Pentecost 19, 2017 Proper 23
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
October 15, 2017
Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 23, Philippians 4:4-13, Matthew 22:1-14
Full Service Audio: bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship
It is a beautiful wedding reception. Everything is tastefully decorated with the latest styles the bride learned from Pinterest. There is an incredible buffet line with turkey and prime rib carving stations and an amazing number of selections. At the end of the buffet line there is magnificent tiered wedding cake just waiting to be cut.
The bride, groom, wedding party and guests are all dressed up in their finest; it is a lovely celebration of a man and woman being joined together in marriage. All is going well when the father of the bride sees a young man at the buffet. This man, dressed in an old t-shirt, shorts and flip flops makes his way down the buffet piling his plate high with all the delicacies. Something isn’t right here.
The father of the bride comes over to the man and asks him why he isn’t dressed for the wedding. The man doesn’t answer. The father asks the man if he knows the name of the bride or the groom. The man doesn’t answer. The father signals for the reception hall staff to come over and remove the man from the party. He doesn’t belong. He doesn’t know the bride or the groom.
That’s bad news for the wedding crasher.
It’s bad news when you get thrown out of a party because you don’t belong.
What do you do with bad news? How do you handle it? Do you serve it straight up? The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, or do you try to water it down; soften it up, lie a little to make the truth sound better, less harsh.
I think often we will lie to children about things to try to protect them from the harsh realities of life and death. With little children parents need to choose how much to share when a family member is caught up in addiction, or grandma is really sick or when a pet has to be euthanized. With children sometimes we want to soften the truth.
But what do we do with Jesus’ harsh truths. How do we handle them? How should the pastor handle them? Should I water them down and soften them up to make them less intense? Should I lie about them to make them sound better?
Today it is tempting because in our Gospel reading we have a tough teaching.
Many are called, but few are chosen. This is a harsh warning from the Lord Jesus. Few are chosen. This is not what we want to hear from God about salvation.
There is only one way to the salvation celebration; there is only one way…through the front door. Jesus is the door. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Jesus. This is a strict warning.
This is a strict warning from God and we don’t like that and sometimes, when we don’t like something, we simply pretend it isn’t true. We just make up lies about it to make it seem better. We just deny what Jesus says and make up our own answers to difficult questions. Doing theology in many churches today involves ignoring what the Bible says and making up your own truths to fit an ever changing world. People believe that there are many ways to heaven and everyone is going to get there somehow. We want to believe that there is a back door into the heavenly banquet. We want to believe there is a secret passage. We want to believe that we can make up our own way into the feast, but we cannot. Many are called, but few are chosen.
There is only one way to the salvation celebration; there is only one way…through the front door. Jesus is the door. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Jesus. This is a strict warning. Jesus is the only way. Many are called, few are chosen. To be chosen is to believe that Jesus is the king; to believe that Jesus reigns; Jesus rules; Jesus is indeed God, Jesus is your Lord and Savior. So many refuse to believe that Jesus is in charge because they want to be in charge of themselves. They want autonomy; self-rule. They want to ignore the King’s invitation to come to the banquet. The Lord God invites them and they refuse. They want to live their lives their own way and in the end they will be cast into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. As much as we hate the idea, Hell is real; the Bible teaches this. This is a terrifying thought. The reality of Hell is a terrible reality, and we do not get to make up our own alternative. But many do try.
We live in a time when false teaching is spreading quickly. Churches that once held to the truth of the Bible have taken to making up lies to fit their own desires and understandings. Recently, Elizabeth Eaton, the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, told a reporter for the Chicago Sun Times that she believed, “There may be a hell, but I think it is empty.” That is a lovely idea. I wish that were true, but I do not get to make up the truth. When we hear Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel reading is there any doubt that those who reject the king’s invitation are outside salvation? This is a hard teaching, but it is Jesus’ teaching. The ELCA Bishop is telling lies about the bad news of the Bible.
