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23 September 2018 – Sunday message:Servants of all

Readings: James 3:13-4:3; 7-8a;  Mark 9:30-35

MESSAGE:

It’s been great visiting churches through my study leave. They’re all so different.

They all had a Presbyterian familiarity really. Not just because we knew some of the people. But because there are certain things that remind you of what Presbys do. And staying for tea and eating something and talking a lot together is one obvious one.

A talk on the predictors of long life I watched recently had two interesting things at the top of the list for the people studied who lived for a long long time. 100 or beyond. These things reduced their chances of dying the most, the research indicated.

  • Second to the top was close relationships.
  • Right at the top was social integration. Interestingly enough.

You may be thrilled to hear that exercise was number 7. Diet was lower. Quitting smoking and drinking a little higher, I hasten to add.

They explained the top two like this:

  • CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS. The people you can call on for a loan if you need money – who will take you to the doctor – who will sit with you in a crisis. Usually a small group of trust friends who will do anything for you.
  • SOCIAL INTEGRATION. How many people you interact with every day – good and bad people. People you know well or not. Weak and strong bonds. The postman. The person who makes the tea at work, or cleans the office. The stranger. Being connected with people. As opposed to being lonely and isolated. And greeting them and including them in your day.

They were the top indicators of how long the people lived in the study.

See it pays to join the pastoral care group. And just to be friendly and sociable.

The Christian life is like a diamond with many facets. Its described in many ways. Some people emphasise the intimacy we have with God – especially in communion. It matters a lot to them. Others are passionate about the cross – and what Jesus is done – how we are completely saved by faith through grace. Luther would applaud that. He didn’t like the book of James which we heard from today because James wanted to see proof in works – in good deeds.

Some love worship more than anything else. If the music is off, they feel robbed. They love to sing and celebrate. Others are more the thinking types – they like to debate about ideas about God – we call that theology. They read piles of books. Their faith would be less than meaningful without library membership. Some are totally consumed with Bible knowledge. They’re like walking encyclopedias when it comes to scripture.

For some people fellowship is everything. You hear them talking excitedly and loudly on a Sunday morning. They love morning tea – and lots of coffee and conversations. And having fun together. Others are big on prayer – and would prefer the rowdy ones to tone it down on Sundays when they are praying before the service.

All these things are part of our rich Christian experience. They all matter.

What isn’t helpful is when we make our preference the main thing on the agenda at the expense of others.

So – Jesus’ teaching today is really important.

The disciples were not fighting about ideas or preferences. People do of course.

On this occasion they were arguing about who was the greatest. About power!

Peter had been elevated to leadership when he recognized Jesus as the Christ. He was the rock (in Mark 8) on which Jesus would build the church. He rocked – or so he thought until he tried to stand in the way of God’s plan – and was demoted with a new title “Satan”.

Peter, James and John had been up the mountain of transfiguration and had seen a vision of Moses and Elijah, and Jesus transformed. They were the inner circle. Peter got things wrong up there too. He wanted to built tents and stay up there.

When they came down the mountain they found the other nine in an argument with the teachers of the law over a failed prayer for a boy with an unclean spirit.

Jesus is a bit impatient with them on this one too. He says:

Mar 9:19  “O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So it’s not surprising that in the reading today they are having a disagreement.

Listen again: Mar 9:33  They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” Mar 9:34  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

It’s also not surprising that they kept quiet. By this stage they must have realised that Jesus’ way was different.

So he sits down – that’s the way he taught.

Here’s the key to real fellowship and witness – listen again:

Mar 9:35  Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Later in Mark 10 he spells out the model that he will be:

Mar 10:45  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

In that study about people who live to 100 and beyond, the second on the list was:

  • CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS. The people you can call on for a loan if you need money – who will take you to the doctor – who will sit with you in a crisis. Usually a small group of trust friends who will do anything for you.

Those are the kind of close friends that serve you.

