Worship Service Sermon Transcript, Oct. 11 2020
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Matthew 22:1-14 ~ Sunday, October 11, 2020
Save the date. You know those postcards you get in the mail? Well, we all just got one. God is throwing a big party -- and each of is invited. An extravagant banquet with God as the host. Fabulous stuff. One of a kind. Can’t miss. Nothing could be better or more important than to be seated at this banquet!
This is the message Jesus shares with us in his story for today. It starts with a kind of fairy tale feel to it. Once upon a time there was a king who had a son. This king was waiting for the day that his beloved son would find his heart’s true love. And when he did, the whole kingdom rejoiced when he asked her to marry him. And everyone was giddy with anticipation as the wedding celebration neared. An extravagant celebration, with every detail absolutely perfect. This is the kind of event for which you make room in your calendar. Circle the date. Don't forget. Be there at all costs, no matter what!
But what do the invited guests do? The king’s servants summon them, "but they would not come." He's snubbed by everyone. Can this really be? The typical king wouldn’t stand for such disrespect. There would be swift and immediate repercussions to subjects who disregard their sovereign.
Surprisingly, however, this king graciously extends a second call to the party, and with the specific instructions that his servants build up the event even more: '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." In other words, by not coming do you realize what you’re missing? This is a real humdinger of a party; lavish in its splendor; a celebration of love—a feast, with the most sumptuous meat on the menu. While this isn't a literal begging on one's knees, for all intents and purposes it is the royal equivalent. The king really wants these people at the party.
How do the invited guests respond? They make light of it. “Sorry I can’t come, I’ve got to go and look at my farm.”
“I need to work. This is the boomtime for my business so I can’t come today I’m afraid.”
What in the world is going on here?
While the setting might be extraordinary, the explanation is so very ordinary: people have a thousand and one excuses when they don’t want to do something. We often make flimsy excuses for something that we want to get out of. It’s our fallen nature showing its true colors, ready to bail on something even as special and significant as a wedding! Maybe you’ve literally been that person. It’s a beautiful perfect Saturday afternoon, and the last thing you want to do is dress up in some fancy clothes and go to a wedding. You would rather be golfing or fishing or working in the yard. So you say to your plus 1, “Can’t we figure out some kind of excuse so we can skip this event to do what we want?” I’m not a gambling man, but I’m willing to venture that all of us have manufactured an excuse or two during our lives… and not just to get out of the things other people invite us to do, but avoiding what even God calls us to do.
In that way this is a message for our time, maybe especially for this time of COVID. The virus is real and the virus can enter and spread even in this house of God. Just like it can at Disney World. Publix. The home improvement store. The place where you work. The movie theater. The restaurant or the gym. And it can at the stadium or the ball field or the performance venue too. And our state is now in phase 3, which has meant most things have opened back up again and crowds are returning again. But church attendance at Christ the King has remained about where it’s been over the last several months. If you’ve been uncomfortable returning to in person worship, would you ask yourself this question: am I less comfortable coming to the place where the King of Heaven invites me to feast on his Word, the Bread of Life, and dine on the abundance of his grace in his special Supper than I feel about going to any of these other places? COVID is real and those with underlying health conditions are wise to take precautions. I say that from a very personal place. I haven’t brought my own daughter back to in person worship yet as she battles several health issues. So let me use myself as an example to help you think through the concern I’m raising. If I kept my daughter away from public worship but took her out to the ball fields, or the beach, or to other big events, would you view my actions as a caring father keeping his daughter safe from COVID? Or would you be concerned that I was a dad who was using COVID as an excuse to hide something deeper going on in his heart or that of his daughter’s? COVID is real and it does pose a risk to our physical health. But excuses are dangerous too, and the pose a real and present danger to maintaining and cultivating a healthy relationship with our God!
That brings us to the heart of the story Jesus tells today. At the heart of this parable is the understanding that we were created to be in fellowship with God. You and I are inherently spiritual. Above everything else we are uniquely made as beings with souls. We are not first cousins to an ape which finally learns to shave. We are human beings, designed for a relationship with God. There is a grandeur to the human soul. We are made for fellowship with God. We are made for prayer. That’s not true of animals. But it is true for you and me and every human being. We are designed to walk with God, talk with God.
But our own wayward nature and this distracting world along with our arch-enemy Satan, prompt us to make 1000 and 1 excuses when it comes to our relationship with the Lord. That’s why we need one another’s help in our spiritual relationships, and that is the purpose of the church. It is tough to remain a faith-filled Christian without spiritual people around you. Let me say it a little differently: it is next to impossible to be a faith-filled Christian if you do not want to gather with fellow Christians. (It’s one thing if government authorities (government, health officials, personal doctor) are advising us not to gather for own protection. It’s another if we’re choosing not to gather because we don’t want to or have other things we deem more important.) In a world of distraction we need other spiritual people to help us keep growing in the Spirit. That is the purpose of the church. This is who we, the Church are: spiritual people who help each other keep on growing in our relationship with Christ, people who are helping people become all that Christ calls them (and us) to be!
