Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Lord who lets us argue and who brings us home in peace . . .

     Our story from Exodus provides a couple lessons for us, one negative and one positive. It has been on my mind this week, in particular, as many of you have dropped in to express your opinions about what will happen at or to St. Alban's, even as you sought to understand why Karen and I were convinced God was calling us to Nashville. The story takes place after Moses' famous intercession on behalf of Israel. To refresh your memories, God freed Israel from Egypt. He led them through the Red Sea. When they hungered for bread, He gave them mana. When they hungered for meat, He gave them quail until they got sick of it. When they thirsted in the desert, He caused water to flow from the rock. Just before this scene, He has brought Israel to His mountain. He called Moses up the mountain to give Him the torah to give to Israel. While Moses was gone that forty days, Israel got impatient. Rather than waiting for Moses to return, Israel sculpted a molten calf and began to worship it. God was, understandably, furious. In fact, He is so angry with Israel that He tells Moses He is going to destroy them all and make a nation out of Moses.
     Is God's anger understandable? Absolutely. Could He make a new nation out of Moses without violating the covenant He made with Abraham and Jacob and Isaac? Of course. Moses is a descendant of the family. Were God to destroy everyone and start all over with Moses, He would still be keeping His promise to Abraham and the other patriarchs and matriarchs. Moses, though, wants nothing to do with starting over in the scene right before this. In that scene, Moses appeals to God's desire to glorify Himself in the world to convince God to turn aside from His plan. Were God to destroy the Israelites, Moses argues, neither the Egyptians nor any of the “ites” would think God worthy of praise. God relents, but He tells Moses He is going to punish Israel for its unfaithfulness.  The problem is how God is going to keep His covenant with such a stiff-necked, hard-hearted people.
     As you might imagine, Moses does not relish the idea of the people being punished. Every time something goes wrong, they blame him. All he gets to do is listen to is whining and griping and complaining. And when they are not grumbling, they are sometimes plotting to stone him for leading them into this mess. Did you lead here because there were not enough graves in Egypt? At least in Egypt, we got to eat meat occasionally. We need water, and you lead us to a desert? Moses knows what the future holds for him, and he wants no part of it if God is not “all-in.”  Moses has learned all too well that Israel needs God, that Israel cannot be saved if God is not shepherding them.
     Moses reminds God that He has told him to lead these people, but not who will go with him. He asks God to teach him His ways, if He has found favor with His servant.  God assures Moses that His presence will  go with him and that He will give him rest.  But Moses complains that it is not enough.  If your presence will not go with us, do not lead us from here.  Moses appeals to God’s selection of Israel to begin with.  How will we and how will people of the earth know we are distinct?  Again, God promises that He will give Moses the very thing for which he asks.  But Moses wants a sign!  The man who saw the burning bush, the man whose staff invoked the ten plagues on Egypt, the man who parted and then closed the waters of the Red Sea, the man who arranged for the manna, the man who got his people quail, the man who struck the rock in the desert so that the waters flowed, the man who went up the top of the holy mountain to get God’s instruction for the people requires a sign.  He asks to see God’s glory so that he will know he has found favor and that God will keep His promise.
     God tells Moses that what he asks is impossible.  In the movie Dogma, there is a seen where the angel tells Bethany that he has to speak for God because the awesome voice of God causes the heads of mere mortals to explode.  “It took us four Adams before we figure that one out.”  Imagine what the glory of God would be like.  God’s voice terrified Israel; His glory reflected in Moses’ face caused them to ask Moses to hide his face.  Yet, here is Moses asking to see God’s glory and to see Him face to face.  God tells Moses He will proclaim His glory while protecting Moses, but that Moses will be allowed to see only His back.  It will be enough for Moses.
     Our lesson today contains several lessons, but two of which are appropriate to us as we come to this point in our journey together.  One is a negative example; the other is a positive lesson.  By negative, I mean that it gives us an example of what not to do or be.  My conversations with those outside our denomination the last couple weeks have brought up this story repeatedly as to why they think it is ok to stone certain groups, to ridicule certain groups, to support those who kill “evil” people such as abortion doctors, and the like.  The argument goes something along the lines of “God takes sin seriously and sometimes uses us to execute His judgment.”  They are absolutely right that God takes sin seriously.  He takes sin so seriously that He cannot allow Moses to see His face in Moses’ current state.  Just as you and I breathe or blink without thinking, God destroys sin.  What He is protecting Moses from in this part of the narrative is Himself and His unwillingness to countenance any sin.  We might say, though, we need to understand that we are grasping to define the undefinable, that it is in God’s nature to destroy all sin, that it is an autonomic response of who He is.  It is such a part of Him that He does so involuntary.  God understands this and acts to protect His servant Moses.
