Category: Sunday Morning Sermon
Speaker: Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
Lectionary 28 Pentecost 19A
October 15, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church
Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
I was in a hotel entering an elevator when I saw a small handwritten note posted on the wall: “Party Tonight! Room 410. 9:00 p.m. Everyone Invited!”
Wow! Who would ever risk throwing a party like that? I imagined the strange assortment of people who might show up. There would be the sales representatives seeking a little relief from the tedium of the road. A vacationing couple tired of sightseeing. A man stopping overnight in the middle of a long journey, looking for a bit of festivity. A few inquisitive and wary hotel employees. And some college kids always up for a party and curious about what was happening in Room 410.
However, a few hours later the sign by the elevator was gone, replaced by a typewritten statement from the motel staff explaining that the original notice was a practical joke. That made sense, but in a way it was too bad. For a brief moment I was fascinated by the possibility that there just might be a party going on somewhere to which all were invited, a party where it didn’t make much difference who you were when you walked in the door but only what happened after you arrived. There are no parties like this anywhere. . . . Wait a second! There is one exception. There is a place where parties like this happen . . . in the church!
Jesus is always talking about parties and going to parties. When Jesus invites people to follow him, He invites them to a party. It was at the wedding at Cana that Jesus miraculously transforms water into wine, so that everyone can keep on partying. Jesus takes the smarmy, despised tax collector, Zaccheus, out to dinner, does some partying and so changes Zaccheus’ life the he pays back all his victims with interest. Jesus’ enemies criticized him for too much partying with the wrong kind of people. To answer his critics, Jesus he tells three parables: about a lost coin, lost sheep and lost son. Each story ends with a party.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells another parable about a party. A King is determined to throw a wedding banquet, for his son. Despite numerous setbacks, he will not give up and refuses to have his plans thwarted by a bunch of party poopers. His first invitation to the wedding banquet is ignored by those who have got better things to do. He issues a second invitation emphasizing how hard he has worked to make this an unforgettable party. “Look, I have prepared my dinner. My oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered. Everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet!” Again those invited are unimpressed. Even worse, when you don’t like the message, you kill the messenger, which is exactly what they did. The King did not take such an insult lying down. They pay for their insolence with their blood.
Still determined have his party, the King issues a third invitation. Unlike the first two invitations, he gives this invitation not to privileged insiders, his friends or people with the right social connections, but to everyone, “both good and bad,” people who under normal circumstances the King would never invite to an event like this, the ancient equivalent of the party in Room 410 at 9:00 p.m.!
Jesus is in the business of turning our assumptions about what matters and what does not up-side-down and inside-out. Jesus once told another story about a Pharisee and tax collector who went up to the temple in Jerusalem. The Pharisee was admired and respected. He took his religious commitments and responsibilities seriously. The tax collector was a despised traitor and thief, the last kind of person who would ever want to be in the presence of God. Yet Jesus declares that the tax collector is closer to the Kingdom of God than the Pharisee.
In the parable of the Prodigal Son the younger son insulted his father by demanding his inheritance and then blowing it all on wild living. He was the bad boy who left home. The older son was the good boy who stayed home to help his dad, who carried out the garbage, washed the dishes, mowed the lawn and said his prayers every night before bed. Yet in the end he was the one who refused to party and celebrate the return of his younger brother.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan it was not the pious priest or Levite who helped the man lying in the ditch beaten by robbers. The hated Samaritan was the one who cared for his neighbor.
In today’s Gospel Jesus does it again. He tells this story to show that He has come to invite everyone to the party, both good and bad, even those who don’t deserve it.
Grace is not a matching grant!
What do we HAVE TO do to be saved? What do we HAVE TO do to merit an invitation to the party? NOTHING! Jesus invites everyone. We GET TO believe that! There’s a party in Room 410 tonight at 9 p.m. Everyone is invited!
But what about this fellow who came to the wedding banquet without a wedding robe? He got bounced. Worse than that, he was bound hand and foot and thrown into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
What is going on here? Does this mean that grace is still a matching grant? Do we still HAVE TO do something to get into the party? You still GOTTA dress right or you don’t get in?
No. That is not what is going on here. This is simply another example of how this king is determined to have a party no matter what. The King eliminates what would probably be the biggest excuse for not coming: that someone does not have the right clothes to wear to the party. He heads that excuse off at the pass by providing WITH the invitation a tux for the guys and an evening gown for the ladies. No one would have to stay away because they did not look good enough. Everyone can come in style.
Can you imagine how thrilled the King must have felt when he entered that packed wedding hall? There was the bag lady. There was the homeless man who lives in the alley. And there was the stinking drunk, the grimy laborers with dirt under their fingernails, and the latest group of ex-cons released from prison. There they all were, all dressed as if they had just been on a shopping spree at Nordstrom! The King loves it all until he sees . . . this guy, who didn’t bother to wear his tux. There he was, grinning like a fool, convinced that his own threads were good enough.
“How did you get in here without the tux I gave you?” The fellow was speechless. He must have thought, “Why do I need your tux? Am I not good enough just the way I am? Can’t the King see that I am already a sharply dressed man?”
The King was insulted. Who did this arrogant fellow think he was? The King sent his attendants to bind the little snot hand and foot and throw him into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Doesn’t this uppity party guest sound familiar? “Jesus loves me just the way I am.” “God loves me unconditionally no matter what!” There is just enough truth here to make it sound good. However, it sounds and looks just like the fellow who showed up at the party without the tux. The grace of God becomes nothing more than a license to remain the same old jerk. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it “cheap grace.” W. H. Auden expressed the same wrongheaded idea when it put it on the lips of the streetwise corner newsboy who upon learning of the grace of God declares, “What a deal! God loves to forgive sins. I love to commit them. Isn’t the world admirably arranged?” God’s forgiveness becomes just another excuse for us to remain the same old rascals.
The bad news is that we are not good enough. We will never get into the party without being dressed up. The good news is that God has given us stunning new clothes so that we can join the party. God wants to pack the reception hall. God supplies a tux so that each guy can be a sharply dressed man. God delivers a party dress so that each girl can be a beautiful debutante. God promises to cover up all the ugliness . . . with Christ!
There may not be a party in Room 410 at 9:00 p.m. tonight. But there is a party at 600 North Ford Rd. in Zionsville, Indiana at Christ Lutheran Church starting in about 7 minutes at that table. The host wants you to know, “I have prepared my dinner. My oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered. My body has been broken and my blood has been shed . . . for you in Christ! Put him on. Everything is ready. Let’s party!”