No Easy Grace

Pent. 21

A year ago I married my son and his wife at St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University. There were roughly two hundred in attendance. A significant portion of them were Korean because the bride is Korean-American. For us it was a big deal. For the bride’s family it was an even bigger deal. Literally it was a merging of two families, of two cultures and two traditions. There was a showering of blessing and of beneficence. The guests attended because of social obligations, family obligations, friendship, political reasons and for religious reasons. After all, it was the sacrament of marriage. It was a joyous occasion. There was a feast the night before, on the day of the wedding and on the day after.

Some of us have had smaller, more intimate weddings. Faye and I were married in a tiny chapel by Ken Coleman, the Episcopal chaplain at Yale. There was a grand total of seven. My in-laws did not attend, because the Roman Catholic Church did not approve of inter-faith marriages. Whether one approves or not, a marriage, big or small, is a public and social event and it can be weakened by being too small.

To not go is a rejection of the event. There is a personal/public insult whether that is intended or not. For the bride or groom it can be humiliating, and it can be humiliating to those who are extending the hospitality and hosting the event.

I learned this the hard way when after graduation one of my college roommates got married. When George invited me to the wedding I said, “No thanks, George. Now don’t be insulted, but I really don’t care whether you get married or not. It is not just part of my concerns. Go ahead and get married, but be careful because I think Ruth is just like your mother. In fact, George, you really are marrying your mother.” Wrong thing to say! George doesn’t speak to me much now. (But seriously, she is just like his mother.)

In describing the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus tells a parable about a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. Some of the invitees made fun of the wedding, some went to their farm or their business and some mistreated the messengers and killed them. The king was enraged. He had his troops burn the village and kill those who had rejected him. He then had his slaves invite those in the streets and everyone they could find, the good and the bad. One fellow didn’t wear a wedding robe. Insulted, the king had the man bound and thrown out. Jesus ends by commenting, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”

“Good grief,” someone might say. “You mean there is a dress code in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Well, yes. Just as my son was not allowed in the Yale Club for dinner without a tie, so there is appropriate behavior for certain situations. It is insulting to the host, to those who are honored, to the other guests and to the event itself when you show up in old clothes at a state event, or in a bikini at the Metropolitan Opera.

When Jesus speaks of a wedding banquet, the immediate association for his hearers is of the banquet at the end of time, the Heavenly Banquet. There all will meet God and be with God and there will be great rejoicing, celebration and praise. Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God is breaking in now with his presence. There is a new covenant, a new relationship. God is offering unbelievable grace to those who will respond to His mercy and His call: to those who will repent. Undeserved grace and forgiveness is given to those who will respond. But there is a “dress code.” There are boundaries and a demand for respect and honor. When one approaches the Holy Other, it is the time for awe and respect, not sloughing off of dignity and patterns of responsibility.

The point of the parable is the transfer of grace. There is a new covenant, a new beginning, and the offer of salvation to all who will respond. There is a “however,” however. And that is the emphasis of the story. We are talking about GOD. So there are boundaries. Grace is given, but there is not such thing as “cheap grace.” The blessing carries a commitment. The indicative carries an imperative. The gift of the covenant and of the blessing of God carries the obligation of the sacrificing of one’s “self” and the obligation to honor and maintain the gift of God’s grace and blessing. There has to be a stewardship of the gift, for otherwise the gift of God’s grace is “cheapened,” and ceases to be God’s gift. That stewardship of the gift is the application aspect of the parable.

You and I come here Sunday after Sunday to worship. We come to this holy and sanctified place to praise and to give thanks, to confess and to receive absolution, to be fed spiritually. The Holy Eucharist of the bread and wine is a “feast” and our souls are fed. You and I are strengthened and renewed in this holy place by the worship, by the liturgy, by the sacrament and by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Tradition tells us that it is a wedding feast with the Church as the bride of Christ. The metaphor shifts a little on us, but nevertheless it is a glorious, awesome experience.

Our wedding garments are our Christian lives. For the last eight weeks I have talked about Christian “presence,” “sacrifice,” “generosity,” “forgiveness” and living in a “covenantal relationship.” Hopefully I have helped you develop some skill in handling those aspects of your lives. Today’s sermon has been about the incredible banquet of grace that God has offered us and the fact that that carries an obligation. The best term for that obligation is “stewardship.” You and I have an obligation to live lives that are full of love and compassion faith and praise. But they are also lives of due diligence in regard to our worship and our responsibilities. You and I are keepers of the “sacred vessels” of our Christian lives. One of those sacred vessels is our bodies, which need attention. Another “sacred vessel” is our church, itself, where the sacraments are celebrated and we come to find and be found by God. Obviously the church requires lots of money for its renovation and upkeep. But respect and honor of a holy place can also be shown by its being well organized, well staffed, neat, clean and tidy. God’s temple should not be shabby. It is not “materialistic” to clean out and clean up the gym and the basement, to get the chairs in Baronial Hall fixed, cracked windows replaced, etc. It is not unfriendly to be attentive and quiet during the postlude and the prayers of healing. Our committees are not fully staffed. The Outreach Committee needs to be staffed and formed in order to handle hurricane relief and the oversight of both the scouting programs. Adult education needs to get off the ground Everyone needs to get on board for the Christmas Show. Little things. Picky things. Individually not important, but collectively they say something about our individual lives and our corporate life.

How you and I live our personal lives outside of the parish is also a reflection upon our Christian commitment and the covenant and vows that we have made. You and I are called to live lives, which witness to the incredible grace and blessing that we have received in our Lord Jesus Christ. We are called to bring others to the great banquet of His love and blessing, to The Great Thanksgiving that you and I offer in liturgy, prayer, music and fellowship. You and I are incredibly blessed. In our individual and collective faith journeys we do not travel alone, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses and led by the Holy Spirit. We are fed by the great feast of the Eucharist, which is an anticipation of the heavenly banquet. Come to the table of the Eucharist. Come and receive the blessing of God’s bountiful grace. Come with gladness and joy. But remember, there is no such thing as easy grace. Now onto God be all honor and glory. -Amen. Fr. Gage