Welcome to the Church
Call to worship
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
- Psalm 100:4-5
Welcome! Today is the first time we have opened the doors on a Sunday morning since March, but we join together, wherever we are. We thank God for bringing us through this, and we thank God for the gifts of technology which have enabled us to stay connected even though we have been unable to meet.
And as we gather, we will praise God, we will seek his word in the scriptures and we will pray for the world and ourselves.
Prayers of adoration and confession
Let us pray
Almighty and everlasting God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
sovereign Ruler of all creation: as we call upon your glorious name
we give you praise, we offer you worship, we bow in adoration.
You alone are our hope, you alone are our salvation, you alone are our life.
To you belong all majesty and glory, dominion and power,
always, now and ever, and to the ages of ages.
[Your Son was] was wounded for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the chastisement he bore made us whole, and with his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)
And so, most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
By what we have said, and what we have left unsaid
we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves,
and most of all we have not loved you with our whole heart.
But the Psalmist assures us:
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious; slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever;
He does not treat us as our sins deserve, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;… As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Hear Christ’s word of grace to us all: Your sins are forgiven
Thanks be to God.
Hymn: Joyful, joyful
25 Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you and praise your name,
for in perfect faithfulness
you have done wonderful things,
things planned long ago.
2 You have made the city a heap of rubble,
the fortified town a ruin,
the foreigners’ stronghold a city no more;
it will never be rebuilt.
3 Therefore strong peoples will honor you;
cities of ruthless nations will revere you.
4 You have been a refuge for the poor,
a refuge for the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the storm
and a shade from the heat.
For the breath of the ruthless
is like a storm driving against a wall
5 and like the heat of the desert.
You silence the uproar of foreigners;
as heat is reduced by the shadow of a cloud,
so the song of the ruthless is stilled.
6 On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
7 On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
8 he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.
9 In that day they will say,
“Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
22 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
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.’
5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
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.’
14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Sermon – Come to the banquet
If you grew up in the church – or if you’ve had anything to do with Sunday school in the last fifty or more years, this morning’s reading from Matthew 22 probably put you instantly in mind of a particular song.:
A certain man held a feast on his fine estate in town. He laid a festive table and wore a wedding gown. He sent invitations to his neighbours far and wide but when the meal was ready, each of them replied:
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.
But if you may have noticed that the song doesn’t quite match the parable. The song doesn’t mention the invitees killing the messengers, nor the king sent troops out to destroy the murderers and burn their cities.
That’s because the song isn’t based on Matthew 22 – it’s based on Luke 14 (v15-23), and the parable that Luke recounts is a bit different to the parable in Matthew.
A similar parable, but told on different occasions: The parable here in Matthew is told in the temple courts after Palm Sunday – in Luke’s account, it is told in the house of a Pharisee before Palm Sunday.
We read that: Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. (22:1-2)
So the king is given a wedding banquet, and he sends “his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come.”(22:3)
They wouldn’t come. The Jewish people, the nation of Israel, had been waiting for the messiah since Genesis times. Since the dawn of history – in fact since before they were even a nation or a people. They had been waiting for the messiah, the Christ, to save them. To restore them to their promised land, drive out the occupiers, to put things right.
But you know, you can so easily get used to the way things are. Particularly if the way things are works out well for you personally – say if you’re a chief priest, or a Pharisee.
Why would you go to a wedding banquet and honour someone else, when you can eat pretty well at home?
So the king “sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ (22:4)
So he’s moved on from a simple invitation to a demand. It’s not like the invitation to our street’s annual street party – which has a vague start and end time, and a general invitation to participate as and when it suits. This is an important event, if you’re invited, you need to attend.
But they “made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business” (22:5) – there’s no chance that they didn’t get the invitation, no chance they misunderstood. They flatly refused to attend.
And it turns out that those who simply went away were pretty good compared to the other invitees who seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. (22:6) Now, that’s clearly over the top. Seriously, people don’t want to go to a wedding so they kill the messenger? That would never happen, would it? But yet Jesus says it, and he does it to emphasise the points he’s making. It is hyperbole. It’s not a story of an actual wedding.
