This morning’s gospel parable seems a bit odd to me. There is a wedding that no one seems to want to attend and then when people are pulled in off the street to come, there is the poor guy who doesn’t have on proper clothing so he gets thrown out! To me it is just peculiar and I wonder how best to approach it. What did Jesus intend for people to hear when he told this story?
First, I have to admit, I like weddings. Now, I know this is not true of everyone. But for me, there is something about seeing the pageantry, the colors, the flowers, the candles, and the clothing. I will even confess to watching the TV show, “Say Yes to the Dress” a time or two. And when I am at a wedding I love watching the joy-filled faces of those making the commitment as well as the family and friends who are there happily supporting the couple. It brings a smile to my face, always! Even if I have never met the couple; I still enjoy these events.
And, when it comes to a royal wedding, I cannot resist. When Diana and Charles married I got up in the middle of the night to watch it all. (That was before we could tape it to see it later.) I knew I would not be content with just the clips that would play over and over on the news; I wanted to experience it moment to moment from the very beginning to the very end
And so I did.
And even though I could have taped it to watch later, when Kate and William married I also got up in the dark to watch. I had my tea and scones ready and loved every minute of it.
So, today’s parable is jarring to me. How could anyone who would be invited to a royal wedding not anticipate it with joy and be eager to go! What busy-ness would prevent attending? Receiving such an invitation would be an honor. How could they take it so lightly and disrespect their king in such a way? If a king invites you, why wouldn’t you say yes?
Of course the story is meant to unsettle us. Jesus wants us to puzzle about what it could mean and how it speaks to us. If it were too easy to understand we might dismiss it quickly and not gain the nuggets of truth he is presenting.
This is the third in a series of parables Jesus told in the Temple near the end of his life to the established religious leaders of the time. These parables were written down by Matthew for the Jewish community many years later, sometime after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
There were many sects of Judaism and Temple worship had been the unifying theme for these various groups. So, when Matthew wrote these parables down, there was much turmoil and unrest among the groups represented in his listeners. The Pharisees felt that the law was the central identity of the Jews and that it was their place to be keepers of God’s law. Originally, in the parable, the king represented God, the son being married was Jesus and those who found excuses not to attend the feast were the Pharisees. The others who were the outcasts brought in by the slaves represented the gentiles to whom the Christian message was being taken.
So, that is a bit of history about the original hearers of this text. We know that we are not that audience. This parable was not written for us and yet God’s word continues to speak to people throughout time. Where do we see ourselves fitting into this parable?
A few weeks ago Emmanuel hosted the Illinois Conference of Churches annual assembly. This is an ecumenical group with representatives of about 20 different denominations across the state. These annual events are held at different churches in different towns each fall. I have enjoyed these meetings because I get to see the inside of different churches and to meet a variety of Christians from different backgrounds and traditions. My favorite part of these meetings is usually the conversations at meals and this year was no different.
I was seated next to an African-American man, a minister of a Baptist church, from the Chicago area. As has been my experience of Baptists, not making a generalization, just an observation, he was very well dressed with a colorful handkerchief in his pocket and a rose on his lapel. Someone at the table asked him about the flower and he gave a short discourse about current trends in men’s fashion.
Next, though, he turned to me and related a dream that he had recently had. In the dream there was a very large building made out of amber colored stone. He described it as similar to the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Springfield. If you have ever seen it the amber stone is very striking. The building in his dream was surrounded by stone walkways and lots paved with stone. It was all the same amber or light gold color.
There was a wedding or a large event about to happen inside the massive building and there was a line of people streaming up to the building. Everyone in the line was wearing white.
The rich were first and their clothing was top of the line. (The man, being interested in fashion, described the gowns and suits in detail.) They were in white cloth of the richest type, satins and silks. Those who were poorer in the line were wearing simpler clothing made of less expensive cloth. And those who were the poorest of all had on clothing made out of white paper. Yes, he repeated, paper. All races were in that line and people from all types of work and neighborhoods.
Everyone was dressed in white and walking towards that cathedral. No one was turning away. The line went on and on.
It was quite a dream and one he had forgotten until that moment but then told it to me with much detail. He said that what it meant to him was that God’s kingdom is for everyone. Everyone is invited and there is a place for all.
I listened intently and got a few goose bumps as I knew what lessons I would preach about today. This man did not know that; he had just remembered his dream and wanted to tell it. I was the one who happened to be next to him at that moment. What a wonderful dream and I am grateful he shared it with me.
Yes, this dream for me is the main point of today’s parable. God, who is our king, invites everyone to his kingdom, absolutely everyone, the good and the bad together. While the Pharisees might have been the original group to be invited now the invitation is for everyone. And, if you want to accept that invitation you are welcome to put on that white garment and join the procession to go towards God and to share in his banquet.
What about that special garment though, what meaning does that carry? Calvin, in his commentary on the text offers this explanation which to me makes sense. He looked to Paul who said in two different epistles that when we are baptized, we put on the Lord Jesus Christ, or we are clothed in Christ.
I like the image of being clothed in Christ. It helps me to remember that we are protected and comforted by Christ who is next to us all the time, as close as our skin. Being clothed in Christ, is like those white garments in my friend’s dream! His clothing is not a fashion statement but rather an indication that we are all welcomed to receive the same salvation as others.
So where do we who are seated here this morning appear in this story? For the most part I think those of us here, have received God’s invitation already. We have said yes to that invitation. And again, I think for most of us here we have clothed ourselves in Christ through our baptisms. We may find our clothing in need of some cleaning occasionally or some refreshing but in general we have said yes and we understand the meaning that yes carries. So where are we in the parable?
Where we are right now, I think, is poised to be the servants. We are the ones prepared to carry God’s invitation to others. Where the parable can speak to us at Emmanuel Church in 2014, is that we are to take the invitation to all others, both those who look and act like us and to those who do not look or act like us. The invitation, after all, is not ours, it is Gods. We are God’s servants taking His invitation to the world. And what an invitation it is! God offers us the best of the best parties; we are welcomed to join the celebration and to bring others to it. How can we say no?
How can we say no?