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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

Many Are Called

 Many Are Called

Matthew 22:1-14

 

 Sunday, October 9, 2011

A little boy was attending his first wedding.  After the service, one of his friends asked about the service.  The friend asked, “How many women is a man allowed to marry?”  The child answered, “Sixteen.”  The friend was amazed at the high number and said, “How do you know that?”  The boy replied, “It’s easy.  All I have to do is add it up.  The minister said that the guy could marry 4 better, 4 worse, 4 richer and 4 poorer.”

In today’s parable Jesus is talking about the invitation to participate in the kingdom of God.  Those originally invited (The Israelites) had already accepted and tried to live by God’s covenant, but when it came time for them to accept the call to the kingdom through Jesus, they refused to come.  So others (believing Jews and Gentiles) were invited and accepted the invitation.  But I was most intrigued by the one who came to the wedding feast without the proper attire.  He was thrown out quite harshly.  We can assume that the wedding feast was a call to the last judgment and only those manifesting authentic Christian faith in deeds of love and justice could be chosen for that feast.  So I suggest we take a closer look at what that might mean.

I used to walk slowly and meditatively in Monroe, in southern Michigan behind the Immaculate Heart of Mary convent.  There was a road going from the convent to a retreat center, about a mile long, fairly isolated, going past growing corn, woods, a cemetery and a pond.  I did this every Friday no matter what the weather was like.  The most difficult times walking were those winter months, but I would put on 2 layers of socks, 2 pairs of pants and snow pants, a t-shirt, a heavy sweatshirt, a thin nylon jacket, a heavy winter coat, 2 hats, the hood of my coat pulled tightly around my face, a neck scarf, a pair of glove and a pair of heavy mittens.  Most of the stuff I donned after getting out of my car and looking like a roly poly blob I would begin the walk down and back.  If I had tried to do anything other than walk I would have been out of luck.

Sometime later I decided that would make a good sermon about the burdens we wear that interfere with our ability to function as effective Christians.  Each piece of clothing I equated to a different burden we are likely to carry with us.  For instance one pair of socks would represent anger at a friend for saying an unkind word to us, another pair would represent a failure we had experienced that weighed on us.  The boots represented a loss of someone significant, snow pants would be a fear we have experienced.  In turn the other articles of clothing represented something else weighing us down.  It became apparent as I put on more and more of those clothes that my freedom of movement was diminishing.  By the time I put on the neck scarf and wrapped it around my mouth, I not only could not move, but couldn’t talk either.  There in front of the congregation stood this quite ineffective preacher, burdened by the mass of clothing surrounding her.  Then as I removed the scarf and could talk again I began to talk about how we can rid ourselves of all that entraps us in the way of burdens by giving them over to God.  When all the winter wrappings were removed I was able to move about freely, unburdened by all that weight.

So I get back to the man who showed up at the wedding feast in the wrong attire.  Maybe he was burdened by life’s difficulties so much that he could not engage in the appropriate activities, could not do what God was calling him to do.  Maybe he was so preoccupied with the unimportant things that he could not see the important stuff of the kingdom.  For some reason he could not conform his life to the gospel message.  Whatever the reason he had no excuse, could not come up with a reason why he had not worn the appropriate clothes.

You see, the invitation is to a feast of joy.  Several years ago there was a story about a church that wanted to build next to a bar.  In that state there was a law that said you couldn’t build a bar next to a church.  But there was no law saying you couldn’t build a church next to a bar.  The bar owner tried to keep the church from building there.  He was afraid that the cranky, stick-in-the-mud church members would constantly be calling the police because of the crowds and noise next door.  It is common for people to call the police because of crowds and noise, but how often do we hear of people calling the police because of the crowds and noise at churches?  Wouldn’t it be something if our neighbors had to call the police about us, complaining that there was too much celebrating going on?

We can’t be joyous when we carry possessively the things we seem to value in this life, when we fail to let those things go in order to partake of the treasure in front of us.  The sad thing about life is that we so often shut out the best things in life with the second best things.  It is the things that are good in life that shut out and keep us from partaking of the things that are supreme.  We are so busy making a living that we fail to make a life.  The treasures of the kingdom far outweigh the things of this world, but what do we spend the most time and preoccupation with?  We would rather focus on eating the good things of this life than tasting the superb food of the Spirit.  We can only come to the kingdom and partake of its riches if we empty ourselves and make room for the abundance of what God can provide.  The door is open, but not for the sinner to come and remain a sinner, but for the sinner to come and become a saint.

The man who was thrown out, the one who wore inappropriate clothes most likely could not give up what he was hoarding for himself including his burdens.  He could not set those aside, or could not see through those things to see what lay around him at the feast. 

We are called to a feast as we are invited to take Jesus seriously.  But we have so many things vying for our attention in life, burdens that keep us from participating in the kingdom fully, things that keep us from experiencing the joy of living with Jesus in our lives.  Accepting the Christian life doesn’t mean that we are always going to feel joy or never going to experience the pains of life.  We are human after all.  But we can participate with much more joy and satisfaction than we are currently experiencing.    

When I took those walks in the winter months on the coldest of days, it wasn’t until I took those outer garments off, that I realized what a burden they had been and when I felt the peace of God more fully.  It was then I could pour that cup of hot coffee and breathe in the fresh air surrounding me.  It was then I could sit down and truly meditate and know that God was with me, could clear my mind and recharge for the work of the kingdom.

God has garments for us to put on—garments of the heart and mind and soul, garment of expectation, joy, penitence, faith and reverence.  I wonder what our worship would be like on Sunday morning if we paid more attention the putting on the garments of prayer, thought and self examination than we did to what physical garments we are going to wear.  What would happen if we said a prayer like this before we came to worship, “God I know I haven’t paid much attention to You this week, and I’ve carried a few too many burdens.  Help me to clear my mind, to let go of those burdens trusting You will care for them, and to come expectantly, ready to receive the nourishment only You can give me.  This is Your time, O God!  All else I give to You so You can give to me.  Help me to prepare to receive it in thanksgiving and gratitude.”

Then I believe we will have truly come to the feast prepared for us any morning we come to worship.  What a celebration we would have.


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