Rejoice always! Come to the wedding banquet! Invite others.
Proper 23 A
Transcribed from a sermon given
By Valerie Ann Hart
October 9, 2011
St. Barnabas Episcopal Church
Rejoice always, again I say rejoice. This is one of the most wonderful things that I think Paul wrote. Rejoice always! Always!
Paul was already at the wedding banquet. He knew that his relationship with Christ meant a joyous celebration, and he invited all of his readers to live a life of celebration knowing the joy of the relationship with God. To know that the kingdom had come near and was part of them. Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.
We are at the wedding banquet. The wedding banquet is an image used over and over again in scripture to describe the relationship between God and God’s people.
The imagery of wedding is so rich and full and complete. After all, what is a wedding but a celebration of a relationship. The celebration of a relationship of love and mutual commitment. A celebration of the whole community. It is a welcoming of everyone.
We don’t do wedding banquets the way they did back in Jesus’ time. They knew how to do a wedding banquet. A wedding banquet back then was not an afternoon affair where you had some cupcakes and tea. These lasted for days, sometimes over a week of feasting. They had meat and food and drink and song and celebration and dancing and everything joyous. It was a time when the whole community came together.
It served a number of purposes. One of the purposes for the wedding banquet had to do with feeding. People at that time, even the rich, did not have an overabundance of food. The poor lived on very little, and they didn’t get to have meat very often. So, when you had a wedding banquet it was a chance for the wealthy or even the not so wealthy, to share what they had with others. It was feasting and sharing and bringing together of the community, of the whole clan.
In fact, it was the bringing together of two clans because often it was the matter of the husband and wife representing two different clans coming together to make one. Especially if it was the wedding of the leader of the clan, which is what this king probably was. The king in this parable doesn’t sound like a high king in charge of a whole area, like David or Solomon. What Jesus is probably referring to is a king over a couple of cities, a clan, or an area. We need to remember that the Palestine of this time was a tribal area. It still is a tribal area. Sometimes when we see what is going on the news it is hard for us to wrap our minds around it because we don’t live as tribally. But the relationships and interweavings based on blood relationship was extremely important then. If a leader of an area, lets say a tribal leader’s son, is getting married often that was used to cement a relationship, to make a treaty. The son might be marrying the daughter of another tribal leader and then the two tribes would become one, would have a relationship. If you remember your European history, that’s what the kings in Europe did for many years.
So this wedding, this wedding that Jesus is talking about, is much more than just a celebration. It’s about relationship, its about bringing people together, bringing the whole clan together. It’s a time to see people you haven’t seen for a long time. It’s a time to reconcile with people you haven’t talked to.
Maybe you have been to a wedding where there was some cousin you hadn’t seen for a long time and you weren’t too sure you wanted to see him, but if you have several days of eating and drinking there is a good chance you are going to find a chance to make up. It’s about that relationship, that celebration, that joy.
One of the ways that scripture has been thought about, meditated upon, is by taking all the characters in the story and imagining yourself as each one of the characters. Now I’m going to ask you to think about how you might be each character and I’ll reflect upon my thoughts.
First there is the king. I have had two children get married. I know what it is like to send out those wedding invitations. You go through who do we invite and who do we not invite. Sometimes, if it is a small wedding, you only have a certain number of invitations as you try to decide who to invite. So, from the point of view of the parent it is a very special thing to invite someone to come to your child’s wedding. You are so happy when people say yes and you are disappointed when they so no. Now sometimes they have a good reason for not being able to be there, and you understand that, but there is still a disappointment. But then if there is a friend or a cousin that doesn’t come and doesn’t explain why, maybe doesn’t even respond to the RSVP, that relationship is weakened. You feel like that person doesn’t really care about you. Maybe you aren’t as close as you thought you were.
So for this king to send his servants to invite these people was an honor. It was something special. Please come. Join in the celebration.
