Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14
1st Reading: Isaiah 25:1-9
2nd Reading: Philippians 4:1-9
I remember when I was a kid, the excitement of being invited to a party, the anticipation, the expectation. Now that I have Sterling, I relive that time. The last 2 Sundays I’ve had to keep him from announcing and inviting you all to his upcoming Birthday party, he’s so excited and he loves you all so much. You’re his family in a way.
At my age, I’m not as excited about parties. I know it takes a lot of preparation and some expense. I have to see what other events are important in our schedule. I know that one must understand expectations about how one dresses, is it casual or dressy and how dressy. I sometimes worry about who I will talk to, or what gift I will bring for the host. We have to figure out transportation and babysitter and whether we will be out late on a school night or on a Saturday when I have to get up somewhat early the next day and feel somewhat rested. Parties can be a pain.
But when Sterling invites you to his party, he has no expectations. He only wants to celebrate with you and express his love for you. He has no expectation for anyone to bring a gift. He has no idea how many cupcakes or cartons of ice cream that is. He doesn’t care what you wear, except of course that you come dressed like a robot and be willing to join in on the fun!
Matthew’s story of the wedding banquet has its share of expectations, and violence, and a troubling temper-tantrum. I have to think that the king in this story is more Matthew than God. Matthew has done so much inviting and there is only so much rejection he can take, especially when he’s just trying to give people something good, the Good News of Jesus’ love. And then even when they come to the party, even then a few refuse to get fully invested and wear the robe!
But there are some parts of the Kingdom of God that are revealed, through Matthew’s anger. One is that there is a celebration feast. It is a marriage feast, the joining of two families, two groups. Is this the marriage of heaven and earth, in which the two are joined in one vision, hopeful and beautiful? Is this the marriage of the church to Jesus, the groom? Is this the joining of all people into one family so that everyone realizes we’re all related and have to take care of each other?
Next, it is a celebration, a party! Sometimes we think we have to be somber and sad and serious to be a Christian. But Jesus loved a party and he’s inviting us to his party. It is not about having the right friends or being good or bad. The invitation goes out to absolutely everyone. God’s love, God’s Kingdom is available to all. You are invited to the party and yes, you can bring your plus one or plus twenty. Yes, your crying baby can come and your grandma with dementia. There are ramps for the disabled, and gluten free cake for those who need it. No presents are necessary. Come as you are, no matter who you are. You don’t have to answer questions about what you do for a living or how you know the bride or groom. Just come and have fun.
The next thing to remember is that the party is happening now. The feast is ready. The decorations are on the table. The King is waiting. We have a chance to set down whatever tedious boring ridiculous task we were focused on and head to the party. For us, too, the Kingdom of God is here. We are invited to participate in it. We can dawdle. We can hem and haw about whether to go. We can keep on doing what we always do, but what are we missing? We miss out on participating in what is happening, what God is bringing, the feasting, the music, the community, the love.
The next thing to remember is that this feast and party is costly. God is the one who prepared it, put in the time and the expense setting it all up for us. It wasn’t just a snap of the fingers, easy peasy, but it took time to imagine what it would be like, and God put effort into it, all the time imagining all of us children showing up and getting along and being part of something wonderful. So it isn’t hard to imagine that there isn’t at least disappointment when refuse the invitation or when we take our time getting there.
Finally, we might see ourselves as the ones who have accepted the invitation and might find ourselves judging those we don’t see as having accepted it. However, in case we get smug, Matthew invites us to take one more look at ourselves. Even those within the banquet need to be sure they are continuing to participate in the Kingdom work. Are we willing to wear the wedding garment? Do we continue to evaluate ourselves, to keep learning, to keep stretching our faith, to keep reaching out, to keep loving others, and to keep studying God’s word and keep living in community, relating to people different from us?
One thing that is hard about accepting an invitation to the party. It is undignified. People make fools of themselves at parties. At home, you know what to expect. At a party, the chance that you’ll forget someone’s name or say the wrong thing or drink too much and talk too loud, goes up considerably. It is risky. Also at a party you admit that you need recreation, play, laughter. That isn’t very dignified, but it is very life-giving. By going to a party, you also admit that you are not self-contained, that you can’t do it all yourself, that you need other people.
I heard a story on the radio the other day about how people show other people they are important. It used to be a Gucci bag or fancy car. Now it is by how packed their calendar is. When someone tells you they have one half hour slot to fit you in their schedule, they are saying they are too important, because of course if that person is important enough to you, you would clear your schedule, correct? We fill our lives with appointments sometimes, and forget that our relationships with each other are important to God and to the building up of the Kingdom.
You are invited to the most amazing wedding dinner. Come on over! It is ready right now! No need to bring a gift unless you want to! There is plenty of room for everyone! The menu is simple, bread and wine, and Jesus. The guest list has been written and revised. There might be some people you know and approve of, but there are some you might not expect, loud or quiet, low-hanging pants or velour leisure suits, gang tattoos or freckles, green hair or white hair or no hair, ex-cons, undocumented, young, middle-aged and old as the hills, people whose every other word is an expletive, people who say the wrong thing, wear the wrong thing, people with PhDs and who are illiterate, those who have never broken a bone and those whose skin is covered with sores. And we find ourselves, despite all our shortcomings and all the invitations we’ve slipped into the round file, here we are invited again to be with this strange and beautiful mob. And we’re invited to go whole hog, to dance, to sing, to share, to let go, to love and to allow ourselves to be loved. This beautiful wedding banquet made more beautiful by the utter joy on people’s faces who have never been invited to anything, by the lack of expectation that people will do anything other than be themselves, by the lack of judging and shaming, by the welcome.
We’re all here and there are so many competing priorities in our lives. However there is only one who gives life and gives it abundantly. So we’d do well to drop some of our areas of focus and let God bring us that life. It has already been prepared for us to experience and share, we might as well open ourselves to receiving it. We’ll have to admit we can’t do it all for ourselves and that we are lacking, but come on, everyone already knows, what’s the use pretending?