In marriage it’s no different. It’s never a 50/50 relationship. Its 100/100. At some point one partner is on zero strength and the other gives everything.

Jesus challenges us beyond those close friends and marriage partners – to be servant of ALL.

This is the upside-down Kingdom again.

It’s usually the wealthy or the powerful who have servants.

The least, the poor and the oppressed often are the ones who serve.

The Kingdom of God does not involve dominance, but rather it revolutionises the way we relate.

And Jesus’ example is seen in the teaching about his death. In Philippians chapter two, we read about how he empties himself and becomes a servant -ultimately giving himself up to death on a cross.

And just to show how radically different this Christian way is, he shows them in a visible sign.

Mar 9:36  He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, Mar 9:37  “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

When you think of the money that goes into special events to welcome special people – powerful leaders, presidents and popes alike, its all about who is important. It’s honour to receive people into your homes in many cultures and situations.

There used to be a sign in peoples’ homes in the old days: “Christ is the unseen guest and listener to every conversation”.

People still tidy up when guests come. In our case a visit from granny brought about real action.

Jesus turns all this on its head by saying that if you welcome a child, you welcome him – and indirectly you welcome God who sent him.

Because Jesus the king becomes Jesus the servant king – all the power structures on earth are seen differently – people are valued differently from then on. They area no longer valued by what they have accumulated, or achieved, or invented. Rather they are seen from God’s point of view. They are loved by God. They are the people for whom Jesus died.

And if Jesus values them – so should we.

We are called to be servants of all.

In the words of the song we sang:

Verse 4

So let us learn how to serve,  And in our lives enthrone Him;

 Each other’s needs to prefer,  For it is Christ we’re serving

The interesting thing about the servant and the child, is that they both get their identity from someone else.

The servant from the master.

The child from the parents.

We are the children of our Father and bear His identity by the way we live. If power and position drive us, we do not belong to Christ; but if we are the “last of all and servant of all” (Mar_9:35), we are identified with Christ as the sons of God.

So when Jesus talks us about being salt and light, and that a light is meant to be on a stand and not under a bowl, he says this: Mat 5:16  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

The kind of light that should shine is this servant heart for people.

Our values, our character, our identity and our wisdom come from our heavenly father. So what James says in 3:17 makes sense, and sounds right in this servant mode: we should be peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

May this be true of us.

Amen.

 

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Sunday sermon 30 October 2016 – the new commandment – love one another as Jesus loves us

Readings: 1 John 4:7-14; Romans 13:7-10; John 13:1-5; 31-38

Sermon:

I remember listening to an Argentine pastor years ago, Juan Carlos Ortiz was his name. He spoke about preaching on this theme – love one another – as Jesus has loved you.

He preached on the same thing for six months.

In time his elders became concerned. They asked him if he could perhaps choose another theme.

His response was simple. “Until you do it, I will keep preaching it”.

Clearly they had some work to do.

Don’t worry. Six months is not that bad. I heard a story about a preacher on the radio this week – who started a series on Job – and kept going for 24 years. Okay not all the time – just on Sundays – and he did take a break for Easter and Christmas.

In case you thought last week was a challenge – that we should serve one another – here you find the underlying foundation of that service.

Love. This is part two of the message about serving one another. Remember we asked the question: “how will you be remembered” last week. Jesus says they will know we are his followers by our love.

So to the text in John 13.

The Gospel reading is unnerving really. As John begins to unravel Jesus’ teaching on love and the new commandment, Judas whom he also loved, is ominously brought to our attention;

Listen again: Joh 13:1  It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. (Or – he loved them to the end.) Joh 13:2  The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.

How sad that this man represents the very opposite of what Jesus models and teaches on love. Jesus clearly took a risk on this Zealot.

How secure are you when it comes to taking the risk of loving others? You have to be very clear about who you are in Christ.