That imagery also explains something about this parable that people often find troubling. It seems like the king acts irrationally when he sends troops and destroys the people who turned down his wedding invitation, burning their city to an ash heap. That sounds more like a rioter than a royal leader. But in the imagery of the Bible, this invitation isn’t about being invited to someone else’s wedding. The King is God the Father almighty. And this is the wedding of the King’s Son who is Jesus Christ our Lord. And you are the bride of Christ. To turn down this invitation is more than rude or insensitive. This represents the rejection of God the Father and His Son, the One who has asked you to be his forever, Jesus Christ. It’s the refusal to commit to your heavenly bridegroom and skipping out on your own wedding reception! How would you feel if your fiancée said they couldn’t make the wedding? Something more important came up? If you are the parent in that situation and it’s your child standing alone at the altar, and you see and sense the hurt, the humiliation that they’re feeling, what excuse from the other would cause you to say, “No worries. I understand. I’ll tell my child they just need to get over the hurt and move on!”?
In that light, are you starting to see the heart of the Father more clearly? He loves his Son. And he loves the people he’s welcoming, not just into the party, but into his family! In view of that, isn’t it amazing how much God continues to reach out to fickle human beings? Isn’t it simply astounding that the God of the Universe would continue to pursue us despite the flimsy excuses we’ve used for being less than faithful to Jesus? With this story, Jesus reminds us of his Father’s gracious pursuit, sending out his messengers with the good news again and again. This is a God who will not give up on us, and that is great news indeed!
In Jesus’ story there is also this compelling surprise that the king invites everyone to the wedding banquet, both good and bad. It reveals what really makes a relationship with Jesus work. It’s not our faithfulness to Christ, but his faithfulness to us. So faithful, in fact, that he willingly laid his life on the line in our place, willingly bearing the shame of our infidelity to him, paying with his own life the full brunt of what we so often try to excuse no big deal in our self-centered ways. And though we’ve hurt him in countless ways, what’s even more amazing, is the life Jesus invites us into with him! He describes it as a celebration! A relationship of abundance, where our heavenly Father and our heavenly bridegroom have spared no expense, they’ve attended to every detail, and they’ve filled up this relationship with all that heals what’s wrong and delights the soul! This is a place of joy, of fulfillment, of fullness!
Once the party is in full swing, the king enters the banquet hall and moves among the guests. To his dismay, he finds that one of them is not dressed properly. “Friend,” he says, “how did you get in here without a wedding robe” (verse 12)? “Well,” we may think, “of course the guy isn’t dressed properly -- he was pulled in off the street at the last minute!” But with this detail, Jesus is reminding us that this story is communicating a spiritual truth. So in keeping with Jesus’ analogy of this man’s clothing problem, the issue isn’t really about clothing on his body. What Jesus is calling attention to is a person who never has a change of heart. He still wears the same smelly attitudes, and the same destitute way of looking at life, and the same sewer language, and the same stinking thinking as he had when he received the invitation. Like a new groom who thinks he should still be able to be able to go out with the guys whenever he feels like it or the new bride who thinks she can still hang out with all of her guy friends like she did when she was single, this is the person who thinks they can enjoy the celebration while staying in the same sins. No repentance. No reform in their sinful life. It’s the presumption that since the invitation is by grace alone, a person can continue in their sin and that it didn’t matter if they never change at all.
And the King said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment’?
He waits for an answer. But ‘he was speechless.’ He said nothing. Why was he ‘speechless’? Why did he say nothing? Did he not know, did he not perceive, that this King who extended His invitation by grace must also be merciful and abounding in steadfast love?
Jesus is warning against self-satisfaction. The king desperately wants all to join in the celebration, but he isn’t desperate in the sense that anything and everything goes. The doors of the kingdom community are thrown wide open, and the invitation extends literally to all. But entering into this celebration is entering into a real relationship, one that is characterized by true love. A heart of true love produces a life of real change. And it’s the kind of change that comes from a willing spirit. The kind that voluntarily seeks out what helps the other, what lifts up the other, what shows concern for the other.
God our Heavenly Father and Jesus our heavenly bridegroom are inviting us into this kind of relationship. Turning away from those thoughts and attitudes, desires and habits that hurt and destroy. They invite us into the kind of relationship, the kind of life that is full of abundance, but it means turning away from the old ways. This is the way of love for the Lord that trusts his Word for guiding and directing our lives going forward.
To resist such change goes against the loving nature of this relationship and breaks the trusting bonds in this relationship. The problem isn’t that such a person isn’t serious about life, but rather that they don’t see how seriously the King’s invitation changes their life, for the better. It’s one thing to show up at a party. It’s another to come and actually enjoy it!
God has so much in his heart for you. He is inviting you to embrace it as your very own and enjoy the kind of life he gives: a life that is lavished in his love, rich in his mercy, overflowing with his goodness, abounding in his grace! Your Savior God invites you to a celebration. What kind of a person comes to a party only to scowl at those who are actually enjoying the celebration? Friend, Jesus has the kingdom music playing. He’s doing more than simply inviting you to make an appearance at the banquet, he’s calling you to join him on the dance floor! Amen.