Speechless – Welcomed and Rejected.
You might think that the Parable of the wedding banquet affirms the boundless generosity and inclusive reach of God’s grace. There is the small matter of the destruction of villages of those first invited. After that though we can invite everyone. Celebrate the inclusivity, diversity of God’s kingdom shown in this parable. But then it gets awkward again. One person here is not in the right attire. There is one person not wearing their Sunday Best. As with all people who come inappropriately attired they get banished to the outer darkness (with weeping and gnashing of teeth). Doesn’t turn out very inclusive or welcoming. The traditional explanation is that Matthew says once we’ve been invited and included, to fully accept the gift we have been offered requires of us nothing less than our whole life. This is what is represented by the wedding garment: righteousness. This person has obviously just snuck in for the drinks and nibbles (Coffee and Chocolate biscuits) without realising there was a bigger agenda. The same commentators also link the earlier village destruction to the rejection of God’s plan by Israel. All of that is useful to a certain extent but it’s just information, it’s not going to aid us on our spiritual journey. I could say instead there is a real difference between going to church – out of duty, tradition, being dragged there as a child/ adolescent/ parent/ grandparent /grandchild *delete as appropriate. There is a great deal of difference between the going to church to – Being Church, a community of faith of prayerful people. I could say that, but then we’d have to do something about it. Let’s go back to the man who was speechless for a moment. Who is he? Here he was invited to the feast. One of the uninvited. Now invited. He comes along. He’s pulled out of the crowd for not wearing the right thing. The reaction of the man wearing inappropriate clothing is silence. Silence because he thought he’d been invited. Silence because he thought everyone was welcome from wherever and whatever their means. Silence because he couldn’t justify his position. Silence because he didn’t know what to say or how to react or what to do. Silence because there were no words he knew to describe the feeling of, in the same moment, being welcome and rejected. Is this man in the parable The welcomed and rejected Jesus? Welcomed into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Rejected, handed over to be crucified. Silent before pilate. This parable makes sense if the one who is pulled out of the crowd represents Jesus. Many are called but few are chosen is the final line. Not because the kingdom of God is an exclusive club, but because being chosen in this way means suffering – going to the places that only those who follow Jesus closely are going to be able to go. Discipleship was not for everyone. Going to Church the many, the feast, the wedding banquet – everyone is welcome. Being Church – the few who gather to struggle and suffer alongside God in the community of faith. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Have you been in a church building to welcome visitors? Gosh what a lovely church they say. Then they say, and I’m waiting for it, because I know it’s their very next question: When was it built? We need some creative answers to this because often mine is speechlessness. Why might I be speechless? Because I don’t know how to respond? Because I’ve lost the art of conversation? More likely because the language of spirituality is difficult. And I suspect that is why they ask such questions – they don’t know quite what to ask or say. But being speechless is a good first response to allow the God space to develop, but we need to be able to teach others this art too – the art of Jesus welcomed but rejected going to the places we’d rather not go to be with the other rejected ones. So how do we help folk to go away with more than a few photos. It’s hard work rebuilding, but necessary. But we’re going to try anyway. A group of pray-ers are gathering this week to look at how we pray and worship in our area – in effect to look at that moment of speechlessness and say what is our response going to be. One of those responses might be practicing the art of being still. (You don’t need to do this in a building by the way – but you do need a place with few distractions – so a church is probably quite a good option.) The point is that there is a wealth of spirituality that this place represents, we need to be offering to those who come in. And in our days of difficulty, adjustment of fast change there are plenty of folk who need help and if we don’t offer it… Let’s begin again. Gosh what a lovely church building you’ve got here. They say. All the better to pray in we could reply. And then we smile, tell them the history And invite them to spend a few moments practicing the art of being still – speechless.