their loved ones, washing and embracing them before burial, couldn’t be allowed, why the bodies couldn’t be buried at all, in fact, but had to be cremated.

Was it difficult? He was asked. Yes, he said, but someone had to do it. He also said he was willing to go back.

The interviewer asked Rouding if he was a religious man. His quiet reply was: “Yes, I’m a practicing Christian.”

I found that an interesting answer. He didn’t say, “Yes, I’m a Christian. He said, “Yes, I’m a practicing Christian.”

He might have said, “Yes, I’m a Christian who puts on the Lord Jesus Christ. I have a wedding garment.”

In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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