Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Matthew 22:1-18)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost + October 15, 2017
Text: Matthew 22:1-18

In both the Old and New Testaments, God describes His people as  “kingdom of priests.”  In Exodus 19 He says, “you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  The Apostle Peter reiterates this when he writes to New Testament Christians, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”[1]
But really, what does it mean that God calls us a royal priesthood?  Are we to walk around in long robes and never stray far from the proverbial temple?  Does the command to “touch no unclean thing” mean we should isolate ourselves from those we think are unbelievers?
This Gospel reading gets at one of the main things it means for the Church to be a kingdom of priests is to represent God to those around us.   That means praying for people and showing them the love and mercy our heavenly Father.  But, it sometimes means being His messengers.  Remember how God desires all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth?  To this end He sent His Son to die to the sins of the world, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  This is what He wants for all people—every person we meet.
In this parable, we see two ways that plays out.  The first is that the Church is to call people out of false security in this life.  The Church is sent out with the unique message that everyone must repent and be reconciled to God before it’s too late.  We are to warn them to flee from the wrath to come and return to the Lord—whether this means showing them their sin by their false ideas about God, the lapsed attendance and avoiding hearing God’s Word, or amending a life that is not God-pleasing.  But this isn’t always successful, as we hear in the parable:
First they go out to invite them on the King’s authority.  That should be enough, because if the King invites you, you do well to listen.  But they ignore this summons.  Then, the messengers go out with the good news, “See I have prepared my dinner…everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast!”  If their refusal were a matter of ignorance, this ought to eliminate that obstacle.  Now they even know that the King who summons them bids them come on His expense to a great banquet.  But even the Good News is met with indifference or hostility.
That’s how it is in our generation, and has been in the past.  Today the Gospel is more widely known than perhaps at any other time in human history, yet in the Western world it is met with the greatest apathy.  If Wal-Mart were giving away free 65” TV’s, you would have more people line up than would come to the divine service where God freely bestows peace with Him and the hope of eternal life.  We find more pleasure in the things of this life—our jobs, our stuff, and our families—than in the heavenly peace which could undergird our enjoyment of all these temporal gifts.
When the Church gathers them in, it’s also to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins.  Every person who comes through these doors should hear the Bible.  They need to know how serious God is about His holy Law, how we have fallen short of the glory of God, and that for the sake of Christ, your sins are forgiven.
It’s too easy for us to make this about “going to Church” and satisfying a religious desire or nostalgia.
The situation of the man without the wedding garment is pitiable because—as far as humanly possible—he should not have been allowed to be a false saint in God’s Church on earth.  He should have heard that God wrath is not appeased by simply “going to church” and acting like a good Christian.
On the other hand, it’s pitiable for him because perhaps he did hear this and he refused to heed the call to repentance.  Perhaps he persisted in his preference for “old time” religion that talks about hell but doesn’t actually believe in such a place, or talks about Jesus but more as a mythical figure to help us psychologically deal with guilt.
So we see that the Church isn’t just a social club vying for increased membership, fighting against the tide of being obsolete.  We also see that the Church isn’t just another non-profit “after your money.”
What we are called to be is a light to the world, the salt of the earth.  We are a kingdom of priests to our God, whose calling it is to witness to those around us that there is salvation in no one else except Jesus Christ.  There is no way to have assurance and peace in the face of disease and death except through the promise of resurrection.
[1] Exodus 19:5-6; 1 Peter 2:9