Delivered at Asbury United Methodist Church, Washington, D.C.
Scripture: Matthew 22:1-14
Have you ever been a part of a club or organization that requires a uniform? Maybe a sports team, civic organization, or extracurricular club? I was a scout for many years and still have some participation in the program. I worked at summer camp, participated in projects, and eventually attained the rank of Eagle. I loved scouting and all that the program did for me. When I was a scout, we would all wear the same uniform. Not only did this uniform equalize everyone – ensuring that people were not judging each other based off the clothes that they could afford, but it also identified us to one another as a member of the program. You can go to nearly every country on earth and find youth wearing a variation of this uniform. It indicated to one another that we all committed to the Scout Oath and the Scout Law, and even further – that we were committed to each other. Different patches and pins would tell a story of our individual scouting experience, but it was the same uniform. We were in. Something set us apart.
My name is Trent Somes. I am a first-year seminarian at Wesley Theological Seminary where I am speaking to you from today. I hail from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I am so excited to be joining with you today, even if it is just online. I appreciate the invitation to the Bridge, and hope that you are all doing well amid all of the uneasiness that we are experiencing.
This is a crazy story. Jesus was often very edgy in his approach to parables, describing situations that would have been very unlikely to happen in real life, but this seems more like a murder mystery movie than a passage in the Bible. If someone would have come up to me and told me this story as if it was something they heard, I would probably tell them this would make a great Netflix miniseries, but it is not one the stories I would probably identify as a favorite in the Bible.
The first people that would’ve heard or read this story would have understood this to be a story regarding Jewish leaders rejecting Jesus Christ and his message, but as we know the message that Jesus conveyed over 2000 years ago to people then still has relevance to us today.
Let’s break this passage down just a little bit: The first group of people that the King invites are the people that he is “supposed” to invite. The first invitations went out to his kin and the business owners and landowners. Not only did they reject his offer, describing their preoccupation with their own things and setting their own priorities, but they harmed the slaves that came to send the message.
The King obviously was a bit upset about this and pursued what he perceived as justice for what they did, punishing the people he was supposed to invite for their actions. But the feast was still prepared. Everything was ready to go. Instead of just eating everything himself or letting it go to waste, he did something different. He told his slaves to go and find everyone that they could on the streets – the people the King wasn’t “supposed” to invite - and welcome them into his home to celebrate the wedding.
This passage is only found in one other Gospel – the Gospel of Luke – and Luke ended the passage after the invitation to the others. Luke’s Gospel describes the King’s order as “bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.” There was no continuation of a story of a man not doing the right thing and suffering the consequences. Luke’s recording of this parable makes the message of the clear. It is a parable about the inclusivity of the Kingdom of God. I want to ensure that point is made above all else. It is a sign that God welcomes the poor, the needy, and the regular folks into his Kingdom and gives them a place at his table. That is the intent of the passage.
God invites every single person into communion through God’s son, Jesus Christ. We are all invited to share in the resurrection and the celebration that the Good News brings. There is no doubt that God truly loves everyone and invites us all to come to him. This passage demonstrates that God does not favor those who have earthly possessions or good backgrounds or connections but rather those who are willing to come and sit at the table dropping submitting to the will of the King rather than their own wills.
Matthew saw it important, however, to add something. A person that was invited into this wedding banquet was doing something wrong. This person wasn’t wearing the correct clothes. Now the host would have provided this garment. This may sound silly to us today – but it was a real insult to the King. This person was invited, but they didn’t want to fully participate. As one commentator put it, “the person was not kicked out for who they were, but rather what they did. They did not honor the king.”
I will go even further. Clothing in the bible was often talked about to represent someone’s heart, a change in their attitude, or a development of character. We see in this in other parables such as the prodigal son where he was given a robe upon reconciling with his father or Joseph’s coat of many colors as a sign of his favor. In this passage especially, wearing that garment was not only an act of participation, but also a lens into the heart of that person. That person was not ready to celebrate, they weren’t committed.
That person was not in the right state of heart.
That person was not in a mentally engaged state.
That person was not in the banquet because they rejected the fullness of the invitation and everything it required.
Church, in what ways are we refusing to fully commit to God’s kingdom? In what ways are we holding back from fully celebrating the Living God? In what ways are we not putting on the wedding robe to participate in the Gospel feast. In what ways is God calling us and in what ways are we refusing to answer? In what ways are we not in?
These are important questions for us to ponder upon because God has invited us into the family. God has extended a welcome beyond all of our comprehension. God has made a way for us to be saved through no cause of our own. I want to acknowledge that we stand in a long line of people who have said “Yes, I will fully commit to Jesus Christ.” People like John and Charles Wesley, who decided that the gospel message was for all people wherever they were. People Like Francis Asbury, of whom this church is named for, who road an average of 6 thousand miles a year on his horse to reach people that would not have heard the gospel or received the sacraments otherwise. People like Reverend James Peck that made sure this church would be a cornerstone of its community. I am glad that they chose to dawn the wedding robe and join in a great cloud of witnesses – a great Gospel feast.
And here we are today. God is still calling us to do great acts of justice. God is calling us to do great actions for our community. God is calling us to great actions rooted in resurrection. But we cannot just show up. We must fully participate. We must fully accept the invitation. Are you in? It is my belief that the North American church is declining not because we do not have the resources to succeed but because we lack the commitment it takes to take up the cross and follow Jesus. We must go deeper, love more, and show up ready to the banquet God has made for us.
We often put aside our commitment to Christ and God’s Kingdom in favor of our own comfort.
We remember in the words of Charles Wesley,
“Do not begin to make excuse,
Ah! Do not you his grace refuse;
Your worldly cares and pleasures leave,
And take what Jesus hath to give.
Come, and partake the gospel-feast,”
The banquet is set for us family, let us come feast. Amen.