You are invited
October 15, Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23):
Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.
Did you get it?
Your invitation to the banquet?
You got it, right? We’ve all been invited…are you going?
Oh, do you have other things to do?
More important things?
This is a tough parable. I guess what’s clear is that there really is nothing more important than attending this particular dinner party. That’s true in all the versions of this parable—because there are others. They show up in Luke and the Gospel of Thomas—but those have the king sending his slaves out to bring whomever they can find to the party. Those are easier to understand. This invitation is something that we need to pay attention to, and it’s an invitation that is open and available to all. But Matthew has turned a parable (which are generally pretty open ended) into an allegory (which are way more specific). Matthew adds a whole bunch of detail—the destruction of the city—and invents this other character—this poor speechless guy who gets roughed up and tossed out for a reason that’s difficult to fathom.
Matthew’s allegory would have made much more sense had we just lived through the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. If we were the first people hearing this, we would have understood that we are ones who have brought into the banquet after the troops had literally destroyed the city. We also would have understood this man without wedding robes as being one of those people who shows up but doesn’t actually do anything. 2000 years later, we just see some poor schlub who didn’t get the memo about the dress code, but in the first century, we might have understood the wedding robes as an allegory for “putting on Christ”—for really living out the Gospel. And we would have noticed that he’s also speechless—he doesn’t even give lip-service to the faith—we’re not supposed to do that. Whether we’re in the first century or the twenty-first century, we’re supposed to proclaim by word and deed the Good News of God in Christ. In other words, unlike this guy, we’re supposed walk the walk…and talk the talk…We are to live as Christ’s heart, and hands, and feet, and voice in the world…We’re to continue issuing this invitation to everyone.
Recently you should have received another invitation; an invitation to make a pledged financial commitment to All Saints next year. And as I wondered how I was going to spin this parable into a stewardship sermon, I thought: The core of this parable—not the allegory, but the parable—is this command “to go out and invite everyone.” Everyone. Good. Bad. Deserving. Underserving. Believers. Doubters…doesn’t matter. Everyone. And I remembered a quote attributed to Archbishop William Temple: “The Church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.”
What we do here…all that we do here—of course we all derive great benefit from it—or I hope we do—but what we do here, at this banquet, is not only for our benefit…it’s for the benefit of those who are not here…everyone else.
And then we buried a beloved member of the parish yesterday, I was thinking about all of the hundred and thousands of people that his life touched and changed. And because he was a teacher, I started thinking about all of the other teachers here…and all the students that the professors and teachers and day care workers among us have taught over the years…all of the clients that the lawyers here have helped, all of the patients seen by all of the doctors and nurses and physical therapists, and caregivers here…all of the customers, and co-workers, the bosses, and shopkeepers, and neighbors, and friends, the generations of extended families who have never set foot inside this building, but have nevertheless been touched and influenced by it because of your presence here. Because you have put on Christ and carry that Good News into the world…every day, through your lives and actions in the world.
And then reading through the stewardship materials—the beautiful letter, and the really cool infographic—I thought about all of people who have been involved in recovery programs here…all of the people who have found community and artistic expression through participation in one of the choral and arts groups that meet here. The young artists who have gotten a start here…the clergy and lay ministers that have been raised up here…I thought of the Korean students who have found a home away from home, and the families who have found a nurturing place for their children here. I thought about all of the people at MANNA and Common Cathedral, and in Honduras, and Tanzania, and all the other places throughout the world where people from this congregation have traveled over the years…and I thought the individuals who occasionally drift in during the week because life has just gotten to be just a little too much, and they just need to sit in the peace and quiet of this space.
And as I imagined all of these connections rippling out from here I thought:
That’s quite a banquet.
That’s quite a story.
To be part of that?
That’s not an invitation I’m going to turn down. And I hope you don’t either.
I want to be a part of that, not just because of what I get out of it, but because of what everyone else gets out of it.
A pledge makes it possible for us to continue extending that invitation…to everyone…it means that those students, and clients, and families, and friends, and artists, and patients…and people in recovery…and people halfway across the world, and people just needing some place to rest can all be reminded that there is something good, and beautiful, and holy at the center of it all…That’s not an invitation I’m going to turn down, because I want everyone—especially those who aren’t here—to continue having access to this glorious, life-changing, life-affirming banquet.