Sunday, October 09, 2011

Preach One: Proper 23A

Preached at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, Forest, MS.

Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

From time to time at St. Andrew's Lower School I get comments on my clothes.  Sometimes it is a compliment.  I like your skirt, a child says, tugging on it.  I like your bracelet.  I like your cross.  Most of the time, though, the comments are about my blouse, especially about the white collar at the top.  What is that? they ask.  Why do you wear that?  I got a new question about the collar a few days ago, from a kindergartener: How do you get that off?  I didn't tell him that every priest wonders exactly the same thing by about 1:30 pm on Sunday afternoons.

I usually tell children the collar is like a uniform, something I wear to work every day, something that helps people know what my job is.  Whey they see someone dressed like me, they can know that person is probably someone who leads prayers and talks about God.  People who do other jobs wear different kinds of uniforms, like nurses, firemen, soldiers, and chefs.  We can tell what people do by what they wear.

So it is also, it seems, for those who are called and chosen by God.  I don't mean clergy; I mean all of us, for we are all of us invited by grace to be part of God's best plans for the world.  In the parable we have just heard Jesus tell, the King gathers everyone who will come, until the great hall prepared for a wedding feast is filled.  The kingdom may be compared to this, Jesus says.

It is not a favorite parable among preachers, who would gladly exchange their uniforms for just about any other on the Sunday this story is read.  One more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, Matthew begins, but already we are anxious.  In the last parable we heard, an angry landowner took terrible revenge on the tenants who refused to give him his harvest, who killed his servants and even his son.  We much prefer parables about scattering seeds, working the fields, tending sheep, and finding lost things.

This parable, though, is uncomfortably like the last.  An angry king takes terrible revenge on the townspeople who refused to come to his table, who killed his servants and dishonored his son.  Still, we might make sense of both stories by supposing that all who choose their own gain simply cannot live in a vineyard or a kingdom ruled by grace.  It would utterly destroy them.

And yet there is a vineyard to lease, this time to tenants who will gladly give first fruits to the landowner.  There is a wedding feast to share, this time with guests who will gladly come to the table.  The King sends out another round of invitations, instructing his remaining servants to go out into the streets to tell everyone they can find, both good and bad, that the King is waiting to welcome them.

What do you wear to a royal wedding?  Dress blues?  Glittering gowns?  Extravagant hats?  Long white gloves?  A collar?  It is important to wear the right thing, for the King can tell what we do by what we wear.  And, apparently, by what we do not wear.

He noticed there a man who was not wearing a wedding robe... Neither Jesus nor Matthew describes the missing garment or tells just what it means, leaving us to stare into our own wardrobes and wonder whether we, too, will be thrown into outer darkness.  We have been invited to the wedding feast.  Are we properly attired?

From start to finish, our holy scriptures are concerned with what we wear.  Why do you wear that? God asks Adam and Eve in the garden, and soon they are clothed not just in fig leaves but animal skins and whatever else they can find to hide their shame.  One day, though, marvels the writer of Revelation, those who have risen above living for themselves alone will wear white robes washed clean as a lamb.

"We are naked, literally and metaphorically, before the living God," writes Garcia Grindal, scholar and poet.  "We need to be dressed, not with the sartorial choices of our own will, but with the grace of God."  And so we are urged in scripture to put on Christ (Romans 13:14), to robe ourselves in righteousness (Ephesians 4:24), to clothes ourselves, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

Each of us, all of us, good and bad, are invited by grace to be part of God's best plans for the world.  We are entrusted with the care of the vineyard.  We are invited to the wedding feast - not just a one-night affair, but a lifetime, even an eternity, as guests at God's groaning board.  What will we wear?

Our closets are full of clothes we have chosen to make ourselves look good, to make ourselves look successful, to make ourselves look important, to make ourselves look worthy, or at least like we're worth more than others.  We put on whatever we can find to hide our shame, our doubt, our anger, our selfishness, our weakness, our sin, our vulnerability, our nakedness before God.

But the invitation to kingdom life asks of us a willingness to garb ourselves in kingdom qualities, to wear love and mercy and forgiveness and humility and forgiveness and vulnerability and welcome on our sleeve.  Without that garment, even grace cannot keep us in the door, although perhaps the glimmer of good news in this parable is that grace will search the streets for us again and again until we are dressed and ready.  For even the disgraced guest is called friend...

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.  He sent his servants, saying, "Tell those who have been invited, which is to say, everyone, the good and the bad: Look, I have prepared my dinner...and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet."  We are invited.  We are called.  What will we wear?

May God's grace precede and follow us to the table, urging us to put on Christ, to wrap ourselves up in a life like his, loving and serving with gladness and singleness of heart, gaining not ourselves but a kingdom.  Amen.

Artwork: "The Party," by Jim Janknegt; "Waiting," by Nancy Stoller; "Claiming Table," artist unknown.

1 comment:

"If Life Permits" said...

I always love to hear and read two entirely different interpretations of the Gospel. Girl you have a gift of writing and interpreting the Gospel.