Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost / Oct. 9, 2005
Rev. Carol Kniseley / Resurrection Lutheran Church
Text: Matthew 22 : 1 – 14 / Title of sermon: Dressed to Live
If I were asked to categorize our church on Sunday morning, as to whether or not people like to “dress up” or “dress down”, I would have to say the answer is “yes”! Here at Resurrection, we seem to have a pretty good balance when it comes to folks who like to dress up…and folks who like to dress, shall we say, ‘casual’. Which may explain why some of us may be feeling a little bit uneasy about today’s parable…and the underdressed guest.
Notice first of all, that we are talking about a very special occasion: a wedding. Some scholars say that wedding hosts often provided garments for their guests in those days, the same way some restaurants provide a dinner jacket and tie for guests who show up in shirtsleeves. Assuming that was true…then the focus automatically shifts from the king to the guest…and the real question becomes: why did he refuse to put on the robe that was offered to him? What made him think that he could simply show up dressed as he was…and that it did not matter? Especially to the king?
Either way we look at it, this is not just any ordinary story being told by Jesus. It is an elaborate “allegory” in which everything has a deeper meaning. My little pea brain tells me that the only way for us to hear this story and to make any sense out of it…is to understand the story behind it. Which was, by the way, Jesus’ disappointment…that so few of God’s own people were responding to the invitation to celebrate with God’s own son. Prophets had invited them…but many of them killed the prophets. Then, in AD 70, the holy city of Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome. It was then that, thanks largely to the efforts of the Apostle Paul, Gentiles began gracing the doors of what had largely been a Jewish community of Christ’s followers. All of a sudden, the early church found all of these people making their way to the Lord’s table…with no real sense of what it meant for them to be there.
As far as they were concerned, one merely showed up in God’s presence however you wanted to show up because Jesus had squared everything with God forever. The invitation to the heavenly banquet was to “come as you are”. All were welcome and nothing was required: no fancy clothes, no etiquette, not even an RSVP.
“I don’t think so,” says the Gospel writer, Matthew, according to today’s story. Being an invited guest does not mean you may do as you please. Being invited at the last minute does not mean that anything goes. People of God…you…have been invited to feast with the king! Now is the time to rise to the occasion! The underdressed wedding guest got bounced because he would not do that. Maybe he thought he was doing the king a favor, by showing up at all and helping to eat food that might otherwise go to waste. Whatever he was thinking, he did not rise to the occasion. Instead, he demeaned it…by refusing to change. And now, I don’t believe Jesus is talking about merely changing his clothes.
Like everything else in this story, the wedding robe has a deeper meaning. It is not a white linen tunic embroidered with gold thread. It is a whole way of life…one that honors the king, one that recognizes the privilege of being called into his presence, even if the invitation arrives at the last minute. The underdressed guest mistake was not that he showed up in shorts. It was that he showed up short on grace…and thought no one would notice.
If we think that this story is only good for addressing a given situation that occurred in the life of the early church…then I would advice us to listen up. The same type of situation happens over and over again right here every Sunday morning. Everyone in Spotsylvania County was invited to be here this morning…people who claim to know God…and people who don’t even have a clue. But, as you can see, some of them had other things to do. Some are at work…others are sleeping in…some are out jogging or even mowing the grass. But before we start pointing the finger at anyone else, we best remember the real intent of Jesus’ story.
When the king’s slaves went out to recruit the second batch of guests, they gathered “all whom they found…both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests”. You and I both know that for our own good and bad reasons, this is the invitation that we decided to accept this morning. Like the underdressed guest, some of us have rolled in here without thinking much about why we are here. We have come with our spiritual shirt-tails hanging out hoping that no one will really notice how we, too, have refused to change. We refuse to surrender our deepest fears and resentments. We refuse to share our God-given gifts with those in need, including our wealth. We refuse to accept every single human being as a person worthy of God’s saving grace. These are the old clothes we wear to the king’s banquet…the clothes we obviously prefer to the wedding robe of new life. Or so it seems.
The telling part is…that is exactly what caught the king’s attention in today’s parable. As soon as the king enters the banquet hall, he notices that one guest is not wearing a wedding robe and he says, “Friend, how did you get in here…without a wedding robe?” In other words, God is not merely looking for warm bodies to fill the space in these pews. God is looking for wedding guests who will rise to the occasion of honoring his Son. I believe we can do that…whether we are dressed in shorts and flip flops or suits and high heels because…our wedding robe is not made to reflect the latest fashion nor of the finest silk.
Our wedding robes are made from the whole fabric of our lives using patterns that God has given to us. Patterns of loving-kindness, peace, and most of all… love. When we stitch them up…and put them on…you know what? We look absolutely ‘marvelous’! Now I ask us, seriously, why in the world would we ever want to wear anything else? As followers of Jesus Christ…we wouldn’t. As the apostle Paul often said, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ…and live.” Amen