A Free Invitation

Rebecca Sheridan
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Matthew 22:1-14

    On the night of July 23, 2010, there was flash-flooding in Chicago.  It was a bad enough storm that several main roads and I-90/94 were closed in parts throughout the city, and the weather became unseasonably cold the next day, pants and jacket kind of weather.  This was significant, because July 24 was the day of Rich’s and my wedding in Chicago!  We have almost no outdoor pictures of that day because it was so cold, and several of our guests arrived just in time for our wedding ceremony at the seminary chapel without being able to change into their wedding clothes because of all of the closed streets and traffic buildup.  We didn’t care that some of our guests showed up in T-shirts, shorts, and comfy pants that afternoon…we were glad they came at all, many of them traveling from long distances to celebrate this wonderful event with us.  When it was time for the reception, everyone was dressed up in the right clothes, and it was an amazing and memorable day, despite all of the obstacles!
    Today we hear the final of a series of parables from Jesus about what the kingdom of heaven is like, and we move from stories about vineyards to one of a wedding banquet.  The original guests decline the invitation, so the king invites everyone he can find to the wedding banquet…both good and bad, Jesus says. The parable in parts is a beautiful story about the inclusive nature of the kingdom of God.  No reservations or place cards are required, no wedding gift is expected, in fact, the guests don’t even have to know the bride and groom, the invitation to be a part of the kingdom of God and celebrate the feast that has no end is open to ALL.  
There is a warning from Jesus to not make light of the invitation, though.  People who find other “better things to do” do not meet a very good fate according to the parable, partly because they react incredibly violently to the invitation, not just declining to attend, but mistreating and killing the king’s slaves (they literally shoot the messenger!)  And there’s this strange part at the end, when the king comes in and throws out a man who isn’t wearing the proper clothes, a wedding robe.  Looking back to the experience of my own wedding day, I can’t imagine kicking out any guest for not wearing the right clothes.  I was happy that my guests made it despite the challenges involved at all!  So what is Jesus talking about here?
As we’ve been studying these challenging parables from Jesus the last few weeks, hopefully you realize by now that there is an element of mystery where we won’t likely know all of what Jesus means by these enigmatic parables in this lifetime.  However, it may help to know that Jesus isn’t talking literally about a wedding banquet, but rather recounting salvation history with an allegory.  From the time of the prophets, some have rejected worshipping God and following God.  The killing of the slaves recalls the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.  And remember who Jesus is speaking to: there are hostile scribes and Pharisees among the crowd.  The people who think they are the most deserving and entitled to the kingdom of heaven’s benefits, the “insiders,” should not rest too comfortably with their self-righteousness, Jesus is suggesting.  It is not enough to show up and go through the motions or pay God lip service.  Once again, Jesus calls all people regardless of their background or reputation in the faith community to serve God and one another with their hands, feet, and heart, not just with their words.  
Today, we are delighted to celebrate the baptism of Aeryn O’Rourke in our in-person worship service.  In the early Christian church, people were welcomed into the faith community through baptism, just as Aeryn is today.  But typically, baptisms were done in a large pool or river while people were naked and then the newly baptized were given a simple white robe or alb like I’m wearing today.  These new baptismal clothes were symbols of a new life in Christ.  The white signified purification or cleanliness from sin.  Regardless of a new Christian’s ability to pay for these clothes, to wear the latest fashion and so on, these clothes also leveled the playing field and served as a sign of unity in the church.  We are all one in Christ Jesus, wearing the same simple white clothes.  As a metaphor for the church, then, just like a king who invites all to attend a wedding banquet regardless of anyone’s personal background and gives them a robe to celebrate in style, God in baptism clothes each believer in the new white robe of Christ.  It would be impossible to be a part of this Christian community without being given the robe.  Therefore, the man who isn’t wearing the robe in the parable has for whatever reason discarded it, taken it off, rejected the gifts of baptism.  We can scratch our heads about why anyone would do that, but at least in the parable, this man does.
When I met with Aeryn and her mom to talk about her baptism, we talked about the meaning of the white clothes and also that she would receive the mark of the cross of Christ on her forehead.  She was a little concerned that I would be putting a cross on her head with permanent marker!  As you saw, there was no permanent marker used today!  But that cross is an invisible permanent tattoo, I said!  And there is no laser surgery removal option.  We all have been clothed with the white robe of Christ in baptism and marked with his cross forever.  God’s invitation is radically inclusive, good and bad are invited to join in and receive that same robe.  It isn’t up for us to judge or predict the outcome as we invite others, especially outsiders and those who haven’t traditionally been included in the church.  Christ is judge of the living and the dead.  We’re simply invited to wear our robes and our crosses proudly, and enjoy the party!  As Christ the king’s servants, we are sent to be messengers to invite others to join in the joy of serving in God’s kingdom.  We may not have permanent marker on our foreheads, but through our love of God and service to our neighbor, we strive to let our baptismal crosses and “Christian clothes” show for a world in need.  Amen, thanks be to God!