Sunday, October 17, 2010

Trinity 20 Sermon Notes

“But they made light of it”


Note the abundance and generosity of what was offered in today’s Gospel. See, I have prepared my dinner;  my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”1 This is an analogy of the greatness and glory of God’s offer to us. What is the offer? An eternal feast on Christ who is our “food”, our life source: here and now in the sacrament we physically eat, in the next life without a veil, as we see him face to face and are brought into an even deeper spiritual union. And it really is a feast. It is to be enjoyed.

And so, in this story the foolishness of those first invited is that they would prefer to go about their daily grind than be treated with honour and have a huge party. They “went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business.” The irony of this is meant to remind Jesus’ listeners of how self-destructive, how irrational is the behaviour of those who reject the invitation -- and how this is just like those who reject God, who wants us to be happy!

The Gospel really is Good News. It is not merely that God saves or rescues us from a nasty situation. He will take us to bliss and true fulfilment as human beings.

“But they made light of it”. Jesus is first referring to the Jewish leaders who were rejecting him, the upper class people who would have been the first invited to any Royal wedding. But the picture portrayed of carelessness (even about one’s own best interests) and cruelty (shooting the messenger, so to speak), applies to many people throughout history. You see, when I said before that God rescues us from a nasty situation, that nasty situation is us. Mankind is sunk in his own muck, trapped by pride and hate and lust, and so used to his darkness that he can not be bothered reaching for the light. That is why humans are so often either dead to the astonishing offer of the Gospel, or angered by it. No enlightened self-interest here!

While it is true that the Christian life is not just one long self-indulgent party, Jesus in this parable rightly emphasises the enormous good God has planned for us. After all, as St Paul says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18). And there is much happiness and consolation on this side of the grave as well, of course.

And yet, just when we think the parable is over, as the King now opens the wonderful invitation to everybody and they flood into the banqueting hall, Jesus introduces the sting in the tail. Yes, God is calling all to Him to partake of his bounty, and many enter. But these include “bad and good”. Not all enter in the right spirit. Perhaps they are determined to eat all they can, even if it means others miss out. Perhaps they are there to mock, begin an argument or bignote themselves. Whatever the case, some will answer the call that still despise the King who gave it. That is why trouble comes when the King returns. And this, of course represents the Judgement at Christ's return.

Not to have worn a wedding garment showed the man singled out also “made light of” the invitation, despite accepting it. He couldn’t even be bothered dressing properly. So, this man represents those who are careless and unrighteous within the Church.

What does the Wedding Garment itself represent altogether, considered positively? The symbol of clothing is much used in the New Testament, and has a corresponding richness of inter-related meanings.

The first thing to understand about the garment of this parable is that, since there was no opportunity for those pulled off the streets to go home and properly dress for the feast, they would have been given the Wedding Garment at the door, as was often done back then according to a number of scholars. That is why there was no excuse for the man without one. (Way back in Genesis [45:22] we see Joseph making sure his brothers have special festal garments, and this may have been in part because they would now be guests of Pharaoh at times.) So, the Wedding Garment is a gift of the King and thus represents a gift from God.

But what is this gift, precisely? How are we “clothed” by God, that we might enter the banqueting hall legitimately? St Paul effectively answers this question in Galatians 3:27 and Colossians 3:10. “[A]s many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” … “[You] have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him that created him.” We receive the Garment by baptism, which sacramentally brings us into the Church, and it consists of the gift of a new nature, Christ imprinting his own image, so to speak, on us. (This is where the custom of the baptised being clothed in a white robe comes from.) Note that this putting on or clothing is written of in the past tense, as already accomplished. Revelation 7:14 refers to Christians as having washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, that is, in Christ's blood. This means that the perfection of the freely-given Garment is based on the forgiveness of sins through the Cross, which we receive by faith as well as by baptism, for we are told of Christ that “ God [has] set [him] forth to be a propitiation by His blood, through faith" [Romans 3:25]. Our Garment is the robe of salvation. It truly is a festal robe, a robe of rejoicing [cp. Luke 15:21f]. We receive it through the reception of Christ in baptism, and through trust in Him and His redemptive work for us, which rescues us from sin and death.

However, the Scriptures have another side to their teaching about the Garment. In Revelation 16:15 Jesus says: “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.” The Garment must be kept by the wearer, who does this by being always prepared spiritually, ready for death or Christ's return [cp. 14:12-13]. And, how, specifically, do we maintain the spotless Garment of baptismal grace? St Paul helps us here by teaching about putting on the same Garment in the present-tense. In Ephesians 4:24 he says to “put on the new man,which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness.” He immediately follows this up with a “therefore” and a list of instructions. These can be summarised as repentance from sin with amendment of life as well as commitment to good works, acts of mercy and kindness. In other words, to put on, or keep on, the Garment, we perpetually turn from sin and towards love. This is further emphasised in Colossians 3:12-14, where St Paul tells Christians to “[p]ut on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved,” compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, forgiveness and the epitome of them all, love. Note that this instruction begins with the reminder that they are already chosen and loved by God. So, none of this means we create or earn the Garment, for we have already been told that God created it as a gift, a gift woven on the beams of the Cross, and that all we can do is put it on and keep it on. Nevertheless, for those who have been baptised and pretend to themselves that this and nothing more is sufficient, both Scripture and the Church warn that penitent faith and love must also dwell and abide with those who have reached the age of reason, or else they risk the same fate as the man in this parable. And one of Revelation's mentions of the Wedding Garment says it consists of the good works of the saints [19:8]. This would seem to contradict its previous affirmations that the Garment is a gift [6:11] dependent on forgiveness [7:14], until one realises that, according to Scripture, all our service is acceptable only through the Cross, and all our works are themselves gifts [Hebrews 13:15-16, Philippians 2:13]. As St Augustine said, “Our merits are God's gifts”.

Is there anything else to say about the Garment, this clothing with Christ and his grace? Yes. St Paul also tells us to put on the Armour of God, which he equates to faith, hope and love, our attachment to truth, God's word, and the gospel, and knowledge of salvation and righteousness in heart and mind [see Ephesians 6:13-17 and 1 Thessalonians 5:8]. All of which is summed up by the concept of living or active faith in Christ Crucified [cp. Galatians 5:6, James 2:17-26]. This clearly is no different to the robe we have been speaking of. So, the Wedding Garment, the baptismal robe, is spiritual protection as well. It has power as well as beauty. It is through that power we are enabled to keep ourselves so clothed.

As we soak in this imagery, let us attend to both the warning and the promise of the Parable, and endeavour to remain clothed with that glorious apparel of salvation, in order to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah [61:3-4]: that God may “give unto [us] beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that [we] might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. And [we] shall build the old wastes, [we] shall raise up the former desolations, and [we] shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations.” We are called upon to rejoice and rebuild! Then may we say with the same prophet: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.” For it is our own spiritual wedding to which we are being invited, as the Body and Bride of Christ [Ephesians 5:21-32], cleansed by Him, united to Him, loved by Him, and so spreading that love to others. +

1All Biblical quotations are either from the KJV or the The New King James Version. 1996, c1982 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville

No comments: