St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Trinity XX : Fr Tony Hogg

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 If you’ve ever organised an important occasion, from a birthday party to a wedding reception, you’ll be familiar with the vexed questions about whom to invite. There’s the issue of where to draw the line: if you invite one friend from a particular circle, does that mean inviting everyone else in that group? There may be those who regard themselves as your friends, and will feel rebuffed if you don’t ask them along. And you may be disappointed if those whom you really want to be there turn you down – especially if they only offer a flimsy excuse.

There can be the added complications: if two friends have fallen out, do you choose between them, or ask both and allow them to exclude themselves from the gathering if they have a problem with the other being there?

With so many issues around the guest list alone, you need to keep in mind the bigger picture of the importance of the celebration if you want to make it actually happen! 

Jesus presents the kingdom of heaven’s victorious inauguration as a royal wedding feast: a time of both joyful celebration and profound significance. All who were listening would begin to imagine themselves invited to such a royal wedding. A dream come true. Yet, in Jesus’ story, those to whom the king has sent his personal invitation seem at best indifferent and, at worst, violently hostile. No wonder the king is outraged at the dishonour shown to his son. We listeners share his shock.

Despite their refusal to attend, the wedding feast is not called off: the king sends his servants further afield to draw in anyone and everyone. Whatever the merits of those on the original guest list, now the only qualification needed for coming to the party is a willingness to accept the king’s generous invitation.

Many listening to Jesus’ words would have understood his parable’s picture language, though its message was far from comfortable. The wedding party planned by God the king for his Son represents the fulfilment of his promise to send the Messiah to his people. Yet his people would not welcome him. The servants proclaiming the king’s plans stand for the Old Testament prophets who foretold God’s purposes, but were spurned by those to whom they brought good news.

It is deeply poignant that Jesus, God’s Messiah, is facing some of this very rejection even as he tells the parable, a rejection leading to his own vicious death on the cross. Of course, the cross is followed by his triumphant resurrection. God’s purposes, like the wedding feast, are not cancelled. God’s kingdom has still come, but now its grace extends out beyond the Jewish nation to embrace all who will welcome the Son, no matter who they are.

But if we who are part of God’s open invitation to his Son’s wedding party feel exempt from the parable’s message, the final part of Jesus’ narrative pulls us up short.

Looking round the roomful of guests, the king sees a man not wearing the appropriate wedding attire. When challenged, the guest can offer no justification for his negligence, and is immediately thrown out of the gathering. This is no arbitrary expulsion by a moody tyrant. The offending guest had chosen not to adopt the dress required for the occasion, and, by so doing, effectively excluded himself. The message is sobering: we enjoy God’s company by being clothed in his Son’s righteousness. Our own trappings of virtue are not an adequate cover.

Today’s society popularly imagines heaven as an ethereal realm of placid angels, gentle harps and floating clouds. Jesus describes it as more like a wedding party. How do we respond to the vitality, joy and engagement that characterises his presentation of the kingdom of heaven?  Do we look forward to the fullness of the Son’s reign?

The king generously invites us into his kingdom. How will we respond? Are we preoccupied with our business in this world or resentful of God’s call upon our personal lives? Or are we ready to receive his open-hearted welcome?

And if we have joined the party to honour the Son, are we grateful guests? It can be easy to forget that we enter the kingdom through Christ’s merits alone. We are also called, as citizens of heaven, to continue to submit our whole lives to Jesus as Lord, day by day: we may enter the kingdom through grace, but we cannot demand to stay there on our own terms.

Amen

 

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