Pentecost 18/Proper 23A
Where’s the wedding couple? Pastor Kinsey
Where’s the wedding couple?! Perhaps it was the greeting line after the service that delayed them? Or maybe it was the pictures that followed? Pictures with both of the couple’s families, then pictures with the attendants, and any number of combinations of wedding-goers. It always takes longer than you expect. And… there may be a few other stops along the way to the reception – I’m just saying! I’m not usually privy to these stops. Though at Sasha and Roberts wedding this June, Sasha’s mom thought I should know, that everyone was going to Burke’s for a celebratory toast! Are you coming, she asked?
Another recent couple forgot to pick up their cake before the wedding – just blanked out – and had to send someone out to pick it up after the service on the way to the banquet-reception! Stuff happens at weddings!
In any case, it may not strike us as unusual in today’s parable that the bride and groom have not been announced yet at the reception. They haven’t made an appearance, and so it seems like, it’s all about “a man, a king,” the father of the groom.
In pre-marriage counseling, I always tell the wedding couple, that inevitably something will go wrong, in the wedding service, or something will happen that day that you don’t expect, which will be – well – memorable. It may seem like a big deal at the time, but usually, for everyone else, it helps them remember in a good way, and down the line, after some time, you too will be able to laugh about it. I tell them this, to relax them, and encourage them not to worry so much about all the many details they are fretting about in their planning, which presently, are driving them crazy. But the kind of mishaps in the parable Jesus tells, in today’s gospel, aren’t the kind I have in mind, they really do go a bit beyond!
The wedding banquet that a man, a king, threw for his son, in this parable, is so disastrous that there aren’t enough first responders in all of Jerusalem, or Chicago, to put out all the fires. When the servants are sent out again by the king, after being ignored the first time, saying - I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet, already - it’s time, where is everyone, the king’s servants are made light of, mistreated and some even killed. But the king, a particularly brutal ruler, sends out, not just a few police, but his full combat troops, escalating the situation in a vengeful fit, to utterly destroy the invited guests, and just for good measure, because he has the fire power at hand, has their whole city burned to the ground!
Then the king gathers himself, his hands still dripping with blood, to say in his polite voice, those who were invited were not worthy to come to my banquet. Why don’t you go into the streets and invite everyone you find there?
Well, who would want to dare to come into this guy’s house, who rules by scorched-earth policy? Or, I suppose, who would dare not to come? Best to say, yes sir, and try to stay under his radar. Who knows what will set him off next, and when?
And sure enough, the servants found regular good and bad folks out on the streets that were cajoled to fill the wedding hall. Yet, out of this whole house-full of guests, one single townsperson, not quite dressed up enough, perhaps a beggar or someone without time or money to change or buy a wedding robe, sets the king off again. “How did you get in here without a wedding robe,” he says to the poor guy, even though they were pulled off the street without warning? Understandably, the poor, profiled guest, is “speechless,” and surprised by the king’s irrationality, or maybe hoping to yet fly under the radar like everyone else there, he remains silent, like a sheep before its shearer, as was said of Jesus, before his interrogators.
“Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness,” says the despotic king, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
In Jesus’ time, the kingdom of heaven, it seems, was believed to be full of both sinners and saints, both God and Lucifer. According to the book of Revelation, the ousting of Satan from heaven doesn’t occur until after, the Lamb is slain, that is, the crucifixion of Jesus.
So what I’m trying to say is, that the most logical interpretation of this odd and difficult parable, just might be that the king is not supposed to be a metaphor for God, as we often assume! Certainly, this is not the God we know from the gospels, one who is vengeful, predatory, and abusive. But we do know, that Jesus will go to the cross to overcome the powers of evil, and bury the tradition of vengeful kings that continually create war and cycles of unending violence; tyrants in our homes who abuse, and apologize, and abuse again; and the list goes on, politicians and pastors, corporate CEO’s, and every institutional leader who has even a little bit of power.
What this parable is desperately begging for, finally, is the wedding couple to arrive, already! Where are they? If anyone can give us hope, it is the newlyweds, right!
Implied in the gospel parables (and other books like Revelation) is that Jesus is the groom. And, who is the bride? That would be us, of course, the people of God, and all those hungering and thirsting for righteousness. This wedding couple, by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, can create a new way, on the 8th day of creation. That new thing, is the resurrection power that cannot and will not accept throwing anyone out, from the heavenly wedding banquet, that we are all invited to. There can be no celebration, no opening of the first bottle of wine, no toast, no feast of rich food (Isaiah), if it is at the expense of the latest scapegoat and displaced group of people in our communities and society. That is the kind of Messiah-King Jesus is. And that is the only kind of wedding banquet he will attend. As Christ’s bride, this is the feast of victory that we are called to birth into this world. The guests at this banquet will be free to come without fear of retribution or profiling.
The wedding banquet is where beautiful art, and God’s justice, meet. Today on this 3rd of 4 Stewardship Sunday’s celebrating “fearless first responders,” Unity Lutheran Church needs you, to step up and express the depth of your faith, by becoming a fearless first responder, in the sharing of your time, talent and treasure.
If you didn’t get a Time & Talent, and Financial pledge form last week, please take one today at the end of the service and take it home with you. Pray over the gifts that God has given you, and then begin to fill the forms out. If we believe that everything is God’s – as we know from the Creation story – and that we are called to be God’s stewards, then Stewardship is all about taking responsibility for the gifts we have as individuals, and community, for the good of God’s world. We, are God’s ‘fearless first responders!’
The gospel parable today leaves open the question of our responsibility, as the bride of Christ, and where we will fit in, and whether we are ‘fearless first responders.’ Are we ready to enter the wedding banquet? Christ is anxious to marry his bride! Christ loves us, and has given us all the gifts we need to live life, and live it abundantly, and to support us in our “fearless living, fearless giving, and fearless service.”
Christ is yours, and you are Christ’s, to have and to hold, to comfort you, honor you, and keep you, in sickness and in health, and be faithful to you – and death cannot part us. Come to the banquet, a feast of rich food and well-aged wines, as Isaiah said, everything has been made ready for you!