A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on October 13, 2002.
Based on Matthew 22:1-14 (Proper 23, Year A).
October means different things to different people. To some it means leaves changing colors, to others the free-candy fest that is Halloween, and to others it means looking forward to that glorious weekend when we gain an hour for daylight savings. For Episcopalians, however, October means coming to church and hearing the obligatory stewardship sermon.
There are many approaches to this, of course. There is the subliminal stewardship sermon (give money) that hardly even touches on the subject at all (give lots of money). A variation on this theme is the talk about anything but money. If I inspire people and speak in vague generalities about their “Christian duty,” financial gifts to the church will just come pouring in. This line of thinking usually presupposes that money is a dirty little subject not to be addressed from the pulpit. In some ways speaking about money really is the church’s last taboo. But I don’t buy that, so to speak. Money is an integral part of life. Jesus speaks more about money than any other single topic. The Church needs money, in addition to prayer, to support its mission in the world. And All Saints’ needs money to support its mission in this community.
We get a tough parable today, not the greatest on which to preach my very first stewardship sermon. But the parable of the wedding banquet is the culmination of three weeks of parables from Jesus, placed successively in the text of Matthew’s gospel. Two weeks ago we had the parable of the two sons. One refused to listen to his father, but later did. The other agreed to listen to his father, but didn’t. And Jesus related this to those who agreed to respond to John the Baptist’s message of repentance but did not. Last week we had the parable of the vineyard, further narrowing the focus to the primacy of Christ as the son who was sent by God and rejected by humanity. This week we get the wedding banquet, an allegory for the post-resurrection day-of-judgment. So we’ve progressed from John the Baptist to Christ to the end of time, which encompasses the whole sweep of salvation history as we, as Christians, understand it.
And it’s a good thing this is an allegorical wedding reception because it doesn’t sound like much fun. The father of the groom, the king, kills the guests who refuse to come, then drags in people off the street, and bounces the poor guy wearing the wrong set of clothes. I hope the band was good.
Let’s focus for a moment on the gentleman who was thrown out of the banquet hall for wearing inappropriate attire. This seems most unfair, even cruel. He didn’t wake up that day expecting to go to a fancy wedding banquet. He was probably just standing around minding his own business when he got ushered into the wedding hall. And who would expect the average person to walk around town wearing a tuxedo? So he’s unexpectedly invited in, allowed to stare at the feast, maybe he snags a crab ball or two, and then he gets thrown out. Nice host. But here’s where we have to remember there wasn’t really a wedding banquet. The point Jesus is making here is about accepting an invitation and doing nothing more than showing up. He’s talking about the invitation we have all been offered: the invitation to know God. The invitation to experience life in relationship with the risen Christ. The invitation to eternal life. When we RSVP, when we accept God’s offer of relationship we can’t just accept it and expect that we have no other responsibilities. We can’t just eat all of God’s food, enjoy God’s hospitality, and then simply go home.
But what about the guy who wasn’t dressed correctly? There’s something that still gets us about that. It just seems a bit harsh. It helps when we consider how Matthew’s community would have heard this. New clothes were symbols of conversion. At baptism, when new Christians were welcomed into the community, they were clothed in white robes. There was a belief that they were literally putting on a new life in Christ. The sinful identity of the old life was replaced with a new identity, the Christian life. They were born into a new life with Christ at the center. No longer could they just show up – they were expected to actively participate with Christ and their new community in this new life. The putting on of new clothes, like putting on a wedding robe in this parable, was a sign of life and faith and the response to an invitation from God to fully participate in the Christian life.
We live this invitation out in our life together at All Saints’. We pray together, we laugh together, we sing together, we struggle with our faith together, we share the body and blood of Christ together, and we do the best we can to live our lives as faithful Christians, together.
Not that I’m counting, but this is my seventh Sunday with you. (I look forward to the time when I have no idea how many Sundays it’s been. But for now I know). Sometimes it’s hard to see things when you’re in the midst of it all, but you should know that this is a special place. An amazing place. I continually marvel at the level of commitment I have seen to this church and for the love and concern that you have for one another. And I don’t say that lightly. It doesn’t exist everywhere. People at All Saints’ don’t just show up. They actively participate in the life of the parish. And that’s really what stewardship is all about. It’s about active and prayerful participation. Giving of ourselves and our financial resources is a significant part of this. It’s saying that you believe that the Christian life is more than just showing up. It’s about living a vibrant life of faith. I’ve said this before, but I am excited to be here, serving Christ with you. Making a financial commitment to Christ and to this church, one that stretches us and allows us to boldly proclaim in word and action that God is at the center of our lives, is itself a great gift from God. I look forward to the unfolding of this continuing journey together.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2002