I was watching a movie on Sunday night called “The Fighting Temptations.”
It starred Cuba Gooding Jr. as a selfish and deceitful junior advertising partner in an unethical New York City advertising firm.
And when his character learns of his Aunt Sally’s death in his small Georgia hometown, and that he’s set to inherit a decent amount of money from her will, he makes his travel arrangements.
But when he gets there, he's surprised to find that the terms of his inheritance mandate that he must first take the ragtag choir of his Aunt Sally’s former church to a national gospel-singing competition.
And he has to get them ready—
And the choir is awful.
And so he puts out an invitation to the church members to come join the choir.
But not too many people show up.
And those who do aren’t good singers.
So he opens the invitation to the greater community, under the condition that they believe in God.
No one shows up.
So then he invites anyone who can sing who has even some faith in God.
Again, just one or two show up.
And finally, he opens the invitation to join the choir up to even atheists — as long as they can sing!
Then he starts to see people join!
And now the choir includes a woman who was thrown out of the church because she sings some suggestive songs nightly at the local jazz club.
And then there are some guys from the local barber shop who are less than church regulars.
There’s an alcoholic who looks a bit like a bum.
Another guy who looks like a hippy.
A young rapper.
And even three convicts who have to show up to practice in their orange prison jumpsuits and cuffs and under the careful watch of some armed prison guards.
And all of them are transformed — unexpectedly — into an amazing church choir.
The Wedding Banquet
It’s funny that I watched this movie the day before sitting down to work on this sermon.
Because the text this week that we’re working from is Matthew 22.1-14, otherwise known as The
Parable of the Wedding Banquet.
And in this parable, Jesus continues to talk about who is worthy of God’s blessings.
And I want to focus today on what it means to be invited into God’s kingdom as seen in this parable, and what it means for us today and how we are called to live.
This parable is a lot like the movie plot that I just explained to you.
There’s a wedding banquet happening, and the king who is throwing the banquet wonders why none of the guests he invited have shown up.
Now, wedding banquets back in Jesus’s day were much different than what we know of them today.
EVERYONE came to these banquets, and the parties lasted about a week.
They were extremely extravagant, and the guest list was immense.
But the guests hadn’t showed up, so the king has his servants — or slaves — go find out where everyone is.
When they approach the invited guests, everyone gives an excuse as to why they are not coming.
Of course, the king is greatly insulted and dishonored — plus he has prepared an abundance of food and drink and more for the guests.
And so, in his anger, he sends his troops to destroy those who didn’t show up for his son’s wedding.
A little harsh, perhaps…
And since the king has all this food, he tells his slaves to go out and invite anyone in who wants to come.
Even the bums on the streets. Even the criminals.
Now imagine the ragtag group of guests who come to the banquet.
What do they look like?
I remember back as a young sports reporter covering the boxing matches — the fights — in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
If you watch the fights on TV, have you ever noticed the place always looks sold out, even in the early, lesser matches before the main event?
That’s because when the fight promoters see a bunch of empty seats — which is a very bad thing for people to see and especially those financial sponsors — they have crews go out on the street (or boardwalk and casinos) and round up anyone — even the bums — to come in free and fill the seats…
It’s a fact…
And it’s a lot like that movie I just explained, too.
When those who are supposed to be righteous and god-fearing don’t show up for the choir, then the doors are opened for ANYONE who wants to come in, despite their age, beliefs, skin color, preferences of lifestyles…
This is what the king does for his son’s wedding banquet.
So back to the parable….
Now, who is the king?
Who is the Son?
Of course, Jesus.
And the slaves or servants?
And so who are the original guests — the A-List people?
Right — those who are supposed to be righteous and loyal to God, the King.
And the second-level guests, the B-List people?
Yes, that’s you and me: The sinners. The unworthy…
This is who is called to the boxing event, to sing in the choir, to partake in the the wedding banquet…
And so the doors are open to everyone now, and many accept the invitation.
But there’s this troubling moment at the end of the parable, isn’t there?
See, there’s a man who has come — presumably off the street — but he isn’t showing the proper respect to the bridegroom or king because he’s not wearing a wedding robe.
And he’s questioned, and, as the parable goes, because he doesn’t have a proper answer, he's thrown out into the darkness, Verse 13.
This isn’t a super-hard parable to understand.
But before we get into the practical application of it, we still have to understand the social and political climate of it to understand just why the king is so angry.
Like the parable of the vineyard that we read last week, Matthew again tells us of this wonderful honor that we are being given by being invited into this event.
