1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he 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.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so 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 a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 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.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Okay. Quick review. Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem. He’s been causing trouble and stirring the pot, acting like he knows what’s what, and the temple authorities don’t like it. In fact, they hate it. They’d arrest Jesus if they could, but they are a little afraid that that might come back to bite them. So Jesus has been speaking to these guys in three parables. Today, we heard the third parable. Jesus says the kingdom of Heaven is like a king who host a wedding banquet for his son. So that’s the scene. A wedding banquet. The King sends out the invitations – presumably to all the awesome and royally rich folks. But they don’t show up. So, he sends his slaves out with the menu to all the invited guests, trying to entice them in: Look, there’s going to be steak like you’ve never tasted before and wine that never stops flowing. Please come to the wedding. But those invited ignored the slaves. Some went back to work on their farms; others to the family business. Oh yeah, and others just went ahead and killed all the slaves.
So, naturally, the king was pretty ticked off – with his slaves being killed and all. So, he rallies the troops, sends them back into the city…to what? Oh, to murder all the murderers and burn down the whole city, of course.
Then he says to his slaves (which tells us he had plenty), “Go into the streets (the streets that are presumably in chaos since the city is burning down)…go into the streets and invite all the people you find – both good and bad – and invite them to the wedding. So the slaves did and suddenly the banquet hall is full! Gee…I wonder why? Who knows what he would have done if people denied him and his party a second time.
But wait, the fun doesn’t stop there. The king enters the banquet hall to bask in the joy of essentially forcing people to either come to the party or die, and then he sees a man at the wedding banquet who isn’t wearing a wedding robe. “How did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And the guy had nothing to say. So the kings tells his servants to tie the guy up like a hog and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And then Jesus stitches the whole thing up with the quotable line: Many are called. But few are chosen.
So. Just for the record, I’m getting a little sick of Matthew’s parables as of late. I’m tired of you lovely people waking up early on a day you could sleep in, getting all dressed up for church, and then you come here and listen to a violent and bloody story from Jesus, that you’d never tell your children at night, and yet here they are in the pew right next to you listening to this rated R stuff. And then, I, as the preacher, have to mop up all the blood and anger and judgment on the floor and try and turn a massacre into a message that sends you home with a promise from God that will give you hope for the week ahead, and not nightmares.
And not only that, but these parables have been ones where the most awful character is so easily associated with God. We hear the word ‘King’, and most of us (consciously or subconsciously) think to ourselves, “Okay, so that’s God in the story… it is God because Kings are powerful. Kings are the ones who care for the people. Kings are important… so pay close attention to him.” And then this King – God – like figure seems too much like a whinny, spoiled child whose throwing a hissy fit in aisle 8 of Hy-Vee because he didn’t get exactly what he wanted, which was for all the special guest to come to the party that he was throwing. So he threatens them with death and now we all are held hostage at some party hosted by a god who scares us.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m certain that there are smart, respectable preachers out there who will preach sermons today about how God is the king in this parable. And that’s totally valid. But I just can’t do it. I just don’t see it.
The king is a great image for God –if you didn’t lose the invitation to the wedding under that ever-growing pile of mail sitting on your kitchen, only to find out that the king has now sent out his soldiers to burn down your house and all the other guests that didn’t show. The king is a great image for God – if you’ve got the right clothes to wear.
Sorry to say, this King seems more like a member of ISIS than the God whom we believe to be love. Remember, we come to worship the God revealed in Jesus – who came not to be served (like a king) but to serve others. So if God is the king in the parable, I either can’t see it or I’m pretty sure I don’t want to worship that god.
But here is the beautiful thing about parables. They are not meant to be easily explained or like a puzzle that you solve once and now have figured out. No, they are meant to shift and change. Or as one of my favorite preachers, Barbara Brown Taylor, once put it, a parable is “not a once-and for-all story. It’s a story you can walk around in, a story that wants a response from you—hopes for a response from you—one that changes as you change, so that it is different the tenth time you hear it than it was at the first.”
And this week, I heard it differently.
The good news of this parable, the gospel, slammed into me out of now where. With the help of my good friend, John Weisenburger, we realized that there is a crucial character in the story we never get to meet. There is a crucial character that never shows up and never says anything and yet the whole parable rests on him.
