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Worship and Sermons
October 11, 2020

“The Kingdom” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, October, 2020, Year A / 18th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22) –  Exodus 32:1-14 and Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23  •  Isaiah 25:1-9 and Psalm 23  •  Philippians 4:1-9  •  Matthew 22:1-14

THEME:  Focus on our own repentance and bearing fruit by obeying God’s will and don’t presume others are saved or not.


Have you ever been invited somewhere only to arrive and realize you were underdressed?  What a horrible feeling, right? 

Many people actually have nightmares about this.  They wake up in a sweat from a dream where they were in public and suddenly found out that they were naked, or dressed only in their underwear.  

There are few feelings worse than that.  It’s a situation we would all dearly like to avoid at any cost.


As it turns out, that’s also the point Jesus makes as he tells the parable of the wedding banquet.

Jesus is in the midst of confronting the scribes and pharisees who have stubbornly opposed him and his ministry.  In response, he tells them a series of parables about the Kingdom of God.  His point is to shock them into realizing that they may not be suitable to enter it.

This particular parable functions as a mirror in which these Jewish leaders are meant to see themselves as the invited guests to a royal wedding.

All these invitees have all responded that they would attend the wedding banquet, but they don’t show up when the time comes.  That alone is shocking enough, but even when the king sends his slaves to personally remind them, they still refuse. 

Some of them simply ignore the King’s messengers.  Others beat them and kill them.  The messengers represent God’s prophets like John the Baptist, who was killed by the Jerusalem leadership.

The result is the destruction of their city.  Matthew’s readers would have personally experienced this when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans.

So the King, who represents God of course, extends the invitation to anyone and everyone, both good and bad.  And, finally, the wedding hall is filled.  But there’s one there who doesn’t belong.  He’s not wearing wedding clothes, and so the king casts him out into the darkness.  More about him in a moment.

We usually hear this parable as representing God’s judgment, don’t we?  And that is true.  Attending the king’s wedding banquet represents salvation.  But the message is more than that.

This is a cautionary tale warning us not to presume salvation.  When it comes to the Kingdom, God’s admission process and criteria are different than we might expect.

In the 1st century world of Jesus, it was assumed that religious position and prestige guaranteed early admittance and a good seat at God’s heavenly wedding banquet, but Jesus is turning that idea on its head. 

As he teaches his disciples, in God’s Kingdom, the last shall be first and the first shall be last.  These privileged and respected elites who seem to be first in line for everything in our world, may be among the last to get into God’s Kingdom, if they get there at all.

The ordinary folks, both the good and bad, may very well end up among the first ones to be saved.  That’s what Jesus meant when he warned the pharisees that the prostitutes and tax collectors are entering the Kingdom before them.

That leaves us wondering what exactly is God’s entrance criteria for the Kingdom of Heaven?  The  answer comes from what happened to the unhappy wedding guest who was expelled from the banquet.

What exactly was it that left him unfit for the Kingdom?  Was it just a case of being underdressed, a lack of respect for the king?

No, his problem is deeper than his clothing.  His lack of proper wedding attire symbolizes his lack of true repentance.  The faith he professes with his lips leads him to the wedding banquet, but the absence of tangible works of love, mercy and justice renders him unfit to stay.

Today, you and I understand see this as the fundamental truth that it is.  As the letter of James puts it, faith without works is dead.  In other words, authentic faith – if it is truly authentic – necessarily leads to good works, especially in service to those whom Matthew calls the least. 

But this understanding has not always been the case.  In fact, around the turn of the 20th century, this was a raging debate within the church.

The question was this.  With regard to salvation, is it enough for Christians to simply believe the right things?  Or does true faith also require us to do the right things, to work on behalf of the poor and the outcasts?

At the time, American cities were becoming crowded with workers streaming in from farms to work in new manufacturing jobs.  Cities weren’t prepared for this.  Pretty soon, urban living conditions became horrendous.  Working conditions were equally bad.

Without the support of families to fall back on, the ranks of the urban poor soon ballooned and along with them virtually every social ill imaginable. 

Meanwhile, a whole new class of corporate titans and executives were becoming increasingly wealthy, including prominent Presbyterians with names like Carnegie, Mellon, Dodge, Wanamaker and others. 

Alarmed by the human suffering festering all around them, a group of Protestant pastors began preaching and teaching that authentic faith meant applying Christian ethics to overcome social problems.  

They and their congregations rolled up their sleeves and got busy. They created ministries to address economic inequality and poverty, alcoholism and addiction, crime and racial tension, unhealthy slums and working conditions, child labor and poor schools, and more.

Their motivation was simple.  They set out to practice what Jesus taught his disciples to pray:  "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven".

You and I pray that same prayer every Sunday.  And, if the underdressed man expelled from the King’s wedding feast was a warning to the Pharisees and Scribes to do exactly this, then it’s a warning for us, too.  We, too, need to express our faith in works of mercy, love and justice.

But as surprising as it may seem, not all good works are equal in the eyes of God.  So then, what is it that makes good works good?  In a word, motivation.

A skeptic will say, what does it matter why we do something to comfort the sick, help the marginalized or heal the earth?  From the perspective of the one being helped, isn’t the result the same? 

First of all, that is not true.  And, even if it were, that is not the only perspective God cares about.  God cares as much about the impact on the helper, as he does the impact of the one being helped.  God intends that our good works will transform not only the lives of those we help, but our lives, too.

It all boils down to our motivation.  To assess our motivation, we need to ask ourselves four questions. 

One, are we compelled by our own experience of God’s grace that produces sincere repentance, a sincere change of life?  If so, then the good we do will be done out of humility and gratitude, with a renewed  heart.

Second, is the work being done according to God’s will, or our own?  Have we genuinely searched for God’s hand leading us, and been open to that direction, as we discern it in prayer, scripture and the voices of others in our community of faith?  If so, we can be sure that we are aligned with God’s purposes.

Third, as we engage in this work, are we just going through the outward motions, or are we taking time to experience the inner joy of being faithful to God’s will?  That’s when our work becomes a sort of hands-on prayer, as we feel what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ.

Finally, and most important of all, who is being glorified through this work?  Are we seeking God’s glory, or our own glory?  For many of us, this may be the hardest question of all.  We’re all human and, knowingly or not, our egos lead us toward self-congratulation. 

Satan loves nothing more than to hijack our best-intentioned efforts to help others by luring us into feeling self-satisfied, pleased with ourselves.  But the glory must always be God’s, not our own.  Sure, we can enjoy this work.  But the point is to please God, not just ourselves.

If we can manage to do our good works with the right motivation, our good works will not only express our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, they will strengthen that relationship.  And they will also strengthen our relationship with those whom we are called to help.

Neither of these two things will happen, however, if our motivation is self-centered.  That was the problem with the underdressed wedding guest.  When the king asked him for his wedding robe, it was God asking him for the righteous works that are the marker of a genuine repentance and sincere faith.

 But this poor man did not have any.  He was a disciple of Jesus in name only.  He might as well have shown up to that wedding banquet in his underwear. 

Friends, let’s make sure we don’t find ourselves in that situation.  As we go about serving Christ by serving the least and the lost, let’s make sure our hearts are right, that our motivation is all about God and not ourselves.

The result is a heavenly wedding feast like no other,  a wedding feast that never ends.  May it be so.

Last Published: October 12, 2020 2:51 PM
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