Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Matthew 22:1-14

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 18th Sunday after Pentecost (October 12, 2014) on Matthew 22:1-14. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


Did you catch last Thursday’s episode of Project Runway? It was a new episode - an important episode - where the top five contestants were narrowed down to the four who will design a collection of clothes to show at New York Fashion Week.  I will admit that I am a fan of the show - I’ve been a fan of the show since it first aired - and if you haven’t seen this reality show, the basic premise is that a dozen fashion designers from across the United States are invited to travel to New York City and, for several weeks, day-in-day out, compete against each other in making clothes. There are challenges, goals, themes that they have to follow - and the overall objective is to survive each week, making the best clothes under extreme time pressures, to wow the judges, and then design a collection for Fashion Week. If they win, money and fame follow. Now I’ve probably watched most of the episodes and I love it because I find the people interesting, their stories compelling, the drama between people entertaining, and I love watching them compete and doing things I can’t do. There is an immense amount of creativity on display in a field where, every year it seems, everything changes. 

So, this week, Sean, who has been making innovative clothing since the start of the season, made this amazing all white outfit. The top had cutouts, the skirt was angular and reminded me of a piece of metal, and the outfit blew the judges away. And when I watched it displayed on tv, while sitting in jeans that has holes in the pocket, socks that are slightly faded, and a hooded sweatshirt that my cat sleeps in way too much - I was reminded of our reading from Matthew today. Because there is a scene in this parable told by Jesus that is all about clothing. This parable is traditionally called the parable of the wedding banquet. And there’s a moment in the parable - after the king has invited the whole city to this party after it seems he destroyed their city - that a person shows up at the party and he’s not dressed right. He’s not dressed for the wedding. So, the king confronts him and the poorly dressed person doesn’t reply.  And so the king throws him out of the party, into the darkness, into a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

Now, on first glance, that seems a little harsh. I am sure I am not the only person who has attended a party or an event and realized they were underdressed. Maybe we went to a wedding thinking business casual khakis would be enough for a black-tie affair or we just took a quick trip to the grocery store late at night, in our pajamas, thinking we wouldn’t run into anyone we know - and then see an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend or maybe our boss. Now, we might feel a lot of shame at that point and maybe we’d want to go out and hide in darkness so no one would see us - but hanging out where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth - that seems a little extreme. It seems a little bizarre. And, if we’re honest, we have to admit that this parable is a little odd. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why would someone kill someone who hands them an invitation to a wedding? Why would a king relailate and burn down a city - only to go out into the ruins and invite those people to his big party? And this episode with the improperly dressed wedding guest isn’t easy to explain. Commentators are divided on what it means. And I wish I had an answer I could give you to neatly package it but I can’t. Instead, this episode of the oddly dressed person - well - I believe it is doing something different today - this odd part of an odd parable is, I think, pointing to who the odd person today is - who is the oddly dressed, the ones who don’t look like everyone else - and that’s the folks who are dressed like me. Because, really, how often do we see people dressed in white robes like these? 

What I’m wearing has a name that’s only three letters long. It’s called an alb - a - l - b. They are basically one big piece of fabric that is draped, wrapped, and folded in such a way to cover the body. To keep it tight and give it some shape, I wear a piece of rope for a belt that’s called a cincture. And, for many churches, this is the standard outfit that clergy and assistants at worship wear. The acolytes wear a version too. So if this is your first time here at Christ Lutheran, spotting the people in the alb is a good way to know who is helping with worship and who might be helpful if you have a question. It’s the simplest way at church to stand out, get noticed - it’s a uniform for Sunday morning. 

But this garment which has become a standard garment used throughout the church to signify who is leading or helping those in worship - it didn’t start out that way.  In fact, when the early church began to grow and populate the Roman Empire around the Mediterrean Sea in Europe - the alb was the standard article of clothing that everyone wore because, well, the alb was the jeans and t-shirt of the Roman world. What you’re seeing up here, like some Project Runway church edition challenge, is what was fashionable 2000 years ago. Everyone wore an alb because that’s what people could afford to wear. This simple piece of clothing was easy to manufacture, maintain, and is durable. The poor, the middle class, the rich - they all wore a version of the alb. But those early Christians did something different - they took some new ones which were white - and used them to clothe each person after they were baptized. The alb - the article of clothing that everyone wore, that wasn’t special, that was just plain ordinary - it became sacred - blessed - special - and a symbol; a symbol that when the new Christian came out from under the waters - when the new Christian was washed - they were reborn, made clean, and made new.  Once God claimed them, they were changed - they weren’t where they were before. And to show their newness to the world, they needed new clothes. And they got them in a new alb. The new Christian didn’t get a designer gown or suit, they didn’t get a jewel encrusted cap or maybe some fancy shoes - instead, they got what they knew, what they always wore, but it was newer, different, a symbol that even though they lived in the world, even though they were still here on earth, even though they would still struggle with sins, with doing what’s right, with listening to God and living a faith-filled life - they were now claimed by God. They were now spoken for by Jesus. They now were different than they were before. They were children of God - they were now co-workers in the kingdom of God - and they were now called to live a different kind of life, be a different kind of people, and see the world in a different kind of way. And they were called not to run away from the world but to run into it, to love God, to love their neighbors - and to see the feast that God has given them and share that with everyone they meet. 

