October 11th: Proper 23, the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for Sunday, October 11th, was based on the below manuscript. The sermon was preached on Matthew 22.1-14 and Philippians 4.1-9.

Our gospel passage today
is not about throwing people
into eternal punishment
and it’s not about the Church replacing
Israel or Judaism.
Rather, it is about God’s grace
being available to all
and following Jesus
actually meaning something
which Paul exhorts us to do
in Philippians.

This is the third of three parables
that Jesus tells after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
After coming in humility on a donkey
and cleansing the temple of money changers,
Jerusalem religious leaders
question his authority.
Jesus responds to their questions
by telling parables —
which again are allegories,
not analogies.
There are not simple,
one-to-one explanations and comparisons
for the characters and the beings they represent.
The first parable was the two sons:
one who says he will work
and does not
and one who says he won’t work
but does.

Last week we heard about
the landowner whose tennants
killed servants
and more servants
and eventually the landowner’s son.
Matthew may as well
have just said
“Prophets, John the Baptizer, and now Jesus!”
This week we have a father throwing a banquet
and people who’ve said they will come
not showing up…
Once the banquet has started,
someone who came in isn’t dressed correctly,
and is thrown out.
This doesn’t sit right in our ears
particularly if we let everything about this parable
stand on its own as explicitly something
God does or will do.

We’re tasked with showing up.
While this parable is about
Jewish leaders who have
not done God’s work,
it’s also about the church.
Not because God has said
God likes us better,
but because we’ve been invited
to the banquet at the end of time.

With Paul’s words,
we get to ask:
are we dressed correctly to show up?
Rejoice in the Lord always;
again I will say, Rejoice.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone….
Do not worry about anything,
but in everything by prayer
and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God.
Whatever is true,
whatever is honorable,
whatever is just,
whatever is pure,
whatever is pleasing,
whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
Keep on doing the things.

Matthew and his community were angry
about being expelled from their synagogues for following Jesus
and by Jesus’ death at the hands of Rome.
They saw the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple
as divine punishment for these things.
In recording these parables of judgment,
Matthew conveys the very human emotions
and frustrations about when bad things happen
to people who are doing their best to follow God.
Even in conveying his anger,
Matthew tells the story of God’s grace:
that God loves us all and wants us to all
come to the banquet in God’s reign.

That salvation is open to all of creation
is a persistent theme in Matthew’s gospel.
From the magi worshipping the Christ infant
to Jesus directing the disciples to go to all the nations,
even in his anger Matthew makes clear:
God loves us all so much
that salvation is available to us all.
When the originally invited guests
don’t come to the wedding banquet
servants are sent to fill the hall.
It doesn’t matter who shows up:
rich or poor,
good or bad
(the text says):
just people to celebrate the Son.

We’re those people.
We’ve been invited to celebrate the Son.
We’re gathered here today
doing exactly that.
Like the collect for Sundays in Morning Prayer says,
O God, you make us glad
with the weekly remembrance
of the glorious resurrection of your Son our Lord:
Give us this day such blessing
through our worship of you,
that the week to come
may be spent in your favor.

God’s grace is sufficient
and we have been called to the banquet
even as we are exiled from our eucharistic foretaste
of that heavenly realm.
Salvation has been opened to all,
and when we accept God’s invitation
we are asked to put on the wedding garment.
Having accepted God’s invitation,
we’re asked to respond to God’s generosity
by living lives of righteousness —
not from fear of being bound
and thrown into the outer darkness
with weeping and gnashing of teeth —
but from thanksgiving of the amazing gift we’ve been given.
We’re asked to respond to God’s generosity
by doing
whatever is true,
whatever is honorable,
whatever is just,
whatever is pure,
whatever is pleasing,
whatever is commendable.

In this passage about judgment
Matthew emphasizes first and foremost
that God’s gift of salvation is available to all.
He also nudges us to remember
that we should live lives worthy of our calling
and of the gospel.
Claiming to be a Christian
isn’t going to be enough when it’s time for judgment
if we’ve acted in ways that are antithetical
to whatever is true, honorable, and just.

I’m not willing to take Matthew’s expectation
about eternal darkness and pain literally,
and yet believe that there are bad things
which have consequences.
God’s justice burns hot
and those who abuse others
don’t get off the hook because they’ve died…
especially when they’ve done it in God’s name,
about which last week’s exodus passage warned us.
We all fail to live up to that standard sometimes.
And when we do
God’s servants —
Christians on our journey —
are there to invite us back to the banquet.
Or we show up here,
week after week,
having done our best and still failing sometimes,
knowing that even even in accepting God’s love
we fail to live lives worthy of our calling,
worthy of the gospel.

That’s when Jesus the son,
the honored guest at the wedding banquet,
both victim and priest in the Eucharistic feast —
when we can have it —
takes us under his arm
loves us nonetheless
and puts us on the right track.
Jesus, the only holy one,
cares for us and guides us,
loving us into doing
whatever is true,
whatever is honorable,
whatever is just,
whatever is pure,
whatever is pleasing,
whatever is commendable.

Thank God for that love and guidance
to help us lead lives worth of our calling,
worthy of the gospel. Amen.

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