Sermon Trinity 18
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet
I don’t suppose any of you have ever had an anxiety dream. Where you wake in a hot sweat having just dreamt of yourself sleeping in so that you missed an exam or an appointment, or perhaps a dream of a date where you forgot to get dressed. Over the last few years I’ve had a recurring one where I am at a wedding, sitting in the congregation, waiting for the service to begin, when suddenly somebody leans over to me and says: ‘aren’t you the priest, shouldn’t you be taking the service?’ I seem to be rushing about trying to find something to wear, realising all my robes are at the dry cleaners, meanwhile the organist is playing ‘hear comes the bride’. I end up sending the music director or churchwarden out to start the service while I throw something on. Before realising I don’t even know the names of the people I’m meant to be marrying.
I had a similar dream leading up to my installation last Monday, only I think the Bishop was standing at the front, the service having started, and I was still on an errand, oblivious (but aware, in the way you only can be during a dream) that I was meant to be somewhere else. After Theresa May’s recent party conference speech, where she lost her voice, was presented a P45 slip by a prankster and the text on the wall started behind her falling down. One satirist joked that she was probably disappointed when she realised she was fully clothed and that she wasn’t just having an anxiety dream.
Today’s parable in Matthew’s Gospel is a difficult one. It starts well, in a way that we all like and can easily appreciate. The Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a wedding banquet. For some reason the invited guests don’t come, even after the second invitation. They even, literally, kill the messenger.
No matter how much effort we go to in order that people feel welcome. No matter how good the party, how much food you’ve got ready or what the reward for turning-up might be. Some people will never come. And sometimes we have to know when to let it go. The King sends his troops out to destroy the murderers and burn their town. But then he sends his servants out to bring in whoever they find, bad and good alike, and the wedding is filled with guests. The God we follow, revealed to us in Christ Jesus and through the Good News of scripture is the God who invites all, Bad or Good to join in his banquet.
Eating together is so fundamental to understanding the Kingdom of God, Jesus eats with sinners, Jesus invites himself over for dinner, Jesus has a meal with his disciples before his death, and at it institutes the Holy Eucharist, the Last supper, the mass. And we sit here with the altar as a our focal point, The table where we share the sacrificed body and blood of Christ, The bread of heaven and the cup of the new covenant between God and us. And at this heavenly banquet we are all equal, because we all eat the same way. Whether you are her majesty the queen or the butler, whether you are the prisoner or the guard, whether you are a priest or a small child, we all open our mouth and chew our food the same way. We all need to swallow whether we are bad or good.
The reading ends with this seemingly bizarre event. The King comes in to see one guest not wearing the correct wedding robe he stops him, has him bound, and thrown into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Many are called, we are reminded, but few are chosen. Remember what Jesus says at the beginning ‘compare’ the Kingdom of Heaven to this parable.
Does the generous God we know send his soldiers to kill those who don’t turn up to the party. Does the generous God we know throw us into the outer darkness because we haven’t got the right tie on, or our colours are clashing.
Here is the anxiety dream. That we are called by mistake, that we aren’t meant to be chosen, that there has been some great misunderstanding. We are all called, we are chosen, individually, and personally by God to be the people of God. It is not something we can live up to, it is not something we can earn, but something which is freely given. And we will all make mistakes. But we must remember what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, which this parable is not like. The Kingdom of Heaven is one of forgiveness and reconciliation. The true king of heaven we know would give up his only son to forgive and reconcile us to him. So the thing we do before we eat together at this banquet is to ask God’s forgiveness and to ask one another’s forgiveness. We make Peace with one another.
Here comes a personal plea. I am overjoyed, exhilarated, excited and humbled to be your priest in this place. One of the things I believe strongly about doing as your priest is to offer you God’s forgiveness, as I will in a few short moments. Because, we need to be a forgiving community, because that is what leads us to being more like the God who created us. But I, like you, will make mistakes, I will mess up, I will let you down. Hopefully not today or tomorrow or the next day, though perhaps I have already. But we the followers of Christ in this place, need to be a forgiving community. So please, as I will always endeavour to forgive you, by the grace of God, forgive me too. And then, day by day, let us become more like the one whom we follow, and, free of the anxiety that we might not belong, may our celebration of the banquet of heaven be ever more like the greatest, richest, most wonderful banquet in heaven, surrounded by all the saints of Child’s Hill and the saints from ages past present and future as we sing praises to the God above all gods, the Prince of Peace, the Almighty Saviour.
The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams