Sunday, October 12, 2008

Called, Chosen, and Clothed

Good morning dear baptized, dearly beloved and blessed children of God,

A few years ago, in fact the last time this text showed up as our Gospel lesson for the day, there was one of those silly news stories that sticks with someone like me. Especially now that I have been volunteering as a chaplain with the Layton City Police Department, I can’t help but remember and get a chuckle out of it whenever I come across our Lord’s Parable of the Wedding Banquet. The story according to the police report says that a man was arrested on a Friday night for shopping at the 7-11 here in Clearfield.

Well, he wasn’t really arrested for shopping. He was arrested for shopping without wearing shoes or a shirt – or anything else. Yes, he was naked.

Funny word, naked. I see many of you giggling at the word even now – or maybe you are giggling at the picture of someone sauntering in to the local convenience store in the all-together. What a picture. It is reminiscent of the story we all read as little kids, "The Emperors New Clothes."

While such an adventure, a grown man purposely parading around in public as naked as a jaybird is rather silly sounding, it is also sad – and plain wrong. There really is no place one can go without being properly [however we define properly these days] clothed without being arrested, is there? While being properly clothed has become rather passe these days, if you were to pop over to the Golden Corral in your birthday suit, you too would find yourself handcuffed in the back seat of a police vehicle – maybe even wearing one of those lovely white coats with the formal sleeves that tie behind the back.

In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus tells a parable about someone just as daft as the 7-11 streaker.
"But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless."

Now the guest may not have been naked, but he might as well have been. At best he was like someone wearing a Halloween costume or sweaty, torn and dirty work clothes, because "Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'"

This man, and all who present themselves as friends of the Lord based upon who they are or what they have done rather than upon who He is and what He has done for them, are those of whom Jesus also said, "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matt 7:23, NKJ)

And this was no new teaching for the Jewish religious leaders even though they still didn’t seem to get it, because the prophet Isaiah, whom they revered and whose words they studied and taught, spoke the same message as the parable: But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. Isa 64:6 NKJ

The parable they heard is again an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. This particular parable is at the same time about the history of God calling His people Israel and the continuing story of His church today. The heavenly banquet is closed to those without the wedding clothes of faith, which are none other than the robes of Christ’s righteousness we receive in Holy Baptism. Pretenders, those come to celebrate themselves rather than the groom are not welcome. These are the ones without the wedding garments. This by the way, is why we require our pastors in the Lutheran Church to make sure that everyone who comes to the Lord’s table is taught and examined lest they end up like the man without clothes – snatched away in the middle of the feast as a pretender and cast away with the unbelievers.

Of course there are many in this world today, just as in the days of Jesus and before who don’t care to be at the banquet at all – these are they who declined the invitation, some to play in the fields and others to tend to business and still others even going so far as to persecute those who bear the invitation. This sinful attitude, sadly also shared by many who have even been given the precious wedding clothes of Baptism, is what our Lord is speaking of when He gives us the Third Commandment:
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

But some Lutherans may ask, if we are saved by grace through faith and not by our own works, are we not now free from this commandment and at liberty to do as we please on any given Lord’s day? This is the same question and problem the church faced in Luther’s time, to which responded in the Preface of the Small Catechism:
"Since [works righteousness among us] has been abolished, people are no longer willing to go to the Sacrament, and thus they despise it. here again encouragement is necessary, yet with understanding: We are to force no one to believe or to receive the Sacrament. Nor should we set up any law, time, or place for it. Instead, preach in such a way that by their own will, without our law, they will urge themselves and, as it were, compel us pastors to administer the Sacrament. This is done by telling them, 'When someone does not seek or desire the Sacrament at least four times a year, it is to be feared that he despises the Sacrament and is not a Christian, just as a person is not a Christian who does not believe or hear the Gospel,' for Christ did not say, 'Leave this out, or despise this,' but, 'Do this often as you drink it' (1 Corinthians 11:25), and other such words. Truly, He wants it done, and not entirely neglected and despised. 'Do this,' He says."

Again, why do this if we are saved by grace and nothing we do, including going to church can save us? Very simply because, as our dear Lord Jesus tells us in our text, "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!"

