Philippians 4:1-9 & Matthew 22:1-14
The Rev. Denise Vaughn
Our Invitation to the Party
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say. Rejoice.” These were the opening words of the sermon preached at my ordination as a presbyter or priest by one of my favorite seminary professors. Rejoicing in the Lord he told us is the hallmark and foundation of the Christian faith and something we are to practice every moment of our lives, yet how countercultural is that in our society today. We tend to think of joy as a response to something great and wonderful happening, a private overflow of good feelings, and we do feel joy in those happy circumstances. Yet, Paul’s words to the church at Philippi, summon us to a joy that is much more than an emotion. This joy see’s God at work even amid difficulty and pain.
Paul is writing from prison to the early church at Philippi, he is longing, waiting to be with his beloved community; a community who is also suffering like Paul. The joy that had once been in their midst when Paul first proclaimed the gospel, is waning because of his absence. Tensions arise and church co-leaders seem to be at odds with each other. So Paul commends their work, then, counsels them and the community, “To be of the same mind in the Lord.” In spite of their disagreements, the church is to let their gentleness be known to everyone, and to rejoice together in the Lord. To keep on doing the things that they have learned and received and heard and seen Paul doing and the God of peace will be with them.
Paul goes on to suggest that these struggles can lead us and should lead us toward shared prayer in the Lord. “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer with thanksgiving let your requests be made to God.” As we pray together and for one another, we find that joy Paul is talking about and God’s peace. This kind of joy is not an escape from the struggles of life it is a goal, an outcome and a sign of the presence of the risen Christ within us. Paul, despite the reality that his death may be close, writes with calm assurance. Hi joy is evident even in the midst of prison. He is at peace.
Joy and rejoicing weave through many of the verses of Philippians, appearing more than a dozen times in this letter. As we live out the gospel in our lives and with one anther we find Christ is with us, active in us and we find that joy Paul talks about. But what good is that joy if we do not invite others to be a part of the joy we have found. Which leads us into today’s gospel about the wedding banquet. A banquet that should have been a very joyous event ends up with people being thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. The parable of the Wedding Banquet is the last of three parables spoken in the temple to the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus tells this parable to make a point about how people in all ages should relate to God. The king, Jesus tells us, decides to throw a tremendous party to celebrate the wedding of his son. He sent his workers to call those invited but those on the official guest list would not come.
When a second more urgent invitation was extended, those on the original guest list, act with contempt, with some simply ignoring it. Others, Jesus says, responded to this golden opportunity by seizing the king’s servants and killing them. It is against these the angered king retaliated, destroying them and burning their city but it is precisely because of this contemptuous behavior the king decides to make the party an open house. Now everyone is invited. This is a party that you do not have to deserve to be invited and amazingly it is completely free. And because Jesus begins his story with “The kingdom of heaven may be compared with…,” we are alerted to the fact that the wedding behind the wedding of which Jesus speaks is nothing less than the “great and promised feast,” the heavenly banquet prepared for all who accept the invitation.
For Matthew and the early church, this parable was a reminder that God had initially invited the people of Israel to be God’s people. God did so in order to use them as an example of how much God can bless and how high God can place any people who are willing to honor God’s will and God’s word above all else. When Christ appeared, the parable goes on to suggest, those who were invited to the king’s banquet failed to show up when the day for the big event finally arrived. The Messiah had entered the city but in the end most of the people of Jerusalem did not accept God’s invitation. Instead, they killed the son by hanging him on a cross.
Yet, despite the possibility of rejection and because this is an open party, an invitation to the joyous event is presented with our names on it and all we have to do is to say yes. God is throwing a party that is already underway and we are invited, truly a gift and a witness to God’s love. But what does it mean to say yes, to accept God’s invitation? Jesus would have us reflect on what it means to actually and truthfully say yes to God’s invitation. You may remember the parable concluded not with the whole world making merry at the feast but rather some who were rejected. The missing wedding garment was a sign of a missing commitment, possibly a lack of wholeheartedness. We may think this unfair or do not believe our loving God would reject some but like the vineyard’s son who said yes and did not do yes, there are those who reject God.
The party that Jesus has in mind without exception is open to all but this party may not be to everyone’s taste. When by our lives we say no to the invitation, God evidently accepts that and takes us at our word. But, all our excuses for refusing to accept God’s gracious invitation, does not keep God from extending the invitation to us again and again. All our lives God invite’s us to the party, the Heavenly Banquet, but we do not have forever to make the decision. The hour is late for we do not know when the Bridegroom will show. Gospel living only begins with the invitation. It cannot remain only an idea it must lead to a transformed life.
Though many have been called, the ones chosen are those, as Paul will remind us “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,” those who “clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. “Let your gentleness be known to everyone, bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other.” Above all, “clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.” This is the good news of the gospel; that Jesus Christ came to save sinners. “For God so loved the world…that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
This free invitation to the party is called grace which is freely given to each one of us. As a consequence, when we accept the invitation we are obliged to live as God’s people. “Finally, beloved, 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 that you have learned and received and heard and seen in Paul and in Jesus, and the God of peace will be with you.”