If you have ever been married and gone through with all of the “traditional” regalia that goes along with a wedding, you know how truly stressful this so called “blessed event” can really be. I always tell couples that if they don’t think about eloping to Vegas at least once before the wedding then they are probably not doing it right. There are a lot of details to remember, there are the obnoxious amount of people you have to invite, and then there’s the food. I always joke with Chris that the next time I get married that I am going to elope. Granted, I don’t plan on getting married again, so that won’t be a problem. Of course, our wedding was no exception. We had hundreds on the guest list. We had carefully picked out cake flavors, the menu, the bar menu, and had several of my nannie’s friends (and my own family) making over 200 dozen Italian cookies. We worked on a seating chart for hours (because this person can’t sit at the same table as this person) and in the middle of it all, we had to retreat to our basement because there was a tornado. My most vivid dream as we got closer and closer to the wedding was that all of my family and all of our guests were not only late to the wedding but they all showed up wearing cut off jean shorts and raggedy t-shirts. I woke up furious. A wedding is stressful, to say the least. We want always seem to want a group of imperfect people to pull off a perfect occasion. This rarely, if ever, happens.
I think that sometimes my job as a pastor is to give you permission to be a theologian of the cross. Now, before you start giving me strange looks, a theologian of the cross is what I hope all of us can be. We point to the cross, as Martin Luther would say, as the only source of who God is and how God acts. The opposite of this is being a theologian of glory. That idea puts more emphasis on human abilities and human reason. And sometimes, we say that as a theologian of the cross, we need to call something what it is. So, since we should all aim to be theologians of the cross, let’s call this Gospel text today what it is: weird and disturbing. I want to give you permission to argue with the Bible. That doesn’t mean that we think what is written here is wrong, but it is good for us sometimes to say “that makes me uncomfortable” or “that seems a little extreme” or even “that would never happen in our time.” The Bible is a living, breathing, document, friends. It begs for us to interact with it. Think about reading the Bible as having coffee or tea with a trusted and dear friend. If you disagree, say so. This text is strange and disturbing!
In a way, I can understand what the king said or does, right? He planned a big party and he wanted this banquet hall full. And I think that part of what makes this reading so challenging is that we may see ourselves in many places throughout this story. Do you see yourself as the king, throwing the big party and then disappointed when the people you hoped would come, the people you invited to come, didn’t show up? Or maybe you see yourself as the people who were supposed to come to the party but didn’t. We get busy, it’s a fact of life, something may have come up. Maybe you wanted to go to the party or maybe you just wanted a quiet night at home; either way, you didn’t go to the party. Perhaps you see yourself as the people invited the second time around. Maybe you are that person that showed up dressed inappropriately. Remind me to tell you all about the first time I met Chris’ parents and I was so embarrassed because of what I was wearing.
In some ways, I think this text today is about judgement. We may judge the king for what he does. We may judge the guests who were invited for not coming in the first place (I mean, you probably did RSVP, after all) and we may also judge them for being so violent. We may judge those who were out in the street and got invited. Why would you want to go? You weren’t good enough to go the first time. Maybe we’re judging the person who didn’t know how to dress for a wedding. Or maybe, just maybe, this text makes us uncomfortable because we all have been in a place where we have been the ones being judged.
We worry: what if we’re not the ones invited? What if someone finds out I’m not who I am trying so hard to portray myself to be? What does it mean to be worthy of a call? What if there is a party going on and I am left out? What if we’re the ones that have shown up to the wedding (or wherever) and we’re wearing the wrong clothes? Or what if we say the wrong thing? Or what if we get seen talking to the wrong person? What if we’re the ones that are thrown out of the party? Or what if, dare we even say it, what if the final banquet table is set and as we look around we notice that there is not enough room for us–in fact, it doesn’t even look like we’ve been invited.
There are a few things in this text today that should offer us comfort. First of all, everyone is invited. Now, not everyone stays in the story, but everyone is invited. God invites all of us, in one way or another, to a fuller life in God. And the good news for all of us is that we will never be kicked out of God’s kingdom for what we have done or not done. In our baptism, we were clothed in Christ. You may not realize it, but you’re already wearing the most fabulous garment ever–Christ!
God calls us into a new reality. God calls us into a place where the waters wash away our sins and forgiveness is plentiful. God calls us to a banquet table so beautiful our eyes can hardly believe it. God calls us into life and it is life abundant. God calls us into a new reality where justice and mercy prevail and no one will ever be left out. No one. And that is good news and that may also be news that makes us nervous. Because if no one is left out, that really means no one. That means we may dine with those whom we dislike. That means we may come to the font and be washed in the same waters that splashed our enemies. That means our place in the kingdom is next to and equal to those whom we think shouldn’t be there.
Brothers and sisters, our Psalm today, that Psalm that brings us so much comfort in so many times has an interesting first line that we should dwell upon: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” If the Lord is our shepherd and provides us with everything we could ever possibly need, are we going to trust that shepherd, or are we going to be quick to jump up and say, “well, actually Lord…it should really be this way….” God calls us into a new reality where all our needs are met, where we are given abundant life, where forgiveness and mercy are highways to reconciliation, where we will want for nothing. It’s a party you already RSVP’d to through your baptismal waters and through the promises made. This new reality, this abundant life, all of it that God calls us to, we’ve already said “yes.” It’d be kind of ridiculous for us to say no and not show up to take the challenge now.
Is it going to be comfortable? Well, not all the time. Is it going to be a challenge? Perhaps. But, when you are being fed on the body of the one who gave himself up for you so that you wouldn’t have to suffer even a millisecond, almost everything seems possible. God loves you, friends. The judgement that you feel has been cast on you is there because you placed it on yourself. God has already forgiven you for whatever you can’t forgive yourself for. Your life is not destined to end with a cross–that’s already been done. Your life is destined to end with an invitation. Come, be washed. Come, be fed. Come, be loved. There is no catch.