Sermon for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

So you all may have noticed that I’ve kind of run out of ideas for what to put on our front sign. When I say “front sign,” I mean that big sign like thing sitting out in front of the church. It has our contact info on it, as well as a customized message of a maximum of about 40 characters that hopefully informs anyone who decides to read it who we are and what we’re about. So it is kind of like Twitter, but also really really not. You know when I first started putting up my own little one liners (or two liners, as it were), I had ideas flowing all the time. I would change it often to keep it fresh, and I remember standing back and chuckling at my own handiwork after. And I’ve received comments from people on how creative the message on the sign was, or unique, and in some cases, how offensive it might have been.

While I am having this dry spell around what to put up on that thing, there is no shortage of ideas online and elsewhere. Some are good and adaptable for our context, but most of it is bad. Like really bad. So bad that there is actually a website called “church marketing sucks” that used to host pictures of actual church signs that were so cringe worthy that you couldn’t help but laugh. I would show you some but I’m sure you’ve seen some already yourselves and you know what I mean.

And even if some were funny and creative, if we think about it, like really think about it, would anyone ever really enter a church because of a funny sign? Maybe a few, but I often wonder about the effectiveness of such an antiquated and specific way of communication. And how much could two lines really say, anyway?

Now, I’m not saying we should get rid of that sign or that signs in general are useless or even our old busted up sign isn’t good for us, but I am trying to shed light on how we are represented, or how we should be represented, and how do we and can we relay who we are to people who might otherwise just not know? I mean, we all know that we are a small church. I’m not just talking about our congregation either (which is small, yes), but about the whole church in general. We still have these mega churches here and there, but the overall statistics tell us that on average, less and less people are attending church across North America, and more and more are listing themselves as “non-religious” in surveys, censuses (censi?) and the like. And for many of us, that is worrisome. It is worrisome to think that our influence in the world is shrinking. It is worrisome to think that small congregations like ours might not be around in 10 or so years. It is worrisome to think that something that we might have dedicated so much of our lives to just isn’t as popular as it once was.

And so we look at churches that still are growing and we scratch our heads. We look at how we can restructure ourselves to cater more to the masses. We look at what we might be doing wrong, and try to change in order to look more attractive, current, and relevant, in hopes to preserve what we know is good and pure and true.

But really, how is that working for us so far? Our track record isn’t great, and it kind of reminds me of Principal Skinner in that episode of The Simpsons when he was trying to find Bart Simpson who was skipping school that day.

Are we that out of touch? Or are they all just wrong?

While we might want to think the former, I think in practice we are actually saying the latter. I mean, when we read the parable for today, who do we automatically think are the antagonists? Who are the ones that are in the wrong? What do we automatically think the lesson is for this, one of the most confusing and uncharacteristic parables that a poor preacher has to preach on?

Well, that’s the thing, it is uncharacteristic if we think the banquet host is God, that the workers and those that actually came to the banquet are us, and those who refused to come are all those heathens and non-Christians who literally refuse to come to our worship services, our church events, and our programs that they should come to if they knew what was good for them. The uncharacteristic part is when the host kicks out the poor guy who could likely have been actually poor, unable to afford a nice banqueting robe or even the time to get ready to accept this last minute invitation. That host was downright mean. Just straight up kicks the guy out to where there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth. And I don’t know if any of you had your teeth gnashed before, but there really isn’t anything like a good teeth gnashing that would just make you weep.

But seriously, roid rage much? While we aren’t entirely familiar with the wedding customs of the time, I wouldn’t think a wedding robe for a last minute guest should be a make or break point for their worthiness. So you see what I mean how it seems uncharacteristic. Sure, burning up the whole cities of those who killed your servants, I can see how that seems a bit justified, but throwing a guy directly into some serious gnashing for not wearing a robe? Ouch. This is the kind of thing that will make me certain to never to forget to wear my alb on Sundays ever.

But really, maybe the fact that we feel it uncharacteristic for God to be so nitpicky around how someone is dressed might be a sure sign that maybe there is more to the story. Maybe there is a deeper reason for that wrath. Maybe there is another reason why people refused to attend the banquet. Maybe there is a better lesson here than “come well-dressed or else.”

Because if you think about it, what would be reasons to not accept an invitation to a wedding banquet? I was thinking about all the invitations to weddings that I’ve received in the past, and what would make me refuse free food and possible open bars, and there aren’t too many reasons that I wouldn’t accept. Maybe if I were just too busy attending another wedding, or the couple are these jerks that I wouldn’t be able to stand to be around, or perhaps, as I think applies to the parable, I just don’t understand what I was being invited to. Maybe I’ve never been to a wedding banquet before and I didn’t get that it is a celebration. Or maybe I feel like I’m not really welcome, that it was just a pity or a “b list” invite, and I don’t want their charity. Or maybe I just thought it isn’t a big deal, that sure the king’s son is getting married, but meh, I have better things to do like go to my farm or to my business and just don’t feel like spending a few hours eating and drinking and being merry. Perhaps this king has been misrepresented, or perhaps maybe the advertising around this wedding banquet was largely inadequate. Maybe they need a website explaining themselves, and call it “parabolic wedding banquet advertising sucks.”

But who is that on? Who is in charge of making sure the message is clear? Who is responsible for the understanding around what is going on, so that all people are aware of what they are refusing or accepting? Because if someone were to invite me to something, and be like, “yeah you can come if you want, I dunno, it might be cool I guess” or something, I don’t know if I would want to go. But if they were to say, “hey you should come to this great thing we have going on, I’ve been to one before and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made” or along those lines, I might be more inclined to want to check it out.

And I’m not only talking about coming to church here, I’m not saying that you all should go out and say to people “hey, you should come to church because it is an awesome experience and our pastor is like the best ever.” I mean, be that as it may, it isn’t the invitation that we are called to express, but it is the unending welcome to the banquet that we share with others. See, when those invited to the king’s banquet didn’t show up and were subsequently burned and killed, the banquet wasn’t cancelled. Instead, the king’s welcome was expressed to all people, good and bad the text tells us, and everyone was allowed to come and see and rejoice in peace and celebration.

And for that guy without the robe? Turns out he didn’t get it either. He didn’t see it as a celebration, or he would have dressed the part. But it wasn’t the king who condemned him to the gnashing of teeth, but rather it was his refusal to get it, his inability to rejoice, his perhaps unwillingness to embrace the welcome that has destined him to all that weeping.

The alternative to that is rejoicing. The alternative is to be opened to the goodness and grace of God, acting in and through our lives and leading us to peace. The alternative is having our minds set on Christ, knowing the full and all inclusive welcome of God, and feeling the Spirit alive and well all around us in our community, our world, and in our church.

This is the message that we can send out to people. Not to necessarily come to church with us on Sunday, but that God loves them and welcomes them to the banquet that has no end. The message of gracious forgiveness and the intrinsic value and worth given to us by God is the gospel that we proclaim. The message for all people is that we are God’s children, beloved, made whole, brought into community, and led into peace and rejoicing.

As we gear up for our seasonal celebrations around the church calendar, may we remember God’s everlasting welcome to the feast without end, that we may appropriately relay the message of God’s gospel and grace to all people through relationship, community, and love. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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