Jesus certainly was very clear about his identity and destiny. Look at the next verse:

Joh 13:3  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;

Knowing this, he was able to show them the full extent of his love in the first act if you like:

Joh 13:4  so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. Joh 13:5  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.  We skipped the debate with Peter in the reading today – his resistance to having his feet washed.

Peter was not what you would call an early adopter of new ideas.

It’s the same today. You preach about things for years, and people resist.

They argue, debate and question – and seem to miss the point entirely. And then they hear someone else speak about it and the lights come on.

Often if and when the penny drops – when they actually get it – they’re unstoppable.

Peter resists:

Joh 13:8  “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Joh 13:9  “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” 

It’s all or nothing Peter.

It’s worth reading the rest of the narrative we missed. Putting it simply, Jesus washed their feet – and they were to do the same. Jesus continues:

Joh 13:16  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Joh 13:17  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

It kind of reinforces what we talked about last week about serving one another. We don’t have to carry a bowl and towel around with us and wash peoples’ feet all day. The point is that the servant did that chore – and we are actually servants.

The power behind that kind of desire to serve one another is the power of love – God’s love which is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us (Romans 5:5).

Through John 13 Jesus continues to reveal his plan and it reaches a highlight in verse 33 and 34:

Joh 13:33  “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. Joh 13:34  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

One would hope that our late adopter Peter would pick up on this and say – okay this is important. Jesus is giving a NEW commandment. I’d better take note – maybe write this down.

But no – he’s off on his crazy mission again:

He says this: Joh 13:36  Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Joh 13:37  Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

Jesus knows better. He says: Joh 13:38  Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

You’ve got these two men who are really type A men – wanting to get it done. Judas tries to force Jesus’ hand to overthrow the Romans. Peter wants to lay down his life impulsively. On the spot.

In the meantime – Jesus gives this new commandment. Love one another “as I have loved you”.

Not just washing feet. But giving up his life on the cross.

John backs this up in his first letter in chapter 4: 1Jn 4:9  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 1Jn 4:10  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1Jn 4:11  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

The real challenge is working out what this sacrificial love means in our modern world.

Do we know what this is? This is not about loving your neighbour – meaning wanting the best for them (as yourself).

It’s about loving each other as Jesus loved us. He is the model, the standard, the template. We are to love each other as Jesus loved us:

– here  – across the wider church  –  and reaching the persecuted church.

WHAT DOES LOVING EACH OTHER MEAN TO YOU?

I had fascinating conversations with people through the week about this. We talked about how we need to stop petty arguments becoming big issues. That Jesus’ love is sacrificial. That it means giving time to people to help in practical ways. That it involves honesty – that Jesus took on a parenting role with his disciples. That training was involved in sending them out and then evaluating how they did. That it’s very hard if you want to be honest. That we need to resolve things – and tell people gently when they are out of line. That integrity and discipline is involved.

I found his poem which may speak to you about risk-taking in love:

Fully Alive – by Dawna Markova

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance;
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.

THINKING FURTHER ABOUT LOVE – here are some thoughts from my reading:

  • This is not romantic love, not just being nice, or only loving those who love you back.
  • When Jesus washed his followers’ feet, Judas was there. He loved them all.
  • This is not a lofty ideal but a reality.
  • Jesus’ cross demonstrates that “God so loved the world.”
  • We do do it and can do it.
  • Some people are very difficult – it doesn’t change our commitment to love them.
  • We also fail – but we are in the forgiveness business – and that includes forgiving ourselves.
  • Loving as Jesus loved is high-risk behaviour.

My thoughts include these:

Jesus also confronts people who are wrong. As does Paul after the cross – sin still has to be rooted out.

1 Corinthians 13 has love at the centre of all gifts which operate in the church.

I thought we could read it together: Replacing “love is” with “We are” and so forth.

Let’s say together:

Co 13:4  We are patient, we are kind. We do not envy, we do not boast, we are not proud. 1Co 13:5  We are not rude, we are not self-seeking, we are not easily angered, we keep no record of wrongs. 1Co 13:6  We do not delight in evil but rejoice with the truth. 1Co 13:7  We always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere. 1Co 13:8  We never fail. (ok that’s a stretch but it makes the point).

