Tuesday, October 17, 2017

I Want My MTV

This sermon was preached on Sunday, October 15, 2017 at United Presbyterian Church in Sterling, KS.
Listen here.
Read Matthew 22:1-14, Philippians 2:1-11 here.

What’s the best wedding invitation you’ve ever received?  People can get pretty creative with their invites.

Figure 1 A decoder wheel for figuring out encrypted text

Figure 2 A countdown wheel for counting down the days til the event

Figure 3 Cans to tie to the couple's car at the wedding

If you got an invitation like this, would you go?  Why might you say no?

One study shows a reason might be that it costs too much to go and buy a gift, especially if it’s far away.  An attendee spends an average of $1300 according to that study[1].  
Other reasons you might not go:
  • Can’t find a babysitter
  • Awkwardness about who will be there
  • None of your friends are going
  • You don’t know the couple very well or haven’t talked to them in years

Here’s a fun one.  What if you got your invitation long after….weeks or maybe even months….after your friends got theirs?  Which means the hosts have already gotten RSVPs and discovered they had room to add you on….Would you go?

In the parable we read in Matthew 22 today, late invitations are what finally bring guests to the wedding.  The king had sent out his invitations and those who received them had already RSVP’d that they would be coming.[2] But when the party was ready, those invitees refuse to come.  Some ignore the announcement that it’s time, others are just too busy with their farms or other business.  Believe it or not, some actually abuse and even kill the messengers!

Jesus was telling this parable during the last week of his life on earth as part of a series of parables in response to a challenge from the chief priests and elders who came to him while he was teaching in the temple (Matt 21:23-27). They asked him what authority he had to teach. He answered their question with a question:  “Do you think I’m teaching with human authority or God’s authority?”  They didn’t know how to answer.  They didn’t believe he was the messiah, and they surely weren’t seeing him as the son of God or none of what happened later in the week would have happened. 

Listening to Jesus, Matthew tells us, the priests and elders knew that these parables were about them and they wanted to arrest Jesus, but they were afraid of the crowds which were excited about Jesus.  The crowds would later turn and call for Jesus to be crucified, but for now those who were in favor of Jesus dominated.

This parable is the story of what is happening when Jesus, the long-awaited messiah, comes to Israel.  God offers grace and forgiveness through his son Jesus, but many of those who already consider themselves God’s chosen people reject him.  So then the invitation goes out to everyone, good or bad.  If you’re willing to come, there’s a feast ready and waiting.  Come join the party.  All are welcome.

This story about people being invited to a wedding feast reminds me of another story about invitations – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.  In that story, the owner of a chocolate factory, who has for years been reclusive and mysterious, hides golden tickets in five candy bars that will allow those who find them to come to an exclusive tour of the factory.  Most of the kids who find a golden ticket do so because their parents have enough money to buy chocolate bars by the truckload until they find one.  Except Charlie.  He gets one candy bar for his birthday, and the whole family has saved up and pooled their money to be able to buy it.  And against all odds, that one candy bar has a ticket in it.  Those other kids all had a sense of entitlement about those tickets.  They were special.  They deserved tickets.  And their parents reinforced their sense of entitlement by buying them chocolate until they got what they wanted.  Charlie also has his faults, but he’s humble about it, so he’s able to be thankful for the incredible opportunity he’s received.[3]

What about us?  What do we take for granted? Our culture encourages us to have a sense of entitlement.  Advertisers continually tell us that we deserve special food, bigger houses, faster cars, better phones, more stuff. 

·      McDonald’s says You deserve a break today

·      Loreal says Because you’re worth it

·      Burger King says Have it your way

In the 80’s the music channel MTV encouraged people to call their cable companies and demand they add the MTV channel saying “I want my MTV.”[4]  I’m entitled to have it.  I deserve it. It became the anthem of the decade.  The band Dire Straits even wrote a song about it.

We should be leery of people telling us we deserve to have whatever we want, encouraging us to see the world as revolving around us, helping us to grow in selfishness and entitlement. 
The Bible draws us a very different picture.
In Matthew 5, the Beatitudes, Jesus doesn’t say, “Blessed are those who stand up for themselves and make sure they get what they want.”  Instead he says:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Similarly, in Philippians 2 Paul shows us how Jesus demonstrated what he taught.  Jesus had every right to be entitled.  Jesus who was fully human was also fully God, but instead of flouting his power, he humbled himself. He didn’t deserve to die, but he willingly died for all of us.[5]

I love how the hymn we sing around Easter Ah, Holy Jesus describes this in the last verse:
Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
not my deserving.[6]
Not because we deserved salvation, but because God loves us and wants us to know him.

