The chosen hymns for this week,When the roll is called up yonder and In Christ alone can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
Who’s going to the party?
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday for 11th October.
So what is heaven like?
Well for one thing we know that it isn’t run by the Conservative Government in England, the SNP in Scotland or the Labour Party in Wales.
We know that because one of the images of heaven is of a giant choir that is singing God’s praises, and under all those other governments that wouldn’t be allowed.
I find it strangely reassuring that the powers on earth are not in control in heaven.
In our reading today Amanda is going to tell of a parable of Jesus where Jesus talks of Heaven, more importantly, or so it initially seems, of those that aren’t part of it.
The thing is, when Jesus talked about heaven, which we think of someplace that we hope to go to in the future, he was usually also talking of the Kingdom of God, which is something that we are part of now.
What is more worrying about this parable, is the impression of the person in charge.
But think about his as you hear it, why do we always think in these parable about which one we might be, and how we react in the situation, when obviously the parable is about God and what he is like?
Amanda: Reading Matthew 22: 1-14
If there was ever a parable that needs background it is this one.
At first glance the king seems horrible.
He invites people to his son’s wedding and they can’t go for various reasons.
He gets angry at them even though they pass on their apologies because they are so busy.
So the king then invites all the poor folk.
But when the wedding starts he notices that one of the poor folk is wearing terrible clothes, so he gets angry again and chucks the guy out. How could he do that? Poor folk have poor cloths, what does he expect?
So we read this passage and get the impression that heaven is run by a really angry person, a leader who will turn on you at the drop of a hat if you say or do the wrong thing, someone who is waiting for you to fail.
Worse than that, someone who is looking for excuses not to let people in.
And if we are honest that is the way some of us feel God is like.
There are many who are not really happy being Christians, they are fearful Christians, scared that they might accidentally do the wrong thing and God will punish them; worse than that God is sitting there just waiting for them to make a mistake so that he can punish them.
They believe the reality is that God doesn’t really want them in the kingdom; God believes they are not good enough to be part of the kingdom, and only by reaching standards that are near impossible can we be part of that kingdom.
If that is the way you feel, or if you are worried deep down that maybe God could be like that, then I want to assure you that you are wrong.
Yes, this is a parable about heaven and God.
But this is one of those rare times when having a bit of background helps to explain the parable.
Heaven is like a wedding feast.
Let’s be honest, who doesn’t like free food and drink?
What is more, weddings are happy occasions.
People love a good wedding, especially when you’re not the one getting married.
I’ll be honest; I enjoyed my daughter’s wedding more than I enjoyed my own.
I know that it’s meant to be the happiest day of your life but the truth is there is a lot of pressures on you if you are the one getting married.
You’re the one that is worried that it will be sunny so you can get decent photos.
You’re the one worried that everyone will get on and the two sides of the family don’t squabble.
You’re the one that has to organise everyone else, making sure the minister is the right one and the best men and bridesmaids don’t get drunk and making sure all the outfits fit.
And as well as all of that, you’re the one everyone is staring at and asking if you are having a good time.
Whereas at my daughter’s wedding I could just watch them worrying about all of that and enjoy the free food and Iron Bru.
And this isn’t any wedding; this is the king’s sons wedding.
So the very best of everything will be there; the best music, the best company, the best food, the best atmosphere.
And of all the people he could invite, he invites you.
This means that the king knows you by name.
The king cares about you; you are under the king’s protection.
This is all good.
This is where a bit of background now helps with the parable.
The king doesn’t just invite these people. These people have been invited and accepted the invite months ahead.
The king never sent one invite, the king sends many invites.
The first one is months ahead to tell them of the wedding.
Nearer the time the king would send out another invite.
This was a time when there were no fridges and everything was prepared on the day. Think about that. You don’t go to the fridge and get out the cut of meat that you want to use. You don’t even go to the butchers to get the best cuts of meat.
You go to the field and pick which cows are going to be eaten. Then you have to slaughter them and drain them of blood.
Then you butcher them, then prepare them and cook them. You know how long that takes?
The king would send out his other invite to say that they had started to prepare the food so it was time to get ready. At that point an invite is given again and that one was accepted.
Then the third invite is given. This invite tells the people that the meal is nearly ready so they should start to travel to the wedding....that is the invite that is talked about here, that is the invite that is rejected.
It is when that messenger comes to tell them it is time to travel to the party that they then tell them that they are not coming.
And the excuses they give, they are just insults.
They deliberately let the king spend all the money on the festivities, they could have told the king they weren’t coming but they let him waste all that time and effort and energy, just so that it would ruin his son’s day.
