Sunday, October 9, 2011

All Are Welcome!

17th Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 22:1-14 (NRSV)

The parable of the unwelcome guest

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, 'Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.' But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, '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.' Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen."

NOTE: The verses in this sermon come from the song, "All Are Welcome." Text & Music: Marty Haugen, b. 1950 (C) GIA Publications, Inc.


Today’s gospel lesson is a challenging pericope. On the one hand, who doesn’t love a party, right?

I am especially enamored with weddings. I love to see the beautiful decorations and the faces of the bride and groom as they see each other for the first time. I love to hear the voices of the bride and groom as they pledge their troth to one another, often choking on their tears as they solemnly promise to love and honor one another for as long as they both shall live.

And who doesn’t enjoy the party afterwards—the warmth, joy, and laughter of a wedding reception? The food, drink, and dancing to follow?

A wedding represents hope for the future. It represents the hopes and dreams of families and communities. And ultimately it represents the eternal power of love.

VERSE 1: Let us build a house where love can dwell And all can safely live, A place where saints and children tell How hearts learn to forgive. Built of hopes and dreams and visions, Rock of faith and vault of grace; Here the love of Christ shall end divisions; All are welcome! All are welcome! All are welcome, in this place!

Indeed, in today’s gospel, the king throws a wedding reception for his son. He carefully sends out invitations and then excitedly awaits his guests. No expense has been spared—dinner is on—meat is available in abundance, everything is ready…But, one thing is missing; there are no guests!

The king tries to no avail to gather the invited guests, but they are too busy. In an effort to allow the party to go on, the king sends his servants out into the streets to invite anyone who is willing come to celebrate his son!

Soon, the room is full of the most unlikely guests--rich and poor, young and old, black and white, abled and differently abled, believers and non-believers--all are rubbing elbows at the marriage feast!

Suddenly those who are different share a common vision of the king’s son! They all understand that he is worthy of celebration. They all understand that he is worthy of adoration. All come to the banquet table—ready to feast on bread and wine—ready to receive the free gifts of love that liberally flow from their king.

VERSE 2: Let us build a house where prophets speak, And words are strong and true, Where all God's children dare to seek To dream God's reign anew. Here the cross shall stand as witness And a symbol of God's grace; Here as one we claim the faith of Jesus: All are welcome! All are welcome! All are welcome in this place!

Indeed, saint and sinner alike have been welcomed to the feast. Yet, at the end of the Gospel, a strange thing happens. The king notices one who does not have on a wedding robe. In great agitation, the king throws the unprepared man out of the house and into the darkness.

My goodness! This is challenging for us, isn’t it? How could the king—who represents our loving and gracious God—throw anyone out into the darkness?

Well, we don’t exactly know what happened, but what we do know that Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught us that God's grace is not cheap. It comes at a great cost upon the cross.” As we acknowledge Jesus’ great sacrifice, we must get dressed and ready to proclaim the good news that Jesus’ saves and he saves to the utmost. We declare with all the people of God,

VERSE 3: Let us build a house where love is found in water, wine and wheat: a banquet hall on holy ground where peace and justice meat. Here the love of God through Jesus, is revealed in time and space; as we share in Christ the feast that frees us: All are welcome! All are welcome! All are welcome in this place…

All are welcome…Yet we sometimes attempt to come the banquet without changing their clothes, without changing our behaviors, without changing our attitudes. Sometimes we come to the banquet willing to go through the motions, but feeling no true love for the king’s son in our hearts. Sometimes we choose to crash the banquet—pretending that God’s grace is cheap.

But, in the words of Bonhoffer, Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, and communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate."

Perhaps another way of putting it is that cheap grace is like showing up at the party without a robe! When we respond to the invitation of God's grace, it changes us forever. We are "clothed" in God's grace, bearing fruit with our lives as we share the invitation with others.

VERSE 4: Let us build a house where hands will reach beyond the wood and stone to heal and strengthen, serve and teach, and live the Word they’ve known. Here the outcast and the stranger, bear the image of God’s face; let us bring an end to fear and danger: All are welcome! All are welcome! All are welcome, in this place!

Our declaration as children of our King is a “Hallelujah Praise!” of thanksgiving and service for God’s unconditional love and amazing grace. The waters of our baptism wash us clean, set us free, and inspire us to live a life of love and service toward all of God’s children. As we are invited into a deeper relationship with God, through Christ Jesus, we are all sent out to share God’s gracious invitation with others. For scripture teaches, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

As Christians and followers of Christ, we have been blessed to be chosen! So,

VERSE 5: Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word. Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace, let this house proclaim from floor to rafter: All are welcome! All are welcome! All are welcome in this place!

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pray…Amen.

If you have questions about how to become a friend and follower of Jesus, please see the devotion entitled, “Come to Jesus” @

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