Saturday, October 08, 2011

Homily for Trinity 16 A

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
You prepare before me a table in the presence of those who trouble me
Come...everything is ready..come to the wedding banquet.

It's all about feasts today.
The feast we are invited to here and now, as we gather at the Lord's table to receive our Saviour in bread and wine, and that great feast for all people, that will be shared when the kingdom comes.
But there's another feast first, a royal wedding no less.......and lots of people invited.
Weddings, whether royal or otherwise, are all about the future.
We celebrate with the couple, not just because they have found one another but because they are going to spend the rest of their lives together....and if that couple happen to be a prince and his bride, well then their future will include big changes for all the people in their kingdom. It's exciting to be in at the beginning...but, as our Common Worship marriage service reminds us, those who turn up on the day are committing themselves to “uphold the marriage, now and in the years to come”
They are signing up for the long haul.

So, I wonder what we make of those who are invited at first and refuse their invitation?

Matthew has a particular agenda when it comes to God's chosen people, Israel, so I guess this might be just another dig at those observant Jews, the scribes and Pharisees, who believed they were definitely on the “A” list, but refused their invitation to the feast when it came from a rag-tag Messiah with the sort of friends that they'd spent most of their lives avoiding.
But I don't think we can safely confine our reading of the parable to them alone.
I suspect there are wider implications, which we'd be foolish to ignore.

In pretty much any book, it's pretty stupid to refuse an invitation to a royal wedding – and in an era where kings ruled with a rod of iron, it was practically suicidal....
but nonetheless, those invited first had their own plans, their own agendas – and elected to stay away....a decision that cost them dear.
I don't for a moment believe that we're supposed to see their fate as indicative of the way God might act – ..but it IS supposed to make us think.
After all, if we are honest, we often choose to put our own agendas before God's invitation....and our excuses are pretty threadbare, even though we tend to stop short of actual murder.
God invites us, and we have better things to do.
So we find ourselves irritated, angered by the voices that call us to join in a party with guests whose table- manners we can't vouch for, still less their pedigrees.
On the whole, we'd prefer to stay at home.
We couldn't enjoy ourselves if we're expected to sit down beside THEM.
And it IS our choice.
We don't have to share in the feast....but if we won't come, then there are many others who are less fussy...

The royal servants are commanded to invite any Tom, Dick and Harry they find standing around the streets and soon the king's hall is filled with people – good and bad, says the parable.
Remember – a feast for all people...
The only thing these guests have in common is that they want to be there and to share in the future they are being offered.
They are prepared to leave their own business and accept the invitation to join the royal celebrations........and engage, too, with the future they herald.
Great.
Let joy be unconfined.

but then Matthew introduces a further complication, absent when this parable appears in Mark & Luke, where we end with general rejoicing.
Not this time.

This time, the king spots one guest who isn’t wearing a wedding robe and, furious, has him ejected from the feast.
That's troubling for us in many ways.
Is wearing the wrong clothes really grounds for expulsion, to the place of wailing and gnashing of teeth?

We no longer find ourselves bound by dress codes on the whole...and it's very hard for us to understand what could be so dreadful in any outfit that it would warrant explusion from the feast.
Often, for grand celebrations, suitable clothes were provided as part of the invitation (this still happens at grand weddings in India, where female guests are routinely presented with wonderful saris to ensure that they are all equally splendid on the great day)....so in turning up in inappropriate clothes, the guest is apparently snubbing his host, the king.
There's no need for him to appear in workaday clothes, but he just can't be bothered to change...
In other words, though he's physically present, he's not really committed to the celebration, or to the future that it heralds.

He won’t get changed, literally, and that shows the king that he isn’t going to be any use practically as the work of the kingdom gets under way. He’ll come to the party, but he doesn’t want what it celebrates to make any difference to his life.

Matthew’s version of this story tells us that being a Christian is not simply about getting a ticket to the banquet, a seat at the table. It is about being involved in the making of God’s kingdom – being part of his work. And that means being prepared to get changed, not physically into fine clothes, but by letting God transform us inwardly, showing us where we need to grow, where we need to repent and make amends, where we need to learn to
love and to be loved, to forgive and be forgiven, to give help, and to accept it. It doesn’t matter how old or how young we are, how sorted or how messy our lives are, when we stop getting changed, we stop growing. If you
are the same person as you were a year ago, or ten years ago, if you are still carrying the same resentments, repeating patterns you know aren’t healthy, if you know no more of the Bible now than you did then, then there is something that needs changing...
perhaps through prayer, perhaps through talking to someone you trust, perhaps through some decisive action you have havered over for many years.

We all need to get changed.

To live is to change” says the proverb “and to be perfect is to have changed often”
But, you know, despite the implications of our gospel, I refuse to be pessimistic.
When it comes to it, I don't honestly believe that any of us will refuse our invitations.
We may postpone our decision
We may try hard to find a better place to be, a more entertaining party.......
but when the kingdom comes, when all tears are wiped from our faces, when all disgrace is taken away........then, I believe that through God's grace, and at his Son's expense, we will all sit down and eat
the rich feast he has spread for all peoples.

(I'm indebted to a colleague from the PRCL list for both kick starting me with this, and providing the substance of the penultimate paragraph. Thank you, Anne)

1 comment:

Songbird said...

I like the way you made it about being changed. I'm afraid I stopped at accepting the invitation and didn't go strongly where you have gone. All of which is to say, I like what you did!