     But look at where the story occurs in the timeline of salvation history.  Has Israel been taught that sin requires a blood sacrifice?  No.  They do not yet know about the torah.  They do not yet realize that it will take blood to wash their sins.  Naturally, if they do not yet understand the Temple system, they have no idea that God’s Son will come in ultimate fulfillment of that requirement, that all who claim Him as Lord will be washed clean in His blood.  The Cross is not even a wild idea in their heads, even if it is already accomplished in God’s mind as He speaks with Moses.
     When we or other Christians look back on the story of the molten calf and use it as justification for “executing God’s judgment,” we are guilty of misusing God’s Word and of dishonoring Him in the world around us.  Does God take sin seriously?  Absolutely!  Does God sometimes execute judgment?  Of course.  Could He use human beings to execute His judgment?  He can, and I think sometimes He does.  I wonder, however, how many of those whom He uses in such instances know they are fulfilling His purposes ahead of time?  By that I mean that Jesus, whenever He is describing Judgement Day, always teaches that it is He and His angels who will do the culling, who will do the separating, and who will do the judging.  Yes, you and I are called to take sin seriously.  Yes, we are called to call our brothers and sisters into repentance when they sin and to call the world back into relationship with Him.  But the effectiveness of that call to repentance and the power of that call are not determined by us.  Christ’s offer on the Cross made repentance acceptable before God; Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross made it possible that all humanity could see God’s glory without being destroyed.  When God teaches that He who knew no sin became sin, this is what He meant.  Jesus has paid the price!  In full!  Jesus has made it possible for us to get back into right relationship with God.  Jesus has made us worthy to stand before our Lord.  None of it, absolutely none of it, depended upon us.  All we can do is share the wonderful story.
     When we hear people in our daily life and work claiming that we are called to mock certain groups because of their sin, that some lives are not as important as others because of their sins, or that it is ok for us to take an active point in their punishment and death, we need to be the voices that are saying “no!”  We need to be the voices that are reminding others that our efforts cannot atone for our sins, that our judgements can be wrong, that we are just fishers of men and women, that He is the one who decides punishment.  Might such a reminder upset our friends?  Naturally.  But when we remain silent in the face of such comments, that this group deserves to die or that group deserves to suffer, we are closer to the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.  Worse, our silence carries a cost.  By remaining silent, we allow our Lord to be dishonored among those who do not yet know Him!  And make no mistake, when people ask what we think of this behavior or that behavior, we are called to tell them.  But never are we to ridicule them, never are we to called harass them, never are we called to execute His judgment on them.  They, like us, are cross-bearers who follow the Lord.  They, like us, sometimes stumble, sometimes tire.  More amazingly, He died for them, even if they ultimately reject Him.  He, not us, decides when their time and their chance to repent is up.
     Now, I said at the beginning that there is a negative lesson and a positive lesson.  We focused on Matthew and so missed the reminder of the power in a faithful Intercessor.  But as I reminded you of the story, I told you that Moses convinced God to turn aside from His wrath and the new plan He was going to execute.  Have you thought about the audacity demonstrated by Moses?  Moses has the temerity to argue with God!  Argue.  And Moses is not alone.  I have joked in the past that I should be serving at a St. Jacob church because I fight with God constantly.  I fuss, I fume, I tell Him how things would be better if He did them my way.  And, while He has not had to resort to dislocating my hip, He has, from time to time, had to take that holy 2 X 4 and crack it over my head!  How many of you are the same?  How many of you argue with God and His plan?
     We speak on occasion around here of being called into His family.  We talk in the language of the perfect adoption.  Because of our faith in Christ and His faithful obedience, you and I are seen by God as first born sons and first born daughters.  We are entitled to a double share of the inheritance because of Christ’s work on our behalf.  The sins which would cause us to be destroyed by His glory like Moses in today’s are so covered by Christ that He sees Him in us!  He longs for that wonderful parent-child relationship with us that all humanity craves.  He wants nothing more than for us to think of Him as abba, daddy.
