Sermon for October 11, 2020, Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 22:1-14 (Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost—Series A)

“A Life that Honors the Son”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

October 11, 2020

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Matthew 22:

1And Jesus answered and again spoke to them in parables, saying: 2The reign of heaven is like a certain king who gave a wedding feast for his son. 3And he sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, but they did not want to come. 4Again, he sent other slaves, saying, “Say to those who have been invited, ‘Behold, my meal is prepared, my oxen and calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’” 5But they were not interested and went away, one to his field and one to his business. 6But the rest seized his slaves, insulted them, and killed them. 7Then the king became angry and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding feast is ready, but those who had been called were not worthy. 9Therefore, go into the outlets of the roads and call as many as you find to the wedding feast.” 10And those slaves went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both the evil and the good, and the wedding feast was willed with those who were reclining at table. 11Now when the king had entered to look at those who were reclining at table, he saw there a man who had not put on a wedding garment, 12and he said to him, “Friend, how did you enter here even though you do not have a wedding garment?” But he was silent. 13Then the king said to the servants, “After you bind his feet and hands, throw him out into the outermost darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there” For many are (the) called, but few are (the) chosen.

          “The wedding feast is ready, but those who had been called were not worthy.” The pointedness of Jesus’ teaching against the chief priests and Pharisees continues in the Gospel of Matthew with yet another parable. The reign of heaven is like a certain king who gave a wedding feast for his son. And he sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, but they did not want to come. Again, he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Say to those who have been invited, . . . ‘Come to the wedding feast.’ But they were not interested and went away, . . . . But the rest seized his slaves, insulted them, and killed them. Then the king became angry and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those who had been called were not worthy. Therefore, go into the outlets of the roads and call as many as you find to the wedding feast.’”

          The religious leaders’ opposition to Jesus has been apparent as we have read Matthew’s Gospel the last few Sundays. In light of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, the religious leaders questioned Jesus’ divine authority and denied it. By means of parables, Jesus told the religious leaders that they should have repented and believed John the Baptist when he proclaimed the way of righteousness in Jesus—Matthew 21:28-32. As a result, the chief priests and Pharisees wanted to kill the vineyard owner’s son—Matthew 21:37-39. They will reject the stone whom God the Father will marvelously make into the head of the corner by raising Him from the dead—Matthew 21:42.

          In the parable before us this morning, the religious leaders are identified as those who were called but were not worthy. To be “not worthy” means to dishonor and reject the king and the wedding feast he has prepared for his son. The king stands in for God the Father. The king’s son? Yes, it’s Jesus, the True Son of the Father who had come to do His will and bring salvation to the whole world through the forgiveness of sins.

But in Jesus’ parable, there is another who is found to be “not worthy.” He is the man dining at the wedding feast without a wedding garment. This was probably a normal, clean, festive garment of some sort. At the very least, dress casual if not “dressed up.” This man in Jesus’ story had come to the feast honoring the king’s son lacking that garment. In the context of the parable, this suggests that he was there deliberately dishonoring the king and his son. This man, like those who had previously been invited, considered the wedding feast as something to be treated lightly.

To be “not worthy,” then, is to oppose, hate, and seek to destroy God’s Son. To lack a wedding garment is to oppose the claims of the True Son of God and to resist His ministry of making known the reign of God that brought Him to Jerusalem to be rejected, to suffer, to be crucified, and to rise from the dead.

To summarize Jesus’ parable, I share with you these thoughts from Dr. Jeffry Gibbs from the Concordia Commentary:

Two realities about the present reign of God in [Jesus] emerge. In the first place, the parable reveals that God’s plan to have guests who will honor and worship his Son will not be nullified or set aside. Those who hated and dishonored the Son in his earthly ministry and thus showed themselves to be unworthy of the feast cannot stop God’s plan; divine judgment will surely come upon them. Nevertheless, the gracious divine invitation goes out again with a prodigal and wasteful plenitude. All who can be found and invited will be.[1]

But Jesus’ parable also contains a warning. Participation in the wedding feast is not automatic, just because others have rejected it. The person who takes the reign of God in Jesus lightly and as having little to no significance for his or her life will find himself or herself, on the Last Day, in the outer darkness, where torment and hatred for God the Father and for His Son become the reality forever. “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there.”