And so the king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. (22:7). Things have really escalated, haven’t they? From a simple invitation made and turned down, to murder, and now the destruction of a whole city!
But the parable doesn’t even end there! The king says those invited weren’t really worth it at all, so he sends out more slaves – to the streets, to invite anyone they found. And not just anyone, but everyone. And Jesus is clear in saying both good and bad were invited, and they came to the wedding hall. Many were called, and they filled the wedding hall, and they would get to eat the dinner, including the fatted calves and the prized oxen. They weren’t expecting an invitation, and certainly didn’t ‘deserve’ one, but they got to be there anyway!
What a turn around. From ignored invitations, to a full banquet hall. Guests enjoying a magnificent feast.
And wouldn’t that be a great ending to the story? And indeed, in the song, and in the parable in Luke’s gospel, that is how the story ends – everyone celebrating. The song adds a bit of reminder at the end:
Now God has written a lesson for the rest of mankind:
If we are slow in responding he may leave us behind.
He’s preparing a banquet for that great and glorious day,
When the Lord and Master calls us be certain not to say:
I cannot come…
But the parable in Matthew’s gospel has is a real sting in the tale…
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. (22:11-12)
At first glance, these later verses (22:11-) sound like a bit of a turnaround from inviting everyone. The king has said to his slaves, invite everyone – good or bad – it doesn’t matter, just invite them in. But now the king has spotted someone not dressed appropriately, and he singled him out for special attention. “How did you get in here without a wedding robe?” How did you get in here without changing out of your street clothes? He still calls him ‘Friend’, but wouldn’t a friend – a real friend – have made the effort to change? It’s often suggested that the tradition at the time would have been for the host to provide the wedding robe for guests to wear for the banquet – so it wouldn’t have been the case that a guest would not have had access to the appropriate clothes. There was a robe available, but that guest had chosen not to wear it.
And then things get very bad for the one who hadn’t changed “Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (22:13)
This is one of the parts of the bible that Christians are sometimes uncomfortable talking about. Or perhaps uncomfortable with full stop.
“…the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The imagery has moved from simply not being at a banquet, to something far worse.
What are we to make of it?
Because we know verses such as 1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.
Christ did die for all – so how do we reconcile that with someone being thrown into the outer darkness?
Look at John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
God loved the world so much that he gave his Son, but there is a requirement to respond to that gift, to believe in him - to put our trust and our hope in him. To turn away from our old ways and turn to God. To change – and to allow ourselves to be changed.
God’s grace shown to us in Jesus is freely available to all who turn to him in faith, but there is a response required.
And Jesus brings it all home in the last verse when he says: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (22:14)
It is an uncomfortable truth. But I think it’s also our own experience: We know that the good news of Jesus proclaimed throughout the world, but how many people do you know that haven’t responded to that good news? They might have been too busy – married a wife or bought them a cow – or they might have responded in a superficial or fleeting way - perhaps ‘turned up’ to church occasionally, ticked the box marked ‘Christian’ on the census form, but not put their faith in Christ. Not worn their metaphorical wedding gown – not changed in response to what Jesus has done for them.
It is an uncomfortable truth.
The parable that Jesus has told here has taken us from a view of limited salvation – that only a select few would be invited, and that was certainly the view of the Pharisees and the chief priests: that the nation of Israel had a unique claim to God’s favour. But Jesus has moved on from there to tell them - and us - that everyone can be a recipient of God’s grace, but then there is a qualifier: That although salvation is available for all through the grace of God, it is necessary that we are changed by that grace.
Many are called, but few are chosen.
The theme of judgement, which comes up often in the gospels, isn’t a popular thing to talk about … but I think we lose something – and something important (and indeed central) to our faith if we ignore it.
We can look around at the world, and our society, and even at our relationships and we can see that things aren’t good. There are many, many things wrong. And we look forward to a time when all things will be made right – but for things to be made right, the things that are wrong need to be dealt with.
And that can be by repentance – turning away from the wrong things – or by judgement – dealing with the wrong things. And it’s not for us to judge, it’s for God. God will put things right: and God will do that through the grace of Christ, and through judgement.
Strange as it might seem at first, judgement is part of the good news.
