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"Enemies of Gratitude: Entitlement"

Howard Boswell

Matthew 22: 1-14

Sermon Preached by the Reverend Dr. Howard W. Boswell, Jr.

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 15, 2017

Kenmore Presbyterian Church

Kenmore, New York

 

Let me admit from the start: Matthew’s telling of the Parable of the Wedding Banquet bugs me.  When you read it, it leaves you with more questions than answers. If you filmed it, it would be a horror film or an episode of Game of Thrones (Even though I haven’t seen Game of Thrones, I understand it’s pretty violent as well!).

As we read Matthew’s version of the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, it makes us uncomfortable, because it stretches reality, almost to the breaking point.  Jesus begins by comparing the kingdom of heaven to a king who throws a wedding banquet for his son.  He sends out his servants to those called to come, but they refuse the king’s invitation.

When the king sends them out a second time, he lets his guests know everything is ready. Some blow off the invitation and go to their farm or to work. Others capture the servants, torture them and kill them. I told you it was violent.

Yet, the violence doesn’t end there. When news of their rejection comes to the king, he not only gets mad, but he gets even. He sends his troops to wipe out the murderers and to reduce their city to ashes.  

Now, this parable usually gets interpreted as an allegory with the characters standing in for someone else. The servants represent the Jewish prophets, who were ignored by the people.  Some of them were even captured, tortured, and killed.  The king’s son might represent Jesus and dear old dad, the king represents God.

Yet, this approach feels off to me and, maybe, you too.  While we may have no problems with the prophets being the servants and the son being Jesus, we have a problem with God being the king.  I have a hard time imagining God as a king who would take bloody revenge on anyone.

Oh, I left out one set of characters: the ones invited to come to the wedding feast. Now, if this story was straight allegory, they would represent those Jewish leaders who rejected the prophets and Jesus.  The context of this story starts with the chief priests and elders, asking Jesus to explain by what authority, he kicked the money changers out of the temple.  Jesus answers them with another question, “By whose authority did John baptize?”  If they said “from God,” then Jesus would ask why they didn’t believe him.  If they said “from humans,” then the crowd might revolt, because they saw John as a prophet.

Then, Jesus tells a series of three parables. First, he tells the story of two sons.  While one of them promises his father he will go and work in the fields, but doesn’t, the other tells his father he won’t work, but does.  Second, he tells of tenants in a vineyard. The owner sends servants to collect his share, but they kill the servants. Then, he sends even more servants, with the same result. Finally, he sends his son and they kill him too.  When Jesus asks what the owner will do to the tenants, the chief priests and elders say that he will put them to death.

At this point, the chief priests and elders get the idea that Jesus may be talking about them.  They say they’ll obey God, but fail to work in the vineyard. They killed the prophets and will kill the son.  If they had any doubt at all, the Parable of the Wedding Banquet leaves no doubt about God’s intention.

Yet, I don’t think God’s intention is to destroy them. Instead, I think God intends to begin again. It forms the next part of the story, which begins with the king calling his remaining servants and saying, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main street, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.”

These remaining servants might represent the apostles,        who went to all the known world, and called good and bad to come to the wedding banquet.  The wedding banquet represents the kingdom of heaven. Elsewhere, in Luke’s gospel, Jesus says, “Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.  Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."

Now, let’s be honest with one another about where we stand in line. You and me, we are the first. We believe our Christian faith gives us privileges. We believe the color of our skin gives us privileges. We believe our citizenship gives us privileges.  This parable of the wedding banquet makes it clear that our privilege may prevent us from coming to the table, because we believe we’re already in.

While we may be in, we’re not all in, when it comes to our relationship with God.  All of us, including me, hold something back.  We place certain things ahead of that primary relationship. Yet, this parable opens our eyes, so that we may see our worthiness doesn’t come from ourselves, instead it comes at God’s invitation to come to the table.

Now, there’s one more bit of the story, isn’t there?  There’s the guy who shows up to the wedding without a wedding robe.  You see, in the Middle East of Jesus’ time, weddings were big deals and they still are. When you went to a wedding, you made an effort to look your best.  So, it’s no surprise when the king asks, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” When the guy gives no answer, the king kicks him out.

Now, what’s up with that? Are you saying God won’t let us in if we’re not appropriately dressed? Well, yes, but don’t think so literally. Here’s how I see its: In the early church, the baptized would receive new robes, after they emerged from the waters.  It would signify a new life had begun, one in which they tried to live out their baptism, day by day.

At times, I think we become far too casual in church.  Now, again, I’m not speaking literally.  I mean: when we come to church, when we live our lives, we should remember who and whose we are. When folks look at you, do they see the image of Christ?

Today’s sermon addresses entitlement as an enemy of gratitude.  As we close, let me tell you what Brian Erickson, who created this series says about it. Erickson writes:

Whenever we allow ourselves to believe that we deserve what we have, or that we are somehow more worthy than another, we will find ourselves incapable of gratitude. The proper response to the king’s invitation, Jesus declares, is to run breathless to the banquet, dressed for the marriage of heaven and earth, wondering how we ever got on such a guest list.

 

©2017 Kenmore Presbyterian Church