The Party Crasher

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak

Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

Pentecost XVII – 9 October 2011

Exodus 32:1-14, Psalm 106:1-8, Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14

From the Book of Exodus:
Because the Lord, angry with His people who had turned away from Him to worship an idol, Moses pleaded with God saying, Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians:
The apostle instructs the congregation with these words, Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

From the Gospel According to St. Matthew:
Jesus concluded the Parable of the Wedding Feast with this disturbing condemnation.
But when the King came in to look at the guests, he saw a man who had no wedding garment; and he said, Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness….

Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,

Several weeks ago, I talked about Charles Darwin in my sermon stating that one of the most frequent criticisms of the validity of Scripture is Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. He presented that theory in his book entitled The Origin of Species. Now, I mention him again because so many people today believe more in his theory than they do in the Bible.

People take his evolutionary theory as an absolute truth – a scientific truth that stands over and against – and, to their thinking, somehow nullifies – Biblical revelation. They forget that Darwin himself saw his own theory as flawed for lack of fossil evidence. And over time, so have so many other evolutionists who have revised his theory to accommodate new discoveries. Although Darwin never abandoned his theory, he knew that it was not definitive. The observable evidence just did not support a claim to absolute truth.

Furthermore, recent scientific discovery and theorizing has dramatically altered all evolutionary thinking. The Big Bang Theory of creation now enjoys tremendous popularity among the scientifically minded altering much of evolutionist speculation.

One thing that all of know for sure is this. Scientific truth changes with every new discovery. Science textbooks have to be continually revised and updated as these new discoveries are made and new evidence nullifies old truths now proven false. Science books change constantly but the Bible remains the same. The Bible offers divine revelation. Science books offer material discovery.

My point this morning is not to open a debate about evolution or about any aspect of science per se but to talk about Darwin as a man – a broken hearted man for whom life had lost its joy.

Raised in a Unitarian home, he went to Christ College Cambridge to study for the Anglican ministry. Scientific questions led him away from those studies but he maintained an academic interest in theological issues. Yet full faith eluded him. He, like so many others who see scientific discovery as antithetical to divine revelation, somehow could not bridge the gap; a gap that many others do not even perceive as a gap.

Science cannot deal with spiritual concerns. Anyone who uses science to judge the spiritual dimensions of life violates both science and spirituality. Science cannot explain good and evil, right and wrong, sin and salvation, love and hatred, hope and despair. Science cannot offer a living hope of eternal life. Science cannot do anything to bind two people together in a lifelong commitment to love, honor and cherish each other in all conditions of life.

Science cannot explain the astounding joy that a mom or dad experiences upon the birth of a child. Science cannot tell us why someone who loves so much may, if necessary, lay down his own life so that his loved ones may live. Such a quality of love is high and holy – self-sacrificing, honorable, noble and eternal.

Religion alone deals with these spiritual realities, offers ultimate answers, reveals life’s essential meaning and provides a power that both transcends and transforms material existence. As science may view us as organisms, religion sees us as people. And among religions, only Christianity sees us as beloved children of God for whom God dies on a cross so that His children may live forever. Science ends in death. Christianity ends with the beginning of new, eternal and resurrected life.

In Darwin’s own life, the death of his beloved daughter, Annie, at age 10 hit him hard. Her death broke his heart. He never attended church again. And yes, he had been an occasional churchgoer. One might speculate that he was angry with the God in whom he placed only a limited and conditional belief. And although he did not consider himself an atheist, he was most certainly not true believer. But his daughter’s death ended his church involvement.

After Annie’s death, a prevailing, existential despair overshadowed the rest of his life. Joy escaped him. Happiness was fleeting. Anything akin to hopeful anticipation played almost no role in his living. His evolutionary laws of the survival of the fittest and natural selection – his only explanation for her death – offered cold comfort – actually no comfort at all.

Truly, throughout my 40 years of ministry have found that the people best equipped to deal with life in every aspect of life – to deal with all the heartache, heartbreak, trouble, trials and tribulations are those of as deep faith in God’s saving purpose.