     Perhaps you have been a child.  Maybe you have been a parent.  Ever had cause to argue with a child or your parents?  Family relationships at their best are such that we can love each other and argue with each other.  God, by virtue of our faith in His Son, allows us to be in that kind of close relationship with Him.  He expects us to argue with Him.  He allows us to argue with Him.  Every now and then, He even allows His mind to be changed by our arguments, so long as our arguments are in keeping with His character.  Moses caused Him to change His mind because He appealed to His honor among the nations.  What would the nations think if You destroyed Your people?  Would they know it was Your judgment?  Or would they presume You were weak?  Think of that for just a second, God allows us to argue with Him.  Now, most of the time we will lose, but we lose because we do not see and hear and understand clearly.  We may be like Jonah and prefer that God zap our Nineveh’s, but God shows mercy to our enemies just as He showed mercy to us.  We may think a winning lottery ticket will meet our provision needs better, but God knows the pull money has on our lives.  Many of us are better off getting our bread daily.  And unlike us as parents or our parents, God makes no mistakes.  Better still, even when we screw up, even when we ignore His plans for us, no matter how badly, He can still redeem our messes and our mistakes!  That, brothers and sisters, is the relationship He offers and to which He calls each one of us!
     Why do I mention all this fighting and arguing and provision?  The elephant in the room today, the pastoral problem, is my announcement this past Tuesday that we are leaving.  Starting Wednesday, I had a steady parade of parishioners and others in orbit of the parish who wanted to express their concerns.  Thankfully, many of you were supportive and recognize that this call was not our doing but His.  Some of us, however, forgot that the Lord who calls me also calls you.  In the midst of this week, there has been a natural angst.  What will happen to us?  Will we ever attract another priest?  Will the bishop close our doors and sell our church?  By Friday, I had grown a bit short in my answers.  Were the church to die when I left, it would be an indictment of my time among you and of your ministry in the community around us.  As a group, we were seeking to do God’s will for St. Alban’s and not our own plan.  The ministries that we do around here, I believe, we do in accordance with His call on our lives and on this parish.  Better still, we do them to God’s glory, hopeful that our service of them in His name will cause them to ask us why or even draw them in themselves.  As Moses’ argument with God reminds us this weekend, He will glory Himself in us and give us peace.
     Will the future look like what we hope or expect?  Most likely not.  Most of you know my call story.  I wanted to wait until I had banked money and the kids had grown to go through discernment.  In my mind, churches could not support a priest with four kids.  I know His plan so far for my life and that of my family is more amazing than I could have ever dreamed.  And, in case you weren’t paying close attention, Karen and I have seven children!  I daresay His plans for St. Alban’s is more amazing than any parishioner’s wildest dreams.  Do you really think St. Thelma thought her dream of feeding the homeless would continue for forty-seven years, let alone get picked up by national radio to encourage others to go and do likewise?  Do you think St. Grant ever thought in his wildest dreams that a returned underwear ministry would produce between 5 and 10 thousand pairs of underwear for the homeless and needy in the QCA, let alone get copied by other communities?  Do you think St. Julie herds the ECW through the Bazaar because she likes stress?  And, let’s face it, did you ever think you would hear someone refer to Vern or Julie or others as “saint?”  Do you believe that St. Michelle runs SmartChoice for our parish, cleaning up after St. Robin’s and my mistakes, because she has nothing better to do during the weeks or on Saturdays?  Did you even in a million years believe that slavery existed in our midst or that your priest would be tapped by the Archbishop of Canterbury to help craft the response by our Communion and the wider Church?  Do you think St. Robin and St. Larry just like hanging out in prison because their evenings are boring?  Do you think St. George and St. Annette just like the challenge of making questions for Trivia hard, but not too hard?  Do you honestly believe that St. Nicole likes her ministry with the choir because she relishes the challenges of herding cats, that it makes being the mother of teenage twin boys seem like a piece of cake?  Looking around the room today, each you present has a ministry or more that you do in joyful obedience to God.  Our Lord knows that every bit as well as He knows each one of you and me.  He knows and loves each one of you well enough to give you the freedom to argue with Him, to share your ideas and dreams with Him, and to ask that He show you  His glory in your life.  Best of all, though, He is a loving Father who will not allow you to settle for your dreams and for your hopes.  He has even greater plans in store for each one of us than we can ever ask or imagine.  It is that Lord, that God, who will see us each through this transition and however many more we will face in our lifetimes, and who promises to bring us home in peace!


