Come to the table – What to wear

Isaiah 55:8-9

Matthew 22:1-15

Almost everything we do in life has a “dress code” of sorts.  As we head off to work it can include hard hats and steel toed shoes, scrubs, hair nets and white coats or aprons, business suits or business casual, blue jeans and work shirts, and the list goes on.

The dress codes are often based on safety concerns: first responder volunteers and professionals need special gear to protect them from the environment in which they work; work crews on our roadways need bright colors so motorists can see them, medical professionals wear gloves and masks to protect themselves as well as patients, law enforcement officers wear bullet proof vests for obvious reasons.

The dress code can also be based on requirements of the job.  Teachers sitting on the floor with kindergarten students or supervising on a playground need different clothes than a lawyer representing a client in a courtroom.  A professional athlete needs different clothing than the sports caster.

Differences in dress come from cultural and religious expectations as well.  The surgeon caring for our daughter earlier this year is of a faith that requires women to wear full covering of their head and face, and the medical clothing companies can provide an operating room version to meet this specific need.  There are Yamakas, Amish hats and bonnets, turbans, veils, and numerous head coverings which reflect beliefs of a variety of communities of faith.

As members of organizations, there are garments we are expected to wear when participating in their activities.  Musical groups often wear white tops and black bottoms, robes, or matching uniforms.  Triangle girls wear gowns with colors representing certain positions in the organization.  Scouts wear uniforms reflecting their level in scouting.  Military personnel have specific uniforms based on branch of the service, as well as rank.

We even have dress codes in our homes and our churches, setting guidelines and holding one another accountable, as to what we think is appropriate in particular circumstances.

Scripture calls us to a wedding banquet this morning where a dress code seems to have significant consequences.

We hear in this morning’s passage from Matthew that Jesus compares this wedding banquet to the Kingdom of God, of which we are part, making this dress code applicable to all of us.

An invitation to this banquet has been extended to those who one would expect to be invited by the culture of the day, and likely by us.  As was the custom of the time, there was an initial invitation to those who would seem to have a reason to come, a connection to the King who has issued the invitation.  They needed to respond well in advance of the event and a reminder invitation was customary, to which they should be prepared to respond pretty much immediately, because it came when all the preparations were complete.

The “A” list had notice they were invited to this important celebration, but they didn’t prepare or weren’t interested in accepting the invitation and had every excuse imaginable to not come when called to the party.  Some went as far as killing the messengers who called them to the banquet.  Backing out at the last minute was an insult to the King, and mistreating and killing the messengers significantly worse than an insult.

We now find ourselves in a similar setting as the one we explored a couple of weeks ago, when we looked at God’s guest list.   Those who no one would expect to be welcome at the King’s table are invited in.   The servants are instructed to go into the main streets, to invite everyone they find to this amazing meal.  They gather in both good and bad; so the wedding hall is filled with guests.

Then dress code surfaces and one guest is ejected from the party for not wearing a wedding garment.  At first it can seem this open invitation from the King becomes narrow minded.  It is hard to believe any of the guests came in appropriate dress.  They were called in off of the street with no notice.  They didn’t begin their day expecting to be guests at the King’s celebration.  The King said call them all, no criteria set on how they were to be dressed to receive the invitation.

That is because there was no expectation of how the guests would be dressed upon arrival.  It was the custom of the time that no one needed to be concerned about proper dress for the wedding banquet.  The host provided wedding garments for all the guests.  This guest then, was invited to the celebration, accepted and came, but then failed to, or refused to accept the wedding garment provided.  Not wearing the robe provided by the host was a sign of disrespect to the King and to the groom.  The guest did not honor the gift, and the result of the guest’s action or lack of action, depending on how we look at it, is difficult to hear.  The consequences are significant, as the guest is cast out of the party and into the darkness.

I think we all are represented somewhere in this parable.

We may be the first ones invited.  We are in church on a regular basis, do good things for other people, pray, bring our offerings.  We identify as followers of Christ.  Yet there may be things God is calling us to do which we are ignoring or purposely setting aside because we have too many things to do to take on one more, or we don’t think it is as important as what we are doing now, or we think we don’t have the resources necessary.