Now there is bad news in today’s Gospel reading, but it is not all bad news. There is also great Good News. The great Good News is the King is so very generous. The great Good News is that you are invited to come to the heavenly feast. The King, the creator of the universe, God Himself, invites you to come to feast. So come to the feast.
You entered into the Kingdom of Heaven; the reign of heaven, when you were baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. You are in the Kingdom of Heaven right now washed clean in the waters of baptism, forgiven by Jesus’ words of absolution; fed with the very Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion which is a foretaste of the feast to come. You are in the Kingdom of Heaven and you are on your way to the eternal banquet. You know the truth. You know Jesus is the way. You know Jesus is the door. You know Jesus, on the cross, for you, has paid the price to ransom you from sin, death and the devil. You are on your way to the eternal banquet.
But there are many dangers on the way to the feast.
The busyness of life and the deceitfulness of wealth can choke out the great Good News that you have been invited to the feast. Far too many get so busy with all the other things of life that that just don’t have time to gather together to hear God’s Word and partake of the foretaste of the feast to come.
Some are so hardened in their own understanding that they do not want to listen to the King’s servants. Pastors warn people about ongoing sinful situations, but too often folks just ignore the pastor’s warnings and remain in their ongoing sin.
Are you too busy for Jesus? Do you have too many other things to do? Are your sins too precious? Beware that you do not refuse the call of Jesus to love your neighbor; the call to speak the truth in love that Jesus is the only way to the Father. You have been invited to the great wedding feast of the Lamb, come to the banquet through the front door.
In our Gospel reading, the King has thrown a wedding feast for his son and there is a man at the wedding who does not have on wedding clothes. The king comes to the man and asks, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” Despite the king’s friendly approach, the man remains silent. He has no explanation. He does not apologize. He does not ask for mercy. Everyone was invited, the good and the bad, but this man is not prepared for the wedding. He does not know the Groom. He remains silent. He did not enter into the banquet through the front door. He must have snuck in another way. But there is no other way. And the man is bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness.
We want to believe there is another way into the Kingdom of God. We want to believe there is a back door, a secret door, but there is not. These are just lies we tell ourselves. There will be no sneaking into the heavenly feast, no breaking in, no way to bust down the doors to the banquet with military or political force. There is only one way to eternal life with God and that is through Jesus Christ and His life, death and resurrection. It is through Jesus alone.
This is humbling. It is not about you. It is about Jesus for you. You are a natural born sinner who needs Jesus. You cannot do it yourself. You do not prepare the Feast, but you are an invited guest. The Lord of hosts is the one who prepares the feast of rich food and well-aged wine. The Lord is the one who prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies. The Lord is the one who anoints your head and chooses you to be His own. The Lord is the one who fills your cup to overflowing with love, goodness, mercy and forgiveness.
The King has invited you to the wedding feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom. Come to the feast. Live your life as a guest at the wedding feast of the King. Speaking the truth in love that Jesus is the only way. Speaking the truth in the face of opposition. Speaking the hard truth that Jesus is the only way because that is Jesus’ truth.
On November 10, 2013 in the city of Speyer, Germany, in the Memorial Church of the Reformation, a Muslim Imam was invited to take part in an interfaith prayer service for peace. The Imam began his call to prayer shouting Allahu Akbar! Which means Allah is greater; greater, they mean, than the Christian God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At this call a German Christian woman named Heidi Mund could not contain her anger at this false teaching in a Christian Church dedicated to Martin Luther and the Reformation. She rose up with a German flag that proclaimed Jesus Christ is Lord and shouted the same. Jesus Christus ist Herr! Jesus Christ is Lord. She proclaimed, “Here I stand, I can do no other!” “Save the church of Martin Luther.” This brave German woman stood up to false teaching.
You know the truth. There is only one way into the banquet and that is through Jesus. The King has invited you to the wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom. Come to the feast. Amen.