Herman walked into the house after a long day at work. He took off his boots and started to put them away in the hallway closet but it was jammed with his little girls shoes and toys and her ladybug umbrella. Why doesn't Lorraine make her learn to clean up her things? Why were the women in his life both slobs? He started to clean up the toys and boots so that he could close the closet door, meanwhile his mind was drifting again to work.
Was Jennings going to get the promotion over him? Why had he agreed to let Lorraine stay home? Maybe he needed to put in more hours to show his dedication to his boss. And why couldn't Lorraine keep a clean house when she was home all day?
Herman walked into his bedroom. His little girls dresses were strewn all over the bed, along with some of his wife's blouses. Where were they anyway? The cat, Mrs Spots, jumped on the bed. Herman sat on the bed and put his head in his hands. Why was he always so tired? It must be the pressure at work. If he got the promotion, would they have to move? Would they get any tax breaks this year? They needed a bigger house but that would just end up a bigger mess. He stood up, changed out of his suit and hung it up in the closet, put on his sweatpants and went into the living room, where there was a note from his wife on the coffee table.
"Herman, we waited until 5 and finally had to leave. Did you forget your own daughters birthday party? After all her planning about bowling with you and her friends? Please drive here as soon as you can...your cell must be turned off."
Herman remembered that he had turned off his cell about 3 so as not to be interrupted at work. He remembered the look on his little girl's face when she handed him a picture she drew, "that's you and me," she said, "bowling together." Then she looked up and asked him, "You'll be there, won't you, Daddy?"
And somewhere, deep in his soul, Herman heard a door shut.
Jesus said, the kingdom of heaven is like when a King sends out invitations to a great party but people refuse to come. There was no greater party in Biblical times than a wedding feast. It could last for a week. The father would pull out all the stops, offer everything he had for he was celebrating life itself. With the marriage of his son came the possibility of children, of his family line continuing beyond his death. The wedding banquet was a celebration of life itself.
The King sent out invitations to the banquet, but the guests refused to come. If you read the parable carefully, there are two kinds of refusals. Some seem violent in their refusal, like they hate the King and they try to kill his servants. But the second kind of refusal comes from people who may love the King and even be friends with him but they are too consumed with the responsibilities of life to celebrate. So one man goes to his farm, another to his business. Jesus says that these people "made light of the Kings invitation." They did not take the invitation seriously. These are the people I want to focus on today. This invitation is no big deal to them. They have more important things to attend to, things that, if they could get them done, would make them happy. The good people, the ones who really try, like you and me, get so consumed with the mundane aspects of life that they turn down God Himself. Their fundamental mistake was that they confused happiness with joy. While chasing after happiness, they missed the invitation to joy itself.
There are tons of books out about happiness. Everybody in America wants to be happy. Walgreens tag line is "Where happy meets healthy." There is a book called The Happiness Project that is a National Bestseller and all it's about is a middle-aged woman who lives in New York City and how she is trying to be happy. Having the right amount of stuff, a decent job, exercise...all recipes for happiness. All we want is to feel good. All the time.
Meanwhile, God is offering us joy. Joy is very different from happiness. It has little to do with your moods. And it is all about waking up to the invitation that has ALREADY been offered to you in your baptism. To know that, no matter what happens to you in this life, you are loved with a kind of radical love that you do not deserve and all you have to do is say yes, put on your best clothes, and come to the party. All you need to do is agree to the invitation, to take it seriously, to come. Joy is a state of being. It is rock solid. It is nothing more than the acceptance of God's love. It has nothing to do with the events of your life or how you are feeling. It is done. Joy only has to be accepted.
Do you know what the priest is called who presides over the Holy Eucharist? The one who tells the story at the table? That person is called the celebrant, because that person presides over a great banquet, a banquet of joy.
At the Bavarian National Opera House, there was a man named Karl Valentino who performed in the 1930's. He was the last of what people used to call "The Metaphysical Clowns." He would dress like a clown and do pantomimes that had profound significance.
One particular pantomime began with a bare stage except for one circle of light. The clown entered the stage and began to search diligently for something that he had lost. After a time, a policeman came up to him.
"Have you lost something?"
"The key to my house," answers the clown. "If I can't find it, I can't go home tonight."
With that, the policeman joined the search. Finally, he asked, "Are you sure that you lost it here?"
"Oh, no, I lost it over there," said the clown, pointing to a darkened part of the stage.
"Then why on earth are you looking here?"
"Because there is no light over there."
To look for something where it doesn't exist is the ultimate form of futility. To search for joy where you can only find happiness at best, is to waste your life away. It is to say no to the invitation because you are too busy trying to be happy.
To spend your time worrying about finances, mortgages, work issues, schedules, cleanliness is to waste the invitation. Worrying of any kind is a rejection of the invitation that God has already made. St Paul says, "Do not worry about anything but in everything, by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known to God." Consumers are just that, they are consumed by the myth that buying stuff will make you happy. Happy. Even if it does make you happy, you get nowhere. You spend your life chasing after a mood or a feeling of wellbeing. You might as well chase after the wind. Meanwhile God is offering you joy itself.
The end of the parable is the most disturbing because the King gets mad, really mad. The King gets mad at the people who refuse to come to the banquet and He gets mad at the man who comes but refuses to put on a white robe. St Augustine taught that the wedding robe would be provided by the host for all who needed one. If that is true, then this guest had been provided with a robe but he refused to put it on. So although he came to the feast, he did not participate fully, and that was as bad as not coming at all.
Most Episcopalians don't like to think about an angry God. We prefer the God of the New Testament who is loving and not angry, we say. But, in truth, Jesus does talk about God getting mad and why shouldn't the King get mad? When you really love someone and you give them all that you have and you invite them to the most important celebration of life itself and they turn you down, wouldn't you be mad? Anger is not the opposite of love, it can be an expression of love. No, it is indifference that is the opposite of love. God is angry when you do not say yes to the invitation, when you forget your child's birthday party because you are so preoccupied at work, when you miss out on the joy of generosity because you are too busy trying to play it safe, when you run after happiness and miss the banquet of life itself.
And to make God angry is a serious matter that ends in death. In the parable, the King destroys the people that kill his servants and burns their city. This is no joke. Making God mad is no joke. We want to sugarcoat the story, but the truth is that nothing seems to make God more angry than when we refuse an invitation to the celebration of life itself.
But to please God is so easy. All you have to do is come. Come to church. Come to the celebrations of love and laughter in your life, with your whole self, not preoccupied or distracted, but being fully present. Come to the eucharist with your whole self, ready to love and be loved, ready to give and to receive, ready to accept that God wants you despite all your faults and foibles. You have been invited. All you have to do is come.