Jesus said, The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a certain King, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come.
We cannot overestimate the importance of eating and drinking together for the life of the Church. In Trinity season alone eight of the Gospels are about eating and drinking. This is the second wedding feast in Trinity. Indeed, the Son of Man has come unto his own, eating and drinking.
A few years back I read Eamon Duffy’s, The Voices of Morebath. The book is based on events of parish life recorded by the vicar of Morebath, Christopher Trachay, from 1520 till his death in 1574. He was Morebath’s one and only priest through the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor, and Queen Elizabeth. Morebath had about 150 parishioners and their priest kept records. Whether it was a representative of the Crown holding court to settle parish disputes, regulating the common obligations of the people to the Crown, the Church or one another — in Morebath there was no distinction drawn between the community at prayer and the “community going about its business.” From births, baptisms, buying and trading, to building a common barn, fencing the sheep, feasting and fasting — life was a whole in Morebath. Next to the parish church, the most important building in the parish was the church’s alehouse, which is roughly equivalent to a parish hall or our undercroft. The big two-story hall was outfitted with cups and platters, long tables, chairs, benches and tablecloths — all church property that was available to parishioners for weddings and other gatherings. There was a big fireplace and a spit for cooking and the people of Morebath spent a lot of their time together in that place. Eating and drinking together has always been characteristic of church life.
Jesus said, The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a certain King, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servant to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come.
The Second Sunday of Trinity has this very parable given for the Gospel lesson from Luke. And here it is again today! Why? Why do we have to think about this specific narrative again? I want to suggest to you that one reason this parable continues to have importance in our life is because we are we are in a similar position to the original audience. The original audience was Jesus’ disciples, and the parable acknowledged and explained why the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus. Jesus probably used this parable in his sermons in the synagogues, but Matthew tells us Jesus told this parable the very last week of his life, right after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his cleansing of the Temple. Both those events were triumphant, but they were not vanquishing. Surrounding those two light-filled events ranged vast pools of darkness. Remember that the blind, the crippled, the poor, the worthless, and unclean poured into Jerusalem from the villages and found him in the Temple. And he healed them all. And then the little children began to call him the Son of David. The Pharisees were furious. Jesus spoke directly to the Chief Priests and Israel’s leaders:
Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
Then Jesus told them this parable:
The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a certain King, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come.
And that is the main point of the parable: Israel rejected their King and their Messiah. They insulted the King who is God himself. They killed the King’s servants. Israel and her leader killed the prophets of the Old Testament and they made common cause with the tyrant Herod to kill John the Baptist, and now, finally their apostasy will reach its fullness in their attempt to kill their God, Jesus Christ.
There are three big lessons to learn from this parable. These are themes we have seen repeated over and over again throughout Trinity. How are God’s people supposed to live? First, by inference, we know that God’s people are to live with humility and generosity. Those who enter the Kingdom are humble and God is generous. Humility and generosity are marks of discipleship that imitate the Master. Not only will the disciple of Jesus live with true humility, but he will give everything, the whole wide universe, to the humble, the humiliated, those who have nothing to offer back. God honors the friend of the poor, the lame, and the blind, the losers of this world. Now here’s a point — and one that has been made throughout the Trinity season: Humility and generosity are at the very heart of how Jesus lived and how he taught his disciples to behave in this life. Jesus was himself humble and generous, and if you wish to follow him then you should pursue the virtues of humility and generosity.
Secondly, Jesus held up the failure of Israel’s leadership in the Parable of the Marriage Feast. According to the logic of the parable, most of the leaders of Israel would miss out on the Messianic banquet because they have other priorities. The good devoured the best. They all have excuses for turning down the host – Jesus the Messiah. Their rejection of God’s invitation reveals to the whole world just how profoundly Israel’s leaders have distorted God’s revelation to Abraham. God’s Promise to Abraham was a promise to the whole world, not only Israel and that fact is vividly portrayed in the blind and the lame, the unwashed and unwanted coming to Jesus in the Temple. There is a touch of irony here. Those who considered themselves to be true children of Abraham will be entirely excluded from the Kingdom of God, while those that they despised and shunned as worthless will take their seats in the most important meal of all time.
