Tuesday, October 7, 2014

We’re All Invited to the Big Party – 12 October 2014 – Lectionary 28

Matthew and Isaiah today give us stories and images of the party that God desires for us, the one we can’t possibly organize ourselves. They cause us to think of the Sunday party God calls us to attend week after week when we gather to hear the word of God and eat together and pray. It is a celebration of unfathomable gifts given to us in this life. But our Sunday festivities are not the ultimate shindig. There is more.

Matthew 21:33-46 and Isaiah 5:1-7

Jesus is talking about the final, pull out all the stops, party to end all parties. The heavenly banquet (Rev. 19).  . . . Sunday gets us in the mood, points us in the direction, develops our desire for that final party, when there’ll be no more crying, pain, sickness or death; only laughter and peace and rejoicing without end.

Only a fool would miss the fun. But Jesus makes it clear that such fools abound. When they heard the invitation, “they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to her business, a couple to their lake house, a family to the beach....” . . .

The fool tries to make his own party here on earth instead of trusting God to throw the party. But that’s just dancing around a golden calf. Or the fool tries to earn her own invitation to the party, instead of trusting in the king who invites “both good and bad.” Or the fool shows up for the party wearing the wrong clothes.

The trouble with Jesus’ parable is the trouble the king makes for the guy with the shabby outfit. It seems outrageous in its cruelty because we are thinking of the literal meaning of clothing. We are thinking the man doesn’t have any other clothes, and perhaps we don’t have the right ones, either. How is this party invitation good news?

But don’t worry, you can’t buy the right clothes for the party and you can’t make the right clothes for the party. If you are going to get these clothes, you will have to receive them as a gift (see Rev. 19). In fact, they come with the invitation. Imagine the servants of the king out in the highways and the byways, inviting everyone they see to the party. In one hand, they carry the engraved invitation. In the other hand, a tux or a formal gown. “Here’s your invitation to the party. Nothing to wear? Don’t worry about it. The clothes come with the invitation. Just get dressed and come on over to the party.”

Now obviously the wedding robe stands for something. And there are lots of possibilities: the mind of Christ, the heart of love, the hands of service. But I take my clue from something that the church used to do in baptisms. After the water, each person—baby, child or adult—was wrapped in a new, white robe. We’ve lost that symbolism today. Sure, babies still get dressed in white, but most folks think that symbolizes the child’s innocence or worse, it is a sentimental act that has nothing to do with Christ. But the white robes had everything to do with Christ. As Paul put it, we Christians are to “clothe ourselves with the LORD Jesus Christ.” Jesus Christ is the white robe. We put him on Sunday by Sunday in worship, day by day in discipleship.

You can’t bring the wrong person to God’s party—everyone’s invited. But you can be the wrong person for the party—if you choose to come as you are and stay as you are and be who you are. Instead of becoming the person Jesus died for you to be.

– D. Brent Laytham is the Dean of The Ecumenical Institute of Theology in Baltimore, Maryland.

Homily Service 38, no. 11 (9 Oct 2005): 15-25.

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