Those who have internalized the full and true meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ have the greatest power not only to face the bad things that confront them, but also to find joy in living. I have seen it over and over again. And those of little or no faith all too often give up or give in, withdraw from life, look entirely inward in self-absorption, indulge endless pleasure seeking to ward off the prevailing despair – to ease the pain – or live cynical and angry lives with the same kind of overshadowing malaise that characterized Darwin’s life after Annie’s death.

Now, keep this in mind as we talk about this morning’s Gospel lesson. It’s the Parable of the Wedding Feast – one of Jesus’ most important teachings.

Perhaps the most important thing about the parable is that it concerns itself with one of life’s greatest joys – a wedding. Jesus uses this imagery to make a point about the Kingdom of God – about our relationship to God – that He loves us, binds Himself to us in a committed relationship and intends for us a life of perfect happiness and joy.

Now this is important. Science, as I have already said, cannot deal with this whatsoever. And other religions do not offer this revelation of divinely intended joy. Only Christianity reveals God’s intention – His ultimate will – that we should rejoice in His presence as a bride and groom rejoice in each other.

Next, the parable tells us that all kinds of people are invited to celebrate this great happiness. God offers the invitation. All the guest has to do is to accept it and come to the party. But the guest has to be properly dressed. As was the ancient wedding practice, the host – in this case, God – provides a wedding garment for each of his guests. And in the parable, the garment is not clothing – the garment is the righteousness of God available to all those who simply confess their sins, receive His mercy and rejoice in His presence. And then the party begins.

Those who do so take on a whole new life. Their priorities change. They begin to seek the things that St. Paul speaks of in is letter to the Philippians. They value and seek all that’s good and right and true – honorable, uplifting, pure, lovely gracious and excellent. No longer contend with mediocrity, excellence becomes the goal. And to maximize goodness becomes the purpose in life for the sake of a joyful happiness. All of this comes with the right relationship with God.

The parable also tells us that one cannot crash this party. The host recognizes the party crasher and throws him out. Yes, divine judgment prevails.

Four important but often overlooked words demand attention. When the host asks, Friend, how did you get in her without a wedding garment, the man has no response. The text says, And he was speechless. The host addressed him as Friend. That’s a good start. But he said nothing. Perhaps all he had to say, I crashed the party because I wanted to be here. I wanted to celebrate the wedding. The desire to be with God in joy is all that’s required.

And the choice is just this – the eternal party or eternal misery. One or the other. There’s no in-between. It’s all about the perfection of goodness with God or the extreme of misery with the other guy. God loves us. The other guy loves only our misery. And that misery is often called the wrath of God.

The Bible frequently talks about the wrath of God. When God delivers His people from slavery in Egypt and the people turn away from the One who delivered them; they kindle God’s anger. As God gives His law for the sake of His people, they yet turn away from Him. Moses pleads with God to turn away from his anger. He does even though the people deserve the punishment.

But they continue to turn away from Him over and over again throughout all of history. Yet, because He loves His people, He took the wrath properly directed towards them unto Himself. God the Father became God the Son and took His own wrath to the cross. There, as God the Son dies, the wrath of God the Father died as well. The Son pays the price for the unfaithfulness of the people. And that’s the glory of the cross and the essential truth about our eternal salvation. When we put on the cross of Christ, we’re properly dressed for the eternal party. Simple as that.

The church’s mission from the beginning has been to proclaim this great joy to the people – to all people. Sometimes the message falls like good seed on fertile soil and takes deep root. At other times, the good seed falls on the rocks and simply withers and dies before it can grow and flower.

Although the present generation has a lot of rocky minded, that is, hardheaded and hardhearted people, our job remains the same – to proclaim the Good News of eternal life to an otherwise miserable people. That’s all we can do; offer the invitation to God’s party. But also be honest enough to say that one cannot crash this party. And yet all we have to say is just this – I want to be here. The host will take care of everything else.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, bless us with the power to face these difficult times. Fill us to overflowing with the joy of our salvation that others will see it in us and believe. Make of us your devoted disciples that we may honor and glorify your Son,
the world’s only saviour,
Jesus Christ the Lord,

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