Here’s another point, an application to us, that has been made more than once in Trinity season: God Almighty will bring his purposes, his finality to perfection and fill the universe with his incarnate joy. Here is an invitation to self-examination. Here is a warning that we ought not be presumptuous of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Do I think that my salvation, my beatitude is so certain that I am beyond the common duties of every Christian? Do I think my service so necessary to God that I am released from the common life of the Church? Do I think I have some special claim upon the promises of Christ that sets me above others? This presumption of self-importance is condemned throughout the Scriptures. In the Gospel for today our Lord rings loud a warning to all who feel entitled, who are presumptuous, who think themselves preferred over others.
Then said he to his servants, the wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.
Many are called, but few are chosen. History is full of monuments to sin and unbelief. The branch of Israel is broken from the Vine of Life and the Gentiles are engrafted. This is a warning against dispositions of the mind and heart that spoil life — presumption, self-reliance, independence, and unbelief.
Of course, none of us believe we are like the Pharisees. We are more Christ-like, we are big-hearted, we are full of grace and mercy. We are not like the cold-blooded, judgmental Pharisees. We get the point that Jesus was making. But before we get too excited about all this take a look at the last scene:
And when the King came in to see the guests, he saw there a man, which had not on a wedding-garment. And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless. Then said the King to the servants: Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness…
How very disappointing of Jesus! Could this mean that God’s indiscriminate calling everyone in the world to his grace doesn’t mean that the Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of tolerance? Just when we thought the Kingdom of God would be wide-minded, non-judgmental, tolerant of everyone, here comes the King pushing his weight around. But that would be very wrong. Without exception the Church Fathers took the wedding garment to signify Holy Baptism and the heavenly virtues of faith, hope and love infused into the Christian at his baptism. The Gospel of God’s love and grace is realized through the grace of Holy Baptism. That does not mean that the sins of a Christian smell of roses by virtue of our baptism. It means that we do not have to sin. And it means that sin is no triviality. Holy Mother Church, through St. Paul, instructs us that Holy Baptism is the Sacrament of the New Birth that infuses us with the ability to actually avoid sin and love God with our whole heart and mind:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
God through Christ has saved us, God is saving us, and God will save us. We are not being saved all alone, but together, members of the Holy Catholic Church, the Family of God, the Body of Christ. The Anglicans of Morebath had a big two story alehouse outfitted with cups and platters, long tables, chairs, benches, tablecloths and big fireplace where the parishioners of Morebath ate together, worked together, grew together and enjoyed common life in Christ that was built upon common prayers of the Church. We have our Undercroft and our Agape and our home groups, our gifted teachers, our industrious and brilliant children, our acolytes, our servers and all our service committees, and our devoted Vestry. We have Ken and our glorious Choir and our beloved organist, Wallace who train us so that we actually render music of blended instruments and human voices — music that really is fit to offer up to the King of Glory. You have two full time priests whose lives are consecrated to the Blessed Trinity and to you — this blessed community of All Saints. And we have Father Dan whose wisdom and constancy fills my heart with gratitude, and we have Fr. Gene whose flashes of true theological brilliance is matched only by his authentic love for Christ and his Bride. And Fr. Mark our newest deacon.
The Church Fathers declared without exception: “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus” — “No salvation outside the Church.” No one is saved in isolated individualism. But neither is anyone saved by relinquishing personal responsibility. We are saved, we are being saved, and we shall be saved together, a members of Christ our Lord, the meek and harmless Lamb of God, the Shepherd of Israel who loves every single one as much as he does the whole. Holiness in our life together; holiness amongst our pagan neighbors, trust in God’s generosity, confidence in his chosen destiny for us, submission to his will, and the mutual humility -– that will rout the Devil and his attempts to turn the Kingdom of Light into another kingdom of darkness.