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Fill The Breach

Matthew 22:1-14

The Rev. Jon Roberts

15 October


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. 4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. 13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Fill The Breach

Parable of the Wedding Feast, A.N. Mironov, 2014

Just when you think He is out of reach
God sends someone to fill the breach.[1]

Once upon a time there was a church who loved their priest and were waiting for him to return from a sabbatical. He served them faithfully for many years without fail. Affording an intentional time for rest, reflection, and renewal was important. They wanted to see him return, refreshed and able to serve many more years, if possible. The bishop happened to visit the church during the absence and was most impressed with the vibrancy and love of the people.

The leader of the Sabbatical informed the bishop that there would be a welcome home party. He was invited, of course. She went further to say many invitations were sent out in the mail to people far and near. Everyone in the church family would naturally be invited, regardless of whether they were coming faithfully to church or not. Although an RSVP was expected, only some gave the courtesy, but others did not bother. The bishop was upset and told her to go directly to the people who did not rsvp and tell them it will be an all-expense catered, white linen party. They should come. Later, she reported to him that they either said they would not come, could not come, or simply did not answer. The bishop was angry and sent out letters immediately to excommunicate every one of them, saying they were an anathema to the church and no longer belonged. He kicked them out of the church.

When it was finally time for the party, all who accepted the invitation, even those who hardly came to church, were there. The bishop looked around, making sure a good turnout was present. He was looking at how people appeared. The Priest was then announced to have arrived and was parking his car. He would enter shortly. At that moment, the bishop saw one person who stood out, who was not wearing nice or appropriate clothing. He said, “You there. [pointing] Yes, you. Come here. Why are you not dressed properly, and where is your invitation?” The person was speechless. The bishop immediately summoned members of the Vestry to take this person, tie them up, and fasten concrete blocks to their feet. Further, he instructed them to take this person out in the middle of the water and drop them overboard. They did, and just in time for the party to continue. The Priest entered. All shouted, “Hoorah” and for the rest of the night, everyone had a fun time…well almost everyone.

Nothing like a return from sabbatical and starting on a happy note. What seems out of place in this account? Our parish sent its priest on a sabbatical for rest, reflection, and renewal. Check. One of our leaders headed the sabbatical and made sure there was a celebration of return for the priest. She sent out invitations to everyone, both “good” and not so good if you’re basing that on church attendance or overall obedience to supporting the church. Some rsvp’d and others did not. Check. Check. The bishop was involved and encouraged the celebration. Check. But did the bishop excommunicate those who said they could not or would not attend, or to those who never responded. No, that’s far-fetched. Did He attend the party himself. No, and that would have been a bit hypocritical of him (although he did pass along his regrets and shared the experience through a prior retreat at church). Was there someone not invited, who came, who was not dressed in an appropriate way? No, there was none, thankfully. This story, this analogy is an attempt to make sense of the parable of the wedding banquet, when a king invited everyone to see his son get married.[2]

The King responding in anger seems likely, more likely than the anger of the bishop in the story given, but it is very important if we want to understand the message in today’s Gospel.[3] When we think of a king, like the one in the parable Jesus uses, we think of a leader in a historical account who forced his will and expected loyalty from his subjects. We have enough distance from it and can rationalize the behavior. It is somewhat of a fairytale though. When we think of a bishop, we think of a leader in historical and current time who pleads for people to follow Christ and to act out of love. If you do not attend annual convention, he may give you a call, however. That would be wonderful to imagine a bishop who does not get angry with his flock, just as it is safe for us to believe a priest does not get angry with his flock. Sadly, this does not always happen. Bishops and Priests do get angry, but not to the point, nor authority to inflict punishment on the people. Maybe five or six hundred years ago, but not today. No, they are called to fill the breach. Before breaking down what Jesus meant in his parable, let’s talk about Moses, one who filled the breach between God and the people of Israel. This is an important story about an invitation God gave them.

You may recall, the Hebrew people were slaves in Egypt. It took about 400 years to lose their freedom completely, but it happened by giving more to Pharoah and less to God. Finally, God had enough and delivered them through the crossing of the Red Sea. At Mt. Sinai God wrote out the invitation to a banquet where there would provide milk and honey but it came with instructions. Those ten commandments would be given to all of them, nearly one million Hebrews to follow to the letter. Unfortunately, when Moses returned, they already had a party going on. It wasn’t the type of party God had in mind either. In fact, it was vile and immoral. It violated about a half of the commands delivered on those stone tablets even. Moses was angry but knew God was at the point of destroying them, once for all, and perhaps start all over. This, too, seems unrealistic when we think of the nature of God as one who changes His mind whenever He wants or one who intends to punish us.

It says, God would have destroyed them, had not Moses, his chosen stood before Him in the breach.[4] A breach is the place of brokenness, a divide that separates us from God. God called all the people in Egypt to listen and heed His voice. He called them to put away all other gods they worshiped. But those who accepted the invitation, wanted to follow the instructions, regardless of how obedient they were, were chosen. This is not a play on words and when Jesus finishes his parable, saying, “Many are called, but few are chosen,” this is what he meant.[3] Once a person accepts God’s call, His invitation, they are now chosen to follow. Baptism may be once and for all the Eucharist may be our weekly fill up, but the decision to follow Christ is daily.

With Moses he gave the invitation, but rejected it outright as unimportant, or giving excuse on why they couldn’t make it due to their schedule, God excommunicated them. Then, the worst offender was the one uninvited and not dressed appropriately. Who is that? It could have been Pharoah’s army of chariots, plunged into the depths with concrete blocks on their feet and all. But God did invite them by asking them to change their hearts and let the Hebrews be free. It wasn’t them. There may have been tagalongs with the Hebrews, from maybe an inner marriage or someone who were close neighbors, but they, too, were invited. Over forty years in the wilderness, those truly faithful to the invitation and being chosen to follow God would be tested and sifted like grain. That is another story about what it means to act in faithfulness. That is not the person in the parable, nor the person of today, that God, warns us about.

The one who is not invited, who God sees firsthand and will act swiftly upon is the one who has fallen into the breach. The one who has chosen to be spitefully disobedient and belligerent to the coming of Christ in the world, in their own life. The one who wishes harm to the innocent or to be willfully enslaved in sin is living in the breach. The presence of the evil one has his own emissaries, and they show up in the midst of holy places, holy occasions for the purpose of causing division, strife, disharmony, contention, spiritual erosion and total chaos. He wants the world to fall. It is one who chooses to either use subtle tactics of using ideological propaganda or violence. God sees this person coming after His Son, who filled the breach so that we could cross. As any bishop or preach will say, it only takes one person to right the wrong, and it only takes one person to wrong the right. You are called. Now, be chosen. Celebrate the life of Christ who comes down to set you free. He does so with power through His loving kindness and He presents God’s promise of a heavenly kingdom as a great banquet for those who are called to cross over what is broken. Many are broken and may feel that God is out of reach. Be so called, leading them to Christ, who fills the breach.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] The Rev. Jon Roberts, original story related to recent Sabbatical
[3] Matthew 22:1-14
[4] Psalm 106:23

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