on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://web.me.com/frsparky/iWeb/r061.htm
s061g11 Sunday 28 9/10/2011
‘call those who had been invited ..’ Matthew 22.3
I begin with the realization that this parable is not directed
towards the irreligious, but towards the devout and the orthodox,
those who we read of last week, who concluded that Jesus was talking
about them, when he spoke about those who mistreated and killed
those whom the master sent.
When I was a young teenager we sang: ‘I cannot come, I cannot come
to the banquet, don’t bother me now, I have married a wife, I have
bought me a cow. I have fields and commitments that cost a
pretty sum. Pray hold me excused, I cannot come.’
(Medical Mission Sisters, 1966. Luke 14.17f) We
sang this thinking how wonderful we are and how evil others who
didn’t go to church were. How could others refuse such a
gracious offer and not come to church like we did? This
of course shifted the criticism away from the orthodox and the
devout who absented themselves for religious reasons using secular
In our progression through Matthews gospel, we have come to the
conclusion of Jesus’ ministry, his time in Jerusalem and
consequently to his conflict with those who considered themselves,
entitled, elected and so much superior to others.
We know who these people were. The gospel tells us that
they were the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the factions of the
church in Jesus’ day. And of course we have factions in
the church today – the evangelicals, the catholics, the
charismatics, the conservatives and the liberals - to name but a
few. And I reflect that Jesus didn’t try to reconcile
the Pharisees with the Sadducees. Jesus didn’t
join in their debates over who was right and who was
wrong. Times haven’t changed and any attempt to
reconcile the various factions in the church is a waste of time and
energy, an exercise in futility. It seems to me that the
various factions in the church derive an enormous benefit by
sticking to their party lines. It makes them feel
important. There are some people who think that the
world revolves around them and their theological perceptions and
while the debate continues and the focus is on them, then their
existence is justified. I suspect that the widespread
indifference that the majority of people have to such debates is the
most galling to such people. People are simply not
interested in arcane arguments dating from the 4th, 15th or the 20th
centuries, they are busy enough living for today and trying to be
helpful to those around them, whoever they are.
I repeat that Jesus did not bother to try to reconcile the Pharisees
and the Sadducees, and therefore Jesus does not call anyone into
this sort of debate, which only saps our time and
energy. Jesus does not call anyone to join in the
theological argy-bargy. It is the ultimate
distraction. Jesus calls us to follow him into
incarnation into the real world of the here and now, not retreat
into a holy huddle.
It is plain what Jesus did do, and that was, and is, to invite all
into the marriage feast. The invitation is galling in
the extreme to the devout and the orthodox, for it says that the
kingdom has nothing to do with the success of their party line over
others. It needs to be repeated that the kingdom will
not come when all become ‘christians’, or Anglicans of my particular
flavour. We ourselves determine our entry into the
kingdom by our willingness to join in the party, a party to which
all are invited. It is not that God excludes anyone, it is we
who are willing to enjoy the company of others, or not.
So any church whose ‘communion’ is limited to a holy huddle of
like-minded devotees is the complete antithesis of what the kingdom
is. Jesus said: ‘If you then, who are evil, know how to
give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in
heaven give good things to those who ask him!’ (Matthew
7.11) So all anyone has to do is to ask to be admitted
and they are! The devout and the orthodox, who know how
to give good things to those who are seen and not heard, are evil.
There was, of course, one person who wasn’t wearing a wedding
robe. He actually didn’t want to be there.
It was not that he was dressed inappropriately through his poverty
for all would have been offered the appropriate attire on entry, for
most had come from the streets and lanes. The ones off
the streets and lanes would have been grateful and surprised that
they were invited, and this was the appropriate garment, their
gratitude. So the man without the wedding garment was
the one who was not grateful, the one who believed he was entitled,
elected and so much superior and he was weeping and gnashing his
teeth that he was being treated equally to those dragged out of the
gutter. He was thrown out because he was already weeping
and gnashing his teeth, and he was thrown out to others like him.
We are all invited into the kingdom and the kingdom is something
that is here and now, or else it is not worth a cracker.
The delusion that the kingdom is something about life after death is
an artifice to avoid being an agent for change in the here and
now. The opposition to the kingdom comes from the
orthodox and the devout, and so they will use the religious language
of the hereafter to suggest that the holy huddle they offer is all
that there is in this life and a passport to the next.
They use Jesus’ words to reinforce their own rightness and
authority. It is they, the successors to St Peter, who
hold the keys to the kingdom and so they turn Jesus’ words into ‘No
one comes to the Father but by them.‘
Yes, no one comes to the Father but by Jesus, because we follow
Jesus into life with others, not into a life separate from
others. St Peter holds the keys, precisely because he is the
illiterate fisher, and it is our relationship to the common man and
woman that is determinative. Our inclusion is not on the
whim of another, but on our choice to accept the invitation to join
in the marriage feast.
And so we see that the church that celebrates a ‘communion’ which is
really more defined by who can’t join in, is really about not being
an agent for change in the here and now. It is about the
church’s rightness and authority. What weeping and
gnashing of teeth there will be when these folk realise what they
have done, to themselves and to others?
I draw your attention to the words we ended the gospel with last
week: When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables,
they realised that he was speaking about them. (21.45)
This refers to them killing the prophets and the son, so we realise
that it is the religious city which will be burned, it is the
religious murderers that will be killed. The edifice of
intolerant orthodoxy (of any form) will be razed to the ground
because it is simply irrelevant to anything, in this world or in the
next, if next there be.
And as a final word in the parallel passage in Luke, the orthodox
and the devout use secular excuses - I have married a wife, I have
bought a cow - as if these were unworthy, when Jesus encourages us
to be a part of the world and not separate from it. Many
people in the church have a special regard for unmarried clergy as
if they were somehow more holy, and our dear Canons of 1604 #76
demand that ‘ministers (are) at no time to forsake their Calling.’*
No, we find the kingdom in relationship with the world, in marriage
and in commerce; in precisely those things the devout and the
orthodox would avoid as ‘unspiritual’.
*NO man being admitted a Deacon or Minister shall from thenceforth
voluntarily relinquish the same, nor afterward use himself in the
course of his life as a Layman, upon pain of excommunication.
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