Live audio and manuscript of my sermon for March 24th, 2019. From an ongoing series, God’s Neighborhood: a visit with Matthew’s Gospel. This is lesson three of a five-week mini-series on the parables of Christ in Matthew.
An audio link is embedded below for those who’d like to listen.
A royal wedding in God’s Neighborhood
Today we’re three weeks deep into a study of the parables in Matthew’s Gospel. [Guide them to the parable we heard this morning]
Now, if you grew up watching Mr. Rogers, you remember his Neighborhood of Make-Believe. It gave young people a way to work through big ideas with their imaginations. Then they could take what they learned in the make-believe neighborhood and live it out in their lives and relationships in their real-life neighborhoods.
Jesus’ parables kind of work the same way. They’re his Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
So in the parable we heard today, Jesus asks us to make-believe that a king is preparing a great wedding feast for his son. So this king invites people from his neighborhood to the feast, to celebrate with them.
But very few of those invited to the wedding feast actually get to experience and enjoy it. So at the end of the story, Jesus says: Many people are invited, but few people are chosen.
God invites everyone into his Neighborhood to celebrate and feast. There’s a place at the table for everyone who wants to come and join the party.
But, sadly, it turns out that God’s Neighborhood is not for everyone. Because not everyone is willing to live in God’s Neighborhood, in God’s way.
Many who are invited will not come to the feast. And even those who come may not stay.
Now, Jesus says many are invited, but few are chosen. But as we will see, God chooses those who choose him. In our story, many people found themselves left out of the wedding feast. But they were all excluded by their own choices.
Who here wants to dwell in God’s Neighborhood, and feast at his table forever? Well, this story Jesus told shows us three essential lessons we’ll need to learn, so we can join in the feast in God’s eternal Neighborhood.
Here are three things this story teaches us:
- God’s Neighborhood is a feast.
- God is always inviting people to the feast.
- But God’s hospitality isn’t unconditional.
God is ready to welcome everyone to his feast in his Neighborhood. But God is also free to disinvite those who ignore his hospitality, or take advantage of it. You can wear out your welcome with God.
This story teaches us what a good, good Neighbor God is. But it also teaches us how to be good neighbors to God.
First: God’s Neighborhood is a feast, not a funeral
Listen to how Jesus began this parable. Matt. 22.2: The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding party for his son.
Or, as we’d say in this series, God’s Neighborhood is like a king who hosted a wedding feast for his Son.
Back then, wedding parties went on for days. Sometimes up to a week.
The whole neighborhood was invited, and maybe even people from other neighborhoods, too. So you’d get to meet new people, and catch up with old friends you hadn’t seen in a while.
And you’d feast on all this delicious, fancy food. And the wine would flow freely. And there was singing and dancing. It was just days and days of celebration.
Now, in the story, a king is hosting a wedding party for his son. [Slide 6] The king represents God. So his Son he’s hosting this wedding banquet for is Jesus.
So Jesus is telling us, If you want to know what God’s Neighborhood is like, make-believe you’re going to a wedding party. But not just any wedding party—a royal wedding party!
You know what I really love about that, and you should, too?
Jesus didn’t say God is inviting us to a religious festival.
Or a political fundraising dinner.
No! Jesus said that the King of the Universe invites us into his Neighborhood to celebrate a royal wedding! Okay, that’s kind of an intimate celebration, right? A wedding party is kind of a family and friends event, isn’t it?
Do you understand what God wants for us?
Through Jesus, God-with-us, God in the flesh, God has come into your neighborhood and my neighborhood, to reclaim and redeem our neighborhoods as his Neighborhood.
And through Jesus, God invites us into his life. God calls us into his life as neighbors, friends, and family. That’s what Jesus came to do.
God’s Neighborhood is a feast, not a funeral. You’re supposed to come running with joy when you hear him calling you!
You know, one day, every neighborhood will be God’s Neighborhood. If you read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, that’s the story it’s telling.
And when that day comes, oh—it’s going to be the most glorious royal banquet. Isaiah 25.6-8 spreads it all out for us. Oh, it makes my mouth water every time I read these words. This is from The Message:
will throw a feast for all the people of the world,
A feast of the finest foods, a feast with vintage wines,
a feast of seven courses, a feast lavish with gourmet desserts.
And here on this mountain, God will banish
the pall of doom hanging over all peoples,
The shadow of doom darkening all nations.
Yes, he’ll banish death forever.
And God will wipe the tears from every face.
When you read the Gospels, you notice how much of Jesus’ ministry involved food.
