Sermon from Rev. Zickler for October 15, 2017

20171015 Sermon Proper 23
October 23, 2017
Matthew 22:1-14

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson previously read.

Many are called, but few are chosen. It’s hard to hear those words, isn’t it? In particular, it’s hard to hear those words and not think that they must apply to the understanding that before time God said, “I will choose this person for heaven, and I will choose this person for hell,” isn’t it?

But as Lutherans, as I discussed a couple of months ago, we don’t teach that. We teach that God has chosen the saved, not because they have deserved it or merited it, but chosen them before time of His own good and gracious will. However, the condemned are condemned because they refuse to hear this genuine call to His grace. This refusal is of their own hardened sinfulness, which is something God works in them as a consequence of their own sin, not because God said before time they would be decreed to damnation. And when we understand this, we see how apt these words are as a description for this parable.

To start, I believe it’s best to unpack what Jesus is saying, so think again about what happens here. This King desires to hold this banquet for His Son—a marriage feast with the richest of fare, a feast about which he says, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready.” And He genuinely wants the guests to come. He tells the servants to pass along the message. “Come to the wedding feast!” He says, “Come! Enjoy this food, this feast, this party for my Son! I want you here to enjoy it with Him, and with me!” And you see it. This isn’t a disingenuous call. He’s not doing this just shame these invitees. He’s not just dangling a carrot to tease them. He really wants them to come, but “Many are called, but few are chosen.

Now, obviously this call is the call to faith. It’s the call to join the Lord for His eternal feast. It’s the call of the Gospel, the call of the promise, “You have a God who desires to love you, and to provide for you eternally. Most of all He wants you to recognize your impoverished state and come join Him for a feast far greater than you can attain for yourself or afford on your paycheck.” And as Christians, we see the joy of this invitation. We see the beauty of it, and it pains and perplexes us that anyone would refuse it. But that’s exactly what we see isn’t it? “Many are called, but few are chosen.

We see the servants going out but what’s the response of people? They paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. Now, based on what Jesus says next, we know what He’s really talking about. He’s talking about the Jews and their rejection of the Son coming as the Messiah. He’s talking about how the Kingdom of God is at hand in the Christ, and how the Jews refuse to hear the call, just as they had rejected the words of the prophets before so many times. This is what He’s talking about when He says, “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” Ultimately, here He’s talking about how the rejection of the Jews and the end of the Old Covenant was displayed in the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. And as I say that, are you all familiar with that? That in the year 70 AD, the Romans crushed a rebellion in Jerusalem, and finally destroyed the Temple which had been the center of the Old Testament worship with the Holy of Holies and the Altar there? And with that we saw the end of the Old Covenant.

And in that, we see the next part of the parable: The King “said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’” Here is the opening of the Gospel to not only the Jews, but the indication that God would invite all to be His people. The invitation was hidden then from those had first received it and given to anyone who would listen. That’s not to say that the original call was voided. Of course the King wanted them to come, but now all of these others were invited in light of their rejection. But “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

Now as I say all of this, like I said last week we should take heed. First of all, I’m sure we can relate to confessing the faith to the world and having people respond in this way: paying no attention, one going off to his farm, another to his business. I’m sure you have spoken to people about your faith in Christ only to have them ignore the beauty of this invitation, because perhaps they don’t like the idea of a God who condemns at all, or demands to be the only God—something to which we can say, “well if this is true, who are we to talk back to God?” Or you have heard no interest in their response. “Sure that’s nice for you, but I’m fine without it. I need to focus on my work and make sure I get a pay check.” Or “I need to make sure that my kids are connected with things for school or sports, so Sunday Morning doesn’t work.” Or perhaps you have even experienced that animosity. Perhaps someone has lashed out at you. They probably haven’t physically harmed you—although we do see that in the world, don’t we? But perhaps they’ve lashed out in anger at your suggestion that they come to this glorious banquet. And why this response? Sin. This is what sin does. Sin is why that’s true, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

