Fr. Bill Carroll – The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, October 15, 2023

Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find…

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

In a famous, fifth-century Christmas sermon, St. Augustine of Hippo, the great, North African bishop, preached about today’s Gospel:

…[T]he multitude of all the nations were invited (he said).  They filled the Church.  They received from the Lord’s table, not cheap dishes or low-grade wine, but a foretaste of the flesh and blood of the shepherd himself…The innocent lamb was himself slain at his wedding feast.  He was slain at the wedding, and all those he invited he fed on his own flesh.

That reminds me of a beloved hymn.  We sang it last week.

The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.
She is his new creation, by water and the word.
From heav’n he came and sought her, to be his holy bride.
By his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.

Every Eucharist is a little Christmas.  Here and now, the Word becomes flesh.  Likewise, every Eucharist is a little Easter–and also a Pentecost.  For we encounter Christ crucified–alive and victorious.  And he sends us out in the power of his Holy Spirit–to help God change the world.

In our lesson this morning, the King sends out his servants.  We don’t get to stay where we are.  We may be wounded–even killed.  But we are sent out to work in God’s vineyard—to invite everyone we find, without exception, to the wedding banquet.  Here as elsewhere, Jesus is calling us to believe the Good News. He is urging us to turn our lives around–to realign ourselves with God’s priorities–to abandon our preconceptions of who does and doesn’t belong.

For the whole Church, like the Table where we are fed, belongs to God alone.  We are here by God’s invitation. For the past several weeks, beginning with the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, we’ve been hearing about God’s scandalous mercy.  

The wideness in God’s mercy is shocking to us.  In the words of another hymn, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea.”  God doesn’t reward us for working hard– or being good.  Rather, God loves and accepts us “just as we are.”  Jesus offends the righteous by the company he keeps.  Again and again, he breaks bread with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners.

He gathers all of us in one place (all kinds of people–bad people and good people alike).  We come to him empty-handed.  And we gather at his Table.  His love overcomes our divisions.  This is good news in a world filled with hatred and violence.  It could make us sick if we look out at all the violence in the world right now.  Jesus transforms strangers into family–and enemies into friends.  

“Go into all the world (he tells us) and preach the Gospel…As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Jesus sends us out to share the Good News with everyone–to form loving relationships with other people–and to keep his love at the center.  Because our neighbors need love–just like we do.  And Jesus calls us to share the Good News with every last creature.

That brings us to the hard part.  What about the guy at the end–the one without his wedding robe?  For me, this part of the story is about the urgency of personal transformation.  For, if we give our lives to Jesus, he will change us.  Don’t get me wrong:  (I already said it.)  God wants all of us here, just as we are.  But at the same time, God loves us too much to let us stay that way.  Jesus did not call us, nor did he die on a cross, so that we could stay the same.

In the end, Jesus himself is our wedding robe.  We must be clothed with Jesus and his love.  We must give ourselves to him, body and soul.  We must “die to sin, and live to God.”  We must, as Paul once said, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”  For we have been sealed with his Holy Spirit and marked as his very own.

“Those whom God has joined, let no one put asunder.”