The song “One thing remains” by Chris Quilala helps us:

Higher than the mountains that I face, Stronger than the power of the grave; Constant through the trial and the change, One thing remains [x2]

It has this chorus: Your love never fails it never gives up it never runs out on me [x3]

That’s the point. It’s God’s love working through us. From the indwelling Holy Spirit.

When we are mean and selfish, narcissistic, cliquey, uncaring, we are not living according to the Spirit, but the flesh, what the NIV calls the “sinful nature” which is contrary to God.

In fact we are warned after the cross, after the message of grace, by Paul writing to believers, not to grieve the Holy Spirit. (See Ephesians 4:29-32).

Which as an aside means that quite a lot of us have a wrong theology of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit can be grieved. He is a person. Just by the way – if I hear you pray about the Spirit as a force or as an “it” in church from now on I am going to stop you and make you pray that line again. 🙂

The person of the Holy Spirit works in us, changing our hearts and renewing our minds – and pouring out his love in our hearts (Romans 5:5). He is the source of unfailing love.

Let’s love one another, people.

  • It’s Jesus’ one command that is new. A new covenant love.
  • Loving our neighbour as ourselves is old. It’s still valid though.
  • Loving one another as Jesus sacrificially loves us is the sign of the new – the new covenant – new life – new birth – new community – new Israel.
  • New hope – new  future – new Kingdom in our midst.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 8 March 2015 – Invitations, weddings, banquets and burning cities

Reading: Matthew 22:1-14

Mat 22:1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:

Mat 22:2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.
Mat 22:3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
Mat 22:4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
Mat 22:5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.
Mat 22:6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.
Mat 22:7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
Mat 22:8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.
Mat 22:9 Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’
Mat 22:10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
Mat 22:11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.
Mat 22:12 “Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.
Mat 22:13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Mat 22:14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Sermon – Invitations, weddings, banquets and burning cities

It’s a long time since we were in that process of planning our wedding. For some of you your wedding invitations are part of the dim and distance past. I had to ask my dear wife this morning about ours – I couldn’t remember how many people were at the reception – our banquet!

I remember the day – what a wonderful bride! And I sang for her! It was 31 years ago…

Very few people turned us down. The one exception was a friend whom I asked to conduct the wedding ceremony.

He wasn’t available on 19 May 1984 as there was an important football game he wanted to watch.

I’m not sure whether my friend remembers that FA cup final. The 1984 FA Cup Final was contested by Everton and Watford at Wembley. Everton won 2–0, with one goal by Graeme Sharp and a particularly memorable goal from Andy Gray. (Maybe that was the link – my friend was James Gray!). Another friend not watching the FA cup was the officiant – and I do remember him talking about marriage and comparing it to baking a chocolate cake!

The excuses people give in this parable for not showing up at the prince’s wedding (the King’s son) are interesting. (Would you have passed up an invitation to Chares and Diana’s wedding, or William and Kate’s?)

It seems that they already knew about the wedding, as the message was “ok we’re ready for you”.

Look at verse 3:

Mat 22:3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

So he has another go.

Mat 22:4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

Mat 22:5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.

In Luke’s similar parable (I tell stories and they often turn out different) the excuses were even more interesting. I remember them from the song we sang as kids in church (and adults actually) –

“I cannot come”

Here are the words:

I cannot come,
I cannot come to the banquet,
Don’t trouble me now,
I have married a wife,
I have bought me a cow,
I have fields and commitments,
That cost a pretty sum,
Pray hold me excused


I cannot come.

1- A certain man held a feast
On his fine estate in town.
He laid a festive table,
He wore a wedding gown,
He sent out invitations
To his neighbours far and wide,
But when the meal was ready
Each of them replied:

I cannot come…
2- The master rose up in anger
Called his servants by name, said
Go into town, fetch the blind and the lame
Fetch the peasant and the pauper
For this I have willed:
My banquet must be crowded,
And my table must be filled.

