Sent to Invite

Kevin Gasser

Staunton Mennonite Church

10/19/08

 

Matthew 22:1-14

22Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘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.’ 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.”

 

            It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon.  The sun was shining, the breeze was cool, the birds were singing, and Jack was standing in his favorite place in the world: the 18th green.

            Just as he reached for his putter, a woman in a wedding gown came driving up to Jack in a golf cart.  She drove the cart right up on the green and slapped Jack right across the face and got back into the golf cart and drove away.

            Jack looked at his golfing buddy and he said, “I don’t know what her problem is.  I told her ‘Only if it is raining.’”

            I know that there are a lot of people here enjoy golf, but who doesn’t enjoy a good wedding?  Weddings are an exciting time.  There is cake and punch, music, sometimes dancing.  There can be hundreds of people, or there can be only a few.  Either way, it is a time for a celebration.  Two lives are coming together, vowing to love and serve one another as they love and serve the Lord.

            I can only guess how many weddings that Sonya and I have been to in the last five years or so.  They range from the simple, outdoor weddings with paper plates and napkins to the sophisticated, black tie events held in buildings with sparkling chandeliers and expensive china.  And each one is special in its own way.

            It really isn’t surprising that Jesus often describes his relationship with the church as a wedding with Jesus as the groom and the church as his bride.  And when someone accepts Christ’s invitation to enter into this relationship there is a great reason for celebration much like the celebration we have when two people get married.

            Today we are going to look at the invitation that has been sent out to all people to join in that celebration and how so many people ignore this invitation.  I hope to show today that we are called to be God’s messengers to all people.

            Our scripture tells us of a wedding banquet unlike any other wedding banquet.  It was the banquet for the son of the king.  Food was prepared; oxen and fattened calves had been slaughtered.  This is a feast fit for a king and the future king, his son.  Nobody should want to miss this!  This is the place to be!

            So the king sends out his servants to invite the people to the wedding banquet.  Surely the best of the best in society will want to come to the banquet that the king is throwing in honor of his son.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to come?  You are getting a direct invitation from the king to the biggest event of the year!

Think back to July 29th, 1981, the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.  There were 3,500 invited people at the church for their wedding.  It is estimated that 60,000 people lined the streets just hoping to get a glimpse of this young couple on their wedding day.  And 750 million people watched this wedding on TV, making it one of the most watched programs ever in television history.  People love royal weddings.  This is a big deal!

But in Jesus’ story the people didn’t want to come.  They just went back to their jobs, as if their work was more important than going to this grand banquet.  Our text says that they made light of this invitation.  “Who really cares about this banquet?  I’m a busy person.” 

Like the scripture tells us, Jesus is describing the kingdom of heaven in this scripture.  And he is talking about how the invitation has gone out to a specific group, likely the Jews, to come and join in this kingdom of God thing, this new thing that is beginning through Jesus.  The Jews have been invited to join in God’s plan to set creation back on the right track through the forgiveness of sins and by following the teachings of Jesus Christ.  And what did those who were invited do?  They laughed at this invitation.  They are too busy, too caught up in their work.  Sure, it sounds like a great thing, this banquet and all.  But really, I’ve got things to do.

Who RSVP’s “NO”

            As we try to understand this scripture in our 21st century context, I hope we can see ourselves as the servants that are being sent out with the invitations to the banquet.  The root of the Greek word for “sent” is the same root that we have in the word “Apostles”.  The Apostles of Christ are those that are sent.  So the question is, To whom are we sent?

            I think there are certain people today that also tend to reject the invitation to the banquet, the invitation to be a part of the kingdom of God.  And I think they tend to be the rich, the powerful, those that think they have it all together and all figured out.  That’s not to say that there are not rich and powerful people that are Christians, but I think that they are less common.  Like Jesus said, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

            Think about all of the obstacles that a rich and powerful person must overcome to follow Christ.  First of all, these people tend to be better educated.  And education can be a stumbling block to religion.  Growing up close to the Amish communities, I remember that Amish families did not allow their children to go to school after the 8th grade because they were afraid they might lose their faith.  And this does happen, in part because we are taught how to think rationally in school.  And rationality is confirmed by empirical data.  If you can’t use one of your 5 senses to confirm it, then it is irrational.

            Can you see it?  Can you taste it?  Feel, smell, touch it?  If not, it probably doesn’t exist.  How many people here have ever seen a blind man healed by spitting in some mud and rubbing it on the blind man’s eyes?  How many of us have seen someone walk on water?  How many have seen someone raised from the grave?  No, these things don’t happen.  So using rational thinking and seeking empirical data can leave one believing that the stories of the Bible are just that…stories.

            And it isn’t just rational thinking that makes it more difficult for the rich and powerful to be a part of the kingdom of God.  It seems to be that those that have much see little reason to need God.  “Why would I need God if I had everything I ever wanted?  Why would I humble myself to become a servant?  Why would I sell everything and follow Christ?  I’ve got it good!”  An early Anabaptist once said, “When our houses were made of wood, our hearts were made of gold.  But now that our houses are built with gold, are hearts are made of wood.”  Money, wealth, power; these are all stumbling blocks.  These things can lead people to RSVP “NO” when invited to the king’s banquet.

Who RSVP’s “YES”

            So who will come when invited?  Our text tells us in verse 9 that when the king realized that the first group of people that were invited were not coming, he sent his servants back out and invited anyone they could find.  Rich or poor, young or old, good or bad, maybe even Gentile or Jew, all were invited.  No longer was this invitation only going out to a particular small group, it was now going out to everyone and anyone.

