Monday, October 22, 2012

The Kingdom of Heaven Can be Compared...

Matthew 22:1-14 (ESV)
And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, [2] "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, [3] and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. [4] Again he sent other servants, saying, 'Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.' [5] But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, [6] while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. [7] The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. [8] Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. [9] Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.' [10] And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.
[11] "But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. [12] And he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. [13] Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' [14] For many are called, but few are chosen."

The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared. The kingdom of heaven is like. It is funny but Jesus never compares the kingdom of heaven to a kingdom. You never have Jesus saying, well you know it is kind of like the Kingdom of Persia, but our carpets are nicer. It is never well it is a bit like Rome, but the streets are paved with gold and our Laws are better. One gets the impression that the kingdom of heaven of which he speaks is not really a kingdom in the earthly sense of the word, and that his point. The kingdom of heaven is quite a bit different. And it is this something completely different that we pray for when we pray, thy kingdom come, in the Lord’s Prayer. We are not praying for some millennial madness, but for what Christ describes in every one of his parables, Salvation. No, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to mustard seeds, prodigal children, and, vineyards, foolish virgins and wise virgins, servants and masters, and weddings.
Weddings come up a lot. Jesus seemed to like them. Every once in a while a wedding can be nice. At times though you wish people would just elope. Nothing wrong with that you know. Nothing immoral. Makes perfect sense in this world, for most. I run into kids shacked up all the time, they want to be married, but they can’t afford a wedding feast. That is their excuse for not getting married. It doesn’t make sense. I mean I used to think this idea of vow renewal was a bit silly. But in reality, the idea of a vow renewal, is. If you haven’t broken your vows, you shouldn’t need to renew them, and the idea of vow renewal, at least to my literalistic mind, kind of seems like you are throwing a party because you broke them. But I will say this. Holding a marriage together for twenty years, that is something. That is something to celebrate. And by then you have the money to do it right, well you possibly have the money.
A wedding feast. I mean, perhaps I have gotten cynical. Weddings are rarely worth going to for the food. They can be a good excuse for a party, but most often the food is mediocre. We’ve all been there, wondering how much beer it might take to wash down the stale chicken and lukewarm gravy poured over cold tasteless rice. I think this is what I served when I got married the first time. The second time I got smart, Costco sheet cake and beer. Yeah, I’m skeptical when I get a wedding invitation. These days, I don’t believe the white dress either. But I normally show up. I tend to like a party. So then you hit the wedding that makes it worth it, Bride’s dad goes all out, the bar is open, prime rib, and the bridesmaids are good looking and flirtatious. Something to consider, at least when you aren’t married.
This is the kind of wedding Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven as being. I mean, it is a king throwing a wedding feast for his son. Fatted calves are slaughtered, roasting on the spit. No expenses spared. And he goes out to invite all the usual suspects. No one bothers to come. All too busy, perhaps they had been to a few too many duds.
I think about that when it comes to religion. I mean, Christianity gives me a joy and lust for life like nothing else. Luther knew what he was talking about, when he said, “He who loves not wine, women and song remains a fool his whole life long.” He saw Christianity as a reason to enjoy life. Most today see religion as something that sucks the joy out of life. But here is a genuine feast of forgiveness, in Jesus Christ. He invites us to his feast of victory, to a wedding feast between him and his bride the church, sanctified in the washing of water with the word. His beautiful and wonderful bride, pure and holy, each and every one of us, made clean by the waters of baptism.
But I tell you, I understand when people are hesitant. Most have not had a good time in church. Too often even what passes for Christianity is little more than an excuse for a mugging. There are people I meet in town afraid to step through the doors of this place for things that happened thirty years ago, by people who thought they were doing the Lord’s work doling out guilt trips. I cringe when I hear it. Legalism, as if you can get into this wedding feast wearing the clothes of your own works, the bloody rags of self-righteousness, the filthy rags of your good works. No we need clothes washed clean in a different blood, the blood of the lamb. That is, we need the righteousness that comes by the forgiveness of sins Christ won for us on the cross. We need Christ’s blood, not the blood that fouls our good works, the good works God refers to as filthy rags. But with the forgiveness of sins poured out over us in the waters of baptism, comes the newness of life, the celebration of life a wedding feast is supposed to be.
No, I get it when people are leery of any religious institution inviting them to a wedding. I can’t blame a person for going out to his farm, or minding his own business quietly. Honestly, after a couple Mormon’s or JWs, knock at your door frustrating your morning or afternoon with a bunch of inane insanity, it is no wonder that you the servants of Christ would be shamefully abused for bringing up church. Religion is used too often as an excuse for guilt trips, for sucking the joy out of life. But Jesus comes to bring joy. He doesn’t invite us to a wedding feast of stale chicken and cold rice. But to a real feast, where life can be enjoyed, celebrated, and loved. Because the kingdom of heaven isn’t like any earthly kingdom, it is about free grace, an invitation to life itself, to live in forgiveness, to walk in the newness of life, with the carefree spirit of a child.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.

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