Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14
18th Sunday after Trinity
15.10.17 St Barbara’s
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Today’s Gospel reading is one of those awkward, uncomfortable readings that it would be much more convenient to simply skip over. It feels quite a dark and forbidding story, where the God-like figure in the story seems to act in a rather arbitrary and unfair manner, especially to the man, who for merely a lack of a change of clothes, is thrown out into the darkness where there is weeping and the gnashing of teeth.
I begin to understand the parable Jesus tells a little better when I reflect on the events of my and Sarah’s wedding almost 14 years ago. For our wedding reception we had decided that we wanted to go large, cheap and cheerful, rather than small and sophisticated. We invited almost everyone we knew, including the whole church that we were part of, a guest list of over 200. On the day, a couple of people who said they were coming just didn’t turn up. They had assumed that because so many people had been invited, it wouldn’t matter if they didn’t turn up. No one would notice. But although we were doing the wedding on a budget – a school hall rather than a hotel for the reception; the local Korean church doing all the catering for us for free – it was still a sit-down meal with name places. Their absence was obvious. It did matter that they weren’t there.
Well, in Jesus’ story, how much more it matters that the guests fail to show up. This is a wedding for the king’s son no less. There was nothing more important. They had been given ample invitations; there were no good excuses. And when they fail to show, the invitation goes out to the highways and byways, to everyone, good and bad, poor and rich.
And the point is that even though so many are invited, it matters whether each person comes. God’s grace is extended to everyone – not just to his chosen people. Everyone is welcomed into his kingdom of love, forgiveness and grace. And it absolutely does matter to God whether each of us accepts that invitation. This is not something to which we can just shrug the shoulders; or view the invitation as an optional weekend activity that we can take or leave. Accepting his invitation to the banquet of his son is the most important thing we can ever do.
I wonder, have we accepted that invitation, that invitation to respond to the love of God? And if we have, do we hold it as the most precious gift we have ever received?
Well, we could happily stop at this point in the parable. Some people may choose to reject the invitation but the invitation of God’s love is extended to all peoples. It is a wonderful message of the inclusiveness of God’s grace. Everyone is welcomed. Everyone is accepted, whoever they are.
But as with so many of Jesus parables, there is a twist in the tail that catches us unawares. For this is not just a story about accepting an invitation; it is a story about being willing to be changed by it.
Imagine you have been invited to Buckingham Palace for a reception with the queen. The invite says black tie or smart clothes. You turn up in torn jeans and a dirty scruffy jumper, having deliberately left your pristine suit at home. At one level, the clothes don’t matter; but at another level they communicate how little the invitation is valued.
In our story, the wedding guests would have been offered wedding garments as they arrived. But one of the guests has refused to put them on. Yes, he has accepted the invitation, but he has no intention of changing his ways, of showing even the least gratitude for the invitation. He will eat up all the food, he will help himself to a party bag – but change his ways? That’s the last thing he’s going to do. And so, he gets thrown out of the party.
The point of this twist in the parable is that God welcomes us as we are, but he doesn’t want us to stay that way.
Even in the world of Hollywood, known for its liberal, and often “anything-goes” morality, we have seen something quite profound in the last few days. One of its most powerful figures, and someone whose films almost all of us will have seen at some time, the media mogul Harvey Weinstein, has been brought crashing down. For all his power and influence, people have finally said “behaviour matters”. You cannot remain part of this community if you continue to behave like this, they are saying.
The point of the parable is that our behaviour matters to God. We can’t just accept his invitation, his gift, of love and grace, and then assume our lives can just continue as if nothing has changed. A response is called for.
One of the ways that we are called to respond is in being generous, in using the skills and gifts and time God has given us in his service.
That may be at home or at work or in the community, but today, on our Stewardship Sunday, I want us to focus on what we may be able to offer in the life of our church.
Each of you will have been given a leaflet when you came in. I would like you to take a look at it now.
Listed in it are just some of the many jobs and activities that happen in the life of this church. Jobs to do with our Sunday services, from serving and singing in the choir to welcoming people at the door or serving refreshments afterwards, to helping with our children’s activities and family services. Jobs that help us to extend the invitation of God’s love to our whole parish, such as distributing the parish newsletter and managing the church website. Activities that help us to build community among us – organising social events and pastoral care – and activities that build up our prayer life and faith. And jobs that enable so much else to run smoothly, like cleaning, gardening and maintenance of the building and grounds.
I know that so many of you already give a significant amount of your time and skills to serving in the church, and can I say a huge thank you. We would not be here, worshipping this morning, without those many contributions.
But today may be the opportunity to think what more you can offer, or to begin something new within the life of the church and lay down something else.
Can I highlight a few areas where we are in particular need of helpers at the moment:
We need people who are willing to act as occasional sides-people – giving out books at the start of the service.
Along with that, we need people who can provide a warm welcome to people as they arrive. Often the sides people can’t give people individual attention, especially when lots of people are arriving at once, so to have people who are simply around to welcome people, especially those new to the church, would be great.
We are looking for people to join the choir – with a number of the choir moving away from Coventry in recent months, it would be great to have some new people.
We have very few flower-arrangers in the church.
We need people to help with serving refreshments
The younger and older Hive groups would really value more helpers to support the leaders
We are getting very short of people distributing the parish newsletter. This is only 4 times a year, and is a simple way of making a big difference.
If you are feeling that physically it is difficult to do some of these jobs nowadays, can I ask you to consider joining the prayer chain, as a way of supporting the church through prayer.
And there is also a space on the form to tick if you want to be part of giving financially to the work of the church.
Please feel free to circle general areas you would like to get involved in or tick specific activities.
Take the form away, and do pray about how God may be asking you to give of your gifts and skills and time. Alternatively, take time before you leave the service this morning to do, to save you from forgetting.
Let us not be like the man in the parable who accepted the invitation but refused to change. Let us respond to God’s love and generous gifts to us, by giving back to him in return.