He did that one miracle where he fed 5000 people with a can of sardines and a pack of crackers he got from some kid’s lunch box.
The people out on the margins of polite society were always inviting Jesus over for dinner. And if they didn’t invite him, he’d invite himself. He wanted to make sure all those people who felt left out knew there was a place for them at God’s table, in God’s Neighborhood.
If there was a feast going on, Jesus showed up. And if there wasn’t a feast, he made one!
I’m pretty sure he did that to remind us of the passage we just heard from Isaiah. He wanted us to know that God is already calling us to his feast, in his Neighborhood.
Jesus wants us to live with our mouths watering for the day when God calls us to his forever feast. In the meantime, in God’s Neighborhood we can feast on God’s faithful love, on God’s promises, and the hope and the joy we have in Christ.
So God’s Neighborhood is a feast.
Which leads to the second lesson we learn from this parable:
God is always inviting people to his Son’s feast.
That’s the one thing God does over and over again in this story. Look at Matt. 22.3. It says the king sent his servants to call those invited to the wedding party.
Okay, here’s something you need to know to really understand what’s going on here. Back then, when you threw a wedding party, you didn’t send out an invitation with a date and time.
First you’d send out an RSVP, to figure out how many guests to expect. And then when everything was ready, you’d send out messengers to tell everyone, It’s time! Everything’s ready! Come to the feast!
So when the king sent his servants to call the people who’d been invited, it wasn’t a cold-call. These people were already invited, they’d already said yes to the invitation. But now, when it’s finally time for the feast—they’re all refusing to come.
Okay, these people who said yes to God’s invitation, but now they’re refusing to come to the feast—those were God’s people. These weren’t random unbelievers out in the world.
We’d call them church members today.
We’ll talk more about them—and them is us—in a little bit.
But the amazing thing is, God keeps on inviting them to the feast. He never stops inviting people until his feast is full.
God’s invitation is the main idea of this story.
It’s here in v3: he sent his servants to call those invited to the wedding.
And in v9, he sends his servants to go to the roads on the edge of town—out into the margins and fringes of the neighborhood—and invite everyone you find to the wedding party.
And then in v14, Jesus says: Many people are invited.
Church, God is always inviting us to his feast. In fact, we’re invited every Sunday to gather around the table Jesus has prepared for us. To feast on his faithful love and presence with us.
Remember that passage we heard from Isaiah earlier? About the great feast God will prepare for us in the end? The feast where God will gobble up death forever, and wipe every tear from every eye? Every time we gather for the Lord’s Supper, I hope we remember and anticipate the great feast that God is preparing for us!
But God is also always inviting the people out there. Outside these walls. In our neighborhoods and in our world.
Those are the people out on the roads on the edge of town this story talks about.
God is sending us to them, to tell them the Good News. That they’re invited to a feast in God’s Neighborhood. That the King of the Universe loves them, and is inviting them into his life.
And you know what, church? I don’t believe we’re ever cold-calling. I really don’t.
Because I believe the Holy Spirit is still stirring all over the place. That God is always preparing hearts, creating desires in people to come feast in his Neighborhood. I believe that we are all born homesick—homesick for God’s Neighborhood.
And that God places people in our paths, in our lives—or puts us in their lives—to call them to join us for the great feast in God’s Neighborhood.
God is always inviting people to the feast.
Do you know how we can know that God is always inviting more people? Because the Bible tells us so. 2 Peter 3.9 says that God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to him. And 1 Tim. 2.4 says that God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Okay, if God wants everyone to be safely in his Neighborhood, he wants his feast to be full, with nobody left out and starving outside—and that’s what we just heard God wants—then he’s going to make a way for that to happen.
So we know God is always inviting people to come feast in his Neighborhood. God sends us out to extend his invitation, yes. But before he does that, you can be assured that he sends the Holy Spirit out into the world first. To go before us and prepare people’s hearts to hear his invitation.
Now here’s a third lesson we learn from Jesus’ story about the wedding feast:
Even though God is always inviting people to feast in his Neighborhood, God’s hospitality is not unconditional.
You can absolutely wear out your welcome with God.
Now, this story shows us two ways we can put God’s hospitality to the test, and wear out our welcome with God.
The first way to wear out your welcome with God is to harden your heart to his invitation.
That’s what the first group of people did. Remember, these were the church people. They had already accepted God’s invitation to the wedding feast. They already had a seat saved for them at God’s table. They should have been looking forward to that feast, and come with joy.
Instead, they ignored the messengers God sent to call them to join the feast. They got busy with their own priorities, their own agendas. Still, God kept sending them invitations.