The next ones to consider are the first two people invited. They are too busy. One has to go to her office the other has to go to his farm. They can’t come to the wedding. I think most of us have at least once in our life been invited to something that had to do with relationship. Even though we were in a good relationship with that person we decided that we were too busy. That we just don’t have enough time to go and be with this person. We have all had to make those choices. Sometimes its hard. Sometimes we really want to spend time with this friend or relative or child but other things are calling us and we feel torn. We know what that is like.
We also know what this is like in terms of our relationship with God. Do we have enough time to go on retreat, because there is all the business to do? My to-do list is too long to take the evening off for a special service. We are behind at work and don’t come to church on a Sunday morning. We all have to make those decisions about relationships and our responsibility.
It is interesting that these first two are not condemned. They have just chosen not to be in relationship with the king.
The next group of people that are invited are ones who get angry at the servants that are sent to them and they beat them up and they kill them. Now imagine that you are the head of the clan and you run a couple of cities and perhaps the reason people from a certain city have been invited is that your son is marrying a daughter in that clan and you are inviting the whole city so you can establish a deeper relationship. They make light of you. They make light of you so much that they even kill the servants you send. The are saying, “We don’t think you matter.” Can there be a more direct way of saying “You are irrelevant to me? You are weak. It doesn’t matter. We don’t owe you anything.” So you can understand that the tribal leader who sent his servants now has to show these people that he is powerful. But it was their choice not to be in relationship.
And then the next thing the servants are told is to go out and invite everyone, good and bad. Everyone. Everyone!
What a generous welcoming thing to do. To say, “I have all this feast, come and share it with me. I don’t care, I want a relationship.” That’s the action of someone who really wants relationship with everyone and everyone is invited. Imagine being invited and not expecting to be invited. It would be like a few months ago when there was that big royal wedding in England, one day going to your mailbox and having an invitation to the royal wedding. Wow!! I’m invited. It would be exciting, you’d be thankful. You’d be all set to go.
Which brings us to the next character, the one who showed up at the wedding without a wedding garment. Now a wedding garment back then was not something real fancy. A wedding garment was basically clean clothes. Generally, if you had two sets of clothes, one you used for work and the other you used for special events. To show up at a wedding without a wedding garment would be like going to a wedding on Saturday afternoon and beforehand changing the oil in your car. You now have oil all over your hands, you have overalls on and you haven’t brushed your hair yet you show up at the wedding. What does that say about how you feel about the person who is hosting the wedding? What does that say about how much you value the relationship? It’s obviously not terribly important to you. You didn’t even brush your hair. You didn’t even put on some clean clothes.
Now if I had been invited to that royal wedding you darn well know that I would have gone out and bought something new. I might have needed to go to the thrift shop to find it. And I might even have gotten one of those silly hats. I wouldn’t show up in my jeans or my short shorts, or whatever. God help me if I showed up in short shorts.
But this last one chose not to take the wedding banquet seriously. In the imagery of scripture, the wedding banquet is not between two people, the wedding is between God and the person who shows up.
At the end of the parable Jesus says that many are called but few are chosen. I would put that a different way. Many are called but few chose to be in relationship. You will notice in these stories, the ones who aren’t there all chose to not be in relationship with the king. There were good ones and there were bad ones who were there because they chose to come. It is the ones who chose not to be in relationship that are not at the wedding.
There is one more character or group of people in the parable that I haven’t mentioned. Anybody think of who it is? The servants. The Greek word is doulous. Doulous has often been translated as servant. In the New Revised Standard Version, it’s translated as slave, and that is probably a more accurate translation because what it means in Greek is someone who has given themselves totally to serve someone else. They have given themselves up totally to the other person. Which a slave would do.
What the servants do is they go out and they invite people. I would say that here we are, all of us were invited to the wedding banquet and we showed up. Showing up is a large part of being in relationship. And how did we hear? Someone invited us.
Now that you are part of the wedding banquet, now that you are able to rejoice and celebrate the great joy of your relationship with Christ, the next step is deepening that relationship. It is about offering oneself wholly to serve the other, to become servants of Christ. And what is it that the servants do? They go out and they invite everybody to come to the wedding.