Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity, 2013
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, Lebanon

Let us Pray:
Grant, we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve thee with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Marriage often serves as a window onto the kingdom of heaven, just as it does in the Gospel reading for today. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son..." Jesus uses the symbol of marriage to illustrate the coming together of God and his people within the church. It is a union of the temporal and the spiritual in a bond that is permanent and filled with grace.

We remember that the first miracle that Jesus performed was at Cana of Galilee, where he turned water into wine, a symbol of sanctification. He turned the water of temporal or earthy realities into a blessing touched by God, a sacramental union. In this way, Jesus elevated the marriage contract into something more than what it had been to Jewish Law.

To see how much more important the concept of marriage is to the Christian understanding, we can turn to a handy source called the Concordance. A concordance takes every word in the Bible and identifies the chapter and verse in which it is cited. The words marriage, married and marry occur over five times more frequently in the New Testament than in the Old. He emphasizes again and again that marriage is a solid bond between God and His church, a union that is, by God's own promise, faithful and enduring.

It is now four years almost to the day that my daughter was married to a certain Canadian engineer. I remember the day very well – how could I ever forget it. And after four years of what appears to be a very happy marriage, the engineer and the actress have built a home together. My daughter, Lexi, is of an age where many of her friends are also getting married. She will call us and relate the particular details of each wedding. At one point, I feel compelled to interrupt and ask: "but what about the preacher; how was the preacher?" Invariably, she will respond: "Dad, it's not always about the PREACHER!"

No, the wedding is not about the preacher. And it is not only about the bride – or the bride and groom. It is much more about the event and what it represents. This fact is often lost on the bride and groom, who often believe it is about them alone. Except that it is about much, much more.

This is precisely the point Jesus makes in his parable. We are all familiar with wedding photographs. There are many standard pictures that are taken and wedding photographers are practiced in the craft. They know which ones are absolutely essential. They must get these right or they simply haven't done their jobs.

But what photographs might we see in today's gospel message? How would the ancient Judean photographer have recorded the events in this wedding? We actually see several snapshots in this Gospel passage: we see the servants sent forth to call those who are bidden to the wedding; we see yet more servants being sent forth; we see the preparations for the great feast; we see those who were invited walking away from the event; we see them tending their farms and caring for their merchandise; we see more servants killed; we see the king's armies destroying those who killed his servants; we see the servants sent forth yet again; they are required to bring in all they find.

Finally, we see the wedding furnished with guests. The place is full. And yet, in a final series of photographs, we are shown a man who has come to this place without the proper clothing. We see him being confronted by the king. We see him looking speechless. We see him bound and cast out into the outer darkness. In the last photograph, we see the king, the master of the household, speaking to the assembled guests. He thanks them for accepting the invitation. He welcomes them warmly and gratefully to this event, an event that has great sacramental meaning. And perhaps he explains why the poor man was cast out of the wedding feast in such a brutal manner. And the king closes with the words: "many are called but few are chosen."

I have never attended a wedding quite like this. At least not a temporal wedding. But, of course, this is not any ordinary wedding. It is the story of the kingdom of heaven. Many are called to this great feast. The Pharisees have been called to it. And the Sadducees. And all the tribes of Israel. And the Gentiles. And each one of us. We have all received our invitations.

The wedding in this parable represents the unity of God and His church. Those who have accepted the invitation sit side by side in the church, the good and bad, the saved along with those who have not received the gift of salvation. Those who have received that precious gift of salvation have come to the feast properly clothed.

But what is the difference? Surely, the servants would have recognized those who were properly clothed from those who were not. Well, they couldn't tell. Neither could the other wedding guests. Neither could the photographer, who took pictures of everyone who was invited. It was only the king who could tell the difference; because it was only he who could see revealed the clothing of the heart. Because it is the heart that will reveal how we come to the great wedding feast of our Lord God. He it is who will know how we truly wear the gifts of charity and love.

These are not items that can be bought or borrowed or stolen. Charity and mercy are not commodities that can ever be bought or sold. They must be present with us, ready to do those acts of goodness and grace that proceed naturally from the hearts of those who know and love God. And when they live within us, God recognizes this. God invites us to be with Him, to stay with Him and enjoy all the gifts He has to offer.

 

Let us pray:
Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy household the Church in continual godliness; that through thy protection it may be free from all adversities, and devoutly given to serve thee in good works, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.