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You're Invited

 This is the sermon I preached Sunday, Oct. 15 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was Matthew 22:1-14. 

Many of Jesus’ parables in Matthew are hard to understand. It seems like God is very harsh and judgmental, what Lutherans would call emphasizing law instead of gospel. 

In this parable, sometimes it seems we can equate the king with God, who graciously invites everyone to the banquet. But, what about when the king had those who did not accept his invitation killed and their cities destroyed? Does that sound like God?

After the servants invited everyone, good and bad, to the banquet, the king picks on one man who was not appropriately dressed. Did he have time to change? In those days, the king provided the proper clothing for those attending the banquet. Was it the fault of one of the servants? Did the man just make light of this banquet and dishonor the king by not changing? We don’t know, but there are certainly plenty of possibilities. The king/God seems to have a hairlike trigger when he finds the man without a wedding robe. And to throw him into utter darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth--what we would think of as hell. It appears that the essence of the message is that God graciously invites all to come and follow. However, the issue is how people respond to God’s generosity. 

The last verse of this gospel passage says, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” This has especially plagued me this week, particularly as we relate it to the banquet and the man cast out into darkness. 

We understand God’s call as being for all, the good and the bad. God desires that all should be saved, that all should experience the abundant life today that God has promised.

We know the promises of Holy Baptism, that “It brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the words and promise of God declare” (The Small Catechism). 

But, we cannot just sit back and live however we like. Luther also writes regarding baptism, “the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily sorrow for sin and through repentance, and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (ibid.).

Jesus continues, “but few are chosen.” This is what has really been bugging me this week. We know it’s the Holy Spirit who works in our lives, enabling us to live Christlike lives, so how can “few” be chosen? We can go back to the parable to see what that means. There are those who took lightly the king’s generosity, who had farm work to do, business to attend to and those who murdered the king’s slaves who were his messengers.

What would our world look like if everyone everywhere answered God’s call and lived their lives as those selected by Christ? Would there be war between the Russians and Ukrainians? Would there be the terrible destruction in the Holy Land, laden with death?

This may seem simplistic and naive, but just think about it. It only takes a bit of light to extinguish the darkness. But we are here and so much trouble is over there. Can’t our light, the light of Christ, spread from person to nations to our world? What specifically can we do for this to occur?

Thursday morning, I wrote an email to Bishop Miller, thanking him for the letter I shared with you this morning. I then signed a petition to President Biden to not fight war with war. I have been praying for other parts of the world. Likewise, I must say that my heart is especially moved by incidents in the Holy Land, having lived there in the 1980s for 6 ½ years. 

I am especially struggling with the little news that we’re hearing about the Palestinian situation in all the fighting. We only hear of Hamas and other terrorist organizations. But there are innocent civilians whose hospitals are not receiving supplies. Barricades are preventing food and medicine from reaching residents of Gaza. They have been told to leave because of the oncoming ground offensive, but have nowhere to go and no way out. There is no electricity because the Israelis have shut it off. I suspect there is no fresh water either.

We experienced such tactics when we lived in Bethlehem, in the West Bank. There were times we didn’t get water for days. The electricity and phone would be shut off. Whenever there was trouble, we knew the phone would be shut off. That was the case in 1989 when my mother was in the hospital. When she died, friends in Rochester could not call us to tell us. Our pastor in Jerusalem did not experience such phone issues, so they had his number and called him. 

We were happily playing board games one evening when there was a knock at the door. It was our pastor. We invited him in, expecting he would come just for a visit. He told us my mother had died. To drive the short distance from Jerusalem to Bethlehem (10.4 miles) he had to go through a security checkpoint. The Israeli soldiers did not want to allow him through, even though his van said “pastor” in English, Hebrew and Arabic. He finally was allowed to go through to Bethlehem.

Most of us will not be called to such extreme measures of obedience to Christ and his calling to us. But how can we today, in Bemus Point, Jamestown and Chautauqua County be “chosen?”

Like Jesus, we can feed the hungry, hang out with outsiders, heal the hurting. If we cannot do these things, we can pray for those in need, enabling others to do what we cannot. 

Think of the small beginnings of the Five Loaves and Two Fish Ministry. Yesterday, I heard that we are now packaging 800 bags of food a month. Like the author, T. S. Lawrence said, “From small beginnings come great things.” If allowed, God does the work in our lives to make us chosen. Jesus invites all to the banquet of life, so that we may live invitational lives. 



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