Sunday, October 15, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
When was the last time you were speechless? Can you think of a time when someone asked you a question and you just didn’t know how to answer it? Perhaps you were embarrassed to admit the truth of your bad behavior. Maybe you were afraid of their response and so you said nothing. Or maybe you didn’t answer because you were in shock, and you just couldn’t find the words. Jesus’ parable in Matthew’s gospel today pivots around a central question – a question that the person in the story didn’t answer for one reason or another – but it’s a question for us today as well.
This is another hard parable to read. It’s actually the fifth parable from Jesus in Matthew’s gospel about the kingdom of heaven. In each of the parables over the last five weeks Jesus has tried to tell us about the kingdom of heaven through these difficult and challenging stories. They began with Jesus comparing the kingdom of heaven to a king who forgave the large debt of one of his servants, but that same servant did not show that same forgiveness to someone else. The second parable in this kingdom of heaven series compared the kingdom of heaven to a landowner who went out hiring laborers for his vineyard and no matter how many hours they worked he paid them the same wage. The workers were angry at the landowner because they wanted more rather than being grateful for his generosity. The religious leaders were getting angrier at these parables and wanted to know by what authority Jesus was saying these things. But Jesus didn’t back down. He continued to try and teach them about the kingdom of heaven by saying that those who do things we may deem wrong, may actually get into the kingdom of heaven before those who always follow the rules. It all depends on motivation, and what is truly is one’s heart. These parables have been getting more and more challenging, and in last week’s parable Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a landowner who sent servants to collect the produce of the vineyard, but they beat and killed the servants, wanting the vineyard for themselves. Yet the king sent his own son because he continued to try and give them another chance, yet they even killed the king’s own son. This week, Jesus again compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. And as we shall see more violence is involved in this parable.
These are not easy parables to hear. They aren’t easy parables to understand. They certainly aren’t easy parables to preach on. Yet, Jesus spends a great deal of time trying to explain the realities of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ words can’t be ignored or brushed aside, no matter how challenging they are to hear. So what is Jesus trying to tell us about the kingdom of heaven?
First, the kingdom of heaven is not something that only awaits us after we die. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven begins here and now. It is realized as we continue the work that Jesus began. It’s a kingdom – a new reality – that shows forgiveness toward others just as God – our king – shows forgiveness toward us. It is a kingdom filled with generosity. No matter how long we have known God, no matter who we are, God is generous with grace, and mercy, and compassion. There is no need to be jealous of what is given to others. God’s very nature is to be generous with love and grace and we are called to do the same.
To be a part of God’s kingdom requires commitment. The parable of the two sons – one who did the father’s will even though originally saying no is a story about commitment. When we are serious about following Christ and doing God’s will we show up and do what is required out of love for God and gratitude for all God has done for us. It’s not always easy to get out of bed and worship on Sunday mornings, but we do so out of our commitment for all God has done for us. It’s not always easy to do what Jesus wants us to do, and to treat others with love and respect, but we do so out of our devotion to him, and through the eyes of faith we acknowledge the Christ who also lives in them. We respect them because we are all God’s beloved children.
Jesus shows us that the kingdom of heaven is enveloped in the faithfulness of God who never gives up on us despite our sinful actions. Last week’s parable of the landowner who sent servants to collect the fruits of the vineyard, shows us an image of God who is relentless in giving us chance after chance to do the right thing. Even God’s own son Jesus, was sacrificed in order that we would have a chance at new life. Yet, we like those in the parable continue to reject Jesus when we focus on everything else but him. St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians that we are to focus on “whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, …think about these things.” Our focus needs to be on Christ and living in God’s kingdom of grace.
In today’s parable Jesus shows us that the kingdom of heaven is filled with God’s grace. It’s like a great banquet filled with all the things we need. The Old Testament reading also gives us this image of God’s kingdom being a place where there is no want and no hunger. Even our psalmist paints the picture of how God prepares a table before us even in the presence of our enemies. God is always showering us with abundance, and when we open our hearts – as we do today with Harvest Home – this abundance of food that we share with others is a way that we grow in generosity, and show others a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven where generosity and love abounds.
This invitation to a new way of living – a new way of being – is what it means to be a part of God’s kingdom. Like the king in today’s parable, the invitation to be a part of the kingdom of heaven is offered to all people – both good and bad. It is up to us to embrace that invitation and the challenge. Yes, it is a challenge. Jesus was quite plain about that. At the end of our parable the king notices a man without a wedding robe and asks him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe? And he was speechless.” So, the king threw him out. True, the man didn’t have the required wedding robe on, which normally would have been given to him by the host. But the king did invite everyone to the feast – the good and the bad. We don’t know the reason, because….the man was speechless. He said nothing. And that is the problem.
Being a part of the kingdom of heaven requires accountability. It’s not just enough to be invited like the man in the parable or we through our baptism. It’s not just enough to show up at the banquet or at worship. We have to know why we are in God’s kingdom, not because of what we do, but because of what God has done through Jesus Christ and continues to do through the work of the Holy Spirit. We have to acknowledge that our presence in God’s kingdom requires action. It’s not enough to simply say we believe in Jesus; we have to follow Jesus, live like Jesus, be Jesus in the world. And that means that we can’t remain speechless. We have to speak our truth to God and to one another. We have to admit when we are wrong, and ask for forgiveness. We have to speak out against injustice in our communities and sometimes in our own congregations. Being a part of the kingdom of God requires action and not complacency. It requires the courage to live as Jesus’ disciples – to take up his cross and follow in his footsteps. We have the promise that “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Working to bring about the kingdom of God is not something we have to do on our own. In fact, it can’t be done on our own. Our God walks with us giving us the courage we need to speak the truth of the gospel to all people- and that first begins with ourselves. We have to admit whether we are being true in following Jesus. We cannot remain silent. We cannot remain speechless. Discipleship requires accountability. Are we living as faithful disciples in God’s kingdom? Jesus’ question in this parable today demands an answer. What is yours? Amen.