Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Off the Guest List

Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14
October 12, 2014
© 2014

Preachers are encouraged to start sermons by telling a good story to engage the congregation. Much of Jesus’ preaching and teaching was nothing but telling stories, which we preachers feel obligated to explain even though Jesus seldom did. What better way to start today’s sermon than one of Jesus’ stories! To better appreciate how Jesus made his points with surprising twists and turns, as you listen to Matthew 22:1-14, keep in mind that for Jesus’ Jewish listeners, a “king” was despised and feared, either a Gentile oppressor or a puppet who betrayed their people to appease Rome.
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.
7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’
10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 
14For many are called, but few are chosen.”
I’m going to try not to explain Jesus’ story too much but prod you into thinking about it, at least for the rest of today. Jesus’ listeners might have thought of Herod as the king in the story and said, “I wouldn’t go to his wedding banquet if you paid me. More power to those who were brave enough to torture and kill his slaves!” They would have expected such a king to kill someone who insulted him. For Jesus to use a king like that as a picture of God would have astounded and jolted their thinking. They would also have known that the story doesn’t hang together as a realistic, chronological narrative. That wasn’t the point. The Temple leaders quickly figured out that Jesus was critiquing their stewardship of Israel’s spiritual legacy and wanted to arrest him. (21:45-46; 22:15) This was just one of several stories Jesus told to say that God welcomes spiritually needy, broken, disreputable people instead of pious and self-righteous people, which the Temple leaders found to be insulting.
Jesus clearly aimed this story, and its companions, at the Temple leaders but with awareness that many other people who were listening who felt excluded by the Temple leaders. They knew they were both good and bad.
The man who got into the wedding banquet without a wedding robe adds another twist to the story. His speechlessness seems to suggest that he hadn’t realized the grace of being invited but knew he was out of place.
I want to be cautious about using images from other parts of Scripture to over-allegorize this story. But we are hearing it as those who have found ourselves unexpectedly at God’s wedding banquet, whom Jesus assumed were listening but did not address. I suggest that Philippians 4:1-9 is a good guide for how we who were not on the original guest list can be good guests at God’s wedding banquet.
Verses 2-3 tell us that guests at God’s wedding banquet, get along with the other guests. Notice that Paul didn’t tell Euodia or Synthyche that one was right and the other wrong. He didn’t say they had to agree about everything but to be of one mind in the Lord. He also told his “loyal companion” to help them. We all need help sometimes.
Verses 4-7 tell us that guests at God’s wedding banquet, do not need to worry about anything. We can ask for what we need with joy and gratitude, confident God provides.
Verses 8-9 tell us that guests at God’s wedding banquet, learn to think the way God thinks. I remember my first encounters with computer technology when I worked as a magazine editor forty some years ago. We kept subscriber information on a huge computer that seemed to always have some glitch. I learned the expression GIGO: garbage in - garbage out. Paul is telling us how to feed our minds so godliness comes out when we are under stress.
Highlands Christian Church is one of many gatherings of guests for God’s wedding banquet. We’re starting our 2014 stewardship emphasis this week when we are in the middle of transitions that could distract us from the unity, from joy and gratitude, and from learning to think like God. Stewardship is not so much about money as about being God’s good guests.
Obviously, we are in the midst of the interim journey between pastors, with all the attendant feelings of insecurity. I know your Search and Call Committee has been praying to be of one mind, as a congregation and as a committee, about the one whom God has called to be your next pastor. This is a time to step up stewardship so the S&C Committee can offer that candidate a package that says “we want you,” not just “we hope we can afford you.” Also stepped up stewardship on the interim journey provides the resources to jump start new ministries.
The storm damage that put us in the middle of a disruptive and expensive renovation could spark grumbling and disagreements. If we remember we are God’s guests, we are invited to let go of worry and make our requests to God with joy and thanksgiving. Yes, even as you make your pledges for 2015, ask God if you should include something extra to help with those expenses.
As guests at God’s wedding banquet who were not on the original guest list, we learn to think like God, welcoming the good and the bad to share the banquet with us. Our stewardship is not about making ourselves comfortable but hospitably including all whom God calls.
Vachel Lindsay’s 1913 poem, General William Booth Enters Into Heaven, tells Jesus’ story from the perspective of someone who devoted his life and legacy to inviting as many of the good and bad as possible to God’s wedding banquet. William Booth founded the Salvation Army in that is still inviting as many good and bad as possible to God’s banquet.
[To be sung to the tune of The Blood of the Lamb with indicated instrument]
Booth led boldly with his big bass drum—   
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)   
The Saints smiled gravely and they said: “He’s come.”   
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)   
Walking lepers followed, rank on rank,   
Lurching bravoes from the ditches dank,   
Drabs from the alleyways and drug fiends pale—   
Minds still passion-ridden, soul-powers frail:—   
Vermin-eaten saints with mouldy breath,   
Unwashed legions with the ways of Death—   
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)   
Every slum had sent its half-a-score   
The round world over. (Booth had groaned for more.) 
And when Booth halted by the curb for prayer   
He saw his Master thro’ the flag-filled air.   
Christ came gently with a robe and crown   
For Booth the soldier, while the throng knelt down.   
He saw King Jesus. They were face to face,   
And he knelt a-weeping in that holy place.   
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

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