The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Call me socially insecure, but I would hate to show up wearing shorts, a Lady Gaga t-shirt and flip flops when everyone else is wearing a suit and tie, or cocktail dress. I do notice these things – what others are wearing. So I wonder what’s up with the fellow at the wedding feast. Doesn’t he notice he’s out of place? I wish Jesus hadn’t said some of the things he did. All the killing, city burning, and throwing a poor shmuck into outer darkness because someone isn’t dressed right doesn’t exactly fit my image of God.
A little background: In Jesus’ day a king provided festive garments for their guests to wear at a wedding banquet. The fellow tossed into the dark dumpster of weeping and teeth gnashing must have refused to dress for the party. At least he came as invited when others didn’t – that’s to his credit. But it turns out that being at this party takes more than showing up.
Here we are. We come each week to rehearse for life in a kingdom to come. Showing up is the first step. You do understand why you’re here – and you are dressed appropriately for where you are today right?
It’s not the clothes we actually wear to church that matters – contrary to what I was taught in my early years. In my home church, we learned you honor God by wearing your best to church. I was told God doesn’t care for jeans or shorts in His house, and you’d better wear socks or hose. “Remember the guy who didn’t dress up for the wedding party? You don’t want to get ejected, too.” Mom meant it – but later I learned Jesus didn’t mean it that way. I suspect he’s glad we show up.
We can get a little nervous about a king like this one – especially if we think the king equals God. But don’t go there. Keep the big picture in mind. The big picture is that God is serious about the party He throws. Everyone’s invited – the good and bad. Some refuse. The king’s mad so we can see how much he wants us to share His joy. It’s a literary device – an extreme. Granted he may need Prozac – but Matthew is saying, listen up. This is important. Pay attention here. When my mom wanted my attention, she never used her quiet, impassionate, churchy voice. She yelled and scared me. But I also know she wanted what she thought was best for me. God’s that way. No one needs be left out – that’s the point here. If we choose to stay away, we become as good as dead – not literally – but dead to what we’ve been made for. We’ll live in darkness, fear, and misery. This is serious. So when we see how generous, loving and forgiving God is – well, that’s the Spirit inviting us to the wedding feast. So respond by accepting the invite. We know God isn’t really like this king – or at least we hope He’s not.
God invites us to share His joy – but unlike this king, God is patient. It’s all over the gospels – God is like a shepherd who looks for one lost sheep. Like the prodigal’s dad, God waits for us to come home. Like the woman who loses, searches for, finds her lost dime and rejoices God won’t lose us. Everyone matters and is included. Keep in mind an image of a God who doesn’t give up on us. We may not realize we’re given an invitation. It’s not a once and done deal – offered and rescinded if initially rejected. God is patient with us – and wants us all to be His party. Maybe we don’t even think of church as a foretaste outpost of a feast and party. Maybe church is more boring – or a chore to come to. We forget where we are sometimes – a banquet, a feast, a party. We can make it dull, but God doesn’t. People do sometimes want to be here, like when their lives fall apart; when they are scared; when death takes a loved one; and even in times of joy – filled with gratitude, they don’t know where else to go. So – come on in to the party. And make sure you try on the party clothes – when you walk in the door.
Our wedding garments are hand-me-downs from above, from on high. At this party we are clothed in a new life – wed to Jesus, the bridegroom. We get our new clothes at baptism. It may take awhile for us to grow into them.
What do we look like in our party duds? We look like people who respect everyone else’s dignity; we care for others and give up resentments; we love one another generously with no strings attached. We show mercy, justice and unlimited kindness. We don’t just come to the party – stand around and sip champagne. Clothed from above we will feed the hungry, house the homeless, care for the sick, and stand with those who’ve lost their jobs, their homes, and their hope. And we keep coming week after week because we understand how generous and loving God is and we want nothing more but to grow into clothes of God’s kingdom life.
Belonging to a church doesn’t automatically qualify us to stay at God’s party. We must dress differently – clothed from above – intoxicated with divine love, revelers in divine joy. So, ask yourself: “Am I having fun yet? Can I live with hope and laughter even in the midst of pain and sometimes trouble? Can I trust that somehow everything works out, even when I don’t see how?” Step inside – hear the music, sip the wine, put on the garb of God’s life for you, and know you have a place in the heavenly conga line. With God it’s party time. Don’t miss it.