Message: Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14
We tend to be anxious about the idea of God judging, as we assume God judges the same way we judge.
There’s the story of a truck driver pulling his huge eighteen wheeler into a truck stop late one night. Just as his food is being served three angry looking motor cycle riding tough guys appear at the trucker’s table. Yelling offenses at the trucker, grabbing his food, stuffing it into their mouths and throwing it onto the floor they do everything they can to provoke the truck driver. The waitress, holds her position behind the counter, fearful for what the bikers might finally do.
But, no, when the time is right, the trucker rises from the table, picks up his check and pays for his now wasted meal. Slowly, silently, strolling out of the restaurant, he climbs up into his eighteen wheeler, revving up the engine. One of the bikers says, “well, he’s not much of a man, is he?” The waitress, watching the trucker pull out of the parking lot responds, “Well, I don’t know how much of a man he is. But, he sure isn’t much of a truck driver. He just ran over three motorcycles on his way out of the parking lot.”
How does God judge? As Jesus once again scraps with the Temple authorities, we learn that God does, in fact, judge. Jesus tells the parable of the glorious joy of invitation into the kingdom of God awaiting us here and now through the story of a king who holds a splendid wedding banquet for his beloved son, sending his servants out to escort all the invited guests to the celebration.
Failing to recognize the significance of the invitation, preoccupied by business, responsibilities to their families, and other commitments, they decline the invitation to the party.
The king, so wanting his people to share in the good news of his son, for a second time sends his servants out again to encourage the invitees to make a better choice. This time, he sweetens the pot. He’s killed the fatted calf, pulled out all the stops. The guests will want for nothing at this wedding feast. All they have to do is show up. But, it seems neighbors and business folks and farmers and the like, those members of the community who work hard to do the right thing, they have failed to make the kingdom of God a priority. So, rather than re-arrange their schedules to attend the wedding feast, they again decline.
Truthfully, we just don’t want God running our lives. Wouldn’t we much prefer to just do our own thing, and not be concerned with God getting in the middle? God never gives up on us.
Angry at their indifference, the king, now invites both the good and the bad off the streets filling the wedding hall. Are the new found guests worthy of the king’s invitation? It seems in their willingness to make kingdom living a priority, that’s all that matters.
Jesus continues and the story makes an uncomfortable turn. The king notices one guest has somehow gotten into the wedding banquet without dressing for the occasion. The man clearly is not robed with sincere intentions as he enters the kingdom. Held accountable for his lack of commitment, he’s found speechless. Angrily the king dismisses the dishonorable guest into the outer darkness.
Clothing God in the robes of judgment is not comfortable. But, are we only seeing God’s judgment through the lens of our own acts of judgment? We judge because we’re insecure in who we are. Jesus invites us to judge by who we are in Christ: beloved. We judge because we’re afraid of what is different from us. Jesus shows us that ALL are invited to the kingdom, the good, the bad, the lame, the deaf, the blind, the sick and the suffering. We judge because we’re weak befpre the challenge to change. Jesus calls us to boldly grow to be all God intends us to be.
All too often, our acts of judging are acts of exclusion. Who is in and who is out? But, the truth is, God in Christ doesn’t judge according to who is in and who is out. One leader writes, “Given half a chance, people often crawl out of the box in which we’ve relegated them.” Jesus teaches the parable of the Wedding Guests as God’s judgment of love and grace with the purpose of inclusion. Look again.
The king doesn’t distinguish among the invited guests. All are included. At the same time, none are characterized as worthy of the invitation. God simply wishes to share the banquet feast of God’s grace, love and mercy to all, regardless. God’s judgment is simply including all to live and share in the glory of kingdom living. Why? Because we are God’s, created in God’s image as good, and invited to live out a God like life. What God’s interested in is who shows up; who chooses to say “yes” to the invitation and who deliberately embraces living a life of God in Christ.
Judgment in scripture comes from the Greek word which means to separate, to distinguish, to sift and defeat the distortions toward evil against the triumph of divine goodness. Jesus tells the parable in an effort to distinguish what is good in a climate of tension. Historians interpret the parable as written about 70 CE. The time of the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem and a crucial time for these new Jewish Christians. These new faithful are coming to terms with their Messiah who born and living among them as the humble one Jesus Christ, who dines with sinners and hated tax collectors, heals the blind, raises the dead to life, is their one true, saving God.
Sifting truth from distortion is essential to kingdom living. In divine judgment, first, ALL, not some, but ALL are invited to rejoice in a wedding feast. And second, in divine judgment, we must clothe ourselves with a sincere commitment to a life in Christ.
(1.)As Christ’s own, as followers of Jesus Christ, God expects the very best of us and sees the very best in us. God in Christ calls us to celebrate and give thanks that ALL are worthy of the invitation to glory in the love, grace and mercy of God in Christ as ruler of the kingdom.
(2.) Jesus reminds the temple leaders, the chief priests, the church authorities; he reminds us: we don’t separate God from our daily work and responsibility. May we judge at all times, with all people, clothed in whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, whatever is excellent, whatever is worthy of praise. Judging in the name of God in Christ at all times, with all people, is judgment of hope, possibility and goodness; a judging that calls for rejoicing.
Preacher Chuck Swindoll, invited to preach at a Christian camp found himself feeling really pleased when a man approaches him telling him he’s attending the camp just to hear Dr. Swindoll preach. Flattered, later that evening, Dr. Swindoll is particularly pleased to see the man on the front row of the auditorium all ears and eager to learn. But, just minutes after Swindoll begins preaching the man falls asleep. Swindoll chooses to let it go simply dismissing it to a long day and some much needed rest after travelling. Except that the next night again, the man sitting in the front row, again he falls asleep.
This repeats again the next night. Finally, the man’s wife approaches Swindoll thanking him for his words and apologizing for her husband’s sleep pattern. She explains that he has recently been diagnosed with end stage cancer and his medication causes severe fatigue. But, she adds, one of her husband’s final wishes before he dies is to hear Chuck Swindoll preach. In kingdom living, we’re not so apt to judge a book by its cover.
There’s a strong reality in Jesus’ parable today told in Matthew’s gospel. How does God judge? With the invitation to adorn the redeeming, life giving, love, grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. May we rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say rejoice!