Notes from the sermon prepared by Kerry Cockerham
(Due to illness Kerry was unable to preach herself so her sermon was read out on her behalf!)
In this reading from the parable we are reminded that Jesus is here for all people – a wedding feast is prepared and all the important guests are invited but choose not to come, giving increasingly poor excuses at the last minute as to why they can’t come and so the servants are asked to go out and bring random people to come instead. This indiscriminate acceptance of anyone in to the feast reminds us along with the parable of the Prodigal Son that God has absolutely no pride whatsoever when it comes to his love for us. He doesn’t hang around hoping we will come to him but run to meet us and come looking for us.
The man being kicked out of the wedding feast is not in the same story that we find in Luke’s Gospel or in the version of the story found the non-canonical gospel of Thomas and seems to be unique to Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew’s concern that sinners would come to Jesus and his special emphasis on this aspect may mean that this is the reason for this flourish in the story on his part. This man that was not wearing the correct garment was not doing so out of lack of respect for the bridegroom – traditionally in Jewish weddings the bridegroom was responsible for providing the garments that were needed, all the guests had to do was collect them on the way in, his refusal to wear them indicated he was there for the party and not for the bridegroom. They were there for a free lunch! But one of the things that we have to also remember is that Jesus’ disciples were concerned too with who was in and who was out – were gentiles in or were they just in if they were prepared to become Jewish or behave as if they were Jewish and what about the Samaritans surely they were definitely out! The disciples views were narrow as Jesus’ just got wider!
Many are called few are chosen I’m sure that this in its original context means that the feeling was the Kingdom was imminent and were worried that people would not be in. However, I’m with Rob Bell – love wins I don’t think that in the end our God of perfect, unconditional love will leave anyone out. Besides many years has been spent trying to use these words to make pronouncements about who is in and who is out. The word used that is translated as chosen is eklectoi, this is used to signify the people of the church rather than the as some people like to see it those that are lucky enough to not be doomed, and so it is true Jesus loves us all but not all people are part of the church. Instead of seeing this as a sign of our being better than others Jesus calls us to accept this as responsibility – to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world, to show his love and peace and joy, the liberation not the condemnation that Jesus offers. This is simply ridiculous asking who Jesus chooses to include in his love is like asking how many of us draw breath each day.
I think that the tendencies to use this to batter people with to make Christianity an exclusive holy club is actually flying in the face of our Philippians reading whatever is good, is true, is noble think on these things. Traditionally Christianity is about what we believe and not who we are and what a shame that the faith and trust we were encouraged through the Bible to have in Jesus as our Lord, as willing to sacrifice himself in wonderful liberating love has been used to oppress others, what a shame. In fact that we, and by we, I mean the Church with a big C, seem to use Jesus’ love to batter others over the head with probably makes Jesus sick to his stomach, I have no doubt about this. He never wanted a holy club, in fact just the opposite Christianity should be the most inclusive not exclusive thing that there is. Jesus says come to me I love you, losers come to me I love you, all you weak and damaged people, at the same time Jesus says come to me all you winners, society’s successes, the rich and the famous, the ones with enviable lifestyles, the ones with the good jobs, nice houses and nice cars, the one’s who speak the right way and know the right way to be. Come and see what I can offer come and see a way of live that doesn’t define you by whether you’re a winner or a loser, whether you have a job you’re embarrassed to tell people about or whether you earn so much money you’re embarrassed to admit it and all you in between. Come and see a way of life that means you’re defined by who you are at heart, how loving you are! And we are called to hold those things together to live that tension, the same Jesus who would as the parable tells us invite the leaders and the Pharisees and the important and those who just think they are important, also invites the lame and the blind and the deaf – the losers basically those who are undesirable who we might balk at having in our church. We are quite good at All Hallows at this and are known as radically inclusive and sometimes people say that about us with positivity and sometimes I’m sure that is said with negativity. But radical inclusivity is talked about as some sort of modern and trendy movement what we forget is no-one has ever been before or since as radically inclusive as Jesus. What’s the challenge for us at All Hallows are we as inclusive as we think, are there ways in which we could be more so what ways do we represent and encourage the dichotomy between the winners and losers in our church community.
So the Philipians reading is important – one of the things that I looked at in Psychology and Sociology is self-fullfilling prophecy. The idea that, simply explained, you are who and what you think you are. So, for example, despite coming from a background where unemployment was high and participation in higher education was scarce, I was told when I was about eight by a teacher that I was bright and should go to university, it was said to me by a teacher who I loved and respected and so I believed her when she said this and I internalised this and I genuinely believe that this was a major contributory factor In my journey to university almost as much as academic achievement. In the same way that the Philippians reading encourages us to think on these positive things and I think that because the writer of the letter knew that you are what you think you are. You become who you think you are. Positivity and seeing the best in the world means you get the best from the world. So, faith in Jesus, in his love, in his being sent from God in his being our ultimate example and our Lord is important so too is the way we exercise this faith through our deeds. As James tells us that our faith without works is dead and this links back with our Gospel there seems to be such an emphasis and about prohibition and negative aspects of Christianity, even one of the commentaries that I read on this seems to want to make this text about judgement rather than the way that the feast is open to all – then again this from someone who wants a ban on gay clergy and yet describes themselves as an open evangelical. We want to emphasise the do and don’ts emphasising who is in and who is out – obsessed almost sometimes it would seem. Who are we to judge – I sometimes wish that we had no doctrine at all on the afterlife – not that I don’t think that our ultimate goal is a more full reunion with God than we can have in this life but we seem to have a situation that many Christians seem to feel they should walk around miserable in the world with some kind of death wish willing our lives away and praying for death – that nothing we do here matters when the opposite is true the Progressive Christianity Network that All Hallows advertises on one of notice boards as having commonalities with, one of the eight points is – Know that the way we behave toward one another and toward other people is the fullest expression of what we believe. The need to again as the Progressive Christian Network says in its eight points recognise that being followers of Jesus is costly, and entails selfless love, conscientious resistance to evil, and renunciation of privilege.
We are told by some that though everything necessary for our liberation was done by Jesus on the cross through unconditional love, and yet as the blurb on the back of Love Wins by Rob Bell former pastor and founder of Mars Hill Church in Michigan, a book about his view on heaven and hell and the reason why his position at that church became untenable was by daring to say that Jesus loves all, that he wouldn’t play the they’re in but they’re out game! “Here’s how the traditional story goes… God offers us everlasting life by grace, freely, through no merit on our own part. Unless you do not respond the right way. Then God will torure you forever. In hell. What?!”
Our work here at All Hallows with Asylum Seekers and The Pay as You Feel Café Real Junk Food Project are exactly the things that we should be doing to promote kingdom values and Jesus values. These are the good and the true and the noble things that we should think on, for if we occupy our minds and hearts with these thoughts of the good, the true, the noble etc, we will possess souls that are content to look for and to bring about in the world those good and just and noble values that mean we start to build Jesus’ Kingdom here on earth more and more and more.