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Washing away the Ambridge black of our lives . . .

     When I was in seminary, Karen and I and all those who moved with loved ones to attend seminary discovered a new color on the color chart. We called it “Ambridge Black.” Ambridge Black was not a loved color; it was not even a tolerated color. It was a despised color. Like any black, it was dark as could be. Unlike other blacks, though, Ambridge Black was contagious. By that I mean it spread and spread and spread, much like a virus. Karen and I had a bedtime ritual in those days. Before we put the kids to bed, and before we went to bed, we would have a ceremonial foot washing. Like others, we learned quickly that the black on our kids' feet and our own feet would get all over our bedsheets and ruin them. No matter how many times we washed the sheets, no matter how much bleach, no matter how much vinegar, Ambridge Black could never be washed away.
     What caused Ambridge Black? Coal. Ambridge, which was located downstream on the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, built bridges. At one point, I was told, more than 40% of our nation's bridges were built by the American Bridge Company. To build bridges, one needs steel. To smelt steel, one needs coal. True, natural gas would probably work, but coal is cheap and plentiful in SW Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The mills were shut down long before Karen and the kids and I moved to Ambridge. Long before. But the damage had been done. Long time residents of Ambridge, and former employees, told stories how every day was a cloudy day because of the smoke and smog from the mills. The thick black smoke would hang in the valley, dulling the light of the sun.
     The coal dust and ash would also seep into everything: buildings, cars, lungs, and anything else of which you can name. Karen and I took on a house that had nearly two decades of no one living in it. It was a house with beautiful bones, but, boy, it's skin was filthy. Karen mopped and swiffered the floors dozens and dozens of times. I lost track of how many gallons of Kilz I used to try and trap the coal dust in the walls. Yet night after night, our kids' and our own feet were black. Night after night we had to have the foot washing or risk ruining the sheets.
     Why do I share that story? I was put in mind of Ambridge Black again this week as I cleaned the carpets. A couple events conspired to have me cleaning carpets this past week. Julie and the lady from TOPS had come to ask if I could get the carpet cleaned before the Bazaar and State Rally respectively. Bubbles had offered for AA to pay for the cleaning as much of the stains was from AA, the Freedom Group in particular. Bubbles took bids and picked a guy. Naturally, the guy never showed up. At the same time, my laptop had gone into the shop for some repairs before I head overseas. So, I was stuck in terms of what I could do, and I was somewhat fearful of disappointing Julie! I started cleaning the carpets using the cleaner my grandmother gave me when Sarah was born.
     My method was pretty simple. I used Resolve Carpet cleaner and OxyClean. For the really bad stains, I used Shout Carpet Stain Remover. I began in the Nave. It was in that first tank of water that I was reminded of the Ambridge Black. The water that I sucked out of the carpet was that familiar nasty, disgusting black. One of my big fears was that I would trip and dump the water all over the kitchen floor, making a wonderful mess for the ladies to try and fix. I dumped it safely into the sink and cleaned the Nave carpet again. Hmmm. No discernable change in the blackness of the water. I came in Tuesday and repeated the process two more times. Again, the water was not getting any less dark. Four times cleaned, and the carpet was still Ambridge Black, though I have to admit it sure smelled good in here! Better still, some of the stains were gone, and those that remained were much fainter than when I started. I used the OxyClean to really scrub the coffee stains. I would scrub the carpet hard and then use the carpet cleaner to suck up the filth. But there was no change in the color of the discharge. It was still Ambridge Black.
On Wednesday, I started in the Parish Hall. The Nave had taken up enough of my time at the beginning of the week. The vendors were going to located in there. That meant that most of the visitors would be in there. So, over Wednesday and Thursday, I cleaned the Parish Hall carpet four times. I scrubbed stains with Oxyclean. I Resolved the carpet fibers. I even Shouted the really bad stains. And the water was still Ambridge Black. So I got to thinking . . .
