(sermon note: 03-12 sermon note)
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a guy who died and went to heaven. When he got to the pearly gates, St. Peter was waiting for him and said he was going to review the man’s life to determine if he was indeed worthy of entering heaven. St. Peter looked through the book of the man’s life and said, “Well, you really didn’t do any grievous sins but you hadn’t ever done anything particularly noteworthy either. Can you give me an incident in your life that would make you worthy of entering heaven?” The man quickly responded, “Well, there was the time that I was driving my truck and I looked over and saw there was a gang of bikers attacking a woman. So I stopped my truck, got out, and confronted the bikers. I yelled, ‘Hey, leave that woman alone! What kind of men are you beating up a helpless woman? Let’s see you take on a real man!” St. Peter excitedly looked through the man’s life book again but couldn’t find any record of the incident. “Huh, that’s strange, we don’t have any record of this incident. I’m sorry but can you tell me roughly when in your life it happened?” “Oh sure,” the man responded. “About 5 minutes ago.”
Now don’t think acting foolish at the end of life is a sure way of getting into heaven! I don’t imagine God rewards foolishness even if it’s revealed in helping others. Of course, I don’t really believe in the whole premise of that joke, that St. Peter waits at the gates of heaven to decide our worthiness of entering heaven. What an absurd premise! No one’s going to decide our eternal destiny other than God himself and I highly doubt God is keeping a scorecard of all the good and bad things we do in this world. We know as good Lutherans that works righteousness died 500 years ago! Nothing we say or do can earn our way into heaven. The only way to eternal life is through belief in Jesus Christ and what he did for us on the cross. Belief isn’t an act, it’s a trust. Trust in the Lord and we can receive eternal, heavenly life, plain and simple. Scorecards and decisionmakers are silly and non-scriptural. But the foolish things we do to help others, especially the helpless and vulnerable, can sure be funny sometimes!
Both that joke and our reading for today raise an interesting notion worth reflecting on, the notion of worthiness itself. Who is worthy of entering heaven? In the case of the joke, it is suggested that only those who perform extraordinary acts of service for others are granted admittance. In the case of Jesus’ parable, it is only those who have been given an invitation that are allowed into the wedding banquet, a symbolic expression for the heavenly feast. In either case, there is a definite distinction of worthiness. There are those that are worthy to receive the heavenly gift and there are those who are unworthy to receive it. The parable complicates the discussion with unanswered invitations, murderous responses, and uninvited or unappreciative guests but at its heart is a lesson on worthiness. The king initially felt there were only certain people worthy of receiving an invitation to his son’s wedding. Alas, the group proved to be unworthy, coming up with all sorts of excuses not to attend the wedding and spitefully killing the king’s messengers. The king, in turn, has the group killed and opens the invitation to any and all. All became worthy to receive his gracious invitation and the banquet was full of participants. Now then, we might respond by arguing that the king’s open invitation was less about worthiness and more about desperation. He just wanted a full banquet to celebrate his son’s wedding! But their worthiness was ultimately determined by how they responded to the invitation. The initial invitees responded poorly thereby proving themselves to be unworthy. The secondary invitees responded with gratitude and support and thus proved their worthiness.
More importantly, the secondary invitees responded with trust. They trusted that the king would provide what was needed for a joyful celebration. They trusted that the king would appreciate their participation. They trusted that their responsibilities would allow them to celebrate the wedding. The initial invitees had no trust in their king and because of it, they suffered. The guy who helped the poor woman by the side of the road did so trustingly, faithfully. Sometimes faithful, trustful living comes across as foolish. Sometimes faithful, trustful living gets us into trouble. But you know what? God rewards faithful, trustful living. God expects faithful, trustful living! Faithfulness and trustfulness define our worthiness. When we are faithful and trusting, we ARE worthy of all that God has to offer us! We have great worth to him when we trust him. Recall the words of Jesus, “are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7) God sees us, God knows our worth. God knows the trust we place in him when we live fearless lives.
The truth revealed by this week’s lesson is that worthiness and trust go hand in hand. We’re worthy because we trust…trust in him! Peter writes in his first letter, “but you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (2:9) Through trust, we are called into the light. What a gift to be called into the light! Into the awareness of God’s love and glory! Into a place of warmth and security! Isn’t that the very definition of heavenly bliss?! As we move towards Easter glory, let us nurture our faith and trust in him. God is good! Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (5:8) Christ didn’t die for us because we cleaned up our act and stopped sinning. No, Christ died so that God’s love can be fully revealed to us. What a good and generous gift! Let us rejoice in such a gift. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.