R.S.V.P.

“R.S.V.P.”
Matthew 22:1-14
Sunday, October 9, 2011 – Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Children’s Sabbath

R.S.V.P. stands for a French phrase, “répondez, s’il vous plaît,” which means “please reply.”

The person sending the invitation would like you to tell him or her whether you accept or decline the invitation.

Proper etiquette demands that we respond to an invitation so the host can plan appropriately for food and beverages.

More important, though, is the simple courtesy of responding to someone who was nice enough to invite you, even if it is to say that you regret that you will not be able to attend.

Judith Martin, the author of etiquette books and a syndicated newspaper columnist known as “Miss Manners,” thinks that “R.S.V.P.” came about as a polite way of reminding people of something that they should already know: If you receive an invitation, you should reply.

Today’s gospel does seem to be about an invitation and the response to that invitation…

As an allegory, this text has been used for over 400 years to develop the doctrine of salvation for the elect few…

More recently, we have heard this text used within the context of the universal salvation movement that seeks to interpret this banquet as a place where everybody gets in.

While these seem like polar opposites in terms of biblical interpretation,
I think it shows us how often the extremes at either end tend to get it wrong and we find the truth somewhere in the middle.

Make no mistake, however, while there may be a way to interpret this text from a middle-of-the-road perspective when it comes to who is invited to the banquet, there is no middle ground when it comes to who actually gets to stay in once they’ve arrived.

The story we just heard seems pretty clear…”Many are called, but few are chosen.”

This isn’t about a select few who are predestined to be saved…

It’s also not about universal salvation for everyone – no matter what…

Remember our theme for the month of October – “It’s not about you; it’s not about me; it’s all about Jesus…

Today’s gospel gives us a perfect opportunity to reclaim this precious truth…

 Let us pray…

O God, you speak to us in so many ways: through the voices of children, in the stirrings of our hearts, in the silence after the last bedtime story has been read. By your Holy Spirit, speak to us now through the Word read and proclaimed that we may hear and heed your call on behalf of the children. Amen.

We know a young couple in Waxahachie, Texas who spent three years as missionaries in India…

Chad and Angela lived near the city of Patna where 6 million people live in the poorest state in India, Bihar…

The stories they tell of the living conditions, the poverty, and the hardships there would break your heart…

But, the stories of faith that are changing lives there will make your spirit soar.

Pastor Rob Renfroe, Pastor of Discipleship at The Woodlands UMC visited India and says this:
“It would take a lifetime to describe the history, the religions, and the culture of India. Most apparent are the overcrowding and the poverty. Wherever you go, you see people. And you see poor people. Some selling rice or lentils, hoping to make enough money that day to feed their family. Others sleeping on the streets—some with blankets, others without. And still others, begging—mothers, children, men who are crippled or blind.”

The reason I bring these stories up is because they help us to really see Jesus – Jesus is the only real hope for the people of India AND he is the only hope for all of us.

The Hindu guides in India love to brag about the fact that they have 330 million gods to worship…You heard right – 330 million gods

Chad and Angela told us how heart-breaking it is to see these poor people kneeling before their idols with their offerings, praying for good fortune, prosperity, wealth, and healing…of course, these wishes don’t come true…

Saddest of all is that these people are taught by their Hindu faith that their lot in life is predestined for them because they surely did something terrible in a previous life and now they are paying the price for that sin…

How can some liberal Christians tell us that all of the world’s great religions are pretty much the same—just different paths to the same God that teach pretty much the same truths.

How can a religion that boasts of 330 million gods lead anyone to the One True God?

Do you see the problem here?

Chad told us about the small house churches they helped to start in Bihar that began to grow as more and more people learned about the love of God through Jesus Christ…

Their hopelessness was replaced by compassion for one another as schools were started and medical clinics brought health and healing.

After centuries of seeking hope at the feet of 330 million idols, the people began to recognize the hope that can only be found at the foot of the cross of Christ.

Lives are being changed and the persecuted church in India is making a difference.

For me, this is evidence that Jesus Christ is The Way, The Truth, and The Light…not just another path among many to find salvation.

For Matthew, the story in today’s gospel is a reminder that God first invited the people of ancient Israel to be his people.

God chose these seemingly lowly people as an example of how much God can bless any people who are willing to honor God’s word and God’s will above all.

This does not make this a story about exclusion based on election…

On the contrary, this is a story about inclusion based on that old bit of etiquette –
THE R.S.V.P.

When the invitation comes and you choose to ignore it – you are excluded from the Kingdom…Not because God doesn’t want you or that God isn’t willing to forgive you…
Your exclusion is based solely on your response – or lack of one – to God’s invitation.

We need to realize that there are those within the Christian community who refuse God’s invitation in a variety of ways:

They want the safe, soft-sided way of discipleship, but they avoid the more challenging work of outreach and social justice…

They want blessings from God, as long as they don’t have to share those blessings with other people…

They want world peace, but stand back from doing the hard work that might lead us there

They want to end world hunger, but don’t want to miss a meal or make a contribution to groups that are actually fighting world hunger.

We don’t have to stay away from church to ignore God’s invitation;
we simply stay away from ministry to God’s people.

The story gives us another point worth considering in the midst of the universal salvation debate

Those who came late to the party – presumably the Gentiles – did accept God’s invitation

But the story describes the fate of the guest who didn’t come dressed properly…

What is this wedding garment that is so important to the Master that to arrive without it sends the guest off to hell?

Matthew wants us to hear this as fruitful living; Paul might call it putting on a life in Christ; I hear “transformation.”

Let me be clear this morning…And, I think I’ve said this before to this church…

I truly believe that the God who created us and loves us really does desire that all people would be saved and spend eternity in heaven…

I also believe that there is nothing we can do to earn our place in God’s presence;
it is a free gift of God’s grace…

Jesus loves Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. At the same time, it is clear that not all religions are the same. We can respect all people but we cannot accept all belief systems. We cannot call darkness light.

Any religion, society, or cultural entity that encourages people to bow before idols or live lives that are void of transformative response to God leads people into darkness.

God’s invitation to the wedding banquet is freely offered…God’s grace is freely given…

Accepting this gracious invitation has consequences…
we are obliged to put on Christ as our wedding garment…
we are obligated to live as God’s people, transformed by God’s will…
we are clearly called to “please reply” – R.S.V.P.

If we accept God’s invitation to the party, then our reply must be through Jesus Christ.

If we try to get in wearing the wrong garment we will be thrown out.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen

Advertisements