It is not our going to church or what we do there that saves us. Going to church means that we are going to the place where God is feeding us with the bread of life – that is, "every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God" for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Six days a week you live in a world that is doing its best to convince you that God doesn’t exist -- or if He does that He is a God whom we have to fear and figure out a way to satisfy by doing enough good stuff so that He isn’t angry with you anymore.

But on the seventh day, God calls you to a day of rest. And this not a day simply to rest from our earthly labors and do nothing but what is fun and entertaining and distracting from your troubles, but a day to rest in the tender loving care of your Lord and your God. It is a day to rest from the labor of trying to please Him or hide from Him and to enjoy the good things that only come from Him through His Word. You see, without hearing the Word of God for the forgiveness of sins, your rest and recreation is really no rest at all.

That is why Luther goes on to say in his Preface:
"Now, whoever does not highly value the Sacrament shows that he has no sin, no flesh, no devil, no world, no death, no danger, no hell. In other words, he does not believe such things, although he is in them up over his head and his ears and is doubly the devil’s own. On the other hand, he needs no grace, no life, no paradise, no heaven, no Christ, no God, nor anything good. For if he believed that he had so much evil around him, and needed so much that is good, he would not neglect the Sacrament, by which evil is remedied and so much good is bestowed. Nor would it be necessary top force him to go to the Sacrament by any law. he would come running and racing of his own will, would force himself, and beg that you must give him the Sacrament. Therefore you must not make any law about this.... Only set forth clearly the benefit and harm, the need and use, the danger and the blessing, connected with the Sacrament."

That, dearly beloved of God, is what the parable in our Gospel lesson does for us today – it "sets forth clearly the benefit and harm, the need and use, the danger and the blessing, connected with the Sacrament. [So that] then the people will come on their own without you forcing them. But if they do not come, let them go their way and tell them that such people belong to the devil who do not regard nor feel their great need and God’s gracious help. But if you do not urge this, or make a law or make it bitter, it is your fault if they despise the Sacrament."

This week is Utah Education Association week, which for one thing means with Thursday and Friday off, Disneyland will be loaded with Utahns this weekend. Imagine somehow I was able to offer everyone in attendance at Trinity Lutheran Church today free Disneyland passes, lodging, and clothing. We would be packed and there would be a sea of black ears. Since we are not packed, does that mean we should make our church more like Disneyland?

Dear people of God, the kingdom of God is what this parable of the wedding banquet is all about. As Martin Luther teaches us, the kingdom of heaven "is what we call the Christian church on earth." Or as St. Cyprian, a third century church father, pastor, and author of "Church Unity’ succinctly states: "He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother."

The whole reason that God is so adamant that you Remember the Sabbath Day by hearing His Word is to invite you to the wedding banquet of Christ to His church, and to clothe you for it. To stay away from the banquet as it is set before you is to decline the very gift of heaven itself. And to come without wearing the wedding clothes of Christ is to invite punishment. In other words, to avoid church for whatever reason is to separate yourself from God and His kingdom.

But, "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!" clothed in beautiful wedding garments at the invitation of our heavenly Father.

Dear people of Trinity, the Lord brings this glorious and marvelous message to you today for your benefit and to save you from great harm. He wants you to know He is ALWAYS here, even to the end of the age -- to feast with you as He feeds you with the bread of His life and the blood of His forgiveness. This means that you are called, chosen, and clothed by God to live in His heavenly kingdom now and forevermore.

He also tells you this today because you all know someone who is abstaining from the table of the Lord because they have better things to do. Business or pleasure, it doesn’t matter, neither has the earthly benefit or the heavenly blessing that is served in the most generous of portions at the banquet table of our Lord.

"Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!" This heavenly wedding feast is prepared for you by the Father, for the sake of His Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Welcome to the wedding feast you blessed of the Lord! Enjoy, take comfort and be strengthened by the very presence of our Lord at the table with us, clearly revealed in His Word spoken into your ears and mysteriously hidden under the bread and wine He places between your lips. You are indeed blessed as you eat bread in the kingdom of God, for you are clothed in the wedding garment of the Lord that is your Baptism into His Word that forgives you all of your sins...
in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

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