If you break today's parable into three parts, you have 1) the obvious, 2) the comfortable, and 3) the uneasy. The first part of the parable is seen in every walk of life, in every community, on every continent. It's obvious what is going to happen when the first invitations go out to those people. At a very early age we learned who was "in" and who was "out." It is told at dinner tables, over tea, sipping coffee, and on the way to worship. You know from experience what happens next. It's comfortable. This is how our people respond to "those people"--how they live their life or worship or "call themselves Christian," or worst of all in this day and age, how they vote. So when we hear about "those people" in today's parable, it's obvious that they are going to laugh at the invitation. As a matter of fact, it's pretty clear that they are serious enemies, because they even kill a few of the servants. That's what enemies do. It's obvious. These lines have been drawn all over society and all over the world for generations.
The second invitation is theological comfort food to our ears. "You're invited. Come to the party. Join us at the table. You're one of us." It's beautiful, because this invitation is unconditional. It's like a sower throwing seed everywhere. This is the God we all know and love, because it's the God who loves us without a label, without credentials, without a worry about where we live, how we earn a living, or what family we are born into. It's just pure old-fashioned Grace.
As a child, this is the God I met at church camp. When summer rolled around and I rolled into camp, I knew I would catch a glimpse of this God. I knew Christ's light was shining during that one week. People from all across Georgia came together from different schools, different socio-economic backgrounds, different everything; and, yet, it's where I felt most comfortable. I could let down the facades, relinquish the pretenses, drop the disguises and just be me. This was my original definition of church.
However, the very notion of a diverse community is somewhat at odds with our more basic human instinct. It has been scientifically proven that we are drawn to "our people." We can even identify our people without even seeing them. A recent study actually identified a person's accent--how we talk--as the number one detector of whether or not we can trust one another. It's the first litmus test for trust. "Are you from my tribe?" is equal to "Can you be trusted?"
So far, this parable is perfect for those of you listening to this program--including me. It makes room for all of us. We have clearly been invited to the table. Who else would be listening to a sermon on the radio? I might venture a little further to say you are not only invited, you are probably on the inside. You might even be the kind of servant who sends out invitations by preaching the Good News of God's Grace week in and week out.
But something uneasy happens near the end of the parable. Jesus looks at all of "our people" sitting around the table. Here we are, bowing our heads about to say grace. Silence ensues as we wait for those comfortable words. Suddenly, without warning, he tosses one of us out of the room. Just like that, some poor soul whose only offense was wearing the wrong clothes is out. It's unfair. We were called from the streets. How could any of us be prepared on such short notice? As we hear the footsteps fade down the hall and a good old biblical weeping and gnashing of teeth begin to swell up the hall, Jesus looks us in the eye and simple says, "Many are called, but few are chosen."
At this point all the Calvinists in the house, can say AMEN. But...if you are still feeling a little uneasy with this whole scene, then you are right where Jesus wants you. It's like the Facebook quote I have seen going around lately: "Sitting in church and calling yourself a Christian is like sitting in a garage and calling yourself a car." Many are called, but few are chosen.
This third part of the parable is uneasy, because it calls all our childhood, warm-fuzzy, kumbaya, love-round, camp theologies into question. The comfortable word "Grace" comes face to face with the uneasy world we live in today. It makes us realize that there is more to being a Christian than just being invited to the table. Our call to be the body of Christ in the world can be tested by the fruits that are produced while we're sitting at the table. These fruits are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Being at the table is supposed to fill us with joy, like a party. The lesson in this parable is that the party doesn't begin until we are dressed for it.
So how do we know if you are dressed properly? By now I hope you know this is not about clothes; it's about being prepared. The bride is prepared for her bridegroom. Christ is at the altar waiting and we (the church) are at the door with the trumpet voluntary about to begin. This is the moment we have all been waiting for. Are you prepared?
Well, the only way to find out is to look at the world around you.
- Have you read the newspaper this morning or heard the headlines?
- What did you see or hear?
- Do you know someone suffering or in pain?
- Is there a place near you that has been impoverished?
- Have you seen anyone hungry?
- Do you know where the closest nursing home is located?
- Is there a jail or prison nearby?
- Do you have a friend who is living a life that only leads to more suffering?
- Do you know someone who needs something--anything?
- Has your heart been broken by what you read, hear, or see in the world?
So the question "Are you dressed properly?" is easy to answer. Simply look at what you are doing to heal the sick, to free the oppressed, to comfort the broken-hearted, to be a peacemaker.
We have all been called by the same invitation. It's Grace. Your response to God's love is the garment.
So we are at the table, we are filled with God's love. Now we are trying to decide what to do. Let's go back to the beginning of the parable. What is your response to "those people?" Those are the people who don't worship like us or believe like us or vote like us. Those people are in the headlines, on the streets, in the nursing homes, at war with each other, or maybe right next door. Ironically, they are the very ones who are going to show you what you need to be wearing to this incredible feast that God has invited you to.
So where does the rubber hit the road? Let me give you a few examples. Here is a glimpse at the garment I am privileged to wear from time to time. It looks like this:
A woman is coming to a checkpoint in the middle of the holy land. A young soldier is walking towards her. It is the same scene that happens a thousand times a day. It is probably happening right now. It's told at dinner tables, over tea, sipping coffee, and on the way to worship. All of those stories are playing through their minds as they approach one another, "You are the enemy." It's obvious. You know from experience what happens next. It's comfortable. This is how our people respond to those people. Instead, this day, at this moment, the pattern is broken. It is uneasy. His is a polite gesture to check a bag. Hers is a gracious response in Hebrew. Once the transaction is over, the woman says to the soldier, "I have only experienced respect like that in a peace movement that I attended years ago. He had attended that same program years before this moment.
This garment is called Kids4Peace. It is a youth movement that (was) started by someone just like you who believes, "The violence has to stop, because we are all created in the image of God."
Here is another garment with local impact. A woman has five children living in a two-bedroom apartment. The father is in a detention center waiting to be deported. The mom speaks very little English and cleans houses for a living. The oldest child is in the third grade and can hardly read. The teacher calls a meeting with the mother in the middle of a work day in the middle of the week. It is the same scene that happens a thousand times a day. It is probably happening right now. It's told at dinner tables, over tea, sipping coffee, and on the way to worship. All of those stories are playing through their minds as they approach one another, "You are poor." It's obvious. You know from experience what happens next. It's comfortable. This is how our people respond to those people. Instead this day, at this moment, the pattern is broken. It is uneasy. Instead of the mom approaching the teacher, a mentor from an afterschool program meets with the teacher. The mentor learns how to work with the child, and she passes the third grade. The next year she not only passes the fourth grade, she makes incredible grades. Realizing the potential that this child has, the mentor asks the local church school's principal if there is room in their fifth grade. Because of the mentor's support and the openness of the school to serve the other, this child will break out the cycle of poverty.
This is a garment called Path to Shine. It was started by someone like you who realized literacy is a root cause of poverty in our society.
Google any problem in the world--or locally--and put your church's denominational name next to it, and you will see a wedding garment. Try it on and if it doesn't fit, do something uneasy and create your own wedding garment fit to your exact size, tailored to your exact gifts.
So here we are at the wedding party. We are invited every Sunday. It has nice sturdy pews and a bright shiny pulpit from which to deliver the invitation. It is comfortable. The uneasy part is responding to the invitation by going out into the world and being with those people, listening to their stories, allowing our hearts to be broken. Knowing that God loves you--as much as God promises to love us all--means that you have already been called. Sharing that love with "those people" shows the world that not only have you been called, but you have also been chosen.
Let us pray. Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us that we may continually be given to good works for Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.