October 2020 Sermon — Receive

the Rev. Caitlyn Darnell
UTO Board Member
Diocese of Upper South Carolina

Matthew 22:1-14

Once more Jesus spoke to the people 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, mistreated 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.”

As a young girl, like many young girls, I loved imagining what my wedding might look like. I grew up helping my dad photograph weddings and so compared cakes and centerpieces at each gig he booked. Barbie dolls had extravagant wedding dresses in those days. Reality TV was just starting to hit the scene and up through college I would sit with girlfriends and devour episodes, talking late into the night about the benefits of buffet-style receptions versus served dinners. I would read “Dear Abby” in the newspaper and pay careful attention to how to politely decline a distant friend inviting themselves to your wedding when you run into them at the grocery store. None of these things, however, prepared me for the scenario in our gospel today. Imagine planning a full wedding reception and no one wants to come. Imagine an empty hall, a lone DJ, wedding chicken getting cold.

That’s where we find ourselves today in the parable Jesus tells. Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet a king gives to his son.” He has invited so many people and when it’s time for them to come, they turn away. He sends his attendants to go and get them and they will not come. Some of them even abuse and kill the messengers. The king has a giant feast ready to feed people and it’s growing cold. He’s trying to give away a gift that no one wants to take. 

The people who are invited to this feast are behaving ungratefully to the invitation. Gratitude is a behavior. It’s something to practice. It’s a practice of pausing to notice the love we have received, and to accept it by saying “thank you” for it. Gratitude is not tit-for-tat behavior, but instead to say “thank you” is to say “this gift is surprising to me and I am not meant to repay it, and so the fullness of my heart meets the fullness of your love given in this moment.”  “Thank you” simply means “my love to your love.”

The king has prepared a great feast, there are tables full of God’s abundant love that is meant to fill us and delight us. It is a great expenditure offered as a free gift to those who are invited… and the people invited to the feast do not choose to receive that love. They respond ungratefully to the gift being offered. Instead of accepting the gift they carry on with the busyness of their lives. Some mock the feast, “make light of it,” make a joke out of it, perhaps because being given gifts we don’t expect is a vulnerable thing that makes us put up our defenses or downplay our awkwardness. And then there are those who respond to the gift with anger and abuse, with tantrum and violence. 

What would a grateful response to the gift of God look like? Grateful behavior pauses. Grateful behavior notices joy and celebration, even in the midst of life’s busyness. Grateful behavior doesn’t cave under awkwardness or try to deflect attention, but remains open to what blessing is being offered. Grateful people don’t seek to hurt those who bear good news because when you take stock of what you have to be grateful for, you don’t feel threatened by the joy of others but you have room to be joyful with them. Grateful people meet the open heart of God with their own open hearts.

Those are the kinds of folks that God’s servants go out into the streets and invite. The good and the bad. All are invited into the gift.

We are rarely worthy of the feast that is being thrown for us. But our worthiness isn’t what gets us on the invite list. How we respond to that invitation is what matters. How we clothe ourselves once we arrive is what matters. Be grateful, and let that gratitude bind you to the common life in our church. Clothe yourself in the love you have received that you might be dressed to give it to others. Respond to this life with gratitude, thankful for every sweet morsel that has been served to you. Because the sweetness we snack on in this life is but a foretaste of the meal to come.