19th Sunday after Pentecost
- Pentecost 19.20 “Spoilsports” Matt. 22:1-14
Jesus is serious about having fun. Very serious, indeed. Nothing will ruin His party. No spoilsports will be allowed in His House. This is the point of this parable specifically, and of Christianity, generally. Amen.
Really, here endeth the sermon. I could stop there, except that I seem to be in a tiny, little minority (again!) in seeing that being afraid to have fun is an unforgivable sin, really! And I feel your skepticism about my confidence. It’s draining. But it’s OK. I’m used to it.
So, 20 second sermon and then 9 minutes 40 seconds convincing you that we’ve got it right. Or, to put it another way, I pull the rabbit from my hat and then show you how you can do the trick yourself, at home. And do try this trick at home, kids. Even though I’m a trained professional and you’re not. You’ll be fine. It will be fun. Seriously.
Our problem with seeing the point of this parable specifically, and Christianity generally, is that spoilsports like those jerks who murdered the king’s servants, and Bolshevik bums have taken over most of the Christian ministry, pretty much all the seminaries and divinity schools, certainly all the monasteries, publishing houses, and bureaucracies of Christendom. Dreary, fun-hating Puritans from Harvard (and the Vatican!) have sucked the joy and the life out of the whole Christian thing. And, numbers-wise, they have won the day. Fun-loving Christians have been driven to the margins of the Church.
This is why you struggled when the Vicar read this Gospel. You went, “Hmm… is this really in the Bible?! Jesus seems kinda mean! The honest, upstanding, hard-working citizens who have work to do, farms to farm, businesses to run, households to manage, kids to keep in line, are punished because they won’t drop all their duties and responsibilities to go party with the King?!! A poor hobo, insisting only on being true to himself, wearing his own clothes, gets hog-tied and hauled out into “outer darkness” for simply doing what every Disney Princess knows must be done in order to be authentic human beings?
Perhaps, you expect me to explain away Jesus offending against the Protestant Work Ethic and Disney Studio’s idea of authenticity? Well, I won’t. I can’t. Because I hate spoilsports as much as Jesus does; and I’m unapologetic about that.
On the surface, you might think the hobo is not like the fun-hating bourgeoisie? Oh, but he is! He is as big a party-pooping spoilsport as the jerks who murdered the Kings servants rather than dropping their chores and coming to the party as He commands. Maybe more so! The King is King of Fun. His only rule is that we lose ourselves in His Feast—becoming King Lovers instead of Hall Monitors. As the King Himself tells us in John 15: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”!
Did you see the reason the invited guests refused to come? They had work to do; farming, business, etc. Couldn’t drop everything—even for a Royal Wedding Party! Clearly they thought the King was terribly irresponsible, childish even, for putting fun ahead of work. Free time isn’t free. Heaven is for makers not takers. Real princesses save themselves. They will (mostly peacefully) decline an invite to Heaven they haven’t earned. But, Jesus says: they chose… poorly.
The hobo is actually worser. It’s a costume ball, the Wedding Feast of Heaven. Do not come as you are! This is the King’s command! Why? Because you, as you are, are no fun at all! You, as you are, are a fun-hating spoilsport—caught up in your notions of justice, hard work, and meritocracy. The wedding garment is losing yourself, dressing up as Jesus, putting His mask over your face, that, wearing Jesus like a robe, His features would be impressed upon yours; and you would become literally a new creation, a new you, in the mold and Image of your Maker. The hobo defies the King. He will not become someone New. He will insist on being himself—a rebel who recognizes no rule but his own. The hobo is a Disney Princess, a King-killer, true only to herself, insisting her way alone rule…
Jesus is not a Disney Princess. Although He will forgive and save even them. Now, what about Jesus being mean? Well it’s a conundrum. Let’s consider the hobo and why the meanness of Jesus. I picture the hobo as Joseph Stalin and this helps me to appreciate the story more.
He refuses to wear royal robes, because he’s a Bolshevik, a king killer. He tells the guest the caviar is too expensive; the cliff-diving too dangerous; the skinny dipping too risqué. Finally all the guest sit glumly, looking at their phones, feeling bad.
It’s an awkward moment. But what’s as Good Host to do? Well He sees the Death of Stalin is better than that fun itself should die. Because Jesus is serious about having fun. It’s like that old Nick Lowe song “Cruel to Be Kind”. If one person is ruining the party for everyone else, you have to deal firmly with that person otherwise everyone is miserable.
But we flinch at this. The book of Isaiah actually ends on the same awkward note. We are in the heavenly banquet hall, feasting with the King, having a marvelous time. It’s Cannes, caviar, cliff-diving, a good time is had by all. But coming out of the festal hall, the guests look over the cliff-top on which the King’s Palace is built. And what do they see?
They see hell! They see the lake of fire and the corpses of those who killed the King’s servants because they hated to have have and hated more to see anyone else have the good time they branded as counter-Revolutionary. And the redeemed look on this with satisfaction and delight.
That delight bothered many serious Christian commentators. And Franz Pieper’s brother August addressed that. He said “The faithful say “Yea!” And “Amen!” At all God’s judgments. Everything He does please them. Because they know He works all things for good and even in his judgment is mercy for all. He will not let one devil drag heaven to a halt for all.
Jesus is serious about having fun so that we don’t have to be. And when we come to His Table, put on the Robe of His Righteousness in Baptism, His ways become ours. Our features change into His. We eat His Body, drink His Blood, and become one body with Him, new creations. We are not ourselves any longer. Because all who love Jesus enough to marry Him, may! They become one mind, one heart, one body and soul with him. And the joy of that has no End.
And the caviar and the cliff-diving loosen us up. Our ideas of justice and safety fade away. All that remains is the song of the Lamb, the feast. And losing ourselves with Christ like this, never gets old, never gets dull. We stop worrying about what is right and just get into the Spirit of Him who died to save us. If He will do anything, even lay down His life so that the party can go on forever, who are we to complain?
Walther says this is why Jesus commands faith. Because on our own, we’d be too squeamish to put fun ahead of work. But by His Word/Sacrament, faith alone, the party is just getting started. So through caution to the wind, and let Him have His way with you until Peace Surpassing all understanding guards your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.