By the Rev. Lee Woofenden

Bridgewater, Massachusetts, November 23, 2003
Thanksgiving Sunday

Isaiah 25:6-9 A feast of rich food for all peoples

On this mountain, the Lord of hosts will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.

On that day they will say, "Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord; we trusted in him. Let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation."

Matthew 22:1-14 The parable of the wedding banquet

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

"Then he sent some more servants and said, 'Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.'

"But they paid no attention and went off--one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, ill-treated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

"Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.' So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 'Friend,' he asked, 'how did you get in here without wedding clothes?' The man was speechless.

"Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

"For many are invited, but few are chosen."

Heaven and Hell #274 Spiritual food

Wisdom perfects angels and makes their life--and heaven with its blessings flows into them according to their wisdom. Because of this, all the angels in heaven long for wisdom, and seek it out almost the same way a hungry person seeks out food. In fact, information, intelligence, and wisdom are spiritual nourishment just as food is physical nourishment. They correspond to one another.

The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. (Matthew 22:2)

You are all invited to the biggest banquet ever. In fact, everyone in this town, everyone in this state, everyone in this country, and everyone in this world--and for your fans of extraterrestrials, everyone in this universe--is invited to one great big huge banquet! If you take Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter dinners and roll them all into one, it doesn't come anywhere near this banquet.

The banquet we are all invited to is the banquet of heaven. Jesus says so right in the parable. "The kingdom of heaven," he says, "is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son." At first only a certain number of invited guests were called to the banquet. But soon, anyone and everyone was brought in, to make sure that the wedding hall was filled with guests. And you know what? There's a lot of room in that heavenly banquet hall!

Our sermon series this fall has been on the general theme "On Earth as it Is in Heaven." We have been using the spiritual meaning of Jesus' parables of the kingdom of heaven from the Gospel of Matthew, together with passages from Emanuel Swedenborg's most popular book, Heaven and Hell, to bring some light from heaven into our lives here on earth. And of course, when we make our life here on earth a heaven, we are also being prepared for life in heaven forever. In other words, we are becoming angels.

There are only two parables of the kingdom of heaven left in our series, and both of them tell the story of a wedding banquet. On December 7, our final sermon on the series will look at the parable of the ten virgins--five foolish and five wise--and how they fared getting into a wedding banquet. And this week, we take our theme from the parable of the wedding banquet thrown for a king's son.

Why would Jesus, in his final, crowning parables about the kingdom of heaven, use the metaphor of a wedding banquet? Is heaven really like a wedding banquet?

You bet it is!

First of all, heaven is like a wedding. This metaphor is used in many places in both the Old and New Testaments. The God of Israel is said to be the husband of the people Israel in many powerful passages from the Prophets. Usually, Israel is portrayed as an unfaithful bride and wife. In the New Testament, these two final parables of the kingdom are only two of many references to marriage and heaven--which, toward the end of the final book of the Bible, is called "the wedding supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:9).

For us on earth, weddings are one of our most joyous occasions. They are celebrations of love. In fact, they are celebrations of the deepest and most intimate type of love that one human being can have for another. Our church's belief is that if a couple is truly married in their souls, and if they grow in love for one another, and grow together in love for the Lord and their fellow human beings, then the marriage begun here on earth continues to grow in mutual love, intimacy, and joy forever. From our perspective, heaven can be seen almost as a literal wedding banquet, since the angels live in a continual celebration of the joys of marriage in heavenly community with other joyfully married couples.

For the people of Palestine two thousand years ago, a wedding was also one of the most joyous occasions. To be invited to a wedding feast--especially one given by a wealthy person or a king--was considered a great honor. The festivities often went on for days, and the guests themselves would be treated royally, with no expense spared to bring them the finest foods, drinks, and entertainments. It was an all-out celebration!

For Jesus' hearers, then, it would have been truly amazing, even shocking, that none of the guests invited to the banquet for the king's son were willing to come. Not only would they miss a tremendous party, but in refusing to attend, they would terribly offend the king--who was not a good person to offend! Any one of the crowd of common people in the Lord's audience would have been overjoyed to take their place at the wedding feast. And in the parable, that is exactly what happens. The common people were used to coming in after the invited guests had their fill, and finishing up the leftovers. But to be the first seated at a wedding feast thrown by the king? This was something few of them would ever aspire to.

Of course, at the time it was told, the barb in Jesus' parable was aimed at those well-to-do, powerful, and self-satisfied Jews of the ruling classes who refused to hear his word and join the spiritual wedding banquet that he was offering first to the Jews, and then to the people of all the other nations and clans as well. And the part about sending his army to destroy those murderers and burn their city was literally fulfilled four decades after the Lord's death when the Romans besieged and sacked Jerusalem in 70 AD.

And of course, the people of the highways and byways, both good and bad, who were invited into the banquet hall to replace those rude and ungracious invited guests referred to the crowd of common people who heard the Lord's words gladly, and from whom most of the converts to Christianity came.

Even the man without a wedding garment had its fulfillment in Jesus' immediate circle. Judas, one of the twelve disciples, showed himself not to be truly in the spirit of the kingdom of heaven at the banquet of the Lord's last supper with his disciples. At that time, he went out into the darkness, both literally and in his spirit, and thus shut himself out of communion with the Lord.