We may be in the group called in from the streets.  Something about God’s invitation stirred us, the good and the bad in us, to come to the table, to accept God’s grace available to us all, regardless of our spiritual location or how we were dressed when called.  We put on the clothing required, accepted the gift, and fully committed to the celebration.

We may be the one who accepted the invitation, but hasn’t put on the wedding garment provided at the door, thinking just saying “yes” was all that was necessary.

As we gain understanding of this “wedding garment” we are better prepared to see what it has to do with our day to day lives and our faith journey.

As a gift at the door of the feast, the wedding garment is put on by each guest as they enter.  Early Christian theology frequently uses the metaphor of putting on clothing to illustrate a new life in Christ that followers are expected to embrace.

 

Galatians 3:27

27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Colossians 3:12

12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

Ephesians 6:11

11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

 

John Wesley, in his sermon “On the Wedding Garment” identifies holiness as the true “wedding garment,” as he reflects in this passage.   Holiness that comes from “the energy of God, working love to God and all mankind, and by this love, every holy and heavenly temper – in particular, lowliness, meekness, gentleness, temperance, and longsuffering.”  For Wesley it wasn’t about ritual, following a set of human rules, but about “keeping the commandments of God; particularly:“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself.” In a word, holiness is having “the mind that was in Christ,” and “walking as Christ walked.”

The holiness without which no man shall see the Lord” as recorded in (Hebrews 12:14)[1]

Methodism is a movement equally intent on inviting people to experience God’s justifying grace and on creating the contexts in which they can more reliably grow in God’s sanctifying grace, into “entire holiness,” toward “Christian perfection.”

Last week I was asked to talk to some young women in the band to which Ken and I belong.  Our male band “disciplinarian” was concerned over the length of skirts the girls were wearing on stage and the lack of respect for the organization and for themselves it suggested.  They regularly participated in practices and concerts.  Played well, contributing to the musicality of the group, but their clothing was not appropriate for the role they have as members of the organization.  They had not fully committed to the band’s image.  As it turns out, they didn’t understand what was required of them, and by the next week they had acquired appropriate clothing for someone sitting on an elevated stage.

The quick reaction to the guest without the proper garment indicates that guest knew what was expected and chose to delay or to refused to do what was required.

God invites us all to the banquet, to sit at the table with the bridegroom.  We aren’t entitled because of how much we know, how religious we are, if we have done many great things, or if our community looks to us for leadership.  We aren’t entitled because someone else refused or is unworthy of a place at the table.

Our worthiness is based on God’s invitation, on Christ’s blood poured out so that All might be saved, on the wedding garment God provides us when we accept the invitation by showing up.  We don’t earn any of this, our worthiness is a gift from God, whose thoughts and ways, as we were reminded this morning with the Isaiah passage, are not our thoughts and ways.

All sorts of people accept the King’s invitation, good and bad, yet only one remains without the garment on which the king supplied.  Everyone else is wearing it.  That makes me wonder if sometimes I am evaluating whether someone else is wearing the appropriate “wedding garment” and not looking at whether I am all in on the celebration, clothed in the robe prepared for me by my savior, or if I only have my arm in one sleeve, not ready to commit fully to the things I need to do to have “the mind that was in Christ,” and “walk as Christ walked.”  To hang on to things that aren’t in line with holy living.  To work on me and just love others as Christ has loved me.

As we invite others to the banquet, which I believe all of us here want to do,  it doesn’t matter what “culturally appropriate,” “fashion minded,” “safety focused” earthly clothing we put on.  It matters if we are fully committed to putting on Christ and living and loving one another in ways that reflect we have put on the “wedding garment” of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience and are celebrating our place at the King’s table and are filled with the Light of the World.

This is an amazing feast God doesn’t want anyone to miss it.  Let’s put on the clothes that reflect our commitment to and appreciation of the celebration.

[1] The Sermons of John Wesley – Sermon 120 On The Wedding Garment.”  Copyright 1999 by the Wesley Center for Applied Theology.  Text may be freely used for personal or scholarly purposes or mirrored on other websites, provided this notice is left intact.  Any use of this material for commercial purposes of any kind is strictly forbidden without the express permission of the Wesley Center at Northwest Nazarene University, Nampa, ID 83686.

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