Isaiah 25:1, 6-9; Matthew 22:1-14

We had a lovely vacation (and thank you all for it) visiting Leanne’s parents in Vermont. They live on 32 acres of mostly woods and wetland. The best thing about walking in the woods is being surrounded by something that doesn’t need me. It’s always good to be reminded that life would go on without me, especially after an August and September that have demanded my attention from all directions. That’s good news for me, that life doesn’t ultimately need me. Some people may be deeply threatened by this, but I find it really comforting.

That’s the good news in Matthew 22: God insists on celebrating life with or without us. It’s not all up to us. God’s realm doesn’t depend on our visions for the church, our connections in the community, our financial support, or our time and energy to keep things going. Jesus talks about God celebrating in face of outright opposition; how much more can God do with our halting but well-meaning efforts. Rodger Nishioka has said, “I’m not worried about the future of the church, because it’s God’s church, and God will be faithful.” Just as I say in the invitation to the table this table isn’t mine to open or close. It’s God’s table, and a grace beyond any of us calls us all here.

But the flip side is that this parable is directed to those who don’t get it. Matthew’s extra touches point to the religious elite who opposed Jesus and his movement. They must point to any religious elite who refuse to share the table (and all it means – grace, peace, and fellowship) with God’s people. The good news applies even when we resist it, even when we’re blinded by provincialism, prejudice, comfort, or fear. The kingdom of heaven could get on without us, and it will if it has to, but we don’t want to miss out. There’s too much good at this table, in this new reality.

And just showing up doesn’t cut it. As Garrison Keillor has said, “If going to church makes you a Christian, sleeping in the garage makes you a car.” That’s the guest without wedding clothes – he’s present but not suitably dressed. He’s at the party without really participating in the celebration, and we’ve all been there sometimes, right? We may as well not be there at all.

Just a word here: things go really poorly for the improperly dressed and the non-attenders. They’re killed, burned, and thrown out in Matthew’s apocalyptic style. That’s not so different from Israel’s desert God who punished people in the midst of rescuing them, but this is hard language. Some commentators avoid this connection by placing God elsewhere in the story than as the violent king, but then I have trouble seeing the point of the parable. I don’t know how to read a story about a wedding feast without seeing God as celebrating Christ’s fulfillment. All the same, this behavior does seem out of the character of God as Jesus reveals it. I would read it as a kind of insistence, a hyperbole to make the point that God’s that intent on sharing good things with all people. I don’t think God will cast you out for not being quite ready for this meal – all of worship is built on grace, most especially Communion – but all the same, we do well to get on board (with God’s help) or get out of the way. Grace is coming through, and it won’t be denied.

The Communion feast is not my meal, and it’s not our meal. It’s God’s meal. World Communion Sunday celebrates that we share this meal with many others we have little else in common with. We worship in different languages, through different cultures, and certainly with different theologies, but we’re at one feast. We marvel that we share this feast with people who never knew us or won’t remember us, united across time and space. And because it’s God’s feast, it will go on without us. It will go on in this congregation even after we pass from scene, in our physical and spiritual descendants. It will go on in the rising parts of the world where Christianity is growing among the poor and marginalized, even if somehow US Christianity vanished (which it won’t).

There are ultimately no threats here, just an invitation to participate, to receive God’s grace here. Then reflect it in your life; let God love you into a new reality. See and celebrate God’s insistent goodness in other people’s lives. And offer God’s love and healing to all who hurt or are left out. There’s more hurt and exclusion in the world than we always realize, but there’s more grace at this table than all the hurts of the world combined. Our gift is just to be part of it, to trust and share it with each other and with anyone who needs to hear it. God’s grace won’t be denied.