I cannot come…

3- When all the poor had assembled
There was still room to spare,
So the master demanded:
Go search everywhere.
Search the highways and the by ways,
And tell them to come in
My table must be filled
Before the banquet can begin.

I cannot come…

4- Now God has written a lesson
For the rest of mankind:
If we are slow in responding
He may leave us behind.
He is preparing a banquet
For that great and glorious day,
When the Lord and Master calls
Us be certain not to say:

The details of the wife and the cow are from the Luke story. Here is the whole passage, for comparison:

Luk 14:12  Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. Luk 14:13  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, Luk 14:14  and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luk 14:15  When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” Luk 14:16  Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. Luk 14:17  At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ Luk 14:18  “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ Luk 14:19  “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Luk 14:20  “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.‘ Luk 14:21  “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’   Luk 14:22  “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ Luk 14:23  “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. Luk 14:24  I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.'”

Back to Matthew… 

To return to Matthew 22: Mat 22:5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.”
In fact the NRSV translates this verse like this: But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business…

And Eugene Peterson (The Message paraphrase) translates it like this: “They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop.

The parables from Matthew that precede this one focus mainly on the Jewish leaders and authorities, and the unfruitfulness of the Jewish nation. A similar thread is seen here – because the first lot that refuse and that make light of the invitation is a reference to the Jewish rejection of Jesus again.  Remember that this series of parables are taught after Jesus had entered Jerusalem before that fatal Friday. We’re not talking about teaching the disciples or correcting Peter here – rather this is in the face of the Jewish authorities.

We are reminded of the tenants in the Parable of the vineyard (Matthew 21:33) when in verse 6 we read: The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.

This has the added angle of consequences here as the judgement in this story is swift. We assume that Matthew would have been aware of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans if the gospel was written after AD 72. If not, we certainly are aware of it now, and those who read this gospel after Jerusalem was destroyed would have made the connection.

Listen to verse 7: Mat 22:7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

THE NEXT ROUND OF INVITATIONS

We are pretty sure that the category of people that are found in the streets and brought in refers to us. Unless you have a Jewish lineage you are a Gentile or an outsider from God’s original plan. We are part of the “anyone you can find” intake.

In this parable the King says this: Mat 22:9 Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ Mat 22:10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

So it’s all good then. “Sweet as” is what young kiwis and their mates say. “Free party and we weren’t even on the original list of guests.” But no.

There is further judgement – this time of one of the people who are brought in as undeserved attendees is in trouble:

Mat 22:11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.
Mat 22:12 “Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.
Mat 22:13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Mat 22:14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

There are suggestions that this is a separate parable. Even if it was, it is part of the whole story line here.

It’s a bit odd really – these people were dragged off the streets. Why would they be expected to be in wedding garments? How could they? There is the suggestion that wedding garments would have been provided in those days by the host. But there is little evidence for such a practice.

SPEECHLESS RECIPIENTS OF GRACE

Maybe this man was so caught up with the benefits of the banquet that he forgets that he is undeserving – a recipient of grace – and as a bit of a glutton focuses on what he can take rather than on his need for gratitude and respect of the king.

I like what a preacher wrote about this (a lady called Sharon Ring- it has a nice ring about it)”

Eschatological insight (vision again! – see last week’s message about the evil eye!)

For Matthew those purposes centre on the issue of the “worthiness” of the guests (verse 8). The criterion apparently is not an ethical one (for both “good and bad” are brought in), but rather a matter of eschatological insight–the ability to recognize the urgency of the invitation and to respond. The real issue is not whether you are of Jewish or Gentile pedigree, or whether you are a deserving Jew or Gentile ethically or morally.

