Material for Worship on the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Nerys reflects on one of the most challenging of Jesus’ parables.

As we come to the end of the Church Year, the Gospel passages in our lectionary become darker and even more challenging. In these difficult times, it would be easy to focus on comforting words. Today’s story of the Wedding Feast is one of the most startling and striking of Jesus’s parables but I hope that we will find in its message encouragement for each one of us as individuals and as a church. It certainly inspired Edward Plumptre, the author of ‘Thy hand, O God, has guided’. You may wish to reflect on the words of his well-known hymn as you prepare your hearts for worship.

Thy hand, O God, has guided
thy flock, from age to age;
their wondrous tale is written,
full clear, on every page;
thy people owned thy goodness,
and we their deeds record;
and both of this bear witness:
one church, one faith, one Lord.

Thy heralds brought glad tidings
to greatest as to least;
they bade men rise, and hasten
to share the great King’s feast;
and this was all their teaching,
in every deed and word,
to all alike proclaiming
one church, one faith, one Lord.

And we, shall we be faithless?
Shall hearts fail, hands hang down?
Shall we evade the conflict,
and cast away our crown?
Not so: in God’s deep counsels
some better thing is stored;
we will maintain, unflinching,
one church, one faith, one Lord.

Thy mercy will not fail us,
nor leave thy work undone;
with thy right hand to help us,
thy victory shall be won;
and then, by all creation
thy name shall be adored,
and this shall be their anthem:
one church, one faith, one Lord.

Jesus had entered Jerusalem, had turned the tables in the Temple and was healing and teaching there when the chief priests and elders came to him asking questions, hoping to catch him out. Our Gospel reading today is part of Jesus’ response to them.
Listen to Judith reading Matthew 22.1-14

As men of learning, the religious leaders would have instantly understood the significance of the wedding feast thrown by a king in honour of his son. They would have been very familiar with our Old Testament reading for today, a remarkable vision of the great feast laid on by God at the end of history.
Listen to Davie reading Isaiah 25.1-9.

According to Isaiah, the feast was intended for all people but over the centuries the Jewish view of the banquet had narrowed until, in Jesus’ day, it was thought that only those who observed the Law would be worthy to attend it. These, of course, are the chosen guests of the parable who are sent invitations by the King but who refuse to come, ignoring or abusing the messengers and insulting the Son. This is because Jesus’ view of God’s banquet was very different from theirs. For Jesus, the feast had already begun. He, the Messiah, had already entered Jerusalem but the pious people of the city who had waited so long for his arrival, didn’t want to know and were preparing to reject him.

This is a dire last-minute warning to Israel’s leaders who were running the risk of excluding themselves and their followers from the opportunity to receive God’s grace and to enjoy his presence in their lives. Instead, the king now invites anyone who wishes to come to be his guests. Good and bad alike are welcomed.

You may want to reflect on Sieger Köder depiction of the joyful scene.

This, however, is not the end of the story in Matthew. There is a final scene which seems to present a contradictory and unexpectedly severe view of God. The idea that the king has a man thrown out of the wedding hall because he’s not wearing the proper clothes seems terribly unfair until we learn that the custom probably was for the host to provide wedding gowns for all the guests so that they could join in the celebration. Despite being invited to the banquet, this man refuses the king’s gift. He makes no effort to change and this, I think, is the point of the parable.

God who is love, accepts us all as we are. God who knows all about us, delights in us. But as we spend time in God’s company we are expected to change. When the blind and lame came to Jesus he healed them. When the prostitutes and tax collectors came, his love reached out to them where they were but that love refused to let them remain unchanged. And the same goes for us. God’s grace is free but it does require a response. We are expected to change, to allow God to renew and transform us. St Paul writes of being clothed with Christ, being clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, being clothed with love which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

I wonder if we are ready to allow our Servant King to change us and the way we live, and also to transform our church?

As you ponder this you may wish to listen to David playing the tune of ‘Servant King’.

From heaven you came, helpless babe,
entered our world, your glory veiled;
not to be served, but to serve,
and give your life that we might live.

This is our God, the Servant King,
he calls us now to follow him,
to bring our lives as a daily offering
of worship to The Servant King.

There in the garden of tears,
my heavy load he chose to bear;
his heart with sorrow was torn,
‘Yet not My will but yours,’ he said.

Come see his hands and his feet,
the scars that speak of sacrifice,
hands that flung stars into space
to cruel nails surrendered.

So let us learn how to serve,
and in our lives enthrone him;
each other’s needs to prefer,
for it is Christ we’re serving.
Graham Kendrick

Let us pray for our world:
for those in positions of authority and influence …
for those caring for others …
for those whose businesses or livelihoods are affected by this week’s restrictions …

Let us pray for those in need:
for those who face an uncertain future …
for those who sick in mind, body or spirit …
for those who are grieving …

Let us pray for the Church:
that we may remain connected with Christ and with each other …
that we may pray for and support anyone who is struggling …
that, called to God’s feast, we may be ready to be changed by him.

Collect for today
O Lord, since without you we cannot please you: let the work of your mercy in all things guide our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.