            I think this is important to remember when we think about who we are inviting to follow Christ with us.  The thing is we want people like us to be a part of the church, don’t we?  We want the church to be made up of other middle-classed people of Swiss-German decent.  We want them to like golf and antiquing (not that there is anything wrong with these things).  We want to invite other people that have similar interests with us because these people are easy to like, easy to get along with.

            But if we learn anything from this passage, I hope that we can see that we are not called to invite only a certain, small group of people.  We are to invite all the people.  We are to invite people we normally wouldn’t interact with or perhaps even like.  I think that one day, when the kingdom of God is fully realized that we will be shocked that there is a lot of diversity in the population; all colors, all levels of income, from all sorts of backgrounds.

            We as a church have recently taken a step toward being a missional congregation.  We have made the decision that for three months, starting on November 5th, we will have a Community Fellowship Meal here at Staunton Mennonite.  This will be a time when we can invite our friends and neighbors to join us in a free meal to build relationships with the hope that they will have the desire to join us in our work for the kingdom of God.  We are hoping to add to the number of people that are following Christ daily in their lives.  And if they happen to stay around and become a part of our church, great.  If not, we tried.  And you are never a failure if you are trying to follow Christ or lead others to follow him.  We are only failures when we fail to try.

            So the question is, whom do we invite to this free fellowship meal?  Well, we could try inviting the elite in our city of Staunton, the kinds of people we would like to spend time with.  We could go around all of Staunton, knock on the doors of the business people, doctors, and professors.  But as Jesus’ parable taught us, we can’t just invite a small group of people to come.  We are to invite people of all backgrounds, of all different income levels, people of every race, color, and creed.  We are to invite everyone.  Even people we normally wouldn’t want to be associated with.  We need to be inviting people that society has looked down upon.  The poor, the broken, and this one might be a new one for you…the hipsters.

            Hipsters…is that a new term for most of us here?  I’ll describe a hipster to you and you try to think for yourself if you know a hipster.  Hipsters often wear clothes purchased in thrift stores and cut their own hair or have a friend cut it for them.  Many hipsters are in a band or are interested in small, independent bands, not the corporately owned, I mean corporately produced bands.  Hipsters often grow their own gardens, even in the city.  They frequent farmers’ markets and coffee shops that serve fairly traded coffee.

            Do you know any hipsters?  These people are all over the city of Staunton.  Some might even call me a hipster, which I would quickly dismiss because hipsters don’t like to be labeled, even if the label is correct.  Walk into any coffee shop in Staunton and you will see these young men and women with bad hair cuts and thrift store clothing gathered in groups, discussing books they have read, documentary movies they have seen, and yes, even religion.

            I was sitting at a table in Coffee on the Corner on Beverly St. with Mark Schloneger from Springdale Mennonite discussing how we could be more missional.  Do we need to hide some of the distinctives of our churches to look like every other church?  That didn’t seem like a good option.  Why would we want to look like every other church when most of those churches are declining as quickly if not more quickly than our Mennonite churches.

            Just then a girl with red hair teased out to stand on end walked into the coffee shop.  And I don’t mean she was a natural redhead, her hair was dyed superman red.  She was a bit extreme, but we were surrounded by young adults living alternative lifestyles to the mainstream world around them.

            I bet you can see why the Mennonite Church might be interesting to some of these people.  I think our church values some of the same things as the hipster subculture.  Our teachings on simplicity (yeah, you know the Mennos like their thrift shops), our connection with the land and gardening and farming, our desire for justice for everyone, including justice for the farmer who raises our coffee beans.  I could go on and on.  Furthermore, the hipster subculture is not influenced entirely by rational thinking as much as they are influenced by a search for truth and beauty.  Jesus was raised from the dead?  He healed people?  Cool.

            Our society for so long has been bound by the desire to be rational, which I believe has led to the decline in the number of people that are a part of a church.  Give me proof; show me something that will make me believe!  Well guess what?  We can’t do that.  We don’t have empirical data to prove that there is a God and that he sent his only son to earth to set the world right through the forgiveness of sin and through his teachings.  I can’t prove any of this with empirical data.  But I can show you the change in my life as proof.  I see proof in the morning sunrise and the evening sunset.  I see proof in the flowers that bloom in the spring and in the leaves that change in the fall.  I see proof in the lives of those who have committed themselves to following Jesus Christ.  Those things might not be scientific, empirical data, but it is proof enough for me.

            Over the last few decades we have seen a rise in people practicing witchcraft, various pagan religions, new age religions, and the Eastern Religions.  Even though rational thinking has come between people and the church, these religious movements have seen growth as they gain momentum.  And that shows me that people still have an inner need, a longing for a relationship with the divine.  People still need God, and they are trying to find him in any place possible.  The age of rationality and empirical proof is coming to an end.  And people everywhere are hungry for some kind of spirituality. 

            As we look to the future of this congregation, we need to be apostles; we need to be those who are sent to the people with an invitation to a banquet.  People won’t come unless they are invited, some won’t even come if they are invited.  But we are not responsible for how many come.  We are responsible for delivering the invitation to all people.  I hope that we can begin, as a congregation, inviting our friends, neighbors, the poor, and the hipsters to come to our Community Fellowship Meal.  And as we build relationships with these people I hope that we can invite them not only into our church and our homes, but to a banquet that far exceeds anything we could ever put together: the kingdom of God.  Their place at the table is set.  Let’s make sure they know they are invited.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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