Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only Start Doing

Pentecost 21 – Year A

In our Gospel reading this morning Jesus tells a striking
and troubling story in which all the invited guests to a
wedding reception refuse to come at the last minute. The
host is forced to round up the dregs of the “B” list. Actually
they rank lower than “B”-list types. The Bible tells us that
the king’s slaves plucked all the street people they could
find, both good and bad, to fill the wedding hall. These
lucky folks ended up at the grandest of all parties, a party
they never dreamed of attending.

And then of all the cruel things to happen, the king throws
out some poor slob because he came without the proper
attire. Why should the king be so incredibly harsh to a poor
man who presumably had no opportunity to borrow a clean
tunic fit for the occasion? The king was stood up by all his
friends, and now he has the gall to scrutinize and kill a
guest he scrounged from the street? It makes no sense.
It is interesting to consider our Lectionary this week in its
entirety. It seems that the passage from Isaiah and the
23rd Psalm serve as a salve for our Gospel reading.
Anyone who thinks that the Old Testament God is nothing
but scary and vengeful while the God of the New Testament
nothing but gracious and cuddly is sorely mislead. Our
passages from the Hebrew Scriptures testify to God’s
merciful, saving grace. The prophet Isaiah heralds God as
a shelter for the poor and needy, a shelter from heat and
storm. God will swallow up the shroud of death, forever
wiping away the tears from every face in Israel. Isaiah
declares that God will prepare a banquet, and that it will be
for all people.

The 23rd Psalm is a description of God’s care for our
needs. The psalmist calls us to trust in God’s guidance,
assuring us that the Lord will supply our genuine needs
with protection and nourishment.

In Matthew’s parable about the wedding banquet, however,
we get a heavy dose of rejection, violence, judgment, and
death. This parable reminds us that the New Testament is
not all rainbows and lambs. The Bible has everything in
it—wonder and terror, worst fears and best hopes—both
for ourselves and for our relationship with God. Jesus, too,
represents our worst fears and best hopes. Could this be
why he appears callous and cruel in this parable? Is he
trying to describe our redemption in ways we are not
equipped to discern or just don’t want to hear?
Jesus’ parable is really an allegory about the last
judgment, when the good and bad in the church are sorted
out. The king is clearly God; the wedding feast for his son
is really God’s messianic banquet for Jesus and his bride,
the church, as described in the Book of Revelation, chapter
19: “For the marriage of the Lamb has come and his bride
has made herself ready. To her it has been granted to be
clothed with fine linen, bright and pure–for the fine linen is
the righteous deeds of the saints” (7-9).

The poor slob that was hog-tied and thrown into outer
darkness represents you and me. This is Matthew’s way of
telling Christians that we are by no means exempt from the
judgment that fell on those who first rejected Jesus and the
gospel. Jesus said that not every one who cries, “Lord,
Lord,” will be with him at the end. Something more than
just an invitation is required.

The story suggests that those who might be expected to
respond to the Divine generosity show contempt for it;
while people who seem totally disqualified are welcomed
even when they have shown little concern for that welcome.
But there is a catch. It’s not a come-as-you- are party. You
may be welcome, but you must have some concern for the
dress code or more to Jesus’ point, you must live by the
party etiquette. The allegorical wedding garment is
righteousness. That is, to say, behavior in accordance with
Jesus’ teachings. There are intangible garments that
concern Jesus, the contents of our consciousness, our
hearts, and our vision for our life in God. Jesus offers us
the clean garment of forgiveness with the stipulation that
our part requires taking up our cross, losing our lives, and
giving our money.

Yes, you heard me right. Giving money to God’s church.
Being thoughtful stewards of God’s gifts to us is behavior
Jesus expects and rewards within his teachings. You know
how Jesus responds to the rich ruler who asks what he
must do to inherit eternal life. The man assures Jesus that
he has kept the 10 commandments since his youth and
led a good life, but Jesus says to him, “There is still one
thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money
to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then
come, follow me” (Luke 18:22) Ouch. Scripture says the
ruler became sad, because he was very rich. This reminds
me of a bumper sticker I saw on a big, bad BMW 740XL:
“Don’t let the car fool you. My treasure is in heaven.”
This may seem like a non-sequitor, but don’t you just love
the fall? The weather is cooler, the leaves are changing; it’s
just a happy time of anticipation, all the fabulous holidays
are just around the corner. Add to this feast that October is
nametag month at St. James’s and I am beside myself. But
there’s more. The fall is also the beginning of our
stewardship season, a time you should not dread but
welcome with generous hearts, especially as this is the
first of three sermons on the subject you’ll be hearing in the
coming month. Do you see how you are welcome at our
party; you are welcome to be members of St. James’s;
welcome to wear a name tag so we know who you are;
welcome to give the church your “Benjamins” and if you
don’t, now that we know your name we’ll actually know how
to track you down! I love the fall around here.
I’m kidding about that last part. We won’t hound you to
pledge because we know that you know what God expects
you to do. Jesus is very clear about this—did you know that
he spoke much more about money during his ministry than
he did about faith? I’d have to argue with St. Paul who said
that the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10). I’d
argue that money is actually neutral? It’s what we do with it
that determines its value. When most of us have money we
feel safe, secure and powerful. And when we do not we feel
vulnerable, unsafe and weak. But you see, we should be
substituting the word “God” for “money”. When we have
God in our lives we feel safe, secure and powerful and
when we do not we feel vulnerable, unsafe and weak.
Money can undermine our relationship with God, and this
is when it becomes the root of evil. The reason generosity
provides a good foundation for the future is not because it
earns eternal life, but because it shows where our hope
lies.

Five minutes after we die we’ll know exactly how we
should have lived. There will be weeping and gnashing of
teeth. But then it will be too late to go back and change
anything. God has given us his Son so we don’t have to
wait until we die to know how we should have lived. Jesus
is abundantly clear about this. There’s no second chance
for the unbeliever—but also no second chance for the
believer unless we put on that wedding garment and we do
it now! So you see, Jesus’ demands are not just to raise up
donors for God’s church, but to raise up disciples.
The purpose of a parable is to make one point, and the
point here is to get ready, to stitch together for ourselves
the garments of truth, of the Way, so we will live each day
with the knowledge that every moment we get closer to
death, we get closer to our treasures, rather than further
from them.