Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sermon for October 11-12

Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
October 11-12, 2008
Text: Matthew 22:1-14

Dear Friends in Christ,
The American religion is a vague sort of Deistic universalism. About now you’re asking, what did pastor just say? It really very simple, so let’s pull this apart. Most Americans are religious, even if they don’t come to church. There are very few atheists and agnostics in the United States. Just to clarify further, an atheist dogmatically believes that there is no god. An agnostic, on the other hand, just says I don’t know if there is a god or not and if there is a god, I don’t know who he is. But both of these groups are very small in the U.S. - probably less than ten percent of the population. Most Americans do believe that there is a god. The American religion does not really define who god is. They might attach the name Jesus Christ, but it is hardly the historic, Scriptural understanding of Christ. The god of American religion tells us to be nice to one another and doesn’t really tell us anything is wrong. This god helps those who help themselves. And he certainly would never send anyone to hell. So in the American religion, everyone is going to heaven. We call this universalism. Sadly, many Americans bring this false theology into the church. It’s not just out in the community.

I have said many times, that the purpose of true Christian teaching is to show us who God is, what God has done, and what God has promised. Our text teaches a great deal about all three off these questions.

Who is God? He is the King and His Son. God the Father is giving a wedding feast for His Son. Ironically, the guests and the bride are one and the same. The Bride is the Church, for which Christ died and rose again. All the authority of God the Father is given over to the Son. So this parable tells us a good deal about God. While it does not fully explain the doctrine of the Trinity, it certainly points us to the relationship between the Father and the Son.

What Has God done? He has sent His Son to be the Bridegroom. Now Scripture pulls no punches on this. Throughout the Bible we find the Bride, that is the Church, described as an unfaithful whore. For example, in Ezekiel 23, we see the Church of the Old Testament, that is Israel and Judah, described as two sisters named Oholah and Oholibah, who were prostitutes. Israel was a great sinner. Judah was worse. We see this in our text. The invited guests are the Church. But the Church refuses the invitation. The Church continues to play the whore. Yet, Christ marries the Church as His virgin bride. This is what the forgiveness of sins does. It restores the whore to virginity. So what Has Christ done? He has, through the forgiveness of sins restored the Church to faithfulness and holiness. But we must remember that the Church is only faithful through the forgiveness of our sins. When the first guests refuse, other guests are brought until the hall is full. This reflects the gift of salvation. The wedding hall here is heaven. If you are a guest, you don’t deserve to be there. The host is choosing to invite you in. It is a gift.

What else does God do in this parable? “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” Later in the parable we read: “Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” God saves and God condemns. This is the thing that the American religion so vehemently rejects. They will say, how can a loving god send people to hell? Let me tell a parable of my own. A man was convicted of murder and order to be executed. But the governor of the state decided to pardon the man and set him free. The man then went out and murdered a whole bunch more people. Was the governor loving in setting the man free? No, he did great harm to those who were later murdered. In a very real sense the blood of those murdered is on the on the governor’s hands just as much as it is on the murder’s hands. The real act of love would have been to carry out the execution so that no one else would die. God is not unjust in condemning people to hell. We are born in a state of rebellion against God. That alone would be just cause for our condemnation. But Christ pays the price of our sins and offers us forgiveness. If one then refuses Christ’s gift, are they not doubly guilty before God? Can God then be held accountable for the destruction of those for whom He has died? What more could God have done for them? Further by sending them to hell, they can do no further hurt to God’s people.

Now it should distress us that some will end up in hell. We do not rejoice in the fall another. We rejoice in the in repentance of the sinner. We are to share God’s mind on this and be grieved that anyone would be condemned. But we also must recognize the justice and necessity of it.

What is this about the man who shows up without the wedding garment? First we must ask what the wedding garment is? The wedding garment is Christ’s righteousness. We are worthy to be at the wedding feast if the Righteousness of Jesus Christ is our clothing. This is what we mean by the robe of righteousness. The pastor’s white robe, which is called an alb, is intended to remind us that we are covered over with the perfect righteousness of Christ. How does one get this robe of Christ’s righteousness? It is given as a free gift. So the man is thrown out because He has refused to be covered over with Christ’s righteousness.

This parable is a warning to the Church as a whole and to Christians individually. God doesn’t need you. He can replace you. Your place in God’s banquet hall is a gift from Jesus Christ. He gives that in love. But God’s patience is one of the things about God that is not infinite. It does run out. For those who persist in opposing God and insist upon rejecting Christ’s forgiveness time will run out. The day will come when God will say “get thee hence to hell.” This is a parable of warning and judgment. We dare not ignore that warning.

This parable really wraps up what Christ has done with what He promises. He promises forgiveness and life to those who trust in Him. He promises judgement and wrath to those who reject Him. This parable is a warning particularly against those in the Church who reject Christ. But this parable also gives us a beautiful image of heaven and salvation. Covered in the dazzling garment of Christ’s righteousness we are gathered into the great wedding feast. The most delectable dishes are laid out before us, the finest wine and beer are poured for us. I picture steaming platters of tender meat, sweet grapes the size of apples, pecan pies with fresh cream on top and any other delectable food we can imagine. All this because Christ, the Bridegroom is taking His bride the Church. He has restored His bride to virginal holiness. He does this by tenderly and lovingly covering it with His own righteousness. Yes, there is judgement here. That is because God does judge. But there is the most glorious picture of grace as well. We will be part of that great feast - the feast that cannot end. We will be there because we are covered by Christ.

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