First United Methodist Church
October 15th, 2023
Rev. Lauren Hall
Dressing Up for the Wedding
I don’t think that I was able to grasp the depth of this particular parable until a few years ago when I stood in the check-out line at Kohls and the person in front of me was purchasing a huge pile of dress-up clothes – dresses, suits, dress shirts, ties, socks, shoes, those types of things. It looked like everyone in the household was getting a new set of clothes. Because there wasn’t any major sale going on, the final cost was around $700.
The cashier, in an effort to be conversational, said, “You must be getting ready for a special occasion.” “Yes,” the woman responded. “We’re going to a funeral.”
When I heard that, I felt really bad for them, because not only were they mourning the loss of a loved one, but now they had a $700 price tag for clothes that they were not expecting to have to buy and probably wouldn’t wear much afterwards.
Now, I’ve always attended church, and so I have always had at least one set of clothes that I would consider appropriate to wear to a wedding or a funeral. Since I normally know about weddings several months in advance, sometimes I’ll go out and get something new, but usually I have something available, so it’s not always a major expense.
But…I think that it was this experience that helped me to get beyond the last verse and truly think about what Jesus was trying to say. Usually whenever I read, “’Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” my jaw drops, because this is not the God that I am familiar with.
I want to say, “But God is love!” How can you throw out a guy who was invited at the last minute because he isn’t wearing the proper clothes?
I want to go straight to 1 John 4 and respond to Jesus, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through him.”
That’s the God I know. I could do love sermons every week, but if I skipped all the scriptures I wasn’t comfortable with, my relationship with God would be shallow and unrealistic.
If you heard this parable with the understanding that it was customary for wedding guests to be given garments to wear to the banquet, would the ending make a little more sense? Because now, rather than being condemned for doing the best that he could on short notice, instead, he is refusing to wear the garments that were given to him, and the host could only assume that the guest was so arrogant that he thought he didn’t need these garments. Now, it almost seems reasonable that the King was so furious.
In Kingdom terms, the wedding clothes represent the righteousness necessary to enter God’s kingdom, and that righteousness is the total acceptance in God’s eyes that Christ gives to every believer. Christ has provided this garment of righteousness for everyone, but each person must choose to put it on in order to enter the King’s banquet, or eternal life. All people are invited to put on the righteousness of Christ, but not all are willing to do it.
Many years ago, I spoke with a young man who had been introduced to Christianity through our camp ministry, and he liked working for us. He told me that at our camp, people cared about each other and that was different from other places he had worked. During our conversation we discussed Christianity, and I asked him why he was so against the church. He responded that he wasn’t really against the church, most of the people he met who went to church were pretty good people and he liked being around us, but there were too many rules. I tried to explain that we didn’t do the things we did because we had to, we did them because we wanted to. Christ changes us, and once we place Christ in the center of our lives, sometimes the things that we once held sacred aren’t as important anymore. He told me he liked his life, and he didn’t feel like changing it. This young man [Jaye] was willing to go to the wedding, but he didn’t want to wear the clothes. The good news is that while he worked for us, he was able to have positive experiences with Christianity, and he did learn a little bit about Christ along the way.
And so, knowing that the wedding guest was given the clothes he needed and refused to wear them, I can accept the reaction of the king, but I still have problems with the weeping and gnashing of teeth. This still is not the God I know. God is love. So let’s dig a little deeper. In verses five through seven, Jesus explains that the people who had accepted his initial invitation ignored his announcement when the feast was ready.
In 1st century culture, two invitations were expected when wedding dinners were given. The first invitation asked the guests to attend; the second announced that all was ready. In this parable, the king, or God, invited his guests three times – and each time they refused to come. God wants us to join him at his banquet, which will last for eternity. That’s why he sends us invitations again and again. Consider this:
- Eve wanted more than what she was given by God. She turned away from God and sought happiness from the things of the world.
- Lot saw the prosperity of the world and claimed it, rather than trusting that God would provide all that was needed on the barren land that he left for Abraham.
- The Hebrews begged Samuel to anoint a human king, rather than accepting God as their king.
- Solomon formed treaties through his marriages, ultimately resulting in the division of Judah and Israel.
- Judah formed treaties with Egypt in order to secure protection from Assyria. Egypt betrayed them, allowing Israel to be overrun while they secured their own borders.
- King Herod turned Jesus over to Pontius Pilot to have him killed. Jesus defeated death. The Romans then destroyed the Temple.
Every time the Jewish people turned away from God and trusted the world to resolve their problems, the world has betrayed them. Weeping and gnashing of teeth – that’s the world betraying us. We put ourselves in these situations when we trust the world more than we trust God.
We’ve all done this, declined invitations. Sometimes our ill health or injury gets in the way; other times we are in sorrow; ……there are a whole host of reasons we decline invitations.
In our Gospel lesson, the king invites those of great importance — but they have too many other things going on in their lives, so they reject and decline the invitation of the king. So the next invitation goes out to those who were not the first chosen — these were the common ones, the workers, the impoverished. I am sure that king would have been pleased if some of those first invited ones had attended, but the king was not going to reserve a seat for them. If there was still room left over, they could come in.
It is easy for us to make a jump to the comparisons of the Pharisees, who would have among those first invited because of their status and influence in the community and those who were poor, perhaps foreign born or “Gentiles” as they were so often called. But I believe that the comparison can go further — or perhaps closer … to us.
John Wesley worked very hard to develop habits for faith formation. One of the practices he encouraged was self-reflection. When we retire at night, we constructively review our day. Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life?
Now, if you work in Mental Health, you know that this kind of reflection can lead to self-hatred, so it’s important to pair this reflection with thinking about how you can be a blessing to others.
Jan Richardson, one of my favorite spiritual advisors, encourages us to think about how we might be a blessing to others. On awakening let us think about the twenty-four hours ahead. Consider your plans for the day. What might we do to be kind and loving? Think about what we can do for others, or what we can contribute to the larger stream of life.
And of course, we aske for God to direct our thinking, to help us determine which course to take. We ask God for inspiration, an intuitive thought or a decision. We ask for God’s guidance.
There are so many ways God invites us to celebrate and then to serve. But it is easy for us to get side-tracked.
Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And that means that every person here is important. Each one of us has the responsibility to help create a welcoming space for those who come seeking the presence of God in their lives. Seekers come from all walks of life. The young man I spoke about, or a person like him, might walk through our doors, following the experience he had someplace else. We have to be ready. We have to be prepared to offer hope.
No invitation should be taken for granted. This text reminds us of the grace of God. If God acted the way we do, there wouldn’t be a second invitation, and there certainly wouldn’t be a third. God chooses to focus on remembering the covenant: God’s love and God’s desire for creation to be redeemed.
No matter where you go in this world, wear the clothes of righteousness. Allow the light of Christ to shine through you, so that others might wear them also.
I think a lot of the problems we’re facing in the world today are a result of too many different sets of clothing being passed out. We have been invited to God’s banquet, and we need to wear the clothes that Christ has given us.
Let us pray…
Lord, you have invited us to participate in your eternal kingdom. Place in our arms the garments that you would have us wear. Open our hearts and minds to your loving presence, and guide us every moment of our lives. May our lives be a reflection of your grace and love, and may your Holy Spirit empower us to reach out to others and glorify your name in our words and in our actions. In Christ’s holy name we pray. Amen.
Invitation to Discipleship:
You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven – Matthew 5:14-16. Go in Peace.