And of course, we should take heed not only as we confess to the world, but secondly, also for our own sake. We should keep an eye on ourselves. Hopefully, we wouldn’t be convinced of something so contrary to the faith that we would be antagonistic against it, but we should of course always pray that we wouldn’t. More likely however, we need to pray that we not fall into that apathy that so easily draws us in. I mentioned the busyness of the world, and it’s easy to be drawn into that ourselves, isn’t it? It’s easy to make sure we attend to work rather than hear the word. It’s easy to not worry about the feast of the Son, and instead about our own farms, our own business. It’s easy to be distracted by our own interests toward sports, or being entertained, or even the interests of the politics around us, having greater concern for the things of this world than of the feast with our Lord in the next. After all, the enemy is slithering and slippery, cunning in his deceit. But we should take heed, lest that Word be taken from us altogether and given to others. As we’ve been hearing, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

Now as I say this, it can be easy to not only take heed, but start to fear, can’t it? Do you experience that? Do you have those moments where you suddenly experience deep sobriety at just how serious this invitation is? I know I do. I have those moments where I think about just how broken I am. I think about just how much I despise the Lord’s Word, about how often I ignore that invitation and focus more on my own comforts and concerns in this world. And that command strikes fear in me. And suddenly I worry, “What if I’m not of those chosen? What if I’m one of those who has heard that call and elected to stay at home?” Or as church members, we should perhaps identify with that man who is in the feast but the King looks at him and says, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” And when the man is speechless, the King says, “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” We should perhaps identify with Him because we are here with the church, here as the guests in the house, but what if we don’t have those wedding garments. Do you have times where you know that fear? After all, “Many are called, but few are chosen.

As I mention those garments, my wife and I were talking about that this this week. We were talking about how this sounds so harsh doesn’t it? It sounds harsh that this King would just throw this guy out for not having the right clothes. After all, this guy was probably poor and couldn’t afford the garment, and so the King throws him out? And with that, those words sound so daunting, “Many are called, but few are chosen.

Well, Christians, understand that this King wants you at His feast. His call to you is genuine. In fact He is the One who gives you the wedding garment. You see, we see this throughout Scripture, that God clothes His people. In fact, I know I mentioned this the last time I preached this passage, but we see it even back to the fall. There Adam and Eve fell into sin, realized they were naked and saw fit to cover themselves with fig leaves. Now, from what I understand a fig leaf is coarse, and this seemed to be an attempt at atonement. It was that feeling that you likely know, that feeling of “I have done something wrong now I have to make up for it.” And of course when we hurt others we should make right what we’ve done wrong, but when it comes to God can we atone for it? No. And we see that with Adam and Eve. You see Adam and Eve were supposed to die as soon as they ate the fruit. But what did God do? Instead of killing them, He took their poor garments, their garments unfit for the wedding, their garments of feigned righteousness, and he replaced them with skins. Do you see it? He killed the animals instead of Adam and Eve. And He covered them with the fruit of the sacrifice, the skins. And think about a finely tanned skin. It’s soft. It’s velvety. It’s malleable. It’s a far cry from the pseudo clothing of a fig leaf.

And Christians, this is what the King has done for you in Jesus. He has provided the clothing of Jesus’ righteousness. So that when you worry that you don’t have the garment He says to you, you do. It’s the robe of Christ’s righteousness, the robe we see in Revelation washed clean in the blood of the lamb. The robe described by Paul when He says, “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” literally, have been clothed in Christ. His blood shed on the cross has been for your forgiveness. His death is the death in place of yours so that you may enter into His feast. The feast of His resurrection. The feast spoken of in the reading from Isaiah, the feast of “rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” The feast of which you have a foretaste in His body and blood. The feast where He will wipe away the tears of all faces, and where we will celebrate with our groom Jesus. The celebration where death will be no more.

Yes, Christians, Many are called, but few are chosen. But you know that this call is genuine, and it is for you. He wants you there. He has shown it to you as He has baptized you, as He has given you His wedding garment in the waters of baptism. He has fed you with the promise of the feast in His Supper. Christians hear that call for you, and don’t worry about an election hidden in God’s mind. Instead know what He has shown you in His call: His desire for you to be at His feast with Him, that He has chosen you. Amen.