“Ya’ll Come” Colchester Federated Church, October 15, 2017, (Matthew 22:1-14) Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

One of my most memorable Thanksgivings was gathering with fellow seminarians for our first Friendsgiving. Friendsgiving is defined as Thanksgiving with friends—the benefits often include (but are not limited to): minimal travel and zero family drama!  Sometimes people gather for Friendsgiving before Thanksgiving and then have the big meal with their families.  Other times, Thanksgiving Day becomes Friendsgiving.  That first Friendsgiving happened because it wasn’t feasible to travel to be with my family and some friends were in the same boat.  The head of the Student Association organized a campus-wide Thanksgiving dinner open to anyone.  Andover Newton provided the turkey and the rest of us were asked to bring one dish to share.  All the international students stayed on campus and had never experienced an American Thanksgiving before.  So, as our Southern friends said, “Ya’ll come!”  That could have been the theme of our open and welcoming atmosphere—we even had some professors who lived on campus show up for the feast.

We had the best time!  There was something so nice about choosing to gather and then sharing our individual family traditions in the form of casseroles and desserts and sweet tea and you name it.  Some of these seminary friends and I continue our Friendsgiving tradition—we still share the predicament of living several states away from our families and often can’t travel because now we’re all serving churches and can’t take Sundays off easily.  So for what it’s worth, I think that Jesus would love the modern concept of Friendsgiving because this tradition brings people together who aren’t even related around a table on an important occasion to eat and drink and share their lives.  This modern tradition can even remind us of Jesus speaking about the Wedding Banquet in Matthew’s Gospel.

In this parable, the king throws a wedding banquet for his son and invites special guests to be part of the celebration.  He sends his slaves to go out and call the guests to come because everything was now ready.  Except the guests don’t show up!  The king sends out more slaves to invite the guests and tells them to say, “Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.”[1]  But the guests make light of the invitation and go away.  One went to his farm and another to his business.  Some of the other guests seized the slaves, mistreated them, and even killed them—apparently they were pretty mad about this wedding banquet invitation the way Jesus tells the story.  When the king hears of what’s happened, he’s enraged.  He can’t believe it!  So he sends his troops out to destroy the murderers and burn their city.

Once that unpleasantness is handled, the king tells the slaves that those invited to the banquet weren’t worthy.  He gives instructions to the slaves who are left to, “Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.”[2]  So that’s what happens—the slaves go out and invite everyone they find to enjoy the banquet, both good and bad, everybody!  Ya’ll come!  But the king notices that one of his guests isn’t wearing a wedding robe and says, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?”  And he was speechless!  So the king orders him to be thrown into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  (Remember I told you months ago that Matthew loves that phrase?)  Here it is again—for apparently many are called, but few are chosen.  And if you go to a wedding banquet in the wrong outfit, even if you were literally invited in off the streets to come to this banquet, you’ll get kicked out.

Well, this is certainly an interesting parable that Jesus tells.  And it’s rather difficult because it seems at first like everyone is going to be accepted at this banquet.  It’s the First Century version of Friendsgiving where everyone is welcome at the table.  The guests are invited by the slaves going out into the main streets and gathering anyone they could find—good, bad, doesn’t matter.  The wedding hall overflows with guests.  The VIP guests didn’t seem to appreciate the initial invitation, though others were found who wanted to be there.  The party commences and it seems that all is well.

Though what’s up with the man who shows up without a wedding robe?  And how do we understand the treatment he receives from the king who has him thrown out of the party?  Well, we can understand these two sides of the parable by holding them together in tension.  Everyone is welcome at the table off the streets, no matter what.  Once the wedding banquet invitation is rejected by the original guests, the king does throw open his doors to all people.  Remember Matthew is writing his Gospel at a time when the followers of Jesus were having a rough time within the Jewish community.  Just as Jesus himself had a rough time with the Pharisees and Sadducees during his lifetime!  Lots of family fighting going on here.  Though the point of the parable is that once the guests arrive at the table they were called to show mercy as they had received mercy.  The party seems to be about more than just showing up—it matters that you bring your best self here.  It matters that you accept the invitation with your whole heart, even that you dress the part to show that you have accepted your place here with God’s people.  You are to take on the garments of Jesus Christ.

