You Are Cordially Invited

Text: Matthew 22:1-14
Date: Pentecost XVII + Proper 23 + 10/9/11

Somebody rewrote the book on etiquette. I never remember being told, I only discovered by observation and then asking someone about it. Since when has it been common practice, even expected, for people to be invited to attend a wedding but then only come to the reception after? To this day it seems to me to be a rather rude way to proceed. In answer, I highly suspect that it has something to do with people’s aversion in general these days to anything involving religion, and that that aversion has become a socially acceptable stance. I still think it’s rude. Don’t you? Maybe we should return to the old way, as I experienced once at our church in Grand Rapids, where the marriage was part of the Sunday morning Divine Service! Might as well, if only fellow Christians are going to attend!

I began thinking of today’s parable of the king’s wedding feast in terms of what we normally experience at weddings today. The only thing similar, however, seems to be the issue of the invitation and a person’s response to it. Jesus is still speaking, in the last week of His life, to the chief priests and elders of the people; still reaching out to them with words of invitation to the salvation He came to bring. But they were refusing to bear the fruits of repentance and faith and seemed only to be the more hardened in their unbelief the more He spoke.

It was already obvious that He was speaking about them, the religious leaders of the people, when He spoke the parable of the two sons and of the wicked tenants. Matthew tells us, “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them” (Matt 21:45). So even more obvious was the point of the parable of the wedding feast that those on the original invitation list, the sons of the descendants of Abraham (as they were), having refused that invitation (as they have) would be left out and the wedding hall filled with others. “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt 22:14).

The application of these words for us today, then, has to do with the danger of falling away from saving faith by means of despising or rejecting God’s Word. This past Tuesday, in our Confessional study group, we read these words from Luther’s Large Catechism on the Sacrament of the Altar regarding the Lord’s words, “Do this in remembrance of me:”

Thus, you perceive, it is not left free in the sense that we may despise [the sacrament]. For that I call despising it if one allow so long a time to elapse and with nothing to hinder him yet never feels a desire for it. If you wish such liberty, you may just as well have the liberty to be no Christian, and neither have to believe nor pray; for the one is just as much the command of Christ as the other. (Trig. 765:49)

In our Lutheran Confessions today’s Gospel is mentioned in connection with the doctrine of the eternal election of God or predestination. This doctrine is most clearly written in passages like Romans 8:29, “For those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,” and Ephesians 1:4, “he chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.”

This doctrine is meant only for the comfort and consolation of Christians. For, there is an important distinction between the eternal foreknowledge of God and the eternal election of His children to eternal salvation. God’s foreknowledge is that God sees and knows everything before it happens. Eternal election extends only over the children of God. The important difference is stated in our Formula of Concord, “if we wish to think or speak correctly and profitably concerning eternal election, or the predestination and ordination of the children of God to eternal life, we should accustom ourselves not to speculate concerning the bare, secret, concealed, inscrutable foreknowledge of God, but how the counsel, purpose, and ordination of God in Christ Jesus, who is the true Book of Life, is revealed to us through the Word, namely, that the entire doctrine concerning the purpose, counsel, will, and ordination of God pertaining to our redemption, call, justification, and salvation should be taken together” (FC TD XI:13-14).

It goes on more clearly to summarize this important doctrine under eight points. First we must emphasize that “the human race is truly redeemed and reconciled with God through Christ” by the merit of His suffering and death alone, once for all. “God so loved the world,” not just part of the world.
Secondly, this merit and redemption is offered to people through the preaching of the Word and the proper use of the sacraments wherein,
thirdly, the Holy Spirit works conversion, repentance and faith. The result of such repentance and faith,
fourthly, is that God justifies believers and receives them into grace and adoption to the inheritance of eternal life.
In the fifth place it must be said that God also sanctifies in love those He has justified.
Sixth, they have the promise of God’s protection “against the devil, the world, and the flesh” and renews and preserves them when they stumble.
Seventh, God also strengthens the good work begun in them “if they adhere to God’s Word, pray diligently, abide in God’s goodness, and faithfully use the gifts received.”
Finally, God will “eternally save and glorify in life eternal those whom He has elected, called, and justified” (Trig. 1069:15-22). Again the article points to our text today, saying, “the guests whom the King will have at the wedding of His Son He calls through His ministers sent forth” (FC TD XI:27).

This parable is a warning against all who hear the Word of God but despise it, thrust it from them blaspheme and persecute it without repentance or faith resulting. The Confession goes on to say, “few receive the Word and follow it; the greatest number despise the Word, and will not come to the wedding.” The cause is not God’s foreknowledge but “the perverse will of man, which rejects or perverts the means and instrument of the Holy Spirit” (1077:41), that is the otherwise foolishness of preaching of the Gospel and administering the sacraments.

The comfort of this text and of this doctrine is precisely for Christians who are tempted to doubt their faith, worry or wonder if they are falling away. As long as one is in attendance at the wedding feast of victory, that is, the preaching of the Word and the giving out of Christ’s gifts here in the Divine Service, one should so trust in God that this salvation was planned to take root in you from eternity. Indeed, it is the one who is absent and who has no worries whatsoever about their eternal destiny, who despises God’s Word, that is in the most danger.

We had a great hymn based on this text written by Martin Franzmann and tune by Richard Hillert called “O Kingly Love, That Faithfully.” It made its all-too-brief appearance in our Lutheran Worship hymnal of 1982 (LW 346). I suppose it was because it is three pages long that pastors and musicians never or rarely gave it a fair trial. But if they would have discovered its three, relatively simple musical sections and given it a try they would have found a marvelous musical expression of the invitation of the Gospel based on this parable of Jesus issued to a sinful world with promise and hope. It describes God’s love as a “kingly love” keeping His ancient promises. It is a “lavish love” offering the very riches of God. It is a “seeking love” offered by the King through the servants He sends into the highways and byways of the world. It is a “holy,” “ruthless love” that even death cannot vanquish. So the invitation of the hymn’s refrain stands today:

The feast is ready.
Come to the feast,
The good and the bad.
Come and be glad!
Greatest and least,
Come to the feast!

Those who hear, repent of their sins, believe the Gospel and come to Christ should know that God had planned before you were even born that you would be given this eternal life through the forgiveness of your sins. Those who reject the invitation, who despise God’s Word and refuse to hear or listen to it…must still be invited! For as long as we are on this side of the judgment and the enemy of death, so long is repentance, faith and salvation possible.

Let our last word, therefore, be the invitation of the last words of the Bible, Revelation 22, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Rev 22:17, 20-21).