Dear Friends in Christ,
There are weddings that take place on the spur of the moment and there are weddings planned out years in advance. There are weddings that cost a few hundred dollars and there are weddings that cost tens of thousands of dollars. Average cost of a wedding in USA – I looked it up - $25,200! (Research suggests that the high cost of weddings causes future marital stress). There are guests who RSVP promptly, those who respond late, and those who respond not at all. There are guests who accept the invitation with joy, those who decline with regrets, and a few who reply maybe (we had a farmer and his wife reply to our son’s wedding invitation that they would come unless hay was down). There are wedding receptions with name tags and those without. Receptions with assigned seating and those without. Some receptions have an open bar all night, some have it partially open, and at others guests are asked to pay for their own drinks. Some receptions have one meal – take it or leave it. Others have several options, including a children’s menu. At a family wedding in Milwaukee a couple of weeks ago, there was a time for hors d’oeuvres in a smaller room in anticipation of the main meal in the main hall set forth in beautiful and extravagant fashion. This morning we study Matthew 22 where salvation is pictured as a wedding feast prepared by a king for his son and the invitations were delivered but the people wouldn’t come. As we do so, I would suggest to you that as often as you hear the Word of God and believe it and as often as you eat and drink at your Lord’s Supper, and as often as you enjoy and live in the grace and the mercy of your Savior, you are enjoying the hors d’oeuvres as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that is to come.
Two truths I invite you to consider today, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, under the theme, “The Wedding Feast is Ready!” The first truth has to do with the awesome privileges of living as invited guests, and the second has to do with the awesome responsibilities that come along with great privilege. Privilege and responsibility.
The first lesson we learn from Jesus today is to come on in and enjoy the wedding feast, or die. In this parable, the King is our Father in heaven, and His Son Jesus is the Groom. The Father prepared this Wedding Feast not with credit cards and checks written, but with the very blood of His one and only and precious Son. He prepared this meal not with the slaughter of oxen or fattened steers, but with the once and for all sacrifice of the very Lamb of God. He sent out round one of invitations through Old Testament prophets, but they would not come. So many of the Jewish people treated the invitation with indifference and simply went about their business as if the love of this King was no big deal. Others did worse than that. They mistreated the messengers who delivered the invitations, and in many cases put them to death. Instead of accepting this royal invitation with great joy, so many first century Jews were put to death as part of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Already then, the choice was to come on in and enjoy the wedding feast or prepared to die.
In ancient days, wedding celebrations often lasted for 7 days, and to decline the invitation was to miss out on all kinds of eating and drinking and being merry. These days, a wedding celebration is a half a day or so and to decline the invitation is to miss out on a few hours of feasting and conversation and dancing the night away. But the wedding feast of which we speak today is life in paradise face to face with Jesus where all of your tears will be wiped away and where death itself will be swallowed up and the feast of rich food and well-aged wine will go on without end. To decline this invitation is to be damned. To refuse to wear the wedding garment provided in the waters of Baptism is to be bound hand and foot and to be cast into the outer darkness. In that place, Jesus says with tears in His eyes, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The Gospel invitation has always been, is today, and always will be as sweet as it can be, but is followed up with an ever so stern warning. Here and now, come on in to the presence of the Lord and enjoy, or go your own way and suffer. Here and now, come on in and be set free by the forgiveness of your sins or go your own way and live in prisons of your own making. Here and now, come on in to the sanctuary and enjoy the hors d’oeurves already paid for or go to a restaurant of your own choosing and pay your own bill. Here and now, throw yourselves on the mercy of God, or spend your days making excuses for your failures and rationalizing away your faults and hurting others with your bad attitudes and miss out on all the benefits and the ripple effects of God’s amazing grace. Here and now, sit still and enjoy the rest and the relief and the refreshing breezes brought your way by the Spirit of the living God, or spend your days weary and anxious and indifferent and overwhelmed by life with all of its challenges. O dear Christian friends, what a great privilege it is to wake up each day by making the sign of the cross and remembering the Triune God’s desire for us to live as invited guests where the forgiveness of sins has been provided and mansions in heaven have been prepared. How much simpler and how much more joy there to live as people of privilege rejoicing in the blessings we do have instead of living as victims complaining about how the world is out to get us.
With great privilege of course comes great responsibility, at least in the kingdom of God. That’s the second truth the Spirit of God would teach us this morning what it means to say yes to the King Who has invited us to be guests in His wedding hall. For earthly weddings, the obligations of a guest seem to be far and few between. There is, of course, the responsibility to keep the happy couple in your prayers and as time goes on, to do whatever you can do to support them in their effort to enjoy a Christ-centered marriage. But to be gathered as a guest into the heavenly wedding feast is to be sent back out to the main roads and to the not so main roads and even into the alleys to invite to this same feast as many as you can find.
This past week I ran across an article about Pastor Jay Reinke, a former Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Pastor in Williston, North Dakota. Williston is in the heart of that great state’s oil boom, and he had made the decision to open up his church doors to would be workers. Many of them had histories that included drug abuse, alcoholism, crime, and all that goes along with the bad decisions of life. They were what polite society has determined to be bad people. And so when this pastor initiated an “overnighters” program which offered Army cots, floor space, and parking spots to over 50 unemployed men and a few women, there was a fair amount of rejoicing mixed in with all kinds of objections and concerns of congregational members.
One particular man named Todd had served in Iraq and had come to the oil fields in absolute desperation. He confessed his evil ways to Pastor Jay and added that he was born only because his mother was raped. To which the Pastor replied, “Can I tell you something? You and I are a whole lot more alike than we are different. I’m broken. We’re broken. We’re just broken. We’re in this together.” I don’t really know the whole story, but we do know that the Pastor eventually had to leave the ministry, that his marriage struggled to survive, and that he now works for a company that provides welding supplies to the oil field. Now a movie called “Overnighters” has been produced and has already won an award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
What does it mean to go out into the highways and the byways to invite sinners into the Kingdom of God? What is our responsibility towards loved ones who have drifted from the means of grace and seem to be keeping God at a distance? What is our responsibility towards confirmands who have drifted from their Savior for one reason or another? What is our collective responsibility towards the poor and the hungry, the homeless and the abused, the unemployed and the underemployed, the addicted and the afflicted? Where do we start when we have no idea where to start? Why should we try if we have already tried and failed? How do we invite folks who have already declined the invitation one or more times?
I don’t really know the simple answers to those questions, but this we do know for certain – that we are saved by faith alone in Jesus Christ and that faith never comes alone. By definition saving faith is alive with good works. Another way of saying that great privileges in life never come our way alone. They always come with great responsibility. With that in mind, permit me to offer five practical suggestions on how to go out into the main roads and the not so main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as we can find.
1. Pray for opportunities.
2. Look people in the eyes, and listen. Listen to their stories. Be slow to speak. Let me say it again. Listen to what people are saying.
3. Ask questions. Ask good questions. Before you give them good answers, make sure you ask them good questions.
4. Keep on inviting people, even if they have refused previous invites. Invite them to church / Bible Class / church activity/ your home / out for coffee / beer.
5. Trust that the Spirit of God is at work as often as you pray for opportunities, as often as you look people in the eyes and listen, as often as you ask good questions, as often as you keep on inviting people to know that God isn’t mad at them, to know that Jesus Christ lived and died and rose for them, to know that nothing they have done or are doing or will do will cause God to love them less, to know that their sins have been forgiven, their salvation has been secured, and that the wedding feast is ready.
Amen. This is most certainly true!
Worship Sermons & Letters