Yet as with all of Jesus' stories and teachings, this parable refers to much more than the immediate situation in the Palestine of his day. If these parables are, indeed, part of the eternal Word of God, then their meaning must also be timeless and eternal. That means they must speak to us today just as much as they spoke to the Jews and Gentiles of two thousand years ago.

That is why I opened by telling you that you are all invited to the biggest wedding banquet ever! The invitation that the king extends to his invited guests is extended also to each one of us, and to all of us together. The king, of course, is the God of the universe, who invites us to his own wedding banquet. It is the banquet in which we, as his congregation, are invited into spiritual and eternal union with our Creator, and into joyous community and celebration with one another.

What is the banquet of heaven? In our reading from Heaven and Hell, Swedenborg tells us that information, intelligence, and wisdom are spiritual food for us. And unless our minds have gone completely dead, it is very true that we seek information, understanding, and wisdom the way a hungry person seeks out food.

This is true both on the material level and on the spiritual level. For example, if we are in the market for a new car, what is the first thing we do? We look into the various makes and models, and find out which ones would meet our particular needs. For a family, seating and cargo capacity are essential! For a commuter, something smaller and more maneuverable might be the ticket. For a contractor, the vehicle of choice will likely be a truck. Once we have narrowed it down to a particular type of car, we search out the best comparative information we can find on the various models in that category. Which is the safest? The most reliable? The best on gas mileage? What features do they have? We know that if we don't do our homework, we might get stuck with a purchase we regret. So we spend hours researching the various models, visiting the car lots, and educating ourselves so that once we make our choice, we will be happy with the vehicle we buy.

Moving up a level, we spend many years educating our children and ourselves for life in this world. Twelve years of grade school is just the beginning. Then there is college, and for many, graduate school. That is a tremendous chunk of our lives spent gaining knowledge and understanding for our life's work! And it doesn't stop once we leave school. We continue with on-the-job training, continuing education, reading, and many other ways of seeking out and gaining fresh knowledge that will be useful and enjoyable to us.

Isn't the same true if we are seeking eternal life in heaven? If we want to develop our spirit, and live in the ways of the Lord, don't we also need to seek out spiritual information, intelligence, and yes, wisdom?

Today more than ever, people are seeking out spiritual understanding. Mainstream bookstores that used to have perhaps a shelf or two of religious books now have major sections devoted to spirituality. In greater numbers than ever before, people are realizing that the things of this world--money, power, physical pleasure--have their limits, and do not bring real happiness or satisfaction. And so there is a great hunger for spiritual knowledge and insight.

In other words, people are hearing God's invitation to the spiritual wedding banquet. Never mind that the political and intellectual leaders of our country and our world have refused God's invitation to live for love, peace, justice, and integrity, and have chosen instead the way of wealth, power, greed, and war. These are the invited guests--those who had access to all the social advantages and all the leading-edge knowledge of the world. And they have made excuses--one going off to the fields of power and influence on the international stage, another to the business of corporate profits. Meanwhile, the common people, traveling the highways and byways of life, are responding to the call. Not all, of course; but enough to make the quest for spiritual growth one of the fastest growing trends in our culture.

Within each one of us there is a similar choice. Each one of us also has our worldly-wise self, educated in how to get more and better for ourselves--the part of us that considers a real commitment to spiritually based living to be a hindrance to our ambitions. Each one of us has reasons why it would be more convenient to refuse the Lord's invitation to the great wedding feast, and focus instead on the business of getting along in this world. And each one of us, at times, has made excuses, and gone our own way instead of the Lord's way.

Yet if we lift our minds to a higher level, and look at what we humans are doing when we refuse the Lord's invitation, it really does look ridiculous. In fact, it looks just as crazy as being invited to a banquet at the king's house, and refusing it. How many of us, if invited to dinner at the White House, or at one of the country's wealthiest homes, would send our regrets? Who wouldn't cancel whatever we had scheduled, if only for the experience?

Refusing the Lord's invitation is even crazier. This invitation is not just for an afternoon and evening of fine food, drink, and entertainment. It is an invitation to an eternity of love, joy, satisfaction, mutual companionship, and fulfillment of our deepest desires. Here on earth, the Lord's invitation is to a way of life that goes beyond the temporary satisfactions of money, power, and physical pleasure. It involves becoming people who can be in loving and lasting relationships that don't break up and go sour. It involves finding the life's work that we love most, and that will give us continuing satisfaction and joy as we serve our fellow human beings in ways that are truly constructive and good. It involves having the peace of knowing deep within ourselves that whatever we may go through in this life, the Lord is always with us, and always guiding us toward greater joy and happiness.

We are all invited to the biggest wedding banquet ever. The Lord is sending out messengers to us in the Bible, in the teachings of our church, in our teachers, mentors, and friends. Will we answer the call? It would be foolish not to! What we leave behind will be nothing compared to the rich blessings that the Lord will give us. Amen.

Music: Glow
Bruce DeBoer - Used with Permission

   

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