The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Matthew 22:1-14


“I have good news and bad news.” How many times have we heard that one, and what exactly does it mean? I usually cringe whenever I hear it, because, to me, it signals that someone thinks they’re about to tell me something so unpleasant, they feel the need to bolster me up with some good news first, to make the bad news a little easier to swallow.

This morning’s gospel lesson is a little like that. Good news and bad news. Jesus’ parable is the good news of the kingdom of heaven, but it comes as bad news to the people he’s talking to, because it doesn’t fit with their idea of what the kingdom of heaven is like or how it should be.

Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who gives a wedding feast for his son. He sends out his messengers with invitations to the who’s who of the countryside, but they all dismiss the banquet as being unimportant in their lives and a waste of time.

And so, when the servants arrived without the wedding party, the king sent them out again saying, “Tell those who have been invited that the table is set, the band is playing and the food prepared. Come to wedding banquet.”

Jesus’ parable tells us that the kingdom of heaven is life lived as if we are at a perpetual wedding feast. The kingdom of heaven is upon us when our lives are celebrations of love received and given, when our lives are statements of commitment and participation with each other, with thanksgivings for the blessings of the day and expressions of hope for the future. That’s the good news.

The bad news is life doesn’t often work out that way. We all have experiences of marriage: our own, our parents, other family members and friends. Our experience after the wedding, after the honeymoon, is that there is good news and bad news in all marriages: none perfect, though some better than others.

Jesus acknowledges this bad news in his story about the wedding feast when he tells of the responses people made to the invitation to join the feast. Actually, there are two episodes to be considered in this last half of the parable.

The first episode tells of a second invitation being offered to those who refused to attend the feast, and of their refusal (or nonresponse) again because they were too busy and didn’t want to be bothered. So the king chooses others.

Just getting the invitation doesn’t get you to the feast: a response is required. If we don’t respond and live, participating in the banquet with others and hoping for the future, then God’s invitation to us is useless, and the celebration of life passes us by.

You see, brothers and sisters, the kingdom of heaven refers not primarily to a place but to a quality of life; it’s not just about the future, it’s experiencing the future in the present. It’s not only our effort and struggle toward what we want to become, it includes the acceptance and peace of what we are—who we are—and accomplishment (and failure) as we journey on the way.

The second episode is about a man in the second group of invited guests. He has somehow managed to get into the feast without putting on the proper festal attire, but when the king sees him, he asks, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” Or better stated perhaps, “Why did you come to the celebration if you had no plans to celebrate?” Jesus’ point is this: if we intend to be a part of the kingdom, we have to do more than just go to the party; we have to be willing to party when we get there. Life in the kingdom is more than mere existence, and something more is required than just showing up.

A “Born Loser” cartoon of a while back showed a man buying a greeting card that read, “Your love means more to me than all the riches of the universe.” He smiled and said, “Great! I want this for my wife.” The clerk replied, “that’ll be one dollar, sir.” To which the born loser answers, “Do you have something a little cheaper.”

When we are at a wedding feast, we miss the point of the whole thing if we see how cheaply we can get by. To do so is to be like the man who wants to tell his wife that her love means more than all the riches of the universe—for less than a dollar.

The bad news (if one chooses to see it that way) of coming to God’s wedding feast is that it requires a costly response of love and commitment and hope. The good news is that God is there, waiting for us, and that God loves us and is ready to transform our lives, from whatever circumstances, into enriching, fulfilling experiences.

The wedding feast Jesus invites us to is life in the kingdom. And the wedding gift we are asked to bring is ourselves. Giving ourselves to Christ is a lot like giving ourselves to a husband or wife. At every wedding there is love: it’s imperfect, sometimes starry-eyed, sometimes calculating, usually fearful, and perhaps at times with traces of uncertainty or even desperation. Even so, there is love. The wedding ceremony is a start to the covenant of marriage: a life of offering to the other our health and our sickness, our riches and our poverty, our comfort and our needs.

So it must be in our relationship with God: to come offering all that we are and all that we have, the good and the bad (because God accepts that), but to be willing to constantly renew our covenant with God: not to take God for granted; not to be a “born loser” and count the cost of our giving; to offer our failures and share our successes; to remain constant in good and ill circumstances; and to seek to serve as we accept the comfort God provides for us.

The good news (and there is, finally, no bad news in this) is that God’s love is a love that takes us as we are, a love that accepts our feeble efforts and fearful holding back, and still totally gives, a love that forgives, and draws us forth to fulfillment. It is a love that, in spite of whatever bad news may come our way, is there for us as good news of comfort and strength and peace, and that enables us to live.

God’s invites us, both individually and as a community, to live life as if we’re at a wedding feast. To receive love and to share with others in a fellowship of mutual responsibility and support, to express hope for ourselves and our church and our world.

But a response is needed; a generous response of love, participation and hope, to live life as a wedding feast, to live life in the kingdom of God.

May it be so for us all, in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.