If we think of ourselves as deserving, we can fall into thinking that others have to be like us to be acceptable to God.  Maybe that was what was happening in Jesus’ time.  They’d forgotten Moses’ words to the Israelites in Deuteronomy about why they were the chosen people:
"The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers.” (Deut. 7:7-8)
Not because they were great, but because God keeps his promises.  And just to make sure they get it, he says it again:
"Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people.” (Deut 9:6)
This is Moses’ speech to the Israelites to prepare them to go into the Promised Land.  In this speech, he repeats this idea several times.  It’s not because you deserved this, but because God loves you.
Paul tells us the same thing in Romans.  We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (3:23), but God loves us so much that while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us. (5:8) 

Not because we deserved it, but because God loves us so much.

How are we to respond?  Be thankful.  Be thankful for all the ways we got here.

I grew up in the church, and I’m thankful for parents who taught me about God and brought me to church and encouraged me to know and love God.

I’m thankful for pastors and churches that welcomed me and were patient with me when I was not being very Christlike, and encouraged me to get involved, and let me be creative and try new things, things that probably weren’t their favorite, and things that didn’t always turn out the way we’d hoped, but we kept on trying and in the trying we were growing. And I’m thankful for our loving and forgiving God who has been so patient with me.

I’m thankful for people who encouraged Rob and I years ago when we were worship leaders when we were burnt out and ready to quit. We didn’t realize it, but we were so hungry for God’s love and grace.  We were hurting and in shutting out the hurt, we’d also shut out God.  Our church arranged for us to go to a worship conference where we got some time to reach out to God and let him back in.  It was exactly what we needed, and it deepened our relationship with God incredibly.  I’m so thankful for that!

What about you?  What’s your story?

Jesus invites us all to come to the feast of forgiveness and grace, and to know the joy of living our lives walking with him. It starts whenever we say, “yes, Jesus, be a part of my life,” and continues into eternity.  It’s a challenging walk, but it’s also a beautiful one.

It’s an amazing invitation, far too amazing to keep to ourselves.  It’s like a wedding invitation with your name on it . . . plus one.  It’s meant to be shared.

Come to the feast.   Welcome one another. 
In Jesus’ story about the wedding feast, all is not wine and roses.  There’s that guy at the end of the story who didn’t put on the wedding clothes and so he gets thrown out of the party.
The wedding clothing is symbolic of the righteousness, the forgiveness and new life, we receive from God through faith in Jesus Christ.
·      Rom 13:14 - Dress yourself with the lord Jesus Christ
·      Gal 3:27 - All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ
Refusing to put on the wedding garments is like expecting cheap grace, looking to find favor by being at the party, but not willing to truly be a part of what’s happening.  Not willing to admit our need for forgiveness, not willing to be transformed by God’s grace, not letting any of the words get past the surface so that they don’t actually affect how we live our lives.
In the parable of the wedding feast, we could be the invited guests who refuse to come, or we could be the guests who DO come, but I think we are the servants being sent out to gather all who will come. That’s what we find at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is the one sending out his servants with invitations to the feast:
Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

All are invited.  The good news of the gospel is like a feast for the hungry.  The world is hungry for the good news of grace, and there are those who would love an invitation to the banquet. 
When we lose sight of the radical grace of the invitation, we have forgotten who we are. The ballroom is crowded with the good and the bad. None of us deserves to be here, and so we cannot impose our quality-control standards on anyone else the king wants to invite to the banquet. 
Our job is to go and tell, to invite all, and to leave to the host any thinning of the crowd. Whenever we allow ourselves to believe that we deserve what we have, or that we are somehow more worthy than another, we’ve lost sight of our mission, and we will find ourselves incapable of gratitude.[7]

How is it that you came to be here? 

Let’s remember and give thanks to God for all the ways he has brought us to this day, and let’s go out and invite everyone we meet to come to the feast.

[2] 22:4 those invited – CEB Study Bible footnote says this was a two-stage invite process, the first to invite and the second to announce all is ready.  Those who said they would come now receive notice that the feast is ready.
[3] This site shows how the seven deadly sins are represented by the characters, including Charlie.  It’s a somewhat simplistic view, but nevertheless food for thought. (Pun intended!) https://prezi.com/gbaididiitnk/biblical-references-in-charlie-and-the-chocolate-factory/
[5] Phil 2:5-8 NRSV “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God ,did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
[7] Adapted from A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series (Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), pg 70.  I am thankful for those who wrote and complied this book which has challenged and helped me to approach lectionary preaching in a more holistic way.

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