“Dressed for Dinner”

October 5, 2014

 

Isaiah 61:8-11

Matthew 22:1-14

 

Do you ever wish that Jesus would just leave well enough alone?

I do.

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 that?

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 teeth.”

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 to dinner.

What’s going on?

Recall the words of Isaiah that we heard this morning:

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 new righteousness.

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 and Asia.

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 strength.

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.