What makes a good party?
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Read Matthew 22:1-14
The kingdom of heaven is like a party. That’s how Jesus begins the parable we read today in Matthew 22. “God’s kingdom is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son.” A big party.
What makes a good party? Food? Music? Games? PEOPLE!
There’s a guide for throwing terrific parties on Oprah.com. Top of their list is this advice:
“Don’t Be Afraid to Invite a Circus – Be brave with your guest list, and mix as many generations, job disciplines, neighborhoods and incomes as you can rope in.”
Years ago I worked for an advertising agency that was owned by a man who liked to throw parties. He did them well, especially because he put so much thought into the people he invited. He did exactly what Oprah.com suggests. He intentionally invited a diverse group of people he thought would be interesting together. And they were!
So who’s invited to this king’s party? All the right people, of course. But they wouldn’t come.
“They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop. The rest, with nothing better to do, beat up on the messengers and then killed them.” (v5-7)
They really didn’t want to come to the party!
When Jesus is telling this parable, he’s in the middle of a conversation with the chief priests and elders about his authority to teach and to challenge them. Jesus responds with three parables. This is the third.
Jesus is telling these leaders that they are invited to join the party, the heavenly party of grace – invited to know the joy of fellowship with God through unlimited forgiveness. All they have to do is accept the invitation. Turn away from sin and turn to God.
In the parable, the king’s response to their rejection of the invitation is to do to them what they did to the messengers. This is symbolic of God’s judgment for their rejection of the invitation to repent and enter the kingdom of heaven (v1-7). Whether or not they turn to God now, we all will meet our maker one day, and if they haven’t been reconciled with God now, that meeting may not be so joyful.
That invitation is for all of us, too. How are you and God getting along lately?
The first guests refused to come, so the king tells his messengers to go out into the streets and bring in anyone who will come. And so they do. They bring in everyone, good and bad (v8-10). Y’all come!
It’s kind of like a big come-as-you-are-party. Have you ever been to one? As I understand it, the way these happen is that the host decides at the last minute to have a party and starts making phone calls.
Hi, Carmen? It’s me, Melissa. What are you wearing? . . .No, this isn’t a prank call. I’m having a come-as-you-are party and I want you to come right away . . . Oh, you just got out of the shower? Ok, well, then, yes, you’d better put on some clothes. . . Your sister and her five kids are visiting? Yes, of course, bring them, too. . . There’s a crew there painting your house? Ok, sure, bring them along. . . The family next door was coming for dinner? Well, then, bring them, too. . . Sure, bring everybody. Y’all come.
Now that they’re all coming, the next challenge is to make them all feel welcome. Whatever they’re wearing. Whatever their age. Whatever their background.
Of course, everyone’s welcome. But we aren’t always so good at making everyone feel welcome, because it’s hard to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. If we’ve never been in their situation, it can be hard to know how to be helpful and welcoming.
When we lived in Galveston, I helped out at the food bank. When people would come to pick up their food, I tried to be friendly and cheerful. One day, as young man came up to the window, I said, “Hi! How are you today?” Most people would say, “Fine,” whether or not they were fine, but on this particular day, this guy just couldn’t stomach saying, “Fine.” He said, “How do you think I’m doing? I’m homeless.” I had no idea what to say next.
The reality was that the food I was giving him might have been all he ate that day, and it wasn’t even a full meal, more of a snack. I wasn’t offering much more than a bandaid.
What would you have said or done? What do you think Jesus would have said or done?
In the parable, all were welcome, good and bad. But there was one person who got thrown out because he wasn’t wearing the right clothes. Is this really about clothes? No, that’s a metaphor. It’s really about participating in the kingdom of God (v11-14).
I have a confession to make. The last time I preached on this passage from Matthew, I stopped before this part. I didn’t like it. Maybe you don’t like it, either. It sounds cruel and heartless.
If the gospel of Matthew was written when some scholars think, after the year 70 CE, then it was written after the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. The Roman soldiers, in order to quell a Jewish uprising, had come in and burned much of the city, including the temple.
It was horrible and unthinkable that the building that had been the center of the Jewish religion was now gone and the Jewish people were trying to find their way forward. The Pharisees solution was a renewed commitment to following the Torah. Those who were following Jesus were having to decide whether to keep following Jesus.
This parable about the wedding feast could be an allegory for that situation. However we read it, I think it’s important to note that this isn’t saying that we are to throw people out for not wearing the right clothes, or to kill people who don’t follow Jesus the way we think they should. The only one who is qualified to judge is God. We are the messengers, the ones who bring the invitations.