But the event was in Israel, which is God’s Promised Land.
The land God gave to these select people, whom God rescued from slavery in Egypt.
And the wedding is a reminder of the covenant between God and God’s people: “I will be your God, and you will be my people” — Exodus 6.7.
But the people are not honoring the covenant.
And that leaves the bridegroom, Jesus, standing alone at the altar.
And God not able to celebrate this vast and endless love with God’s children.
And, of course, those who don’t take part in the ceremony — in the covenant — are met with death.
That is, there is no eternal life in the presence of God; instead, there is separation.
There is darkness…
In the parable, these are the Israelites who don’t partake in the marriage.
And the others called in off the streets? They are the Gentiles.
But Jesus makes a point to tell them that if they come into this relationship, if they disrespect the covenant, this relationship, by not honoring it, they, too, will be like those cast into darkness.
See, we can’t just come to the wedding and disrespect the king.
We can’t just show up half-heartedly.
The king is calling or a joyful celebration!
So often in life, we’ve come to the party underdressed.
The wedding robe here isn’t our baptismal robes, as some would suggest in days gone by.
Instead, it’s how we partake in this covenant; in this invitation or gift that we’ve been given.
The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians about robing ourselves in the armor of God.
Clothing ourselves in righteousness.
And while portions of those are true, they’re not completely relevant to what we’re talking about today.
And so I’d like to use a parable here to show this.
Parable within a parable
See this coat?
When I put this coat on, it’s comfortable.
It’s a bit like a hug.
When you wear it, you know you’re protected from the elements.
This is like God’s love for us.
We’re given this coat, this robe, and we didn’t have to be righteous to be given this gift.
In fact, we can be unrighteous, and given the opportunity to feel God’s warmth like this.
It’s when we’re given this coat — and even if we know it’s good for us, that it’s comfortable and it will protect us against whatever elements —
It’s when we refuse to put it on, or we throw it away that we’re hurting the one who gave it to us.
And this coat is your protection.
Without it, you’re on your own, against the elements.
Into the darkness.
Maybe it’s not so easy.
Maybe we feel like we’re called to this banquet and to wear this robe so often.
Coming to church on Sunday.
“Wear the robe.”
Come to the church’s special events.
“Wear the robe.”
Work in a ministry or serve on a board.
“Wear the robe.”
Be a reader, or a greeter, or bake cookies…
“Wear the robe.”
Treat others with Christ’s love, even when they are so different from us.
“Wear the robe.”
Maybe it just gets tiresome.
Or maybe we’ve got our own robes, our own coats.
Maybe we have a bunch of them we like better.
And maybe we just want to do something else
or wear something else today.
Or, maybe we don’t feel worthy of wearing this coat.
Maybe we think to ourselves, “I don’t deserve this.”
“I’m just not a good person.”
“I wear this coat, but I take it off when I don’t want God to see me doing what I do.”
Each and every day, we wake up, and the robe is sitting there at the foot of our beds.
And we get to make the choice to wear it or not.
Because we know the next morning, and the next, and the next and the next, that the robe will be right there at the foot of our beds.
And so maybe today, we don’t have to wear it.
And we go out into the world, and we forget how cold and dark it can be.
We forget how, you know, it seemed all sunny and bright this morning, but a storm came up, and now I’m freezing and wet.
And when we don’t wear it, we forget what it stands for, and we treat people differently.
We’re impatient. We’re entitled. We’re even mean sometimes.
Here’s the thing: It’s OK.
Yes, the coat will be there when you get home.
In the same place.
The wedding banquet, then, becomes our daily living in Christ.
Each day, we’re called to wear the coat because we’re called into the covenant with God.
We’re called into this marriage.
And we’re called to celebrate it.
To truly celebrate it.
‘The Fighting Temptations’
In the movie “The Fighting Temptations,” when that ragtag group of people realize what they’re called to do,
who they are doing it for,
and how awesome and amazing their praise, their music,their singing can be, there is nothing that can stop them!
There is no better feeling!
There is perfect harmony!
So you see, each and every day, because of God’s abundant grace, we are given this invitation to put on these coats and sing and dance in the Light of God.
In the light and security and wellness and joy of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The decision is ours.
God won’t force us to the banquet, and God won’t force us to wear the coat.
But God gives us that invitation each and every day.
Not to follow some strict rule or order;
but to celebrate in such a warm and wonderful life.
To truly embrace joy.
To honor the One who gave us that invitation to joy.
And to share that joy with others.