May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight. Oh Lord. Our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
One of the last, if not the last complete official liturgy of the church that st Stephen’s conducted before we were ordered to shelter in place and cease public gatherings back in March was a wedding. It was the wedding of Jean and Curt Wilkerson, granddaughter, Jennifer to her husband. They live in Texas, but because Jean and Curt wouldn’t have been able to travel to Texas for the wedding. The Texans came here and we conducted the wedding at st. Stephens. When we originally made plans for the wedding, we were concerned that the sanctuary might be under construction because of the renovations that we have planned more on that later, as it happens, the sanctuary was not under construction, but we were already receiving news that it was going to be unsafe for people to travel.
And parts of the country had already begun to shut down and shelter in place while we scrambled for a few extra hours and days to be able to keep the plans that we had made and have the wedding, perhaps needless to say the guest list was not what it had originally intended to be since that day, two other times, in the course of this pandemic and our sheltering in place, and our inability to gather in public in the church for celebrations, I’ve celebrated a wedding. The mother of the bride of one of those weddings is sitting right here in front of me, Andy sheets. And both of those other weddings took place at people’s homes. And in each case, significant revisions had to be made to the plans for the wedding that had been originally laid. Most importantly, I would say revisions to the guest list.
They were tough choices. I’m sure. And you can follow up with the people that, you know, that have been married during this time and ask them what kinds of considerations they had to make about who they decided to continue to invite and who they had to ask to stay away. I’m sure it was not easy to make those decisions. And I think about all the weddings that I’ve been part of and even my, and Clancy’s wedding over 18 years ago and how hard it was to make decisions about the guest list and how much I worried about who would or wouldn’t be there. It might’ve been a place that I located the greater part of my anxiety, which I guess is okay, because I felt pretty sure about who I was marrying and the fact that I wanted to marry her. Nevertheless, I think if we have that in mind, it may be familiar to us that people worry about the guest list for a wedding.
So I want us to hold onto that idea. If it’s familiar to you, you recognize it. If it’s not familiar to you, you can probably understand it. And at the same time, I want us to hold onto the idea that the Bible often presents to us the idea of a great wedding banquet as an image of life in the world to come. The reading that we heard from Isaiah this morning is an example of that imagery that comes from the Bible, where God makes promises to a suffering people, that there will come a time when there will be a great feast on God’s Holy mountain and all the tears will be wiped away. And the people will rejoice together in abundance of good food and good wine and good company. This reading is often read at funerals because we have inherited the image of this banquet as an expression of what things are like in the world to come. So we hope for a heaven that is like a great wedding banquet, where we, and all those we love are gathered together in celebration and song and feasting and delight for eternity.
And I wonder whether the people that were listening to Jesus as he began this parable, we’re expecting all those kinds of images when he starts to teach them about a King who threw a wedding banquet for his son and says that it’s a way for us to understand the kingdom of heaven. I wonder if they, like we would be expecting to hear a story about abundance and fullness and joy and satisfaction and celebration and good food and good wine. And people gathered together with their God in harmony and love and mercy forever. And that’s not at all the way this parable plays out.
So I wonder what Jesus is doing. And this might be one of those occasions where it’s worth considering that Jesus, isn’t always the nice guy that we like to think he is, or maybe we’re taught that he was, there are ways and times in which his teachings for us, I think are intended to confront us about the assumptions that we make about ourselves, about other people, about the world and about God, and to shake us into a kind of alertness about the easy conclusions that we draw about the mysteries of God and of creation. If nothing else, it might be said that many of Jesus’s parables are challenges to those easy conclusions that we tend to draw and which tend to favor our view of things.
So it might be that this parable is a challenge to those conclusions that we draw about the kingdom of heaven and wedding banquets and what we expect for ourselves when we get there. And if it sounds like I’m hedging a lot or offering incomplete ideas or saying it might be over and over again, it’s because I’ll confess to you. I have not yet worked out for myself. What I think this parable is truly about that said unsatisfied that its purpose might be simply to prevent me from drawing easy conclusions about God and about myself and about other people. And about the kingdom of heaven. It seems to suggest that there are plenty of people who heard an invitation from the King to attend a wedding banquet. And who said, nah, I got better things to do. It also seems to suggest that the people whom the King ended up inviting to the wedding banquet were not the people that you might’ve expected to be on the Kings invite list for the wedding of his son, the Holy paloy people from the streets and the byways.
And it also seems to suggest that even among those people, there were some who didn’t understand what was going on or why they were there, or what was happening or how they were supposed to have comported themselves in the presence of the King. And in honor of his son, all these things add up to me to a picture of life in pursuit of the kingdom of heaven, which looks a lot more difficult than maybe many of us had been led to believe maybe the kingdom of heaven. Isn’t just a ticket that you punch and get when you die. Maybe the kingdom of heaven is not something that is assured to you by virtue of your membership in one or another denomination of the church, or even by virtue of being a Christian or whichever other religious tradition would like to claim for itself exclusive admission into God’s kingdom.
It might be that what this parable is asking us to consider is that the kingdom of heaven is something we have to work for struggle for that. It might involve our own suffering and loss, and it might even be through contemplation of those ideas and those experiences that we might come to the conclusion that Jesus offers in other teachings and by virtue of the example of his own life, which is that our admission into the kingdom of heaven cannot be by virtue of having decided for ourselves that we belong there in part, because the number one way that we assure ourselves that we belong in the kingdom of heaven is to Mount up the evidence about which other people don’t belong and imagining for ourselves, the disqualifications of other people, which prevent them from entering the kingdom of God is the number one way that we prevent ourselves from sharing in God’s blessings or responding to God’s invitation, as it turns out, the only way to eject yourself from heaven is to try to eject others.
And the best way to secure your place in heaven is to make sure that you’ve secured it for others first, especially those people that you think don’t deserve it. And I don’t know about you, but as I look around the world that we live in today, I can find lots of people that I would like to think don’t deserve to go to heaven, but that’s not my decision, nor is it your decision. The decision rests with God, who we say is full of love and full of mercy, and who achieves his purposes through forgiveness. And so maybe we too, if we feel scandalized confronted challenged, disappointed, or maybe even a little bit upset by this parable that Jesus tells, maybe we too can exercise love mercy forgiveness for ourselves, for all those others who have judged us unworthy so that we can begin to participate in God’s banquet of celebration, respond to his invitation to join the celebration in heaven could be. And of course I could be wrong. Amen.