The Invitation

Scripture Matthew 22:1-13

In May of this year Graham Day turned eight.   Now I have a son who is already counting down the days until he turns eight in two months, so I have an idea of how excited he probably was when he woke up on that day.   He was having a birthday party neighborhood kids and classmates were all invited, the cake was made, and the boxes of pizza were delivered.   However, no one came.   To make it worse, this was not the first time this had happened to Graham.  He went through the exact same experience when he turned six.   Understandably the child was crushed, and the parents were distressed, hoping to find some way to salvage the day and bring joy to their son.   After nothing seemed to come together, they finally tried calling the police.  Graham wanted to be a police officer, so they were hoping that the officer on station could at least stop by to wish him a happy birthday.  In response to this request, the entire police force and fire department of Hurst, Texas showed up for the birthday party of Graham Day.  They came with all of their police cruisers and fire trucks and lined the street around his house.   In a May 29th, newspaper article, Graham’s mom was quoted saying, “By the end of it he had forgotten his friends did not come over for his birthday.  He was so happy.”   On that particular day, for that particular family the Hurst, Texas police force saved the day.   Now I am not a police officer, but I imagine that it is rare for them to get cake for saving the day.   It is a good thing that the police came through for Graham Day, but it is sad that he found himself at an empty birthday party in the first place.   Unfortunately, this kind of thing seems to be increasing.  I personally know a couple of parents who have gone through this, and judging by the number of posts on mommy blogs about this topic, it seems to not be an uncommon experience.   The thought to why this is increasing is two-fold.   The first is that kids today are more scheduled than they have ever been, and if a child is serious about any sort of sport then Saturdays (and too often Sundays) are dedicated to that sport or extra-curricular activity.   The second is that we live in a culture that increasingly devalues commitment.    It is becoming more common not to commit to something so the option to do something better if it comes up is always available.   Occasionally these two factors can combine in a perfect way to leave a child devastated when no one comes to their birthday party.  It must be heartbreaking as a parent, to see your child hurt in that way.  I can sympathize with the parents of Graham Day and I understand h they wanted to find some way to alleviate the pain their son felt.  This morning scripture lets us know that God understands this same pain.   In response to the rejection of no one coming, the Days invited the police department.   God, however went and invited everyone.  

            This morning’s scripture comes from one of the large teaching sections in the gospel of Matthew.  Matthew’s gospel is organized where there are large teaching sections broken up by narrative stories of traveling and miracles.   This particular teaching section comes from the end.  When Jesus went to Jerusalem for the last week of his life, he spent all day Monday teaching in the temple courts.   Matthew records that day in great detail, and this morning’s scripture is one of the parables that is attributed to what Jesus taught on that day.   The parable begins with “The kingdom of heaven is like”, whenever Jesus uses this it means we are in for an analogy of what God’s future kingdom is going to be like.   While it is always hidden in parable, when Jesus uses the phrase the kingdom of heaven is like, we know that we are often getting a glimpse into the heart of God.

            The kingdom of heaven is going to be like a party celebrating the Son.   Not only is it going to be a party, it is going to be a wedding party.   In first century Judea, wedding parties were THE parties.    They could last for days and were the most lavish parties that the majority of people would experience in their lifetime.   To turn down an invitation to a wedding party, would have been unheard of.  Yet that is exactly what happened in this scripture.   Worse, the people who turned down the invitation were rude and violent the second time the invitation.  This would have gotten the attention of the original audience, but I have to wonder if they knew Jesus was talking about them?  

            We have to remember that Jesus was a Jew, and his original audience were Jews.   The Jews are God’s chosen people.  They were meant to live in covenant with God where they are God’s people and God is their God.   However, the history of the Hebrew Bible is clear, they had a rough relationship.    Starting in the wilderness just weeks after leaving Egypt the tribes of Israel erect a golden calf.    Once they people enter the promise land, they turn to idols within a generation and they spent literally hundreds of years this way.   God had invited them to the party of the kingdom of heaven, by and large the invitation was ignored.   In response, God sent servants to reissue the invite, in the Bible these are the prophets.   The prophets though were also ignored and mis-treated.   From Elijah all the way up to John the Baptist during Jesus lifetime the prophets were scorned and even killed because they represented God and God’s holy truth.       

