October 11, 2020 (Proper 23A)
9:30 a.m. serviceSisters and brothers, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Have you ever really regretted turning down an invitation?
When I was in my first few months of college one of my cousins got married. I’m from a pretty close-knit family and certainly all of us were invited. We also like to party. And this cousin liked to party more than the rest of us. He was marrying into a prominent South Carolina family that also liked to party, as people in South Carolina are known to do. Several days of parties. “The number of shrimp who gave their lives for this wedding,” my mother said afterward, with awe in her voice.
Of course I wanted to go. But I was in school. And it was the experimental college I’ve mentioned to you before. I was four hours by car and bus from the nearest airport, and in any case we lived under a strict isolation policy that was meant to keep us from going off to the nearby town of Bishop, California to have fun and be trivial. I didn’t even ask for permission to go to this family celebration.
Later on I learned that the student body would almost certainly have given me permission to break the isolation policy (I know this is starting to sound like a cult but I promise it wasn’t) and go. A wedding is a singular event. It was, from all accounts, a very special party. And I regret missing it.
Today’s Gospel is about missing a wedding party. And I can’t help but think about how we respond to invitations, or not. Among your friends and family you are probably the person who makes a lot of invitations, or the person who waits for them. You are probably someone who always or usually says yes to game night or watching the Cowboys with your friends or going hiking; or you are someone who is strongly inclined to say no, or nothing at all. I’ve noticed over the last several months that I have become more and more reclusive. Partly this is a safety issue. But at least as much as that, I’ve discovered a tendency to hole up and shut out the world.
The first round of guests in today’s story all make some kind of excuse. They have business to attend to. And that’s real. When we get an invitation, from God or from our neighbor, we can easily miss the party because we think we have something more important to do. In the parable it’s a King making the invitation, not just to drink beers and watch the Cowboys but to celebrate his son’s wedding, and so their casual refusal is a serious breach of honor. And of course some mistreat or even kill the servants who send the invitation.
I don’t have any experience with that. But missing the party is bad enough. It’s a big deal. There won’t be another chance.
What’s really interesting about this story is that the guests who refuse to go get replaced. The King, wanting a real banquet for his son, sends out the servants to bring in anyone from the street to celebrate.
And that is part of the point of this parable. You can’t ruin the party by skipping it. You can only miss out. God will find someone to say Yes if you insist on saying No.
Since very early days Christians have understood our worship as the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, or the Son, of God. We celebrate the union of Christ and his Church here, together. And this feast, where we share the Sacrament of his body and blood, is a preview of the great Wedding Feast that will sum up and complete and restore all of creation at the end of the age. That’s the image we get from today’s Isaiah reading: God plays host to all the nations of the earth, feeding them with rich food and wiping away every tear. We are greatly privileged to have been called to this feast in advance.
And just like the guests in the story, we aren’t called because we’re special, or because we’ve earned anything from God. We’re called because God wants a feast. God wants a crowd. It simply pleases him to do this.
Our only task is to say yes when we hear the call. That means coming to worship however we safely and responsibly can. It means making a commitment of time and money, however small or large, to the work of God’s church. It means showing forth our Lord in our words and actions every day, even when it’s hard, even when it means putting aside some pressing business that would distract us and keep us away from the party.
Because that, in the end, is what this is all about. Don’t miss the party. Amen.
God's Work. Our hands.