[Now, in a little bit, we’re going to witness something amazing.  We’re gonna see four young men come up here, dressed in white robes, and they’ll profess their faith.  Aiian, Christian, Dylan, and Mark - many of you know them. They’ve been part of Christ Lutheran for a long time. Now, I’ve known them for a bit less. I wasn’t here when they started the path towards confirmation. I wasn’t here during the ups-and-downs, during the change in leadership and teachers, during the time when amazing talented members of this congregation stood up, took over, and taught them - keeping this congregation’s promise to walk with these four in their faith life and in their struggles as they learn what it means to wear Christ’s alb for all their lives. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t maybe the way all of us would like it to be. But the Christian life - the Christian life isn’t perfect. The struggle to be faithful isn’t easy.  The journey we’re all called to walk is not always simple. But these four witnessed something other confirmands didn’t - they witnessed something other confirmands throughout the church rarely see - they saw members of this community stand up to the chaos, embrace them, teach them, and walk with them through the difficult times. That...that is community at its best.  That is confirmation at its best.  And what we all saw, and continue to witness right now, is the flowering of Christian community. These four could haven’t given up.  They didn’t.  The community could have stepped back and not taught confirmation for a year.  We didn’t. And the gift the church gets is four new adult members willing to worship here, to profess their faith before us, and to take leadership roles that the church needs them to take. Confirmation isn’t just something that happens to these four - Confirmation is a blessing and gift that changes all of us because these four are Spirit filled, they are faithful, and they are co-workers in the kingdom of God, like all of us.] 

The alb I wear - the robe the acolyte wears - the robes the confirmands [at 10:30 am service will] wear - they stand out today because they serve as a reminder of what we all carry with us.  I invite you to look around at the people next to you, to the side, to the front, even to the back - and realize that they are children of God - realize that they matter - realize that the garment they are clothed in is brand new. The jeans, the shorts, the khakis, the skirt - they might look blue, they might look brown, they might look brand new or look a tad old - but they don’t show who we are. They don’t show whose we are. They are merely coverings of human design, coverings that show our style, our background, our social class, our culture, and how we face the world. In the runway fashion show of our lives, each outfit we wear tells a different story, tells a different situation we’ve face, tells a different experience we’ve had, and tells a different story about what gifts we bring into the world.  But covered over all of that is our collective alb - an alb that we don’t put on - a cincture that we don’t wrap around ourselves and pull tight - this alb, this gift, this signifier that we are marked with the Cross forever - that’s put on us, each time we wake up, by the one who we belong to - and that’s to Jesus Christ. 

So how does life change when we see the covering that we are given each day?  When we wake up, stretch, yawn, maybe brush our teeth or head to the coffee pot and stare at it until a fresh cup is brewed - in our wake up routine - in the midst of getting the kids out the door, getting our makeup right, packing our bags and making sure that we didn’t leave our car keys in our other jacket - in the midst of all of that - Jesus is there, putting his alb around you - and tying you in, nice and tight. And in the messiness of life - in the juggling of everything that God calls us to - from being parents or children, work, jobs, school, family, friends, neighbors, and responsibilities - there are times when the way isn’t clear.  There are times when the bizarre seems to be the way it is rather than an exception.  There are times when life is like this parable from Matthew - this parable about a king, a party, and some kid showing up in the wrong clothes - where there might appear to be multiple answers to the way to go or, worse, each option we have just seems bad - there are plenty of times in our life where we just won’t have the answers. We might just have questions. And that’s - that’s okay. Because even in the middle of uncertainty, in the middle of crisis or failure or what just feels like downright bad luck - we still got up.  We still woke up. We still stretched and rolled out of bed.  And while we got dressed, we were dressed by the one who is always with us - by the one who alongside us - guiding us, listening to us, and walking with us in our struggles - because in the reality show of the Christian life, we’ve already been voted for, we haven’t been kicked off the runway - we were once out, but it’s now a brand new day - we’re now in - and Jesus is walking with us, through the thick and the thin, reminding us that he hasn’t given up on us.