He is the invisible and yet crucial character in the story, who in a single act of defiance takes all of the power away from the King. The king comes in to the party and sees the poor guest who didn’t have on a wedding robe. And the king is furious because someone seems to be disrespecting and undermining his authority. The king is suddenly not the one with all the power in the room. The King isn’t getting what the King wants, which is pure allegiance and obedience. So the king asks him, “How did you get in here without a wedding robe on?” Or in others words, who let you in here without the proper attire? Well it was the doorman. But the man without the wedding robe would never tell – he didn’t say a word – never telling who was letting in the people who don’t belong.
What if God in the parable is the doorman. Letting people into the kingdom of Heaven who do not belong there? Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong somewhere? Have you ever gone to a gathering wearing the entirely wrong thing? You show up to dinner wearing jeans and t-shirt, and everyone else is in a dress or a suit. Or you walk into class on the first day of school wearing the cool clothes from last year, only to find out…they aren’t cool anymore. And suddenly, there is no doubt in your mind…I don’t belong here.
I experienced that very feeling a couple of weeks ago. My brother-in-law was able to get tickets the Packers/Vikings Game at Lambeau Field. Now, for those of you who know me, you know…I’m not a Packers fan. And I’m not a Vikings fan. I’m a Bears fan. So, I thought it was be fun to wear my Bears hat to the game.
Yeah. That was stupid. Now, I wasn’t naïve; I knew I would get some teasing. But it would be all in good fun.
Yeah. It wasn’t all in good fun. I am about 100% certain I was the only person out of the 79,000 that were at Lambeau field who was wearing a Bears hat and I was on the receiving end of some really nasty looks from people. And they weren’t joking. There was no question about it. Some people took one look at me and thought, “Who do you think you are coming in here dressed like that? You do not belong here.”
I was the guy in the parable who showed up to the wedding banquet without the proper wedding robe on. I was the guy who didn’t fit in.
But the truth is…it goes much bigger than that though. Most of us feel like we don’t fit in. In life.
Confession time: most of the time, I feel like I am the one who doesn’t fit in. Most of the time, I feel like I have absolutely no clue what I am doing in life – as a parent, as a pastor, as a human being. Should I shower Elliot with my love and my approval and my time, or will he turn into a needy kid who doesn’t know how to function on his own? Should I have prayed with her on the phone, or would that have been weird? Do I really believe in what that candidate stands and think it will make a difference or am I just going with the flow?
Now, let me be clear. I don’t tell you things so that you can feel bad for me and think I have low self-esteem or something like that and then feel the need to make me feel better. No. I just tell you these things because it is the truth. Most of the time, I’m have no clue what I am doing and I’m just waiting for the moment for other people to figure out I’m an imposter. In fact, this sort of thing has a name– it is called imposter syndrome. And the even bigger truth – most of us have it.
I call up friends and colleagues who are these amazing pastors and who do these incredible things and I ask them how they came up with this stuff, and without a moment of hesitation, they all say, “Dude, I have no idea what I’m doing and yeah, I must have just gotten lucky there.”
It’s called imposter syndrome. And at least at some point in our life, I suspect most of us have it. It is that persistent and pervasive feeling of inadequacy. Of not being enough. Smart enough. Good enough. Attractive enough. Strong enough. Having-it-all-together-enough. And, I think deep down, when we all are honest with ourselves, it leads to most of us worrying that we just simply do not belong. And eventually people are going to figure it out. But here is the good news – when it comes to the kingdom of God – we don’t have to. We don’t have to have it all together. We don’t have to wear the right clothes… we don’t have to know it all, because there is someone out there sneaking people into the kingdom of God who others (like the Kings of this world) think do not belong there. And it is God.
The Kingdom of God. It’s like a roomful of people who feel like they just don’t belong. You’ve got your inadequate parents. Your failed business professionals. Your insecure pastors. Your students who failed gym class. Your couples with failed marriages and your people who never made enough money. And you know what…there’s even a whinny king with anger issues there too. All of them standing in the kingdom of God. And in the end, none of them really know who let them in, but all any of them can say is, thanks be to God.
You know, suddenly I’m not so sick of these parables anymore.
 Barbara Brown Taylor, http://www.chapel.duke.edu/documents/sermons/2008/081012.pdf