Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for 19th Pentecost

Many are called, All are chosen
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -
 

I really like Jesus’ parable of the banquet. You may like and remember it, too. A man invites many people to what Jesus calls a “great banquet.” When it comes time for the banquet to begin, he has his servants go out to gather his guests. One by one they make excuses – new property, new cattle, new marriage. The man is not happy. He tells his servants to go out and invite “the poor and the maimed and the blind and the lame” to his festival dinner. His servants do so and come back to tell their master that there is still room. So the man tells them to go out onto the highways and invite everyone to come and be filled with food.

 

I really like that story. The heavenly banquet. Everyone welcome, you and me and a special welcome to the poor. I picture in my mind a huge table, loaded with food, with people of all races and ethnicities, rich and poor, gathered around the table, eating and celebrating.

 

There is even a children’s song about it called “I Cannot Come” and those words stick in my head:

I cannot come to the banquet, don’t trouble me now, I have married a wife, I have bought me a cow. I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum. Please hold me excused, I cannot come.

 

Yes, I really like Jesus’ parable of the great banquet.

 

But, unfortunately for us this weekend, that story is how Luke describes Jesus’ banquet parable. In today’s text from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ banquet story is far different.

 

In Matthew, the dinner is not just any banquet but a marriage feast for the king’s son. While some of the story is similar to Luke’s Jesus great banquet parable, Matthew’s is much more violent and judgmental. In Matthew the guests, similar to Luke, all have excuses for not attending but here in Matthew the guests kill the king’s servants who are trying to gather in the guests and the king then sends troops to kill them all and burn their city to the ground.

 

Similar to Luke’s story, the King then has his servants go out into the streets to gather others into his son’s marriage feast. But, in a hateful twist from Luke’s telling of this story, Matthew then has the king single out a guest who is not well dressed and has his servants tie this man up and throw him out.

 

And then Matthew ends the parable with words that have been used in judgment by Christians for centuries – “For many are called but few are chosen!”

 

This does not sound like Gospel language to me. And it is not Gospel language.

 

What is going on here?

 

Again, as we did last week, we must look at the context for this lesson, both in Jesus’ time on earth and in the time of Matthew the Gospel writer. This text is not a parable about the kingdom of heaven. It is and would have been heard by Jesus’ listeners and Matthew’s community, as a parable of judgment against the Pharisees and Roman rulers, those ruling religion and life in Jesus’ day.

 

Think of the king in this story as Nero or Herod or Herod’s son, all cruel Roman rulers. Nero letting Rome burn, Herod killing all the children under age two in Bethlehem. You get the idea. This is not a parable of God’s kingdom, but a condemnation, a mirror if you will, of the reality of New Testament times.

 

And who is the wedding guest without a proper garment, the one tied up and thrown out because he was not dressed appropriately for a wedding? That is John the Baptist, that is Jesus.

 

And the famous” tag” line, “For many are called, but few are chosen?” That is not Jesus giving us a Gospel message or a description of his kingdom. That is Jesus putting down the reality of religious and civic life in New Testament times, when only the “few” ruled religion and life for the masses.

 

So, where is the Gospel, the Good News, for us in today’s texts? I find it in our second lesson, from the letter of St. Paul to the Christians at Philippi. Listen to Paul’s words to these early Christians:

 

“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. Do not worry about anything. Let your requests be known to God. Be thankful. Pray.”

 

Paul knew the unkind reality of Jesus’ and Matthew’s time. He came out of the cruel rulers of religion and life of their day. He was one of them. As Saul, Paul had even persecuted and killed Christians. He would have been seen as one of those chosen few by the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.

 

But now, as Paul the Christian, Paul exhorts the Christian community to rejoice, be gentle and worry free, pray and be thankful.

 

Gospel, Good News, words for Paul’s day and for ours.

 

The Good News is that, because of Jesus, many are called and all are chosen. Because of Jesus, God’s love, God’s salvation, is for everyone, you and me and everyone.

 

And, while we wait for this salvation, we have some direction from our king, Jesus: rejoice, be gentle, pray, be thankful, invite everyone to join your table.

 

You will not hear many words of gentleness or inclusion or invitation in public discourse today. They are not the words of politics or modern rulers, some who think of themselves as the “kings” of our time. And, it is tempting, easy, to buy into their culture – build more walls, shut others out, cut them off, welcome only those like us. More guns, more violence, more hate.

 

Instead, Paul invites us, urges, us to rejoice, be gentle, pray, be thankful, invite everyone to our table. Those are not the words of the time of Roman rulers or of our times. But they are the words of the Christian community, of our community, and should be the words of you and me. Gentleness, thankfulness, prayerfulness, invitation.

 

For, many are called and all are chosen.

 

Amen

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Oct 15, 2017


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