     Each week, about 60-70 of us come through these doors, walk on this carpet, seeking to worship God as members of this parish. Each week, some 160 members of three different groups come through those doors to attend a portion of sixteen different meetings. Each week one to two dozen individuals come through those doors to attend a TOPS meeting where they work on weight issues. Each month, two to three dozen individuals come through those doors seeking to stretch their grocery dollar through the SmartChoice ministry. Once a year we host a bazaar where hundreds of people come through the doors. Four times a year we host five to nine dozen people who come through those doors to play Trivia. Toss in the youth group, the water wars, the Nerf wars, the picnic, the ice cream social, and we have a lot of people coming through those doors. A lot of people, many of whom are seeking desperately to know they are loved by God in spite of all their sins, in spite of all the dirt and filth that covers them, in spite of the Ambridge Black that covers them.
     Our story from Matthew is well known and takes place during Holy Week. Jesus uses the story to describe the coming of the kingdom of God. The king has announced that his son is to be married. There will be a great marriage feast to celebrate the blessed event. Apparently, the aristocracy and other leaders have forgotten that the feast is taking place.   They have decided no to put the event on their calendars.  Such an event would have been unforgettable in the eyes and ears of those who heard Jesus tell this story. Anyone who was anyone would have killed to have been invited to this feast. Forgetting would have seemed impossible. And dangerous. Everyone who forgot about the feast ran the risk of infuriating the king. Such an act would be an affront to his honor, an act punishable by death!
     Luckily for them, the king is in a forgiving mood. He sends slaves to invite the guests to the feast. His subjects beg off. Some have to go to work. Some have to go home. The tone of the excuse is rendered fairly well in the translation today. We can almost hear the “I'm busy watching the grass grow or paint dry” excuse tone in their dismissal of the invitation. The king, we are told, is determined to celebrate. He sends more slaves to describe the feast. The oxen and fatted calves are prepared. The champaign is on ice. This time, those invited choose the route of direct insult. They kill and beat the slaves and refuse to go.
The king responds as Jesus' audience would expect. He sends in his army to kill those who rejected his invitation and killed his slaves. Then, in a surprising twist, the king sends slaves to invite any that they find, both good and bad. They find enough people, we are told, to fill the banquet hall. Then, the king enters the hall, presumably to celebrate with the lucky guests.
      One guest, we are told, attracts the attention of the king. Weddings in the ANE are not too dissimilar from today. They were a party to which one was expect to dress appropriately, not unlike the funerals and weddings of today or maybe the church services of yesteryear. Maybe a better example would be how we would dress if invited to a party at the White House. Even if we disagreed with the politics of the President, all of us would wear our best attire. Showing up in ripped jeans or shorts or some other leisure attire would be beyond the pale of good taste. The king saddles up to the man and, in an incredible show of grace, asks where his robe is. The man, we are told, gives no answer. Presumably, the man has the appropriate clothes and chose not to wear them. Had he any excuse, the king who just addressed him as friend, might respond graciously. “I'm sorry, my lord, but I would never have made it home, changed, and returned in time” or “I'm sorry, my lord, but I have no wedding attire” would have been a much better answer than the silence he gives. His silence confirms for Jesus' audience and for us that he knows he has worn the wrong clothes to the feast.
     As with all parables of Jesus, there are a number of levels at which the story can be read. We know the slaves that do the inviting and reminding are the prophets if God. We know that those who reject the invitation and treat the slaves badly are the rulers of Israel. We know that the good and bad people invited are the commoners of Israel and the Gentiles. We know that the friend addressed in the story might be an allusion to the plight of Judas. Given my work and reflection this week, though, I am more interested in the robe.
     We speak in the Church a great deal about being washed in the blood of Christ. We speak of how Christ's sacrifice covers all our sins. Absent His blood, our sins are unforgiven before God. To lots of people, especially Midwesterners, such a claim offends sensibilities. I should make up for my mistakes. I should atone for my sins. I should earn my salvation. God should want to have me in His kingdom. As I was noticing the Ambridge Black water this past week, I thought of how many people think they are responsible for the own salvation, how many people think they are not in need of grace. Those new to AA will congratulate themselves and think themselves worthy of sobriety because, by force of will only in their own minds, they have stayed sober a few days, weeks, or months. Those who are fighting their weight are often the same. They look at their ability to resist eating or to exercise more as evidence of their innate ability to lose weight. Those getting started brag about their success. Like those in AA, it's only when the magnitude of the lifestyle change that is necessary, a transformation, that they begin to understand the scope of their undertaking. It is only when they are confronted with their own deficiencies in willpower or strength that they begin to understand the true help they need. It is only when they begin to see themselves for who they truly are that they begin to be able to seek God's grace and experience true healing. The same is true for all those groups who enter here and use the church. The same is even true for us. How many of us secretly think that Christ died for all those really bad people out there or around us? I mean, if I haven't killed anyone or stolen too much, He really didn't need to die for me, right? I mean, I'm basically a good person.
