The Kingdom of Heaven is like…….. Matthew 22.1-14

The kingdom of heaven is like the wedding a slave owning king put on, that no one wanted to attend!!!

Thankfully not.

If I’ve learnt anything since my ordination, it’s the difficulties involved in organising a wedding. And for any of you who have been through this process, you can sympathize with the situation the king in our parable is in.

You might think that the most difficult part of arranging a wedding is dealing with the particular wants of the bride and groom. But it isn’t. One of the pieces of advice my old incumbent gave to the groom was ‘Remember, this wedding isn’t about you, you are the least important member of the wedding party, as long as you do and say nothing that will upset the bride or her family you might just survive this!’

The trickiest part of organising a wedding are the invitations. Who needs to be invited, and who should be left out?

Where should the all sit, and what protocols should be followed?

Who are the most important people and need to sit near the top table, and who should be sat in the far back corner of the room?

Who can’t sit next to who because they’ll fight, and who will sulk if they don’t get a seat to match their imagined importance.

Tricky stuff!!!!!

And for those of you who thought organising your own wedding was stressful, try organising one for the son of a king!

So the RSVPs start coming in, and the invited guests are all declining the kings invitation. The wedding of the year and no one wants to come! The oxen and the fatted calves have all been killed and cooked for the occasion, and it looks like no one is coming. Disaster!!!!!

There are a great many excuses in the building pile of declines. A farmer sends his apologies, he suddenly finds himself with too many chores. Likewise for the business owner, whose work comes first, before the king’s function.

We know all too well that there are times in life when we are just too busy to go accepting other invitations. And all those times when the possibility of encountering God arises, and yet we find good excuses for ignoring such moments. We don’t intentionally make light of these invitations, we just give more weight, more attention, more time into other things.

Although their excuses were all valid, the first century hearers of this parable now expect the king to lose his rag.

The kings of the day were political leaders – and figures the crowds would have been familiar with – kings being petty tyrants generally who would happily burn down houses and whole villages if their will was refused. And this is what the king does.

But, there is a twist.

The king also sends his slaves out and issues an open invitation to all – with only one catch.

You have to accept the invitation to join. Apart from that, there is no fees and no catches, you just have to show up. And we hear, the good and the bad show up and the hall was filled with guests.

The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding party that everyone is invited to.

And how could people not accept this offer? When all we have to do is say yes – but like the kings invited guests, things get in the way. Jobs and careers, families, hobbies, excuse, after excuse, after excuse.

If we jump back to the parable for just a moment, there is a problem. We’re told that one of the guests is not dressed properly,

‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’

And he gets thrown out of the party.

A little harsh we might think, but as many commentators remind us, most wedding guests didn’t have a large wardrobe and the guests would have been provided a robe by the host.

So wearing one of the provided robes would have been a response to the hospitality offered.

But he doesn’t respond.

And God is simply asking him, “Why are you still sinful, still refusing my love, still unrepentant, still cold towards me?”

‘He was speechless’

Who of us really has an excuse when confronted by God?

We are surrounded by God’s providence, we are taught by the church, those around us and the scriptures, we are fed by Christ’s flesh and blood, guided by the Spirit, and sought, and pursued in a million ways. What explanation could we possibly give for our ultimate failure to comprehend this invitation?

God invites all human life to experience the presence of the divine. And there is a welcome for all who want to be there. None are forced.

But there is a choice to be made.

Join the party or don’t. Accept all our host has to offer, or don’t.

There are no hurdles to jump or obstacles to overcome, expect the ones we place for ourselves.

The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding party that everyone was invited to, rich, poor, healthy, ill, good and bad, and all they had to do was accept.

You are invited. What are you going to do?

Sermon Matthew 22: 34-40

For the last two chapters of the gospel according to St Matthew, Jesus is constantly being questioned. He refuses to claim his identity as messiah and leaves people to figure out from their own knowledge and experience who Jesus is.

While I understand the motivation of the repeated testing of Jesus in these chapters, I can’t help but feel sorry for Jesus and the annoyance and frustration he must have felt. Especially when He becomes faced with questions that are posed as tricks to make Him stumble into being discredited.

First, the Pharisees send some lackeys to trip him up over taxes question. He avoids that trap. Next some Sadducees try to trip him up with a tricky question about the resurrection. Again he avoids the trap. Now, in our passage for today the Pharisees come in person with a question about the greatest commandment to test him.

The way the Sadducees and Pharisees act remind me of our many and varied game shows and reality TV programs.

Reality shows, test people all the time. The prize is prestige and money. The penalty is being sent home, one’s dreams destroyed, with lots of people watching.

Let’s see if Jesus can sing well enough to get through the X Factor, or answer questions correctly like the show The Chase. Let’s see if Jesus can dance for us like on “Strictly come Dancing?” Let’s see if he can survive in the wilderness like on “I’m a celebratory Get me out of here.” What chance do you think he’d stand on Bake Off?

I admit, these examples are ridiculous but in so many ways were the questionings, trickery and testing that takes place in this portion of Matthew.

It’s no surprise that Jesus passes with flying colours, even when a lawyer asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment.

On the surface, the question “Which is the greatest commandment?” doesn’t seem like much of a test. But the question about which of the 613 commandments in the Law was the greatest was hotly debated at the time. Some held that they were equally important; others that a graded scale was needed in practical application in daily life.

It’s said that the best teachers are those who show their students where to look for what they need, but won’t tell them what to see.

