Matthew 22:1-14; Philippians 4:1-9
Some of you might remember a best-selling songs from the 1970s, “My Sweet Lord,”—written and sung by former Beatle George Harrison. The song was about Harrison’s sincere desire to find God through various kinds of religion:
“My sweet lord/ I really want to see you/ Really want to be with you/ Really want to see you lord/ But it takes so long, my lord/ My sweet lord/ I really want to know you/ Really want to go with you/ Really want to show you lord/ That it won't take long, my lord.”
You remember that? Yeah. Easy song to sing along with. Certainly not a Christian song since it lures us into going from singing Hallelujah to singing about Krishna, a Hindu god.
Shortly before his death in 2001, Harrison was asked about his spiritual journey. And to the end of his life, Harrison continued to investigate spiritual matters. He summed up his priorities this way: “Everything else in life can wait, but the search for God cannot wait.”
I think he is absolutely correct about that. The search for God cannot wait. There seems to be in the human heart what some have called a God-shaped hole that nothing but God can satisfy. Everyone tries to fill this hole with something. But I want to tell you today that what the world has to offer – no matter what it is – Power, wealth, possessions – there is nothing that the world has to offer that can adequately fill that God-shaped hole. But still, people try.
So let me suggest to you today that all of us have this God-shaped hole in our hearts that only God can fill. And because this is true, what we really want – what we really need – is to find God – or perhaps it would be more accurate to say – what we really want and need is to be found by God. We want to know Him. We want to see Him. We want to be with God.
Well, here’s the wonderful thing that we learn from today’s Gospel reading. The image of a banquet is just one of several ways the Scriptures describe life in the Kingdom of God. And you and I have been invited.
Now in the parable Jesus tells, those who were the first recipients of the invitation dismiss the invitation. Well – it’s not the most pleasant parable at this point – and you probably noticed – but it does not end well for those who turned down the invitation.
So let me suggest – let me STRONGLY suggest – that you just might want to accept the invitation to God’s banquet – this open invitation for you and for me to come and be a part of God’s Kingdom.
For everyone who has ever had the desire to find God – or again – more accurately – to be found by God – this is a place to start. If you agree with George Harrison that the search for God cannot wait – then let this invitation be your starting point – if you have not already accepted the invitation somewhere along your life.
Two weeks ago, I talked about becoming more like Christ. And if you remember, I called this a desire to pursue Christ-likeness. This is important, because if it is true that we want to know God, see God, and be with God, then you need to see that the invitation that God gives to attend His banquet – is not just an invitation to the party. It is that, but it is also an invitation to come and follow His Son Jesus Christ. And to learn what it means to be like Him.
I like what British bishop N.T. Wright says about this: “…nobody really believes that God wants everyone to stay exactly as they are. God loves [the most vile people in the world that you can think of.] But the point of God’s love is that he wants them to change. He hates what they’re doing and the effects it has on everyone else and on themselves too.
Referring to the parable of the wedding banquet, Bishop Wright continues, “The point of the story is that . . . God’s kingdom is a kingdom in which love and justice and truth and mercy and holiness reign unhindered. They are the clothes you need to wear for the wedding. And if you refuse to put them on, you are saying you don’t want to stay at the party . . . .”
You remember at the end of the parable that there was this dude who was thrown out of the party because he wasn’t wearing a wedding robe – and the king comes along and sees him and says, “Hey Buddy! Where’s your robe?” And it’s as though the guy is saying, “Don’t need no stinkin’ wedding robe. What are you going to do? Kick me out?” Well yeah. That’s what happens. The dude was cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those are mighty harsh words.
But understand that scholars tell us it was the custom in Jesus’ day for the host to provide free garments for all the guests. So this guy has no excuse. It is obvious that he chose not to wear the wedding garment.
So here’s the point. Again, remember two weeks ago where I talked about pursuing Christ-likeness – I also said that God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to let you stay that way. He wants you to be just like His Son Jesus. We called that Christ-likeness.
Another way to put it is like this: God loves us just the way we are, but God expects us to clothe ourselves with the character of Jesus Christ. It’s one reason why we come to worship. We want to know Him. We want to see Him. We want to be with Him. To get to know Christ, so that we might be more like him. Just another reason why church matters.
To learn to forgive as Jesus forgives. To love as Jesus loves. To show compassion the way Jesus shows compassion. To give as Jesus gives.
So two weeks ago I talked about Christ-likeness. And then, last week I reminded you that we are not really owners of anything. Merely stewards or caretakers of what God has given us.
The two are related. When you combine the understanding that everything I have – everything you have – belongs to God – and that the invitation to the wedding banquet is an invitation to be clothed in Christ – in other words – the desire to pursue Christ-likeness – what you get is a Christ-like desire to use wisely the gifts that God has given us. And if you’re wondering where I’m going with all this – it’s to get us ready for – and thinking about – our Consecration Weekend celebration next weekend.
This coming week, I want you to be thinking about how you and –if you are a part of a family – how you and your family are going to contribute to the work of the Lord here in this place. Because the invitation to the banquet is not just an invitation to a party. It’s an invitation to participate in – it’s an invitation to invest in – what it is that God is doing here in this place.
So again – as I do every year – I am simply offering you the opportunity. I’m not telling anyone how much I think they ought to give. I have never done that, and I will never do that. I’m not even saying that you have to give. I don’t think that that’s what God wants, so I don’t think that that’s a good idea. I am simply extending to you the invitation not only to benefit from what God is doing here in this place – but more than that – to take part in what God is doing here in this place with your financial tithes and offerings. And I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t invite you to do that. And it’s not because your church needs the money. We don’t. This church has been blessed by your generosity. In the 23 years I have been here, I can’t remember a single year when we ran short of cash.
Let me let you in on something. And this is no secret. We don’t need more money to run the church. I mean, when’s the last time you heard a preacher say that? In fact every year what we have is an abundance – an overwhelming surplus – because of your generosity – that your church council loves to give away. And that’s because so many of you get it. You understand what giving is all about. You’ve been blessed, and you want to share those blessings.
So your church – this church – doesn’t need your money – BUT here’s the thing – I know that you have a need to give. You have a need to invest in what it is that God is doing here in this place. I mean, just look around. Look at all the kids we have in worship – in Sunday School – in confirmation – in youth groups. We have a great staff to lead these ministries in Elaine and Kurt. Great music ministries with great musicians. Look at the variety of worship opportunities we have each weekend. Look at how the members of this church are cared for. Look at the outreach to the local community and internationally. Even as I speak we are sponsoring a mission team that is in Haiti right now. Your dollars are making a difference. And I just wanted to let you know that. And to tell you thank you.
So let me ask you how it is that you have benefited from being a part of God’s Kingdom here in this place. How have you grown? How have you changed? Do you find yourself becoming more and more like Jesus Christ? What have you learned? What does this place mean to you?
I just want you to know that your gifts do have an impact. You are investing in what God is doing here in this place. Touching hearts. Changing lives. Making a difference. So between now and next week I want you to think about – I want you to pray about – and I want you decide what your financial contribution to the work of the Lord will be in 2015. We’ll ask you to make that commitment next week on consecration weekend.
So with that in mind, let me leave you with this thought. Let me ask you: What if every member of our church supported the church just as you do? Huh? What kind of church would we have? What if every single member served the church, attended the church, loved the church, shared the church, and gave to the church exactly as you do? What kind of church would we be?
You think about that this week. Because God has extended to you an invitation – an invitation to take part in what God is doing. He wants to fill that God-shaped hole in your heart with His Son Jesus Christ. So that we might become the people God wants us to be – to do the things that God wants us to do – in the places where God wants us to be.