The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
October 11, 2020
Late one night in a college dorm room, two Christian friends, a senior and a junior, were talking openly and honestly over a couple of beers. All of a sudden, the senior blurted out a confession: The scholarship that had paid for his education, he had obtained by lying on the application. Because the scholarship was designated for students of color, he had falsely claimed to be of Hispanic descent when in fact he was in no part Latino.
The junior blinked in shock, paused a moment in thought, and then gently said, “I guess you’re going to have to pay them back, huh?” “Only if they find out about it,” the senior replied, shooting a glance at the junior, who then answered, “But you’re a Christian, and you’ve broken one of the Ten Commandments: you stole a scholarship that belonged to someone else.” “But God will forgive me, won’t He? That’s what God always does, isn’t it?” the senior asked before taking a long slow pull of beer.
People are saved by grace, by God’s undeserved kindness, in a lavish generosity disproportionate to how well they act. Does that mean that acting badly can’t cost them, that they can’t lose their chance for the full elevation of their life God longs to make happen?
The religious leaders of Israel had received great grace, but risked losing the best of what could be theirs. In response to their rejection of Him, Jesus told three consecutive parables: the parable of the two sons, the parable of the wicked tenants, and today’s about a wedding feast and a man thrown out of it. Each of these parables sounds out a warning, but this parable gives an explicit one for Jesus’ disciples.
This parable is clearly an allegory. The king represents God; the wedding party, the celebration of God’s people in the kingdom of heaven; the servants sent to invite folks to come, the prophets; the burning of the city, (likely) the destruction of Jerusalem 40 years later; and the gathering in of folks from off the street, “both good and bad” Jesus notes, God’s gracious reaching out to the ends of the earth to share His loving generosity with whomever would receive it.
The religious leaders had declined to take up God’s offer of grace in the Person of Jesus; and thus, alas, they stood in danger of missing out on being enlivened and uplifted in the exultant joy of the Lord. But, alas, so too stood in danger Jesus’ disciples who enter God’s house of blessing but fail to apply themselves to fully avail of the gift God is wishing they’d fully enter into.
As the king’s party got into full swing and the good feelings flowed as freely as the punch, the king noticed one guest who “was not wearing a wedding robe” – and immediately threw out into the darkness someone he’d just warmly welcomed into the bright hospitality of his home!
It’s a shocking twist to the tale. What would cause someone who’d begged anyone and everyone to join his party to turn on a guest like that? It’s not as if the king had been picky about whom he invited. Hence, it couldn’t be that this guest failed to measure up to some standard. No guest had qualified for admittance; it was the king’s grace alone that qualified them all. The only contribution the guests made was next to nothing: They simply said Yes when they were implored to join the party and then actually showed up, dressed up in their best version of a wedding robe, in order to get geared up to get wholly engaged as active participants in the festivities.
The man who got thrown out was given the heave-ho, not because he’d failed to act well enough – there’s no mention of his conduct – nor because he’d failed to dress well enough – there’s no mention of what he is wearing – but because he’d not bothered to put on something special in due recognition of a big occasion for jubilation. His casual attire showed a casual attitude about doing justice to the king’s joy in which, as an unearned privilege, he’d been invited to immerse himself. His off-handed nonchalance about his dress revealed an apathy about the merry-making in which he’d been passionately urged to share.
Like the king in the parable, the King of all creation offers everything He has for our enjoyment. That offer comes to us unbidden, but it does not become ours unpursued. We only fully experience what we whole-heartedly seek, and the measure to which we give ourselves to enter its blessings determines the measure to which we benefit from them. It’s no good to be welcomed in if we don’t join in; to be present if we don’t participate; to get in the door if we don’t get in the spirit of what’s there; to show up if we’re not suited up and geared up to make everything we can of the immensely magnificent gift before us. Though it’s all grace, what we do in response to its possibilities matters.
Though the uplifting of our lives is always a divine accomplishment, it always involves human commitment and engagement. To know the full blessing of the King of heaven requires our putting on our best, putting out our most, and putting our heart into plunging into the jubilation of it all.
So, when we engage in worship, in our personal devotions, in our acting out God’s justice and mercy to others, are we all there for all that is there for us?
Because it is abundant grace, let us, with abundant application of ourselves, make it our own in abundance – and miss out on none of its joy!