Don't 'Dis' the King

Text: Matthew 22:1-14
Date: Pentecost XXII (Proper 23) + 10/12/08
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

This is a little bit of an unusual sermon because this is a little bit of an unusual text of scripture. Normally, though the two main messages we call Law and Gospel are intertwined and play off of one another in many and various ways, generally the Law part that unmasks us, that reveals our sin and our need for a Savior comes first so that the sermon ends with the Gospel part, God’s answer to our need. This text, however, the Parable of the Wedding Feast, while it seems to have a “happy ending” with the wedding hall filled with guests in verse 10, has an added post script, sort of like a “p.s.” at the end of a letter, ending our reading with a warning; actually a question because we’re not there yet, the stories of our lives are not completed yet, it is still possible for many to be added to the kingdom and it is still possible for you to fall away and to lose your salvation. I don’t know when the slang language of the street began using the prefix “dis” as shorthand for “disrespect,” but assuming you know that, the title of this sermon and the warning of this text is, simply, “Don’t ‘Dis’ the King.”

The King is God, the Lord of hosts, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the universe. This, the only true God, has revealed Himself as a God of love whose very nature is love, who wishes to save His creation from the destruction of sin and death, who “desires all people to come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved.” For God so loved the whole world that He has prepared a grand feast of salvation to celebrate the ending of death, the wiping away of tears, the taking away of any hint of disgrace, as today’s Old Testament reading says it. “All the earth” (Is. 25:8), all people are invited to this feast. It is, as the prophet Isaiah says it (Is. 25:9), a feast of “Yeshua,” of “salvation” of “Jesus”!

That’s what Jesus’ parable says, too! It is a feast for all people, the good and the bad, the insiders and the outsiders, the rich and the poor, Republicans and Independents and Libertarians…and Democrats, too, Missouri Synod Lutherans, ELCA ones, Roman Catholics, Methodists and even Religulous-ists.[1]

This King wants to throw a party! It’s the way that God rules in the universe that He invites and gathers guests to attend His banquet. You can see the shadows and hear the echoes of Old Testament history in this parable. For ages God sent “his servants” the prophets “to call those who were invited to the wedding feast.” The original invitation hints at God’s covenant with Abraham with the predicted outcome that, in the end, “all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” So it was of the line of descent from Abraham through Isaac and Jacob and so on that the invitation was shared and passed on. The crazy thing about the history of God’s people, however, was that they kept “rebelling,” complaining and turning away from God. It was as if they refused to come to attend God’s feast. So He sent more servants with reminders to “those who are invited,” “but they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.”

You’d think the King would get mad and would give these ingrates what they had coming. God’s love will not be insulted for ever. It is not wrong for us to recall here the actual destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 ad. But here is a more important detail, when the King says to his servants, “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.” What does that mean to be worthy of the King’s invitation? to be worthy of salvation? I thought both the invitation and the actual gift of God’s salvation was for all people, that God loved the whole world not just a piece of it He considers “worthy.” What does it mean to be worthy? Well, get out your little catechism (or you can just look at it in the front of the hymnal, [LSB] page 327) under the question, “Who receives this Sacrament worthily?” “That person is truly worthy…who has faith…. But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words ‘for you’ require all hearts to believe.” Those invited to the feast proved unworthy because they refused to believe in the King or His invitation.

“Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.” This King really, really wants to have His wedding feast for His Son! Nothing is going to stop it! This is the picture of the gift of salvation being fulfilled in and breaking through Jesus of Nazareth, through the Jews to all nations. Somehow that invitation came even to you, and somehow you believed it and accepted it which is what your attendance here indicates. Christian Worship consists in this gathering and practicing or rehearsing what we will sing and say on that Day yet to come, the great marriage feast of the Lamb, Christ and His Bride, the Church; “and each person will say on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Is. 25:9). And so the wedding hall will be filled with guests! Hooray! Gospel—God loves the whole world and provides for its salvation from sin and death. Law—those invited don’t respond. Gospel—the invitation goes out again and again and again. Law—those invited pay no attention and get busy with other things. Law—the King is angry and destroys them. Gospel—the King sends servants to invite everybody and the wedding hall is filled with guests. The end.

Oh, “but”—“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment.” Uh, oh! “And he said to him, ‘Friend.’” Remember, we ran into this word once before, and will run into it one more time on Holy (Maundy) Thursday. “Friend” here doesn’t mean “friend.” As with the complaining all-day-workers in the vineyard parable who were angry at the owner’s generosity (Mt. 20:13), and as with Judas to whom Jesus will say as he leads the crowd to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Friend, do what you came to do” (Mt. 26:50), so here the king addresses this poor slob already implying by this word what’s coming. For whatever the “wedding garment” was—whether some special piece or just a term meaning “your Sunday best”—the problem seems to be wanting to be included in that number when the saints go marching in but to be included only on your own terms by means of your own righteousness or goodness, denying God’s gift of the only true righteousness which is by faith in Jesus. When discovered, “he was speechless;” literally dumb. There was nothing he could say, no defense. At the King’s order he was bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

You see, many are called. The whole world is invited to this feast of salvation. But few are “¦68,6J@,” “elected,” “chosen.” The “chosen” are those who believe. The rest, the non-chosen, are all those who refuse God’s invitation whether by mocking it as “Religulous” or just by being indifferent, both those who never believed and those who pretended to believe. And this includes those who fall from faith.

This parable is one of the most important “sedes doctrinae” or seats of the doctrine of election, as we confess in our Lutheran Formula of Concord,

If a person wishes to think or speak about the election and praedestinatio (or preordination) of God’s children to eternal life correctly and profitably, one should as a matter of course refrain from speculation over the naked, secret, hidden, inscrutable foreknowledge of God. On the contrary, one should focus on how God’s counsel, intention, and preordination in Jesus Christ (who is the genuine, true “Book of Life”) is revealed to us through the Word. This means that the entire teaching of God’s intention, counsel, will, and preordination concerning our redemption, calling, justification, and salvation must be taken as a unity. This is the way Paul treats and explains this article (Rom. 8; Eph. 1) and the way Christ explained it in the parable of Matthew 22.[2]

So, what do we have? The Good News (Gospel) is that God, the King of the Universe, desires all people to be saved and is going to, finally, ultimately, throw the great wedding feast of salvation on the last day. All are invited. The Bad News (Law) is that not all respond or accept the King’s invitation. The even Worse News (Law) is that even some who may have accepted it once upon a time just might fall away from faith like the man with no wedding garment. So how about you?

Believe the Gospel, repent and be saved. …But just be careful: Don’t ‘Dis’ the King.

[1] Bill Maher 2008 Lionsgate Entertainment film.

[2] Kolb-Wengert p. 643; FC Art. XI:13-14.