There can be a tendency to dwell on those last verses, the casting out into the outer darkness of the one who didn’t change. To focus on the fact that few are chosen.
But I think if that’s our focus then we risk thinking that the change is what is important, that we must simply work hard to change ourselves – instead we must be open to God through the Holy spirit changing us.
While we should remember that few are chosen, the good news is that many are called. Sure enough, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone - or indeed anyone (as this parable emphasises) - who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Our privilege is to take our place in the banquet hall of God, and wear the wedding robe of lives which are changed in grateful obedience to our Lord and saviour.
And it is also our privilege to be God’s servants and to go out into the world and invite people in to the banquet. To quote the song one last time:
When all the poor had assembled there was still room to spare, So the master demanded: Go search everywhere. Search the highways and the byways, and tell them to come in: my table must be filled before the banquet can begin.
And that is what Jesus tells his disciples later in Matthew’s gospel: [he] came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt 28:18-20a)
The invitation to the banquet hall of God, the invitation to turn in faith to Christ is good news, and good news needs to be shared, and sharing that good news is part of how we change in response to all that God has done for us.
And that good news is good news for all. It isn’t restricted by birth or status or race or background. Many are called: God is not the God of only the privileged.
God is the God of the poor, the friend of the weak. And when we truly put our trust in Christ, our lives will be changed in gracious obedience.
Hymn: Beauty for brokenness
Prayers of intercession
Here are the prayers for today. Let us pray. We pray for calm in the hearts and minds of the people in the USA, as they face future uncertainty. We pray that those who follow you would seek your comfort and guidance. And we pray for wisdom and good judgment as people make decisions on their country's future. Oh Lord, there is still so much good happening around us in the world, but we fail to notice it. Lift our hearts to remember how generous you are, Lord, Your Grace is all around us. Not hard to see as we now experience the beauty of spring. Please turn our hearts to notice all the generosity and incredibly astounding acts of humanity that happen daily, even amidst the chaos and fear of this pandemic.
We give thanks that we live in Australia, how blessed we are. We pray for our leaders at the moment, our leaders in government, for their continued compassion and kindness towards the poor. And we pray that they would seek to have compassionate and wise decisions not just based on the economic concerns. We pray for the government to work well together to keep our country safe and prosperous. For our own church, Lord, we need your guidance in the choice of a new minister. We pray for those involved. We pray for their wisdom and discernment. For those in our church needing your healing hand at the moment, we especially pray for Bronwyn that you would continue to sustain and be with her. And we pray for Neil that you would do the same with him, that you would give him comfort and strength in your abiding peace. And, Lord, please be with their doctors as they decide on treatment. May their families too be comforted at this time. Our beloved church members who are in care or shut-in, bless them, Lord, and continue to be with them and sustain them.
Dear God, thank you for our church, for your word which remains constant in our ever-changing world. Thank you for your desire to welcome all people into your banqueting table. We thank you for the fact that you want to be intimately involved in our lives. And you want to know each of us personally. This is a priceless truth. So thank you so much, Lord. We bring these prayers before you today trusting in your goodness and wisdom. Amen.
Hymn: How great thou art
Offering Prayer and Blessing
God of great gifts, loving Father of us all,
We offer you the gifts of our lives.
You care for us constantly
providing for us, nurturing us.
As we have been generously provided for,
so we ask you to help us give generously to the work for which you call us,
the work of the church:
the sharing of the good news of Jesus,
the freeing of those who are oppressed,
the healing of the sick,
the comfort of those who mourn
and the care of those who are in need.
In the name of Jesus,
Many are called, but few are chosen.
We have been called, and we have been chosen.
So as we finish our time together today, and go out into the world and into the week, let us go out to proclaim the good news of Jesus wherever we may find ourselves so that all may have the chance to take their place in the banquet hall of God.
And as we go out, know that we go out with the blessing of God Almighty; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Next Week (18th October 2020)
Psalm 99 or Psalm 96:1-9,10-13
Exodus 33:12-23 or Isaiah 45:1-7
Isaiah 45:1-7, Matthew 22:15-22
Theme: “Giving to God what is God’s”