What does your picture of God include? Who do you think of when you picture God? A stern headmaster, a judge, an angry neighbour, a party animal? Maybe that last one doesn’t fit so well. However, God is often pictured as throwing parties for those he loves, indulging them in good food and wine. The picture Jesus painted in his parable of the wedding banquet shows that God is prepared to invite people who would not be classed as close family or friends, unlike most of us would do. Once invited, the guests have the task of choosing the right outfit to wear. Read on and find out more.
This reflection refers to the readings of Psalm 23, Isaiah 25:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14 and was preached at the noon service on 9 October.
What is God like? Your view probably depends on numerous factors: your upbringing, your church, your familiarity with the Bible, your natural disposition to optimism or pessimism, your experiences in life and so on.
The God of the Old Testament is often portrayed as stern, a king, a lord, a judge, one out to punish his people, angry, jealous, in need of being pacified by sacrifices. The God of the New Testament is seen as gentler, full of grace and mercy, compassionate like Jesus, a loving parent. In truth you can see examples of all those characteristics in both Old and New Testament. God is the same yesterday, today and forever so it would be very strange to see him change between one Testament and another.
One characteristic I haven’t mentioned is that God is creative. God creates with lavish abundance. When we look at the world, despite the mess we seem to be intent on making, it’s still possible to be amazed, overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and diversity of creation. I’m sure the universe would have worked just as well if we had not had as many kinds of butterfly, or fish, or bugs (did we really need over 1000 species of earwig?). It seems that God created just because he could. I suppose, experiencing a world like SL, we have some insight into that. Places, artefacts, avatars in abundance are created by the residents just because it’s possible.
Another characteristic, linked with God’s lavish generosity, is that he’s a ‘party animal’. It seems God loves to throw a party. In the three pieces of scripture for today it’s possible to see the theme of feasting and parties. In that most famous of Psalms, Psalm 23, the psalmist pictures God spreading a table for him. No matter that there are enemies around; God is preparing a feast for his servant, a celebration which is not going to be prevented by those who are intent on doing harm. Isaiah sings the praises of God who defends the poor and needy, sheltering them from ruthless aliens. He pictures God laying out a feast with choicest food and wine for all people to share. The people will be saved from all that threatens to harm them, leaving them rejoicing.
Jesus picks up the same theme of a party, this time a wedding banquet laid on by a king in honour of his son’s marriage. The invitations would have been sent out some time before and acceptances sent in. When the big day came, everything was prepared and the guests were called to come and celebrate. It should have been something they were looking forward to, giving priority to, but it seems that other matters occupied their attention so they couldn’t be bothered to turn up. Not prepared to let the feast go to waste, the king has many other people, the good and the bad, invited to attend instead of the original guests.
Usually, in order to be invited to a party, we need to be one of the family or friends of the host. We have to assume that is whom the king had initially invited when he sent out his invitations. However, those he invited later were not friends or family of the king, just anyone the servants could find to invite to fill up the banqueting hall. God is just like that king, he invites everyone, anyone, ‘both good and bad’ as Jesus said, to come to his feast. It’s in accepting the invitation that we become the new members of the family of God. The fact that you are here listening to this, or reading it on the blog, means you’ve been invited and you have either accepted or are thinking about it.
If a king or queen really invited you to a meal, I wonder if you would spend much time thinking about whether to accept or not. I suspect most people would jump at the chance of being at such an event. Obviously it’s wonderful to be invited by God to be at his party, to celebrate with him, but if you notice in the story, there’s a little detail that should cause us to think for a moment. The king spotted someone at the wedding banquet who was not properly dressed and had him thrown out. I have to admit that that seems very harsh.
If we go even further on through the Bible I think there’s a clue to what’s going on here. In the book of Revelation the party is actually happening. It’s the marriage feast of the Lamb of God, a name given to Jesus, and his bride, the Church. We’re told that the Bride, the Church, has made herself ready, dressing in fine linen which is the righteous deeds of the saints – meaning the members of the Church. The clothing suitable to wear for the great banquet God is preparing is made of righteous deeds.
I remember that the thing which concerned me most as I anticipated the weddings of our two eldest children was what to wear. What would be suitable? I wanted to look my best on those special occasions. I found the search for just the right outfit to be quite stressful but I was very pleased to have made the effort when the day came for each wedding.
For we who have accepted the invitation to the wedding feast of Jesus, now is the time to choose the outfit we will wear, something that will be suitable attire. Whether we are good at sewing or not, we will be making that outfit ourselves from the righteous deeds which God has prepared for us to do between now and the time of the party.
It might seem a little daunting but we’re not on our own. When looking forward to big events, often guests will talk to one another about what’s going to happen, how good it will be and so on. As we gather here each week, we do the same. We join together to encourage one another, to praise God for his wonderful deeds and to anticipate, as Isaiah does, the day when we will celebrate our salvation at the very best party every thrown.
I look forward to meeting you at that party and admiring your outfit!
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor