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The Invitation of Jesus’ Parables
Mt. 22:1-14
Doug in Riverside

Jesus’ parables, and Jesus’ ministry, often have to do with invitation. They invite us to enter the realm where God and human beings are, by the grace of God, truly reconciled to one another; where people are, by the grace of God, set free from sin and free to love; where people are, in the words of C. S. Lewis, “surprised by joy”--joy in the presence of God and in the power of love. And what better story to communicate the grace and joy of God than a story about a wedding feast! What better story to communicate God’s gracious invitation into God’s realm than a story about people invited to a wedding feast!

Let me tell you about my daughter’s wedding ceremony and wedding feast. Let me tell you, out of gratitude, how the ceremony and the reception brought me gifts of unexpected grace and unanticipated joy. My daughter Annie was born in 1974. Around the time of her eleventh birthday, her parents separated and eventually divorced. So for the better part of her life, Annie has been the child of what our culture likes to call a “broken home.” There was a time when she and I were estranged from each other, separated by both geography and emotion. And gradually, by the grace of God, with the help of my stubborn love for my daughter, and with Mary’s persistent help, Annie and I were reconciled.

As is so often the case when a husband and wife drift apart, separate, and divorce, Annie’s mother Sharon and I had our difficult times communicating with each other and caring for our children. Though I’m sure we didn’t always succeed, we did our best not to fight our battles through our children. Time has healed many of our wounds. But time has also put spaces between us and our families. As just one example, Sharon’s brother Rick and I had been close hiking and camping companions in the years before our separation and divorce, but after the divorce, Rick and I also drifted apart. Then Rick went through a divorce and some very painful times in the aftermath of his divorce. Rick has recently remarried, and we had the opportunity to meet his wife and her daughters at the wedding, as well as to spend some time with Rick’s now 14-year-old son Matt. I had a strong, strong sense of relationships being restored, of old wounds being healed, of old suspicions and doubts being washed away like the dust and grime washed away by the rains that had fallen earlier in the day. Who knows--there may come a time again when Rick and I, or Rick and I and our families, will go backpacking together.

I am well aware that not all wedding feasts bring these experiences of healing and reconciliation. And I am well aware that I am no more or less deserving of these joys than are other fathers. I do not understand all the movings of God’s amazing grace. I simply want to give thanks for this precious gift.

V. Called and chosen.

Jesus’ parable is an invitation into the realm and the reality of grace, where love is a gift and a cause for celebration. Jesus’ parable is both calling us into the feast and choosing us to be members of the household of faith. So we can say, not by way of boasting but simply out of gratitude, that we are both called and chosen.

Kathleen Norris writes: “It seems dangerous to think of being a chosen people. If we are chosen, does it mean that others are not?...[And yet], every year, when I hear the prophet Ezekiel’s proclamation at the Easter vigil--You will be my people, and I will be your God--I find it irresistible. I believe it as fully as I am able, although I am increasingly aware that this is an existential reality that will redefine itself all my life....

“It was January, bitterly cold and windy, on the day that I joined the church, and I found that the sub-zero chill perfectly matched my mood. As I walked to church, into the face of that wind, I was thoroughly depressed. I didn’t feel much like a Christian and wondered if I was making a serious mistake. I longed to take refuge in Simone Weil’s position, that her true religious calling was to remain outside the church. But that was not my way. I still felt like an outsider in the church and wondered if I always would. Yet I knew that somehow, in ways I did not yet understand, making this commitment was something I needed to do....

“‘You did not choose me, I chose you.’ Never have these words been clearer to me. And over the years, as I’ve built a relationship with the congregation, with the larger church, and with the scriptures themselves, I find that it all helps me when the bad things happen. When I become too depressed even to pray. When a recently ordained Lutheran deacon, frustrated because my talk is not chock-full of the Jesus-talk that reassures her that she’s among the saved, says to me, ‘I feel sorry for you because you don’t know the Lord Jesus Christ’...But I’m getting better about loving [people like her] anyway, forgiving them (and myself), and holding my ground.

“In the suspicious atmosphere of the contemporary Christian church, it is good to know one’s ground. When others label me and try to exclude me, as too conservative or too liberal, as too feminist or not feminist enough, as too intellectual or not intellectually rigorous, as too Catholic to be a Presbyterian or too Presbyterian to be a Catholic, I refuse to be shaken from the fold. It’s my God, too, my Bible, my church, my faith; it chose me. But it does not make me ‘chosen’ in a way that would exclude others. I hope it makes me eager to recognize the good, and the holy, wherever I encounter it” (Amazing Grace - A Vocabulary of Faith, pp. 139-143).