But they had hardened their hearts until the repeated invitations just made them angrier and angrier. That’s when they turned on the messengers, and bullied them, abused them, and even killed them.
And it led to their destruction. There are limits to God’s hospitality.
Remember, those were the church people. If it happened to them, it can absolutely happen to us.
The second way to wear out your welcome with God is to be a careless consumer at his feast.
When the invited guests refused God’s hospitality, he extended the invitation to anybody and everybody who wanted to come to his Son’s feast in his Neighborhood. The good and the bad. The poor, the disabled, the hungry, the lonely. Everybody.
[In case you haven’t figured it out yet, these guests also represent church people. We are the good and the bad, flawed and broken people. None of us had any decent dinner plans until God called us into his Neighborhood, to feast at his table.]
Now, in the story the king came out to see all these guests who had filled his dining hall, and were chowing down with joy and thankfulness.
But then he sees this one guy who’s not wearing a wedding garment. He’s at a wedding party, but he’s dressed in street clothes. He’s not celebrating with everyone else. He’s there in body, but not in spirit.
And so he asks the man , Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes? And Jesus said the man was speechless.
He didn’t have a good excuse for why he wasn’t celebrating the feast with joy and gratitude, like everyone else.
The man without the wedding garment is an example of a careless consumer of God’s hospitality. He wants to fill his belly with good things from God’s food. But he doesn’t really want to take part in the life of God’s Neighborhood.
He wants blessings for his own life, but doesn’t want to be involved in God’s life.
If I’m being honest, sometimes I’m more like that man than I’d like to admit. A careless consumer of God’s feast. I suspect we all are sometimes.
Which is why we need to hear what happened to the man without the wedding garment. It’s a warning to us all.
Jesus said the king ordered his servants to tie him up and toss him into the dark, cold night outside. Where tears of shame would sting his face, and his teeth would chatter.
The warning Jesus put on this story was: Many people are invited, but few people are chosen.
But I believe the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 11.22 could just as easily apply:
So look at God’s kindness and harshness. It’s harshness toward those who fell—the ones who hardened their hearts to God’s invitation—but it’s God’s kindness for you, provided you continue in his kindness—provided you keep wearing your wedding garment; otherwise, you could be cut off too.
Putting on your wedding garment
So here’s the question we should all be asking ourselves as we leave here today: Am I wearing my wedding garment?
Now, I know some of you are thinking: Wait, Preacher—before I can answer that question, I have to know what the wedding garment even is!
Well, you know—I’m glad you asked that question!
At different times, really faithful, intelligent Christians have given different answers to what the wedding garment stands for.
In the early days of the church, they said it represents holiness. Living a life that sets you apart from the rest of the world. Later on, Augustine said the wedding garment is love—that when we actively express our love for others, we’re also clothed in love. And then the Protestant Reformers said the wedding garment means we must be clothed in Christ’s righteousness. Because our lives are so shabby and sinful, we can’t appear before God dressed in our own righteousness.
I don’t think any of these are wrong answers. It could be all of those and more. I believe Jesus left the interpretation open on purpose, so each one of us can check our own lives and ask, Am I wearing my wedding garment?
In other words, we need to know what’s off, what’s missing, what’s keeping us from living God’s way in God’s Neighborhood.
Maybe the wedding garment you need to put on is joy. You’re in God’s Neighborhood, at God’s feast. But for whatever reason, you’re not finding joy in it. You feel more like you’re at a funeral than a feast. You need to figure out why.
Or maybe it’s forgiveness. Or patience. Or gratitude.
Listen to what Paul said in Col. 3.12, 14:
Therefore, as God’s choice—to live as God’s chosen people— holy and loved, put on—put these on like a wedding garment— compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience … And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
You will only find these things in Jesus. We are made holy because God has chosen us in Christ.
We learn compassion, kindness, gentleness, and patience from how Jesus is with us.
We learn humility from Jesus, too. When we see the Son of God, for whom and through whom all things were created, lying helpless as a baby in a manger.
And we learn what love is and what love does from his life, death, and resurrection for us.
It’s Jesus who clothes us in our wedding garments. You will find your wedding garment in your relationship with him.
God’s Neighborhood is a feast. Many people are invited, but people few are chosen. But we all have a choice. The people who will feast forever in God’s Neighborhood made their choices. But the people who will miss out on the feast are also left out by their own choices. We can all feast in God’s Neighborhood forever—as long as we soften our hearts to his invitations, and we keep our wedding garments on.