Worse than that, they are saying that not only are they not coming to the king’s sons wedding, they are saying they want nothing to do with the king, they want someone else to be king, they trust someone else to protect and rule them.
I remember talking to one of my elders in Castlemilk West.
And he said, ‘I can’t understand why people don’t want faith. I don’t know how I could survive the things this world flings at me without the strength of God to help me.’
And to be honest I feel a wee bit like that about these people that Jesus is talking about.
These are people that don’t want to be under the king’s protection.
These are people who have no respect for the king; people who would rather live life on their own, trusting in their own strength and power and wisdom.
On the comforting side this isn’t a king who is waiting for people to fail so that he can punish them; this is a king who sends out his messengers again and again and again to give the people a chance to be part of something special.
So the first message Jesus gives us is that God is offering us chance after chance after chance to be part of His community.
‘Hold on,’ I hear you say, ‘What about the poor guy? The king never gave him a chance.’
Well that’s not true either, if you know the background.
Matthew, the writer, was talking to a mixed group of people. The early church was made up of Jews and Gentiles. Jews who believed that they always had God’s favour and gentiles, people who thought they were poor second best in God’s eyes.
So to the first lot Matthew is saying, ‘Yes you have been given chance after chance after chance.’
But then he talks to the gentiles, those that think that they are the poor second cousins.
They feel as if they have been invited late to the party.
What if they get it wrong?
Say something unintentionally insulting?
Do the wrong thing when they don’t know what the right thing to do is?
Have you ever felt that about your faith?
That you’re not too sure if you doing it right?
Well again this is a comforting message to you.
You see the person the king rejects isn’t rejected because he has poor clothes.
The custom in those days was that when you were invited to the wedding, everything was laid on for you, and I mean everything, not just the food and drink and entertainment, that also included the clothes.
So when this man arrived at the wedding the King would have given him the finest of clothes so that he would fit in.
This man decides that he can’t be bothered with the king’s gifts, that the king’s choice isn’t good enough, that his rags are better than the king’s finest clothes.
Again this is a deliberate rejection of king. The king is offering the man everything he needs, and the man is telling the king to get lost.
So to the gentiles Matthew is saying, ‘These that the king rejects are those that reject the king. They have decided not to follow the path the king has set for them. They are deliberately flaunting the guidance the king has for them.’
And again I would ask of us. If God has the best path for us, why would we think we could do a better job?
I don’t know about you but with everything that has happened this year, the last thing I want is to do things on my own intuitive.
In fact, if I am honest, I think I have consulted more about decisions concerning my life and the churches life than at any other time in my ministry. This pandemic has driven me closer to God, because I want his advice, I want to talk to others in the church and seek God’s guidance through them.
And he more I have done that, the more hopeful I have been that we are doing the right thing.
Let me sum up why this passage is so hopeful for us.
Jesus was adamant that heaven, the kingdom of God, was something that we could begin to experience now.
That being the case maybe the most reassuring thing about this parable is that it tells us we have a majestic God who is continually inviting us to be part of his kingdom. God is so keen to get us part of his kingdom that he comes to us again and again and again offering us the invite to be under his protection.
More than that; this is a king that is able to give us everything that we need so we can cope with the situation that we are in. We may be spiritually poor, we may not have much to offer, we may feel we will struggle to be good enough, but God not only offers us the food and drink and entertainment, he offers us the very cloths we need to wear, all we need to do is turn up and accept the gifts he offers us.
I find that truth something worth holding on to, especially in these times.
Let us pray.
We live in an ever divided world. The good and the bad, black and white, them and us.
Where we often want to put people into categories, you are a God who offers invites to all.
Where as we often look for excuses for cutting ourselves off from others, cutting ourselves off from caring for others, you are seeking ways to give to us that which we need.
The sad thing is that often we judge you; we feel you are too hard on us, expect too much from us.
While we are looking for anything that saves us having to own one another as family and justify withholding all that we feel we have earned.
And while we are busy hoarding, your children continue to suffer and we are too busy to notice far less make a difference.
Lord give us wider arms and bigger hearts and greater understanding to know that sharing what we have will not diminish us.
You bless us so that we might bless others.
May we be willing to know how to change things for good and how to empower others to enable change in their lives too.
This we ask in Jesus name, who showed us a glimpse of your generosity and compassion.
Before we go I would just like to remind you that if you want to be part of our live services then you can book a place for our 10.30am and 3pm Sunday services by phoning me at 01259 760262 between 6-9pm Monday to Friday.
May the faithfulness and promises of God keep you strong no matter what you face.
May God’s love overwhelm you with joy and grant you secure hope for the future.