Let’s think of the symbolism.  The king is meant to be God.  The son receiving the wedding party is Jesus (Jesus was probably unmarried but we’re dealing with symbolism here so roll with it.)  The symbolic meaning of the wedding robe is the mercy of God.  God is inviting everyone to Jesus’ party and there is room at the table for everyone.  But we have to say yes to the invitation.  The important thing here is that we can say no.  We can reject the invitation.  We can go our merry ways to our farms or our businesses like the original invited guests.  We have free will.  God doesn’t want coerced love, God wants wholehearted love.  Though if we say yes and show up to the wedding banquet—we best be clothed in God’s compassion.[3]  For just as that compassionate invitation to the table was extended to us, we have to extend it to one another.

It’s like the traditional folk story of The Stranger’s Gift.  There was once this village that had fallen on hard times.  The villagers had been happy and the community was known far and wide for hospitality and friendliness, for the warmth that was extended to strangers.  But something had gone terribly wrong.  People began to fight with one another.  Rivalries surfaced where at one time there had been trust and friendship.  The chief of the village was so sad about this development.  And he knew that the people would never be happy since the villagers had no trust in one another.  He couldn’t even think of anything to do to bring back peace and harmony to the people.  And in the meantime strangers no longer wanted to come to the village.  The people stopped caring for their community and it began to fall into ruin.

But one day, a stranger came to town.  He approached the village like he was on a mission.  Soon, he met the village chief and recognized the sadness in his eyes.  These two people began to have a serious conversation and the village chief confided in this stranger.  He told him that he felt despair and fear, he wondered if soon the village would cease to be.  The stranger listened intently and said to the chief that he knew of one way that the village could be redeemed and restored to become a real community again.  “Tell me the secret,” the village chief begged.  And the stranger said that the secret is really quite simple, “The fact is, one of the villagers is actually the Messiah.”

The village chief couldn’t believe what he was hearing at first.  But the stranger had this authority about him and the village chief believed what he had to say.  The stranger left soon after sharing this important information.  And the village chief couldn’t help but tell his best friend what the stranger had told him.  Well, you know how these things go in small towns and villages.  Soon, everybody heard the news.  People couldn’t believe it!  “The Messiah is one of us!  Hidden somewhere in our village is the Messiah!”

Deep down in their hearts, these villagers wanted things to be right in their community.  The very thought that the Messiah was living among them made them see one another differently.  Could the Messiah be the baker?  Or the mail carrier?  Or the teacher?  Or the farmer?  Speculations ran wild as the villagers wondered who the Messiah could be.  After the stranger’s visit, things were never the same again.  People began to treat one another with nothing short of reverence.  They lived like people who were seeking for something very precious together.  They lived with a common purpose, never really knowing whether the treasure was actually right in front of them.  And before too long, the visitors returned.  Because their guests wanted to be part of the happy and holy atmosphere there.  Though the stranger never returned because you see, he didn’t need to.[4]

What would it be like if we believed that we can be clothed in the garments of Christ?  What would it look like if we lived as if we accepted an invitation to the banquet and then put on those garments of mercy for one another?  Or even went out into the streets ourselves and invited others to the table of Jesus Christ?  For there is room at God’s table for everyone.  Many are called.  Invitations have been extended.  Friendsgiving is alive and well—ya’ll come!

Though no one is going to force us to make an appearance at the wedding banquet.  No one is going to twist our arms and tell us that we have to accept the invitation.  It’s up to each and every one of us to say yes to God in our lives.  To extend the compassion that God has shown us to one another and therefore have the kind of happy and holy community we can imagine if every single person was treated as if they could be Jesus among us.  May it be so.  Amen.

[1] Matthew 22:4, NRSV.
[2] Matthew 22:9.
[3] Erick J. Thompson, Commentary on Matthew 22:1-14, Working Preacher, October 15, 2017 https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3443
[4] “The Stranger’s Gift”, Margaret Silf, One Hundred Wisdom Stories from around the World, 130-131.