Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pentecost 17 (Proper 23), series A

Sermon on Matthew 22:1-14
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
October 9, 2011 (Proper 23, Series A)

This parable is a description of the Church. The wedding feast that is mentioned here is the great wedding between God and His creation, the wedding between Christ the heavenly Bridegroom and the Church His bride. This wedding feast will be celebrated eternally in the mansions of the Heavenly Father following Christ’s return to judgement. But most people in our world, even though they are invited to this feast, aren’t planning on attending it. Many simply don’t believe there is going to be a feast. Others don’t think that this wedding feast is something that is important to them, and so they ignore the invitation. Others get so angry at the messengers that they persecute and kill them. Still others may have heard some hint of the invitation, but what they heard was so garbled by false doctrine and moralism that the message never really got through. Still others simply have not heard the invitation yet at all. And yet, this wedding feast is important to everyone. To be invited and choose not to attend is to incur the wrath of the Heavenly Father who gives this feast, and he and His armies will destroy those who reject the invitation in the eternal fires of Hell. And so it is urgent that the invitation to the heavenly wedding banquet go out to all the world as quickly as possible.
This is the reason why the Church sends missionaries into foreign countries as well as into various areas of our own country where the Gospel is not currently being preached in its truth and purity. This is the reason why the Church encourages and exhorts all her members to share this invitation, this message, with all with whom they come into contact. This is why various organizations have been established to promote the mission of the Church, both by pooling funds and resources, and by encouraging local groups and projects which promote the spreading of this glorious invitation to the whole world. The Lutheran Women’s Missionary League is one such group, and in fact of all our Synod’s missionary auxiliaries, the LWML is the one whose local society, the “Cross and Crown,” is the most active in this particular congregation. We give thanks to God this day for the work of these ladies on behalf of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and we pledge our continuing support to their efforts to gather all who will hear together from the ends of the earth to celebrate with all the faithful the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end.
But of course, we recognize from this parable that going to the world with this invitation is an activity that is not without its hazards. You can get killed doing this. Some of the servants who were sent by the king in the parable were killed by those to whom they were sent. Now, today, here in America, that isn’t the danger. The danger to us is that we will be treated spitefully and ridiculed. In some ways, it’s easier to give up your life for Christ once than it is to have to face peer pressure and ridicule against Him day after day after day. And so it is imperative that we band together, not only as a Church, even though that is the primary gathering of Christians to be strengthened and nourished for this battle, but also in other groups and organizations, so that we can be strengthened and encouraged for this battle. This is why we have Bible study groups as well as the Cross and Crown Society. Going out with Christ’s invitation is not easy, but when you do it together with others, God shows His help and care through those others, and it does seem easier.
And what is the purpose of this going forth with the invitation to the wedding banquet? So that those who are thus invited can be united with Christ. Toward the end of this parable we hear about a man who somehow managed to get in to the feast without the appropriate clothing. This man is taken out and cast into the outer darkness. This seems like a harsh and judgmental picture, but it reminds us of what it is that happens when a person is united with Christ. Christ covers him like a garment, like a white robe of purity. Our sins, our selfishness, our lack of holiness and righteousness before God, are covered up with the white robe that God gives us in Holy Baptism. Without this covering, our sinfulness is offensive to our God and we are subject to destruction. But with this covering, with Christ becoming our white, pure, and holy robe, we are pleasing to God, and our presence is a joy to Him at the wedding feast.
And so it is necessary that those who come to the feast be given the wedding garment. All men are born sinful and must be covered with Christ’s righteousness in order to be acceptable to God. This takes place in Holy Baptism and is renewed when we hear the Word of forgiveness preached, read, and proclaimed to us. What we do when we invite those who are outside our fellowship right now to come and participate with us in the wedding feast is not a matter of getting as many warm bodies as possible in the pews. A missionary approach that focuses itself on the number of warm bodies in the pews and which tones down the seriousness of the Christian message of Law and Gospel, replacing it with motivational speeches for better living or the like, will only result in having more people who cast aside the white robe of Christ’s righteousness and try to remain in the wedding feast without it. In other words, seeking numbers at all costs doesn’t help the kingdom of God. It only hurts it. As Jesus warns us at the end of the parable, many are called, but few are chosen. We can’t get around that fact.
But for those who do hear the invitation and who do not cast aside Christ’s righteousness which is given to them but instead wear their wedding garment which God has given them proudly and thankfully, the blessings of being at this wedding feast are beyond compare. This wedding feast is nothing other than heaven itself. In fact, the bride is no one else than the Church herself. Which means that you and I are not just invited guests to this feast, we are, collectively, one of the parties to the union. The union between God and Man which takes place in heaven means joy and happiness beyond compare for us. Some religions teach about a god who is high, holy, and remote. Other religions teach about a god, or a whole series of gods, that is contained within creation, such as “mother earth” or something like that. Our religion is the only one that has the best of both worlds. Our religion teaches about a God who, even though He is high and holy and powerful, is not remote from us but rather has entered our existence and taken on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. God is not “watching us from a distance,” thank you Whitney Houston, but rather He is with us. This is the union that we celebrate in the marriage feast of the lamb which has no end. This is the union that all men are invited to. Nothing less than the love and the fellowship of the high, holy, and powerful creator of heaven and earth.
And this wedding feast isn’t just something that we have to wait for the end of the world to experience either, even though that is when our experience of it will be fulfilled and complete and eternal. We participate in this wedding feast, this union of love between God and His creation, every Sunday as we eat the body of our heavenly bridegroom and drink His blood. We, who have received the white robe of Christ’s righteousness in Holy Baptism, now enter into the fellowship of God Himself through eating His Son’s body and drinking His blood. We can’t see this aspect of the Divine Service, but it is real. We receive nothing less here than the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. For where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. We now partake of the marriage feast of the lamb, which has no end. Our own sinfulness does not hinder us from being here, for we are covered with the white robe, the wedding garment of Christ’s holiness and righteousness. Come to the feast! Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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