The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
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 excuses.

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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