A good teacher will allow their students to see for themselves and discover what they need to learn.

But we’ve all had those times when what is discovered and learnt needs some tweaking and re-aligning.

I was leading a group of 10 older children through some confirmation preparations, and we had one session on the 10 commandment. We came to ‘honour your father and your mother’ and one of the boys asked ‘is there a commandment telling us how to treat our brothers and sisters’?

Before I had a chance to say anything one of his friends offered an answer, ‘you shall not kill’?

I had a certain amount of sympathy for this idea, if you’ve grown up with siblings you may have felt the same at times.

Jesus, being a good teacher, showed them where to look for their answers, but what they want to see is for them to choose and decide.
The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

And then it is followed by this: You must love your neighbour as yourself.

Jesus has proved himself, yet again, that he knows the law and has authority with it.

So we are also told where to look. And what do we see?

As for Jesus, He saw that it would be more loving to give those Pharisees  a bit of His heart than to give them a piece of His mind.

(And I’m sure he could have given them a good piece of his mind!!!!!!)

We too would be happier when we give people a bit of our heart rather than a piece of our mind.

But when we look at the people around us, those at home, those at work, those in Church, it would be easier to give them a piece of our mind than a bit of our heart.

And here lies the lesson of life – Nothing and no one ever goes away until they teach us what we need to know.

God doesn’t give us the people we want. He gives us the people we need – people who will hurt us, people who will leave us, but also people who will help us and people who will love us, so as to make us into the persons we were meant to be.

When we can see that, then we would have understood the lesson of life.

And with that, we will be able to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves.

All Saints and Baptism. Matthew 5.1-12

We are here today to celebrate. And we have two main things to give thanks for today.

Firstly, we are joining with the church around the world to celebrate All Saints Day, where we give thanks for the saints, their work, lives and their examples.

Secondly, and of great importance is the baptism of …..

It’s always a great celebration for the church when we can baptise and welcome new members into our family.

And in my mind, these two celebrations work well together. Where we give thanks for the lives of those who have gone before us and those who have ensured that knowledge and belief in God has continued down the generations.

And where we give thanks for the potential of these new lives, and pray for their role in this clear continued line as their parents, godparents and all of us gathered here make promises to guide them.

It is equally as important for us to look at the future as it is at the past, and i know all too well that we in the church may like to look at the past a little too much at times. But at other times there can be great lessons for us waiting to be re-discovered.

I don’t know what you think of when I say the word saint.

Possibly you think of the names of people in the bible, or of the stained glass windows around us. Maybe you can think of some historical saints and a story or two of what they have done. But I’d like to offer you two definitions I found a few years back of what a saint is like.

The first is ‘Saints are people who aren’t afraid to live with both the gruesome and the glorious. They are not embarrassed to struggle with the great division between good and evil, life and death, heaven and hell. They are called forth into the unknown and return home not only safe but triumphant.’

We may gulp at this, and think to ourselves that we could never be saints, but I ask that you don’t make that judgement too quickly.

The second came from a little girl and was an ‘out of the mouths of babes’ moment when she was looking at a stained glass window and said, saints are people who let light shine through them.

We are given some guidance in our readings for this morning. In a dramatic reversal of the customs of this world, Jesus foretells the truth of what we’re in store for, and what we need to be working towards.

Unsure of your direction in life? You’re blessed.

Caught under the weight of grief and loss? Joy comes in the morning.

Undervalued and not heard by those around you? God hears you.

Groaning with longing for a moment of respite? The comforter has come.

Campaigning for peace and righteousness, only to be trampled down by violence and abuse, and those spreading lies to discredit you? God is travailing right alongside you.

The saints, Jesus reminds us, aren’t simply those who seem to have it all figured out, whose prayer life is perfect, whose service to church and community are faultless, and who have left a legacy that the rest of us will spend a lifetime aspiring to realize for ourselves.

On the contrary: The saints, Jesus tells us and John reminds us, are those who have suffered – and some who suffer still, even in our midst – and yet are able to praise God all the more.

The saints are those who have known the pain of grief and the sting of death, and still manage to find a way to sing, “Alleluia!”

The saints are those who have been excluded and ignored by every corner of society and yet still find ways to seek and serve Christ, loving their neighbour as themselves.

We are just as much saints as those we first call to mind as being holy and saintly, we are the saints of today and so on this day of All Saints, we not only celebrate the saints that have gone before us, and those who seem more like myths then historical figures of inspiration, but we are also celebrating the saints who are around today, those who have encouraged us in our faith, inspire us to be better Christians, and to follow God with a stronger faith.

In a few moments Richard will be blessing the good and holy St Albans tap water that we’ll be using to it to baptise our six and we’ll be using many symbols which date back to the earliest of times, and I believe they are incredibly fortunate that they not only have the saints of old and the traditions and symbols of the church to guide and teach them into what it means to be a Christian.

But they have the saints on earth in their family in the church and their families at home.

Those of you who have come as part of the baptism party have been asked today to be as saint like in your life as you can for the sake of that child, you are asked to be the best example to them you can be and to teach them all the important lessons you can which will help them grow into the people they will become.

So today we give thanks for All Saints, those we know, those we don’t for their lives, and for the inheritance of faith that has been passed from generation to generation. And we give thanks that we have the chance to pass it on to a new generation.

We pray for those being baptised at the start of their journeys, and we pray for ourselves that we can be the persons through whom the light of God shines and who turns the world workings upside down.