“Dressed for Dinner”
October 5, 2014
Do you ever wish that Jesus would just
leave well enough alone?
In this morning’s gospel lesson, Jesus
tells a parable about the kingdom of heaven. As we’ve walked through the Gospel
of Matthew in recent months, we’ve heard all manner of parables about the realm
of heaven. It is a strange, new reality
that God is slowly establishing in this world. I’ve reminded you often in these
months that the realm of heaven is not so much a matter of what will happen to
us after we die as it is of how we might act in order to be fully alive now. It’s
hard to talk about something like that directly. It was hard even for Jesus to
do that. So we have these stories of Jesus help us imagine what is coming into
being, what it is that we are seeking when we pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will
be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
A king prepares a wedding banquet and
sends people out to gather the invited guests.
And they won’t come.
Of course, things don’t turn out too well
either for those who refuse to attend or for those who are sent to invite them.
Still in need of guests, the king sends others
out into the streets of the city to invite anyone and everyone they can find. As
a result, both the good and the bad find themselves seated in a great hall,
ready to eat.
Now, that’s a good parable. The last are
first. We can imagine that even we might be included in such mixed company.
This “kingdom of heaven” sounds like a pretty good deal.
This parable is included in the Gospel
of Luke and it ends right there—on a high note, with an encouraging word.
In Matthew’s Gospel, however, Jesus
won’t—well, Jesus won’t just leave well enough alone.
There we are—the good and the bad—seated
at the great table, surprised and glad to be there, ready to eat.
And the king walks in…
He looks around and notices someone who
is not wearing a wedding robe. It could be one of the good people. It could be
one of the bad. It could be you. It could be me.
What is this?
How did you get in here dressed like
And this king who had so desperately
looked for guests tells his servants: “Bind this person hand and foot, and
throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of
It could be you. It could be me.
It’s not the story I wanted to hear. And
given the state of our world, it doesn’t really seem like the story any of us needed to hear.
A few weeks ago, writing an Op-ed in the
New York Times, Roger Cohen called this “a time of unraveling.” He listed
beheadings, aggression, breakup, weakness, hatred, fever, and disorientation as
signs of our times. The next day a usually snarky columnist in the Daily Iowan seemed to echo these
thoughts, writing with some sense of sobriety, “Apparently, the whole world is
falling apart right before our eyes.”
The world is coming apart at the
seams—and this is what we hear: our main concern should be what we’re wearing
What’s going on?
Recall the words of Isaiah that we heard
I will greatly
rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being
shall exalt in my God;
for God has
clothed me with the garments of salvation,
God has covered
me with the robe of righteousness.
“Righteousness” often suggests a smug self-satisfaction.
In reality, righteousness is a characteristic of good relationships.
Whatever upholds a relationship—acts of faithfulness, love,
understanding—whatever upholds a relationship is righteous. Unrighteous acts
break the covenants we make with each other and with God.
When we seek to restore positive relationships with each other, with
our neighbors, with other nations, we are involved in acts of righteousness.
Those are that acts that will bring peace.
Rabbi Michael Lerner gives a good
description of how we came to our present unraveling:
We’ve learned to close our ears when told that one out of every three
people on this planet does not have enough food, and that one billion are
literally starving. We… reassure ourselves that the hoarding of the world’s
resources by the richest society in world history, and our frantic attempts to
accelerate globalization with its attendant inequalities of wealth, has nothing
to do with the resentment that others feel toward us. We… tell ourselves that
the suffering of refugees and the oppressed has nothing to do with us. . . .
But we live in one world, increasingly interconnected with everyone, and the
forces that lead people to feel outrage, anger, and desperation eventually
impact on our own daily lives.
In other words, we’re sitting at a great
feast, but we’re not dressed appropriately. We are missing the robe of
righteousness, the garments of salvation.
So maybe there is something here after all.
Jesus does not leave well enough alone. Jesus always takes us a little
farther down the road than we might want to go so that we might see something
new, so that we might do something new.
Our work in a time of unraveling is to weave new garments, to put on a
The anthem this morning asks that God would “weave us as ohana.”
The word is Hawaiian.
Remember Lilo and Stitch?
It’s been a few years now since I’ve seen that Disney cartoon—some of you have
probably seen it much more recently, maybe several times in a row. There’s that
line: “Ohana means ‘family.’ Family
means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.”
A lot of people in our country and around the world are being left
behind and forgotten. Instead of becoming the first, the last are being pushed
even further to the margins.
Which brings us to this morning, to the
invitation and the opportunity of this day.
This morning we are invited to the
banquet table once again.
World Communion Sunday has been observed
by most mainline churches for over seventy-five years. I don’t know how long we
have marked the occasion here, but I’m sure it has been for decades. It begin with the great hope that Christians
around the world would gather around their various and varied tables on this
first Sunday in October, showing our unity in our diversity.
This day reminds us of the importance of
the Lord’s Supper for our life together.
This day reminds us of our connections
with people of other denominations and traditions.
Because we can so easily forget, this
day reminds us of our connections with people of different races and nations.
We show those connections in a very physical and visual way in this common
sacrament. In doing so, we express an ancient understanding that continues to
speak to us today: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body,
for we all partake of the one bread.”
World Communion Sunday also gives us the
occasion to sing hymns and pray prayers that are sung by Christians in other
parts of the world. Yes, we can take this opportunity on any Sunday—and
sometimes we do—but there is an openness to such hymns and prayers on this day
that is sometimes missing on other Sundays. While the tunes might be
unfamiliar, the music and the words we sing and pray are testimonies to the
vibrant Christian faith that exists today in places South America and Africa
Let us then dress for dinner. Let us put
on the robes of righteousness and do those things that make for good
relationship with our neighbors as well as with those whom we will never meet.
Let us pray that God will weave us as a family, that we might see the connection between what we do at this
table and our hopes and prayers and work for the wider world.
We live in one world. All people are our
“companions”—that is, those with whom we eat bread. This day, then, offers us
an opportunity: to let our inclusive celebration of the Lord’s Supper be a
prelude to joining with all people at the banquet God is offering.
This meal, in which bread is broken and wine is poured, in which we
remember God’s mighty acts in Jesus, this meal nurtures our faith and our life
together. It prepares us for the work that is still ours to do in these days of
unraveling—weaving a new fabric of peace so that we might be a part of the
realm of heaven that God is creating among all people.
World Communion Sunday turns out to be far more important than we might
ever have realized.
This table is where we begin the work of bringing peace into the world
through acts of righteousness. This table is where we return again and again to
be nurtured in that work, work that we are incapable of doing on our own
And now, by God’s grace, we discover that we are not alone. Here at the
table we are joined by the church in all times and places.
Come, for all is ready.