            Remember Jesus told this parable during Holy Week, he knew what was coming up in a matter of days.   It is at this point the parable goes from recapping what had happened to what was about to happen.   The chosen people had never fully responded to God’s invitation, so God opened the invite up.   God allowed anyone to come in.   Verse 10 states “So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all of the people they could find, the bad as well as the good.”    The sinners, the lost causes, and the non-churched; all were invited.  There was no pre-requisite to accepting the invitation all were invited, they simply needed to respond.  

            In parable form, Jesus was explaining the grace that he was about to make wide open.   In the guise of a story, Jesus was explaining what he was going to do on the cross.   It was on the cross that Jesus opened up the invitation.   It was on the cross that the grace of God became available to all, that God offered reconciliation to all of creation, and that we through the blood of Jesus be adopted into God’s family.  The kingdom of heaven is like a party, and thanks to Jesus Christ we are invited. 

            We are invited to God’s party is a high note to end on.   Honestly, a lot of people would probably prefer it Jesus stopped the parable right there.   God invites everyone, all are saved, end of story.   That is not where the parable ends though.  It was like Jesus anticipated this, and even continues with a “but. . . “  The king came to see the wedding guests who had come to his party and finds someone not wearing the wedding clothes, this man who was caught is thrown outside where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Some commentators understand this to be a reference to hell in the gospels, but the one thing that is clear is that the in the darkness outside where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth is a place of misery, separated from the love of God.   The middle of this parable is on such a high note and then this happens.  It is a bit of a downer and causes us to ask just what is going on?  

            Given how long ago Jesus lived and given the state of written records of that time, there is a lot we do not know about the everyday customs.   There is not any other ancient document that makes reference to wedding clothes.   Yet Jesus did not have to explain it in the parable, so clearly the original hearers knew what he was talking about.   Remember, a first century wedding was a big and expensive deal.   The thought is that the invited guests were given some sort of garment to wear to identify them as invited guests, this would be to keep wedding crashers and other revealers looking for a good time out.   That makes sense, what is troubling here is why on earth the man caught speechless was without wedding clothes.  It was an open invitation, and the wedding clothes for freely provided.   The man would have made the conscious choice not to clothe himself in these provided garments, and this would have been deeply insulting to the host which is why he was thrown out.  

            In one of his epistles Paul actually adds depth and context to this parable.   In Galatians Paul wrote, “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.  There is neither Jew, nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”    God has invited us to the eternal party of heaven, where we are reconciled to God and forever in God’s loving presence.   The party has been set, the invitation has already been made.  All our invited, the only question is who will respond?  

            We are invited to the party, but an invitation is not enough, we have to come and we have to clothe ourselves in Christ Jesus.    We do this by confessing that we have fallen short, and if we are being honest we truly are not worthy of the party.   We do this by accepting Jesus as our Lord and savior.   Jesus is not a cheap Halloween costume.  To clothe ourselves in Christ means we seek to live like Christ, loving God with all of our being and having compassion and love for our neighbors.   Just playing church, attending a house of worship and going through the motions that make us comfortable is not the same as accepting the invitation.  When we do that we are like the man who did not take the wedding clothes.    All have been invited, but when we get right down to it there are only two types of people in this world:  Those who have accept the invitation and those who have not.   Which one are you?  

            If you know that you have not responded to the invitation, if you have not come in to the party and clothed yourself in Jesus Christ.  Then I urge you to do so.  You are missing a heck of a party.   If there is a reason why you are not ready, then I respect that.   If that is true for you then, I would love to sit down with you and hear your story.   If that is you, then know that the kingdom of heaven is like a party and you, no matter who you and no matter what you have done, you have been personally invited by the Creator of the universe.  

            If you have responded to the invitation, then may you continue to clothe yourself in Christ.   I mentioned earlier that when Jesus says “the kingdom of heaven is like . . .” he is talking about what God’s heavenly kingdom will be like.  There is one more interesting aspect to this.  The kingdom of heaven is both here and not yet.   Going with the party analogy, the invitation has been made, the party has started but the cake has not yet been cut.  The dance floor has not yet been opened.  The party has started, but it has not really started.  If you have clothed yourself in Jesus Christ, then we are to live in hopeful expectation.  We are to live on earth as if were already in God’s heavenly kingdom.   This means that we embrace clothing ourselves in Christ and in the here and now, day in and day out we seek to live like Jesus.  

            The kingdom of heaven is like a party, and we are all invited.  May you respond to the invitation.   If you already have, then may the sacrament of communion we celebrate today be a celebration of remembrance as you remember and anticipate the party that is yet to come.  May you party on.