Matthew 22. 1-14
(Preached on the Sunday of our Annual Parochial Church Meeting)
The Wedding Robe – Part II
By a strange serendipity, the Lectionary has offered us a Gospel reading on which I preached only about two months ago, at a Thursday morning service. ‘Oh good’, said I to myself as I sat down to write today’s sermon. ‘I’ll just preach that one again – no-one will notice, and the Thursday congregation is a largely different bunch of people’.
But then, I realised that our newly discovered skills at using the internet would probably shoot me in the foot. After all, the sermon I preached on the 20th of August has been widely shared. At the latest count, 293 people have watched the service of that day, and an additional 154 have been reached by the separate posting of the sermon, and another 14 have read it online. In addition, it was published in the Corona Chronicle, which currently goes out to around 250 people in the parish.
Preaching a sermon again is something we preachers often do, if we can get away with it. ‘After all,’ we reason, ‘if it was true then, it’s still true now. And all the hours of preparation can be put to other good uses’.
I’m reminded of the apocryphal story of the Vicar who preached the same sermon two weeks running, and then again on the third week. Thinking that his Vicar had finally gone mad, a churchwarden approached after the third occasion and said ‘Father, did you know that you’ve preached the same sermon three times now?’. ‘Yes,’ replied the Vicar. ‘And when I see evidence that the congregation has heard what I’ve said and acted on it, I’ll preach another!’
Another aphorism of preaching is that most sermons, if we’re not careful, can be boiled down to three basic messages: Please pray more, attend more, and give more! That’s a temptation I try to avoid – but I’m not always successful!
Jesus had a similar problem. His message was essentially a very simple one – “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, and you are invited to be a part of it”. But his task was to communicate that simple message to as wide an audience as possible.
He wanted people to know what the Kingdom of Heaven was like – so he gave them multiple images and stories to conjure with. The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, or a wheat field, or a light shining on a hill. Its citizens are like salt, or light, or – in the case of today’s Gospel reading, like guests at a wedding.
But Jesus doesn’t only describe what the Kingdom of Heaven and its citizens are like. He also helps non-citizens – immigrants from the Kingdom of Men - to learn how they can become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. ‘Repent’, he tells them. ‘Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself’ – which he then illustrates with a variety of new images. Be a ‘good Samaritan’, sow ‘good seed’, don’t hoard your wealth in barns, be constantly ready, like wedding guests waiting for the bridegroom. Be persistent like a woman knocking on a judge’s door, or like a man seeking bread from his neighbour in the middle of the night.
Out of Jesus’ stories came many a memorable phrase. ‘Don’t cast your pearls before swine’. ‘Ask and it will be given to you’. ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand’.
We’re going to be proposing a memorable phrase this morning – at our APCM. It also comes out of the story that we’ve been telling ourselves – the story of a congregation, here at St Faith’s, who want to live out the mission that God calls us to live. It’s a story of five years of real progress, under the leadership of your brilliant PCC. And it’s a vision of the next five years. The phrase we’ve given this story – the title, if you like – is this: Live, Pray, Serve.
As you’ll hear, when our Churchwardens unfold the plan, we want to:
Live, as followers of Jesus Christ – whose example we cherish
We want to Pray, alone and together by building on the historic practices of faith we have inherited
And we want to Serve – young and old, rich and poor, black and white – loving our neighbours at least as much as we love ourselves.
The only question – for each one of us here today – is whether we will choose to put on the wedding robe that is being offered to us by the Master of the Feast. Will we choose to roll up our sleeves and get stuck into the task of advancing the Kingdom in Havant. Or will be like the wedding guests who are just too busy or too occupied, to accept the Master’s invitation?