Sermon on the Parable of the Wedding Banquet -- Matthew 22:1-14.
There once was a couple who moved into a new neighborhood and they wanted to meet other couples from the neighborhood. So they decided that they would invite one couple from the neighborhood over per week for Sunday night dinner. They would have a nice meal and spend time talking and learning about one another. So, they set out for their new adventure. They invited a couple from down the street. They planned a great menu of hor's d'ouerves and drinks, salad, entrée, and dessert. It was such a wonderful evening, the two couples talked about work, their children, and about life in general. Before leaving, the host told the couple what a wonderful time everyone had and that they were always welcome to come back, "our house is your house" he said.
So the same thing happened the following week. Another couple came over and they again had a great meal, hor's d'ouerves and drinks, salad, entrée, and dessert. Again, everyone had a great time talking about their children, about their work, and about life in general. At the end of the meal the host said what a wonderful time everyone had and that they were always welcome back, "our house is your house" he said. The same thing happened during week three and week four.
After the fourth couple came over the host couple tired and wanted a break from having guests, at least for a few weeks, and then they planned to do it again. So on Sunday night they had a simple meal of grilled cheese and soup. During the middle of dinner the doorbell rang, it was odd since no one comes around that late in the evening, especially on Sunday night. The husband asked the wife, "are you expecting anyone?" and she responded, "no, are you expecting anyone?" and he said "no." So the husband got up, went over to the door, opened it, and saw the three couples who had previously came over for dinner, each holding a bottle of wine, flowers, and a box of chocolates. The husband thought this was strange but offered a courteous, "hello, how are you." The couples responded likewise and smiled back at him. There was a nervous moment when no one said anything. Then all of a sudden the husband inquired, "please forgive me, but what are you doing here, it's late and its Sunday night and we are very tired from a long day of work." They all said in unison, "the last time we were here for dinner you told us that we were always welcome for dinner and that our house is your house." The man looked at them and said, "gee, I guess you're right, I did say that, didn't I?" He then invited them in and said, "I hope you don't mind grilled cheese and soup!"
At one time or another we have all said "our house is your house' and "please come back anytime for dinner," but we usually say this out of social etiquette or to be friendly and warm with other people. Deep down we actually do mean what we are saying, but at the surface we also know that people generally do not take us literally. If we invite someone over for Sunday dinner one week we do not expect them to pop in the following Sunday! However, our Lord does expect us to pop in to visit him at His house, after all, isn't the Church God's house? And we know that His house is our house and we are invited to dinner week after week after week-and the Lord means what he says. He wants us to come and sit at his table and feast on the food of eternal life, mainly his Word and His body and blood. The Lord offer us an open invitation which was given to us at baptism, and he continually invites us to come and share faith and fellowship with one another. Some people respond to this invitation and others do not. However, as we heard in the gospel reading from Matthew, He will invite other people who want to respond.
At baptism we were baptized into Christ's death and raised in order to walk in new life. We were sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit through the anointing with Holy Chrism. We were given a white robe which is our wedding garment, we were also given a candle which is the light of Christ and a cross to remind us about our calling to follow him. We took our first walk around the baptismal font three times as our first procession into the Church. Finally we were invited to the Lord's Table to feast on his body and blood. This invitation didn't just go out one time but continually goes out week after week after week, the Lord wants us to share his hospitality. Whether we respond or not is our responsibility.
Today we were presented with the image of the wedding banquet which the king gave for his guests. In scripture, a wedding banquet is likened to the kingdom of heaven. In the Book of Revelation we are told that at the end of time, after all the wars, tribulation, destruction, and rebellion takes place, the Lamb of God, who is Jesus Christ, will come down from heaven seated on his throne with all his angels and all his power and all his might and he will be dressed like a beautiful bridegroom who is awaiting his bride. The bride is the Church, which is adorned in all beauty and splendor, just like a bride is dressed on her wedding day. And that is why the Church is decorated with beautiful vestments and gold and silver, revealing the Lord's beauty. And then the marriage feast of the Lamb will take place, a feast of feasts, and all are invited to the supper. However, we have to make sure that we have our wedding garment preserved white as snow. Our baptismal garment becomes our wedding garment, our ticket into the kingdom, if we do not have a wedding garment we will not be able to join the party, as we heard in the lesson this morning; the man did not have a wedding garment and was thrown out of the banquet where men will weep and knish their teeth.
During the past few weeks we have heard some powerful and inspiring lessons from the gospel of Matthew and they all point towards our reception of the Lord's invitation. Through the gospel lessons we are called to a life of faith and obedience which has been repeated several times during these past few Sundays.
There was a small parish once that called a new pastor to lead them. They were so happy to have a young educated pastor to help them grow and do the Lord's work in their community. The first week the pastor gave a great sermon and everyone was so pleased. After Church they greeted the pastor and told them that they were pleased that he accepted to serve at their small parish. The second week the pastor delivered the same sermon. The people were still happy that they had a new pastor and didn't mind that he repeated the same sermon from the previous week. Again, on third Sunday the pastor gave the same sermon. The parish was now wondering if this guy was a dud, after all he delivered the same sermon three Sunday's in a row. The parish council decided to talk to with their pastor about his lack of performance in the pulpit. So, after the fourth week during the coffee social the parish council met with the pastor. They said how wonderful he was and how they enjoyed his family and were so pleased that he accepted to come to their community. However, they also told him that they were upset that he gave the same sermon three weeks in a row. While smiling he looked at them and said, "I'll change my sermon when you start listening!"
Perhaps these gospel lessons have been more or less repetitive on purpose, perhaps we are not listening to what Matthew is telling us. We tend to hear what we want to hear and forget the rest. We pick and choose bits and pieces of the gospel rather than hearing and accepting the whole gospel. Today we are once again invited to hear the gospel call to faith, striving to preserve our baptismal garment white as snow, so that we will one day be invited to sit at the table of the Lord, for the most delicious dinner of all, the wedding banquet of the kingdom.
Fr. William C. Mills, Ph.D., is the rector of the Nativity of the Holy Virgin Orthodox Church in Charlotte, NC, as well as an adjunct professor of religious studies at Queens University in Charlotte, NC. He is married to Taisia Mills and has two daugthers, Hannah and Emma.
Latest book by Fr. Mills:
A Light to the Gentiles is a collection of pastoral reflections on the Scripture readings from the gospel of Luke that are read in the Orthodox Church from mid-September until the feast of the Nativity of our Lord. The gospel of Luke is also read during the preparatory Sundays before Great Lent as well as at the feast of the Ascension and at the commemoration of various saints. The gospel also contains many familiar parables and teachings: the Good Samaritan, the Publican and the Pharisee, the Rich Man and Lazarus, and Zachaeus. Luke reminds us that the gospel is to be proclaimed to the entire world in order to bring the gospel to all peoples and nations. Thus, the gospel of Luke serves as a beacon of light that shines brightly in the world. A Light to the Gentiles is an invitation for everyone to read, accept, and obey the Word of God in their lives. This book is a resource for personal and group Bible study, adult education classes, and sermon preparation.
See more books by Fr. Mills.