All Saints' Episcopal Church

Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise

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A sermon given on October 11, 2020 by the Rev. Dr. Bob Brown on Matthew 22:1-14…

There is a hymn by Walter Chambers Smith, of the Church of Scotland, that is number 423 in our hymnal.  It happens to be one of my personal favorites.  The first line, which may be familiar to most of you, goes like this; “Immortal, Invisible, God only wise”.  I especially like the third verse, which states the immortality of God, as opposed to the mortal nature of the creatures of humankind.

 It is favored by me because it expresses the qualities of God.

We need sometimes to remind ourselves of what and who we believe God to be.  In addition to being Eternal, He embodies the qualities of Omniscience, Omnipotence, Omnibenevolence. 

God is forever. That is a very difficult concept for our limited human minds to grasp, but he always has been, and always will be. 

God is all knowing.  He is well acquainted with us in the most intimate of ways, knowing our every thought and motive, our very consciousness.    We have no knowledge apart from God.

God is all powerful.  He brought the universe into being by his Word and will, and has demonstrated his unique power in scripture and in our own world.

And God is supremely good.  Our God is beyond reproach.  When we dare to think that God might be convicted of human motives like anger or deceit, the fault is ours!  Our evangelical friends have a saying that God is good all the time, and in this notion, they are profoundly correct.

God is forever, He is all knowing, He is all powerful, and He is always, always supremely good!

Our gospel lesson for today is especially difficult for some.  All of the parables of Jesus, are multidimensional and have many layers.  This one, in particular, has been subject to a number of interpretations, and has left many with a feeling of coldness and foreboding. It has been abused over the centuries, and has been used to justify all sorts of human selfishness.  

Some scholars have even suggested that this parable was written after the resurrection, and was inserted by Matthew after the fact when he set his gospel down to writing.

But remember, God exists beyond the dimension of time.  And since Jesus is God, time does not mean the same to Him as it does the us mere mortals.  We are biological creatures, and we think, because our lives have a beginning, a middle and an end, that time is linear, that is, it is a straight line.  But to God, yesterday is the same as today and tomorrow.

Some have even pointed to the wrath of the king in this lesson to suggest that God himself has a possible quality of unkindness, forgetting the omnibenevolent quality of God.

This is most certainly a parable about the rebellious nation of Israel, with its self-righteous religious leaders. But more than that, it has a distinct lesson for us in our time, even as it had a clear meaning to those who first heard it, so long ago.

 It is our task to focus on our time and our place.

Notice that the language of invitation is repeated several times in this parable, alluding to the fact that God invites us and reaches out to us over and over, again and again. 

We are surprised when the king of the parable invites everyone to the wedding banquet, both the good, as well as the bad.

This is really a parable about grace and mercy, rather than about judgement and punishment.

We are a people and a culture, especially in modern America, that identifies people by what they do in life.  Often, when we meet someone, we first ask, “what do you do?”  We tend to measure our worth, and the worth of those around us, by what we have accomplished, be it money, or influence, or power, or good works.

In this parable, the wedding feast stands for the kingdom of heaven.

When the king sends his troops to destroy the city, and those who refused his invitation, this is God destroying our human notions of pride and accomplishment and worthiness. 

The king then invites everyone to the banquet, and God is expressing his affinity for the poor and the marginalized and those who are not impressed with there own sense of worth. 

Then, we have the symbol of the grace of God, the wedding gown.

When the man is expelled from the wedding banquet for not being clothed in the proper attire, what is really being said is that we must come to the kingdom clothed solely in the grace and forgiveness of God.  We imperfect people are utterly dependent on the graciousness and the forgiveness of the Almighty.  We are dependent on his mercy alone, because that is the way of salvation for us.

Human vanity has caused many, many misinterpretations of this meaningful parable of our Lord.  It has been used to justify many misdeeds and foibles of the past.  Sometimes we use it to justify ourselves in the present.

But the truth of the gospel of Jesus is simple and straightforward, even as it is complex and theologically sophisticated.

God offers to us the path of salvation. First, he sent his prophets to make known his word of righteousness.  But some rejected those words.  Then, he sent his only and Eternal Son to be an offering and sacrifice to atone for the sins of the entire world.  Sadly, some have failed to heed his call.  Finally, he speaks to us by his divine revelation of the Holy Spirit, through the scriptures and his church, and some do not take it seriously.  Thus, humanity has, in turn, rejected the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

But, there is good news in all of this!  God is a God of mercy, always ready to forgive, just as he forgave the rebellious children of Israel in the desert.  And Jesus is ready to intercede on our behalf!

We have only to accept the gift of his mercy and grace, through Jesus or Lord, and he will bestow upon us blessings in the kingdom of heaven.

Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
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