Text: Matthew 22:1-14
In the name of the +Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Our gospel lesson this morning is another parable in a series of parables that Jesus taught about the kingdom of heaven. We had the parable about the father who had two sons: he asked one to go into the vineyard. He said no but then changed his mind. When he asked the other son and he said yes, but in fact did not go as he promised.
And then there was the parable about the other vineyard where the tenents did not want to give the fruit of the vineyard to the owner’s servants. And the vineyard was taken from them and given to others.
And this week’s parable also deals with the nature of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is so unlike what we can envisage that Christ uses examples that we may be familiar with: vineyards, banquets, mustard seeds and so on, but still has to give them a twist, to make them unfamiliar and challenging; for the Kingdom of God is a Kingdom so unlike anything else we have encountered before, and is something which will challenge us, challenge us to our very core…
Jesus says the kingdom of God can be compared with a king who gave a marriage feast and invited special guests. But the guests were too busy to attend, so the king told his servants to go out into the streets and invite anyone they see.
The king gave a banquet and the invitations to the chosen guests were rejected.
All the invited guests had excuses not to attend the banquet, almost as if they were not interested in attending.
The scribes and the Pharisees as the religious rulers were not interested in the Kingdom of God that Christ was proclaiming: they made excuses!! They asked by what authority did Christ do this. They asked: “how can a son of a carpenter be the Son of God?”
They came up with excuse after excuse not to believe in the Kingdom of God which was being made known through Jesus Christ.
There is an Arabian fable which tells about a man who went to his neighbour and asked to borrow a rope. “I can’t lend it, because I am using it to tie up a pile of sand.” his neighbour answered.
“But,” the man came back, “you can’t tie up a pile of sand with a rope.”
To which his neighbour slyly replied, “Oh, yes you can.. In fact, you can do anything with a rope when you do not wish to lend it to your neighbour.”
Excuses!! Excuses, excuses!!
And in this day and age, people find a hundred and one excuses not to be in the kingdom of God, too.
There may be many different excuses not to be in church on a Sunday or on any day – for the Mass is not only said on Sunday here in this parish: we worship a seven-day God not one just reserved for Sunday Best.
You may wonder why the Mass begins with the words, ’In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen”, and why this sermon is preached in those same words: We invoke the powerful name of the Trinitarian God so he will be present with us: in word, in sacrament, in his real presence. We are invited, and we in return invite God in return into our worship, our reflection of the heavenly banquet.
The invitation is given to everyone to be present at the feast – to be part of the Kingdom of God. But sadly, it is so easy, so tempting, so beguiling to find an excuse not to be present.
A priest decided to tackle this head-on and came up with No Excuse Sunday. I know you have all come today, but how often do you hear the excuses of others?
In order to make it possible for everyone to attend Mass, they planned a special No Excuse Sunday.
- Cots would be placed in the Narthex for those who say, “Sunday is my only day for sleeping late.”
- Eye drops would be available for those whose eyes are tired from watching TV too late on Saturday night.
- Steel helmets would be provided for those who believe the roof will cave in if they show up for Mass.
- Blankets would be furnished for those who complain that the Church is too cold. Fans on hand for those who say that the Church is too hot (clearly they are not thinking of St Thomas the Apostle, Elson!).
- Scorecards would be made available for those who wish to count the hypocrites (Don’t worry – we have plenty of room for one more!).
- Some relatives would be present for those who like to go visiting on Sunday.
- There would be TV dinners available for those who claim they cannot go to Church and cook Sunday Lunch too.
- One section of the Church would have some trees and grass for those who see God in nature, especially on the golf course.
- The sanctuary would be decorated with 30 Christmas poinsettias and 30 Easter lilies to create a familiar environment for those who have never seen the Church without them.
We are all invited guests and if we do not show up, the Kingdom of Heaven will be given to someone else.
But look even more closely to this parable: there is a warning to the guests who do come. A warning that one needs to be dressed appropriately.
It is true that in this sacred space, God accepts you as you are: he doesn’t expect you to wear a suit or what used to be called “your Sunday best” because we know from the first book of Samuel:
The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)
The clothing that this parable is concerned with is the putting on of Christ. In the letter to the Romans, Paul says that we must put on Christ (Romans 13:14), and that our relationship with Christ must be as intimate as our nether garments. One translation I came across translated that verse from Romans which we use in the Baptism service when we enfold the child in a white robe:
Let the Lord Jesus Christ be as near to you as the clothes you wear
Look at the Greek and the key word: ενδυσασθε (en-du-sas-thay) from en-du-oo:
“(in the sense of sinking into a garment); to invest with clothing (literally or figuratively): – array, clothe (with), endue, have (put) on.” [Strongs Greek]
Put on, sink into, κυριον ιησουν χριστον (kuri-on yay-son krist-on) – the Lord Jesus Christ
It is not enough to simply turn up to Mass and then say “that’s it, I’ve done my bit, I have received the sacrament” and then return to a life of envy, bitterness, malice and other facets of modern life.
You have to let the power of the sacrament transform you. You have to let the word of God seep into your life; you have to let the grace of God refresh and replenish you and then it won’t matter whether you are dressed in a tatty old pair of jeans or an outfit from Armani or Prada. Then you will be properly prepared to take part in the heavenly banquet, of which this eucharist is a foretaste.
So, come. Come and let God do his work within you. By God’s grace we are made worthy to be here, and through openness to his power, through putting on Christ, we fulfil our invitation.
No excuses. Come.