     One of the challenges of the Gospel is that we have to learn to see ourselves through God's eyes. We may think ourselves basically good, but God knows better. We fail as parents, we fail as children, we fail as friends, we fail as husbands, we fails as wives, and we fail as His people. All the time. We may try to do good, but how many of us resist temptation and do not sin? None. None of us go a big length of time without sinning. Part of the reason we confess our sins to God, pass the Peace, and then hustle to receive the Eucharist is so that we may do so at love and charity with our neighbor and as penitent before God. We may understand what sin is, we may desire to do what God wants, but what we want is not enough. It takes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to begin to transform us, and that indwelling is made possible only through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and His Resurrection. Just as the man in our story, we know this. We have been taught this. This is, in a way, a distilled version of the Gospel. Unless we are washed in His blood, we are not adopted into His family. Unless our sins are cleansed by His work, we are not allowed into the Wedding Feast. Sin is very much like the Ambridge Black that I described. It dirties us and it spreads. We might try to fix our mistakes, we might try to atone for our sins ourselves, but we always fail. How do we cause our sins not to be remembered by those against whom we have sinned? If I sin against my children, how do I cause them not to be affected by that sin even if I am truly repentant? How do I make sure that they do not continue the cycle? If I sin against you, how do I atone in such a way that you will not be affected by my sin against you? Doesn't the memory of the sin always linger, even when we forgive?
     Yet, it is precisely that process of unremembering that Jesus' sacrifice offers to all who claim Him as Lord. Jesus' atonement removes our sin from us in God's eyes as far away as the East is from the West? Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf washes us clean in God's eyes. Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf gives us the robe to wear at that Great Wedding Feast, where the King hosts a feast in honor of His Son's marriage to His Bride! Nothing else cleans our robes! Nothing else satisfies His justice and His righteousness! Nothing else washes the Ambridge Black that we have smeared all over ourselves through our sins, the sins of others, and our effort to clean them up. Nothing else causes God to see Jesus in us!  Nothing.
     Now, I have spent some time this morning reminding you of your Ambridge Black, your sin.  Some might still complain that their sins are not nearly as nasty, that a little OxyClean or a little Resolve, rightly applied, will clean you.  If you find yourself agreeing with that statement, reconsider the anguish of the “friend” in our story, the pain and hurt of Judas.  Both the “friend” and the Apostle know the robe that is necessary.  Both have the appropriate attire available for their respective feasts.  Both choose other than the appropriate attire.  And their end is tragic.  They were this close to the feast, they saw the party, they saw the food, they heard the joy, and they were removed.  That’s why there is wailing; that’s why there is gnashing of teeth.
     Brothers and sisters, we have no reason to fear our sins.  We have no reason to worry about our sins.  We have no reason to feel frustrated that our Ambridge Black spreads and spreads, no matter much we scrub, no matter how many times we wash.  We have each been offered the most amazing gift.  We have been offered a robe that guarantees us admittance to the Wedding Feast.  It covers all our sins.  It covers all our faults.  It covers all our failings.  It causes the King to see His Son in us and us in His Son.  It allows us to go to party without fear of rejection, without fear of being forced to stand like a wallflower.  It is the most amazing of all the gifts of His grace!  And He has no shortage of such robes.  He has robes equal to the number of all those who want to come to His feast  And, though it is white of the most amazing purity, it does not mean that this life will not have shadows, that this life will not have pain, that this life will not have suffering, that this life will be little more than a big party.  The white robe that we wear to the Feast is the same that clothes the martyrs as they cry how long.  It is the same robe that the prophets have, even though the leaders, as Jesus reminds us in His parable, rejected them, ridiculed them, and even killed them.  It is that same robe that is given us when we pick up our cross to follow Him, even to death.
     Each of us, bad and good, has received an invitation from the King.  What will you wear?  Attire of your own fashioning and your own cleaning?  Or will you don the robe He has purchased for you and made you worthy to wear.  One leads to wailing and darkness.  Choose the one that grants you admittance to the Feast, the one that garbs you in life eternally.