Come to the Banquet- Sermon for October 11, 2020 from Pastor John

Sermon for October 11, 2020

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     You may have seen a story reported on CBS Morning News about a couple who got married on August 15th. Their names are Tyler and Melanie and they decided to cancel the reception due to concerns about COVID-19 spread. The food had already been ordered and would arrive at the venue via a food truck supplied by the caterer. The caterer understood the cancellation and would have offered a full refund. But the newlyweds decided to donate all the food to a charity called Laura’s Home, a shelter for homeless women and children in need. Not only did Tyler and Melanie donate the food, they donated their time. Right after they tied the knot they drove to Laura’s Home, donned protective masks and gloves, and helped serve the food to about 100 people. Tyler was still in his tuxedo and Melanie in her wedding gown as they dished up food and mingled with the people. The couple decided to have their wedding photos taken at Laura’s Home. Due to Tyler and Melanie’s generosity many homeless women and children enjoyed an unexpected feast, a wedding banquet served to them.

In the gospel reading we heard Jesus tell a parable saying “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” Invitations had been sent informing the honored guests of this great day of celebration and feasting. Now the day had come and servants were sent to tell the guests, “come to the banquet”. But what a shock for the King: the invited guests did not come. This would have been considered a grave insult to ignore such as auspicious occasion as the marriage of a prince of the realm. But the king was patient and sent other servants with the strategy of telling them what was on the menu. Tell the guests the menu is not meatloaf but tender veal, prime rib and filet mignon. Make it clear the guests were invited to a banquet, a royal wedding feast, the social event of the year!

But not only did the invited guests ignore the imploring servants, but made light of the whole thing. One went to his farm for everyone knows a farmer’s work is never done. Another had a business to run. And what a shock to hear that other so-called invited guests turned out to be thugs and beat up the royal servants. Now the king lost patience. He was enraged. Mistreating and even murdering royal servants called for swift retribution. In a difficult detail of the parable the King sent in the army to destroy offenders and burn down their city.

It looked like the festivities were ruined. But the King was not going to let a first-class and expensive banquet go to waste. He commanded his servants to go throughout the realm and invite everyone to come and feast. The servants did what they were told and gathered everyone they met, both good and bad, with the result of a full wedding hall.

Maybe all this talk of feasting is making you hungry, and that could be the purpose of the parable. The scriptures will picture a wonderful banquet at the end of the age when God will come and prepare the feast. The feast is a wonderful symbol of the generosity and grace of God who will come and satisfy our deepest hunger and thirst. Think of what we heard from the reading from the prophet Isaiah today. God was praised as a refuge to the poor and a shelter during any storm. Then we heard of the marvelous vision of God who will make for all peoples a feast of the richest food and the finest wines. This vision of a banquet on the Mountain of God was paired with the promised blessing of God swallowing up death forever. God will destroy the shroud that is cast over all peoples, and the sheet that is spread over all nations. In a beautiful scene God will wipe away the tears from all faces for God’s grace will counter and remove all disgrace suffered by people. This vision was taken by the author of the book of Revelation who shared a vision of the ultimate victory of God: death, crying and pain will be no more.

There is a similar vision in the familiar 23rd Psalm. In this Psalm of trust we are assured that even though we walk the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil, for God is with us to provide comfort. Then God is pictured as the chef, preparing a banquet. God is also pictured as the butler welcoming us with a holy anointing and God also as bartender making sure our cups are full. Such a feast prepared by God was meant to give people hope in troubled times. With the deadly Covid virus still making people sick we know what it means to walk through dark times, even the dark valley of the shadow of death. We need the comfort of God’s presence. Another familiar Psalm, Psalm 34 clearly states God is the ultimate comfort food: “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are they who take refuge in God.” A well-known Bible App for your Smart Phone keeps track of the most widely checked Bible verse every year. In 2019 the most popular verse was heard in the second lesson: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” We could also add the next verse “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” We tend to worry about many things. The apostle Paul gave the antidote: prayer, and with prayer nothing is off limits.

Prayer brings peace, not necessarily the disappearance of problems, but the assurance of the guardian presence of Jesus in our hearts and minds.

The banquet spoken of in Scripture has nothing to do with calendar time, a date cannot be predicted. Let us say it is according to God’s time. As we mentioned this special time involves God’s promise to swallow up death, destroy the shroud of despair and the cover of grief over all humanity. We can think of this hope in a personal way. When we walk the valley of death, may we know in faith that God is with us. One of the fears during this pandemic is for loved ones to die alone in hospital without family present. This is indeed heartbreaking. But in faith may we know God is with our loved ones so that they fear not the passage from death to eternal life. And again what a comforting image given for the faithful, God will wipe away every tear. And the Scripture readings assure us that this vision of the defeat of death is blessing, a gift for the entire world God loves.

For the people of Israel and their deep Jewish faith, this banquet was called the Messianic feast, the feast of the Messiah. When the Messiah would come all things would be renewed: not only death defeated, but also all those “small deaths” which bring so much disillusionment: poverty, racism, inequality, and all other causes that disgrace people into thinking that they are inferior, do not count, and are unloved. Returning to Jesus’ parable in the gospel it was directed against the thought of the Messiah’s banquet was only for the elite, the super-pious and those who felt they were worthy. In Matthew’s gospel after Jesus removed the merchants and money-changers from the Temple courtyard the text said the blind and the lame came to Jesus in the temple and he cured them. In addition all children gathered around and became an impromptu choir singing “Hosanna to the Son of David”, therefore worshipping Jesus as Messiah. The Messiah had come! But the temple authorities were not enjoying the party. It was thought that the blind and lame, anyone with an infirmity, were not allowed in the Temple; there were such strange rules of exclusion. But Jesus overturned that notion. All would be welcome to the Messiah’s banquet, all would be welcome to come and party over the good news of salvation. The banquet of grace was not just for those who thought they were elite in the pious department, but also tax collectors, prostitutes, and all sinners were welcome to feast on forgiveness of sins and salvation. In Jesus parable all people, both good and bad, were brought to the banquet hall.

Jesus’ parable ended with one of the newcomers at the wedding feast being thrown out by the king’s order because he did not have a wedding garment. The one removed had no excuse for when asked about his lack of a wedding garment, he was speechless. Jesus concluded “Many are called but few are chosen.” This parable ends with a note of sadness for although the Messiah’s feast is open to all, far too many turn out to be indifferent to this feast of salvation. This hope of renewed creation of no more death or pain means we are called to follow Jesus, in other words be faithful disciples. We like to hear Jesus’ gracious invitation “Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” But Jesus said in the next breath ‘Take up my yoke and learn from me” in other words be faithfully connected to Jesus and learn, the very meaning of being a disciple. Let us wear the right wedding garment for the Messiah’s feast, as the apostle Paul would say “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ”. This is also a reminder not to forget what gift we received in baptism, “For as many of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

I think again of that newlywed couple who refused a refund for food because of a cancelled reception and instead held the party at Homeless Shelter for women and children. They served people in need with their wedding garments on. This different kind of reception brought for them a memorable joy. As followers of Jesus, faithful disciples, may we serve those in need with our wedding garment on, the clothes of Jesus with his guidance of compassion, peace-making, and hope-granting love.

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