Lent 3, Matthew 22:1-14
Grace to you and peace in God, who loves us fiercely, abundantly, and unconditionally. Amen.
I’m excited to talk to you today about an amazing parable of God’s abundant love for all people. But first, we need to talk about the elephant in the room. You see, the parable is about a king who throws a banquet for his son. And at first, he invites all his rich, noble friends. The problem is, they’ve all got better things to do, so they say no, and when he sends his servants to remind them about the party, some of these rich noble friends (or perhaps, “frenemies?”) actually kill the king’s servants.
So the king gets even by sending in his troops, killing all his friends, and burning down their city.
Yeah. A bit of an over-reaction, right?
Now here’s the thing. Matthew has a very specific historical event in mind as he’s writing his gospel. In 70 CE, the Jewish people were in the middle of a rebellion against the Roman Empire. And the Roman army attacked Jerusalem, and destroyed the city, and burned it to the ground. Matthew is trying to make sense of this terrible event. And he’s wondering if perhaps this was God punishing the Jewish people for rejecting Jesus.
Now I want to make it clear. God didn’t destroy Jerusalem. God didn’t burn down the city, and kill thousands of innocent people. The Romans did that. The same Roman empire that crucified Jesus also destroyed Jerusalem. This was an act of human violence, not divine punishment.
Now back to the parable of the banquet feast. There are actually two versions of the parable in the Bible: this one in Matthew chapter 22, and another in Luke chapter 14. And the one in Luke is actually a lot more grace-full, I think. There are no troops, no murdering your frenemies, no burning of cities.
But there are a lot that the two versions have in common. For example, those who were initially invited all said, “no.” In Luke, they have excuses. “I have bought a field, and I need to go check it out.” “I have bought some oxen, and I need to see if they’re healthy.” “I just got married, and well, you know.”
Another thing in both parables is that the host of the banquet sends servants out to find new guests for the banquet. I really love how Luke tells the story here: “The owner of the house said to his servant, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” And the servant said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the master said to the servant, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled!”
Now I was thinking at first that I would ask you to picture yourselves as the guests: first as the rich guests who reject the invitation, and then as the poor guests who accepted the invitation.
But then I realized that there were characters in this story who had a very important role, but they were characters that I didn’t notice before. Can you guest who those characters were? (the servants).
I wonder, what if God is calling us today to see ourselves as the servants in this story?, What if we’re the ones that God has entrusted with invitations to God’s great banquet feast? What if we’re the ones who are sent out into the streets and the alleyways and the hedges to invite everyone we can find to this incredible banquet?
Now, we know that this banquet is not just any old earthly party. Not even in incredibly gala ball at the Hotel Fort Garry. This is an invitation to God’s great banquet feast at the end of all things, at the resurrection when Christ comes again in glory to reconcile the whole Earth to God.
But you know what? God wants the Church to be a foretaste of this great banquet feast. It’s like the line from a song that we used to sing from the old Green Book (the Lutheran Book of Worship, or LBW):
Grace our table with your presence, and give us a foretaste of the feast to come.
God wants the Church to be a community where all people can receive a taste of God’s abundant love for all people.
I have a pop quiz for you. Who has been on our Spirit of Life Ministry website recently? Does anyone know what it says on the front page? Here’s what it says:
God loves you. Fiercely, abundantly, unconditionally. There is nothing that you ever need to do to earn God’s love, and there is nothing that you can do to ever stop God from loving you.
We exist to proclaim God’s abundant and unconditional love for each and every human being. We’re not ashamed about it. We’re going to shout it from the rooftops. Every time you doubt God’s love for you, every time you feel far away from God, we’ll be here to remind you that God still loves you with the same abundant, unconditional love as the day you were born.
We believe that God’s love can transform the world. When we hear the good news of God’s love, and it takes over our hearts, our lives are transformed. God’s love frees us to be God’s love for those around us.
How do we know all this? Are we just making it up? No. You see, there’s this guy named Jesus, who fully embodied God’s love in his life, death, and resurrection. That’s why we keep coming back to the story of Jesus over and over again - because the story of Jesus is the story of God’s love for us.
Do you want to hear more about this amazing God who loves you just as you are with a love deeper, wider, and more enduring than you can ever imagine? Then come and join us. You are welcome here.
Imagine this: what if the church was like a banquet of God’s love? What if everything we did here was like a course in that banquet?
That the smiles at the door were like the first course, and confession and forgiveness another course, and the music we sing was another course, and the children’s message, and the sermon, and the peace, and the sacraments… and of course the coffee and desserts afterward. What if each and every element gave us a taste of God’s abundant and unconditional love for us, and for each and every human being?
What if we are called to invite people to this amazing banquet so that everyone can receive a taste of God’s love for them?
I’d like to ask you to closer your eyes. Think about the people in your life. Is there someone you know that you know this message of God’s love would make a difference in their life? Is there someone that you think God might be nudging you to invite to this banquet of love?
OK, you can open your eyes. And you are actually going to get an invitation card. [Ushers to hand out.] On the front, it says “You are invited. We hope you join us for worship.” And on the back, it has what I just read from the website. “God loves you. Fiercely, abundantly, unconditionally.” And there’s a QR code, that you can scan with your phone, and it will take you to our website.
Would you be willing to give this invitation to somebody?
Now, people will have excuses, right? The guests in the parable had excuses too, didn’t they? They had fields, cows, and wives. And folks today may have hockey practice on Sunday morning, or brunch at Stella’s, or sports to watch on TV, or Netflix shows to binge, or TikTok or something.
And don’t get me wrong. I love hockey. But are you going to hear about God’s abundant and unconditional love for you at hockey practice? Probably not.
And I love brunch at Stella’s. But are you going to hear about God’s abundant and unconditional love for you at brunch? Probably not.
And I love Netflix and watching sports, and well, I actually have no idea about TikTok, but I can tell you that I think it’s highly unlikely that you will hear about God’s abundant and unconditional love for you there either.
So are we willing to make (Abundant Life/Prince of Peace) a place where people can come and experience God’s abundant and unconditional love for them? And are we willing to be the ones to extend the invitation? And not just to give out the card, right, but maybe even make it a date. Say, “Hey, why don’t I pick you up, and we can go out for lunch after.”
God has entrusted us to invite people to the most amazing party ever – God’s great banquet of love. And as the Church, we are called to be a foretaste of that amazing feast. That’s pretty cool, isn’t it? Amen.