          Aren’t you glad this section of Jesus’ parables ends today? Wow! These last few Sundays have been tough to work through as Jesus teaches against the chief priests and Pharisees because of their rejection of the reign of God that has drawn near to them in Jesus Himself. Remember, all this takes place during Holy Week, during Jesus’ final days before His betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection. This is our Lord’s final opportunity before going to cross to lead the chief priests and Pharisees to repentance and trust in Him as Lord and Savior. This is serious business, indeed.

          But what does this say to us here in 2020? We’re not first century Israelite religious leaders. Is there something about the reign of God in Christ that we can learn? Most certainly! By virtue of our Baptism into Christ, you and I have been called and invited to the Son’s feast. Revelation 19:9, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” However, Jesus’ parable teaches us that our place at the feast is not a guarantee that we won’t face the spiritual dangers that could harden our hearts and slowly draw us away from a life of honoring the Son. Remember the man who was kicked out?

          Luther in the Large Catechism instructs us about these real spiritual dangers: the flesh, the world, and the devil. The sinful flesh that still clings to us on this side of heaven “encourages us daily to unchastity, laziness, gluttony and drunkenness, greed and deception, [and] to defraud our neighbor.”[2] We are tempted and fall and so live a life contrary to God’s Word. We dishonor the Son who died so that we might live a new life. We return to the old ways of sin and become unworthy, unclothed in the garments of the feast to which we have been called. Our sinful actions tell others that the reign of God is not that important because we choose to live contrary to the ways of God. We are found, in our sins, opposing the King and His royal Son.

          There are also the spiritual dangers with which the world attacks us. We are driven to anger and impatience. From the Large Catechism, “In short, there is nothing but hatred and envy, hostility, violence and wrong, unfaithfulness, vengeance, cursing, railing, slander, pride and haughtiness, with useless finery, honor, fame, and power. No one is willing to be the least. Everyone desires to sit at the head of the group and to be seen before all.”[3] Again, this is a life that dishonors the Lord. It is a life that rejects the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to us in Baptism. Instead of loving other people with the reckless love of Jesus, we despise, hate, and belittle them because of their political leanings, because of their skin color, because of their economic standing, or simply because they disagree with us.

          Behind all this lies Satan, the devil. He pushes and provokes us in all directions that go against God and His Word. He tempts us to dishonor the Son by the way we speak and by how we act toward God and others. Again, Luther: “[The devil] leads us to despise and disregard both God’s Word and works. He tears us away from faith, hope, and love, and he brings us into misbelief, false security, and stubbornness. Or, on the other hand, he leads us to despair, denial of God, blasphemy, and innumerable other shocking things. These are snares and nets, indeed, real fiery darts that are shot like poison into the heart, not by flesh and blood, but by the devil.”[4]

          Jesus gives us a realistic picture of life in the reign of God now. He wants us to be aware of these spiritual dangers so that we arm ourselves against them with the power of His Word and Spirit. The Stone that the builders rejected is now the Head of the Corner! The Christ who was crucified has defeated sin and death by His death and resurrection. His shed blood covers our sins. The Gospel in Word, Baptism, and Supper delivers to us forgiveness for each time we fail to honor Christ and our Father in heaven. There is bountiful forgiveness for you and me in Jesus, the Son, so that we will not be left without a wedding garment, so that we will not be declared unworthy. To further enable us to stand against our spiritual enemies, Christ puts on us the whole armor of God: Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:14–18 ESV).

          Through faith, by the power of the Word and Spirit, we now respond to Christ in joyful praise and honor. We submit to Him, declaring and confessing, “Jesus is Lord.” When we fall into temptation and sin, it is this Lord Christ who restores us to the favor our heavenly Father by washing us clean in His blood through the Good News of Absolution. With sins forgiven, by the power of the Spirit at work in us through the Gospel and Sacraments, our lives honor Christ. We love the Lord in faith. We love our neighbors. We love our enemies, too. We demonstrate the graciousness of God to all we meet in person or online. You are sons and daughters of the reign of God. You are equipped to fight against the spiritual dangers that you face in this life so that you honor Christ.

As you do, look forward to the day of feasting at the Son’s wedding banquet that will have no end. In Christ, you are declared worthy. Come, receive today a foretaste of that eternal feast as you dine at the Table of Christ. Eat and drink of the fruits of His cross and resurrection so that you may be strengthened in your faith and live the life of faith toward God and the life of love toward other people. Amen.

[1] Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Matthew 21:1-28:20, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2018), 1110.

[2] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 420.

[3] Ibid., 420.

[4] Ibid., 421.

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