I think our Sharon is onto something here – it’s about discernment of the importance of the event! The Will and Kate wedding was THE wedding of the century –surpassing that of Charles and Diana no doubt. (Am I being unfair to dear Charles?).

I guess if you are a parent with a daughter – then that wedding will be the wedding of the century for you! It’s a matter of who and what matters to you.

The image of a banquet and a wedding has eschatological connotations! Big word which means it is to do with ultimate and end time matters!

Listen to verse 12 again: Mat 22:12 “Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.

The man was speechless! The point is that when you stand before the judge of all the earth I suspect you will be speechless!

And so the speechless man gets sorted in verse 13: Mat 22:13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

And the parable ends with these fascinating and challenging words: Mat 22:14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Now let me be honest – I’m not sure here. Some of you want everything very clear and black and white, when the Bible is challenging and slippery at times.

For many are called, but few chosen – is a reasonable translation. The invitation – the call – comes to us to be at this wedding banquet – to be part of a great celebration – pointing to a banquet at the end of time – but in the meantime as we experience this grace now – invited or called to be in this new community – by grace alone (dragged off the messy streets of our lives) – the warning is that there is more!

Accountability? Yes. Obedience? Yes. Gratitude and humility? O yes.

What, then, is the symbol of the wedding garment?

John Calvin in his commentary asks whether the wedding garment refers to faith or a holy life?

He goes on to say:

This is a useless controversy; for faith cannot be separated from good works, nor do good works proceed from any other source than from faith. But Christ intended only to state, that the Lord calls us on the express condition of our being renewed by the Spirit after his image; and that, in order to our remaining permanently in his house, we must put off the old man with his pollutions, (Col_3:9; Eph_4:22) and lead a new life, that the garment may correspond to so honourable a calling.

The verses Calvin refers to help us here:

Col 3:9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices
Col 3:10 and have put on the new self
, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Eph 4:22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;

Eph 4:23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds;
Eph 4:24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Calvin goes on to say:

We know also, that there is no other way in which we are formed anew after the image of God, but by putting on Christ, (Rom_13:14; Gal_3:27) It is not, therefore, the declaration of Christ, that the sentence of casting them into outer darkness will be executed on wretched men who did not bring a costly garment taken from their own wardrobe, but on those who shall be found in their pollution, when God shall come to make a scrutiny of his guests.

The verses he refers to are these:

Rom 13:14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Gal 3:27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

There is an invitation to come to the wedding banquet. There are clothes to be worn. We are to respond. How do we respond today?

Oh it’s just a story, you may say. Don’t take it too literally. The problem is that our biblical literacy is poor and we want easy solutions.

This invitation to put on Christ as your wedding garment is radical – counter-cultural – and morally and ethically challenging. Like the man who said to the preacher: “I don’t like the Bible – it interferes with my work”. It turns out he was a pick pocket.

If you think that once a week will transform your life in this Christian journey – then think again. If you think a cursory daily prayer muttered on the bus will do it – think again.

We don’t put on a wedding garment that is fashionable and expensive. We put on Christ – who died to get us into this relationship and journey with God. There is no cheap grace! It is a radical transformation of our minds, hearts and lives.

Going back to our commentator Sharon Ring again – we find this perspective on this passage: He affirms the boundless generosity and inclusive reach of God’s grace, but he also affirms that for us to be “worthy” of God’s gift requires nothing less than our whole life. There are songs that try to capture that today. But one hymn wins the prize – When I survey the wondrous cross. We’ll sing this one on Tuesday at Tuesday Church.

Listen to this verse of response in the hymn:
Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.

I don’t lie the modern version – it used to say “That were an offering far too small”. Better, don you think?

But look at these verses of the hymn we don’t see often: His dying crimson, like a robe, Spreads o’er His body on the tree; Then I am dead to all the globe, And all the globe is dead to me. Are we dead to the globe – the world?

And our response: To Christ, who won for sinners grace, By bitter grief and anguish sore, Be praise from all the ransomed race, Forever and forevermore.
Amen.