Welcome to the Society of Saint John the Evangelist

Come to the Wedding – Br. James Koester

Sermon preached at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Jackson MS

Br. James KoesterExodus 32:1-14
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

Before I joined the monastic community where I now live, I was a parish priest for a number of years in a small parish, on a little island, off the west coast of British Columbia. It was a wonderful place to live, right on the ocean, with snow-capped mountains in the distance. In many ways it was idyllic, and one of the churches in the parish was a picture perfect gem, and for the standards of that part of the world, being 100 years old, it was considered ancient and quaint. Indeed, for that part of British Columbia, there probably were not too many building that were older than St. Mark’s.

Because of where it was, and because of its age, people loved to be married at St. Mark’s. It was one of those places, no matter the day, no matter the season, no matter if you were inside or outside, you couldn’t take a bad photograph, so bridal couples, wedding photographers and family and friends loved to come to St. Mark’s for their wedding, and for photographs.

As a monk, I’m not involved in many weddings anymore. In fact, in the last thirty years, I think I can count on one hand the numbers of wedding I have attended, and on one finger the number of weddings I have been involved in as a priest. But one thing I do remember from my days at St. Mark’s, is that people love weddings. They love weddings for all sorts of reasons: it’s an occasion of joy and happiness; it’s a day to celebrate; it’s a day to connect and reconnect with family and friends; and it’s a day to dress up. It’s a day to dress up, not only for the bridal party, but their friends, their families, their guests as well. Even I, as the parish priest, would dress up, making sure that my cassock and surplice were clean, my shoes polished, my hair (and I had hair in those days!) brushed and I would be certain to wear my best cope.

One of the other things which I remember about weddings, was the children. I always delighted in watching any children who attended a wedding, as they proudly wore their bow ties, or their party dresses. They loved to show off their dressed up clothes. Clearly the children loved to get dressed up for a wedding, just as much, or perhaps even more, than did the adults!

It would seem that life has not changed much in 2000 years. It doesn’t matter if you live in 2017, 1987 or the First Century. It doesn’t matter if you live in Palestine, British Columbia, or I would guess, for that matter, Jackson, Mississippi. Weddings are big deals, and the clothes you wear to a wedding are important, whether you are one of the people being married, one of the guests, or the priest. It would seem that if you go to a wedding, you get dressed up. It is simply the way things are done. So what went wrong with this wedding? Because clearly something went seriously wrong.

 ‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’[1]

Something clearly went wrong on all sorts of levels at this wedding. Those originally invited, didn’t bother showing up, and one of the guests who did show up, didn’t come appropriately dressed.

Now it’s easy for us to sit back, as we are doing today, and think to ourselves well this story isn’t about me. I would never do that. Yet all of Jesus’ parables, including this one, should make us all feel a little uncomfortable. We should all be squirming, even if just a tiny bit today. If you are not squirming, you haven’t really paid attention. Last week, you will remember that the gospel ended with these words: When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them [and] they wanted to arrest him.[2] Today’s gospel does not end in that way, but it could, and perhaps it should, because the audience that this parable is intended for weren’t simply those gathered around Jesus when he first told the parable. The audience that this parable is intended for is those of us gathered here today, in this Cathedral, listening to Jesus tell it once again. You don’t need to imagine yourself as one of the crowd listening to this parable being told 2000 years ago. You are one of the crowd, hearing for yourself, today. And it should make you squirm, if only just a tiny bit.

Like many of Jesus’ parables, this parable is about the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God is like treasure hidden in a field.[3] The kingdom of God is like a pearl of great price.[4] The kingdom of God is like someone scattering seed.[5] The kingdom of God is like mustard seed.[6] The kingdom of God is like yeast.[7] And today the kingdom of God may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.[8]

So today the story is not so much about a wedding, as about the kingdom of God. The host is not a neighbour, or a relative, or a friend, but God. The guest is not just anyone. The guest is somebody. The guest is you. And the wedding is not in a year, or a month, or a week. The wedding is today. And the questions are not will you come, but have you come; not, will you be properly dressed, but are you properly dressed.

So how does one accept an invitation to a wedding in the kingdom of God? How does one dress for such a wedding?

I think we have a clue in our second lesson.

Rejoice* in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.* Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved,* whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about* these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.[9]

The Letter to the Philippians that we heard this morning, suggests that the proper attire for a wedding in the kingdom of God is not what we wear on our bodies, but what we wear in our hearts and in our lives. For the proper attire for a wedding in the kingdom of God is a life of gentleness, prayer, thanksgiving, truth, honour, justice, and purity. These are what God demands we wear. These are what God expects us to wear. These are what our wedding garments are to be made of.

There were those in the parable who had been invited, but were too busy, or too preoccupied to attend. “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them.[10] There were others who attended, but were not prepared. ‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?”[11]

The wedding invitations have been sent. Indeed they have been delivered. One appeared in your mail box just the other day. You are on the guest list.

Like most people these days, I am sure you are busy. But will you come? Will you come to this wedding? Will you come to this wedding that is the kingdom of heaven? But if you do come, if you do accept the invitation, if you do show up, if you do make the effort to attend, will you be wearing what you are expected to wear? Along with your dress, or your suit, your hat or your tie, you will need to wear a wedding robe of gentleness, prayer, thanksgiving, truth, honour, justice, and purity. That’s what the king will expect you to wear when you show up at the wedding banquet of his son. It would be unfortunate to show up at the wedding, only to be thrown out, because our hearts weren’t wearing the right clothes.

The wedding is today. Indeed it is now. It is this very moment. What are you wearing?

Finally, beloved,* whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about* these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.[12]


[1] Matthew 22: 11 – 14

[2] Matthew 21: 45 – 46b

[3] Matthew 13: 44

[4] Matthew 13: 45

[5] Mark 4: 26ff

[6] Mark 4: 31ff

[7] Luke 13: 21

[8] Matthew 22: 2

[9] Philippians 4: 4 – 9

[10] Matthew 22: 4 – 6

[11] Matthew 22: 11 – 12

[12] Philippians 4: 8 – 9

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