This week I was reading the book of Isaiah. Isaiah’s prophecies about the coming Messiah became an important part of the expectations of a Messiah in Jesus’ time, and still inform our expectations for Jesus’ second coming. In Isaiah 11, it says that the Spirit of the Lord will be upon him, and he will have wisdom and understanding. Verse 4 says, “He will give justice to the poor and make fair decisions for the exploited. The earth will shake at the force of his word, and one breath from his mouth will destroy the wicked.”
Matthew expects that Isaiah’s prophecies will come true. In the end, God will make things right. If we are the wicked, we need to repent or be destroyed. If we are distraught about problems that are too big for us to solve, we can trust that God will help us to do what’s right, and trust that God will be just in the end.
Why does the one man in the story get thrown out? The king wants people at the wedding banquet who want to be there. A lack of a wedding robe reflects an inner apathy toward being a guest at the banquet. “God invites everyone to be one of God’s people and wants everyone to come. But . . . If you choose to become one of God’s people, this is how you must live every day.”
In other words, accepting the invitation is not just about coming to the party. It’s about being changed and living differently. Paul uses this image of putting on new clothes in his letter to the Colossians:
“So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.” –Colossians 3:12-14 MSG
Coming to the party isn’t just about being there ourselves. The wardrobe described in Colossians is made up of traits that affect how we treat other people. They tell us how to care.
What if we looked at everything in our lives from the perspective of how well we are equipped to care about people?
Take, for example, our baptism. We make vows when we are baptized, if we are old enough, or if we were infants, our parents made vows, to turn from sin and renounce evil, to trust in Jesus, and to be a faithful, obedient disciple, showing his love.
Is that something that’s just between me and Jesus? “Showing his love” is about loving our neighbors, but it’s just three words.
I discovered this week that the baptism vows in the Episcopal church are similar, but they say much more than “showing his love.” They also ask:
- Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
- Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
- Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
Those things are implied in our Presbyterian vows, and taught in our Sunday school classes and sermons, and certainly available to us all in the words of the Bible, but including them in the baptismal vows makes clear the expectation that following Jesus is not just for ourselves, but also for everyone we will meet. That this is how the Holy Spirit is going to help us to live out God’s love.
Living differently is about what we say and do, but it’s also about how we think. For example, do we think about our money as just for us to live on? It’s also a tool for showing God’s love when we help support the church, and give to the food bank, the college, the Red Cross, or whatever groups or causes we want to help.
This can be true in other areas of our lives, too. We want to be spiritually healthy and ready to meet Jesus face-to-face when the time comes. But our spiritual and emotional health also affects other people. When we’re talking to God, and seeking to grow spiritually, we are better equipped to care about other people and to show that care.
These new clothes we get when we accept the invitation to join the party, to follow Jesus and be a part of God’s kingdom, are a new set of tools for helping Jesus to change the world, and new perspective on how and why we say and do what we do. Everything we have and everything we are is from God and potentially useful for helping someone else to know God loves them.
I still think about that young man who gruffly answered, “How do you think I’m doing? I’m homeless.” I wonder if he’s still living on the street, or if he ended up in jail, or if he even survived. I think about what I might have done differently, and how I might be better equipped to help someone like him now. I’m still learning, and the more I learn, the more I find there’s more to learn.
You may have seen in the news this week that the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize this year is the World Food Programme of the United Nations. It might seem like an odd choice. How does providing food lead to peace? There is a link between conflict and hunger. This pandemic has dramatically increased the number of people going hungry in the world, and lack of food increases violence and war. “…providing assistance to increase food security not only prevents hunger but can also help to improve prospects for stability and peace.”
Providing food seems like such a small thing, but it shows that we care, and more importantly, that God cares.
Showing God’s care is not always easy, but it does make a difference. So let’s ask God to help us to always wear God’s love. If we’re willing to care, and we keep seeking to follow Jesus, with God’s help, we’ll be dressed for the party, and ready to invite, welcome and care for whoever comes.
 Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, Cynthia L. Rigby, Carolyn J. Sharp. Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship (Kindle Locations 12220-12221). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
 These three sections follow the points made by Michael J. Wilkins, NIV Application Commentary: Matthew (Zondervan, 2004), pg. 715-6.
 Rev. Loran Scott told me he always asks people this question.
 Wilkins, ibid.
 Kathryn Johnstone, “Do You Really Want To Be Here?”, Sunday’s Coming, Christian Century, https://www.christiancentury.org/blog-post/sundays-coming/do-you-want-be-here-matthew-221-14-philippians-41-9-28a
 Book of Common Worship, PC(USA), PDF edition, pg. 466.