“Show up or else” doesn’t seem to win the master many friends. The servants were treated shamefully and killed. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and killed them back. One guy came dressed wrong. If you show up like that they put you in the outer darkness. Right away. No trial, no nothing. We have the best dressed wedding guests in the world because of the outer darkness. Cheerful stuff today.
There’s such a thing as hell. It’s not uplifting, but it’s real. We gloss over it. Not because we don’t think it’s a real place. Just that it’s one reserved for people we despise. Of those that don’t come to the feast, most are pretty sure God completely understands why they can’t make it. Read this parable. You tell me how it goes. I guess the simplest thing to say is if there’s a God who made everything and can unmake it too, He sort of gets to make the rules, and like them or not, we should be glad He at leasts lets us know what they are. Set aside your excuses, put down your coffee, come to the wedding feast, and come correct. It beats the alternative. Outer darkness. Weeping. Gnashing of teeth.
I don’t know if that’s enough for the sermon, though. I’ve found, in my 10 years doing this, that the amount of hellfire in a sermon is directly proportional to the people who tell me after church that they were sure glad someone else was here to hear about it. Also, those who made excuses and didn’t go get the least screen time. They just sort of fade from the story as not worthy. The soldiers were sent after the ones who murdered the servants of the master. It was the man without the wedding garment went to the outer darkness. The thing is, the ones who found excuses to skip were already out there. When we think about hell, we always imagine a lot of fire for something called “the outer darkness”. We imagine a bad place with pain and torture and death and decay. A place where demons roam about seeking those to devour. A place full of sinners doing awful things to each other and suffering. So…basically just like here…but in a cave that’s on fire. Outer darkness actually helps shape the picture. Outer: not close to. Darkness: not light. Hell isn’t measured in demons and sufferings. The worst part of hell is in the name. Outer Darkness: being away from the light. Being not near Jesus, the light of the world, sent into the world so that darkness shall not overcome it. Those who gave excuses and skipped the feast were already there. Look around this world. Look how dark it is down here. Wars and rumors of wars. Suffering. Torture. Demons. Sinners. Death. Weeping and gnashing of teeth. It’s not that there’s no such thing as eternal condemnation. It’s that some of us insist on being early to it. We all live in this. The thing is, why would you want to stay? Would you rather navigate it with or without the light, the help, the salvation? It isn’t come to church or else. It’s never been that. We already live and die in the “or else”. The question is where the help is.
So the Lord comes down into the outer darkness. The light shone in darkness and darkness could not overcome it. On the mountain, the LORD of hosts makes a feast of good food and better wine. In that feast, He swallows up death forever. In that feast, He wipes away tears. In that feast, those who wait in darkness for salvation find the God who comes not to threaten more of it, but to save those who could not save themselves. To call us out of darkness and into light. He invites you to that feast. Here. Now. It was never for the worthy. It was never for the good. It was for those weeping and gnashing their teeth in the dark. It was for you. It is His body and blood, for forgiveness from the sins that condemn. For life that death can’t destroy. For strength in a world that demands too much. For hope in a world that lacks it. For light to hearts that sit in darkness. For sinners. For you. God sets His feast up for people like us. Those who didn’t come were unworthy, but so were those who came. They were both good and bad. The only one called out is the one not wearing the wedding garment.
Because the wedding garment was given by the host. It was supplied and free. It was an identity. Someone who belongs here. God always clothes His people. Calls them out of darkness and sin and shame and death and clothes them. He clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins so that they could look at each other and find peace in their marriage. He clothes you in white robes in your baptism, washed in the blood of the lamb. He clothes you with robes that carry you out of the great tribulation. He promises you are holy, you are worthy of love, you belong here. That guy without one showed up and insisted that not be so. He insisted He not be God’s guest at the feast that swallows up death. He wanted to be there on based on something other than mercy. So he left back to where he came from.
Many are called, but few are chosen. That’s not a challenge to make it fewer. Find more people that you’re sure are going to hell because they don’t live up to the standard the law sets. It’s a realization. Nothing out there can save you. No work you can do will either. In here, you cannot stand on your identity, but He lends you His. You are holy ones of God. Sons and daughters of the king. You stand here as one who takes refuge here. We are refugees at the feast who are told we live here now. We belong here now. None of us are worthy. We’re clothed, though. We’re fed. We’re brought into light and hope and peace. We’re given the gifts that endure even a world this dark. And taking our refuge here, we sing hymns while death is swallowed up forever.