Monday, October 13, 2008

What to wear

     I had to chuckle at God's timing for this week's readings. As a couple dozen members of our House of Deputies and House of Bishops for General Convention 2009 debated the meaning of Jesus' statement in John about being the way, the truth, and the light, we get Jesus' third parable of judgment on the Temple elites in Matthew's Gospel. The parable is a familiar story. The king of a land throws a wedding feast for his son. When the citizens are invited, some ignore the invitation, others act as if they have better things to be doing, and still others decide to kill the kings messengers. The king is enraged. He sends his troops and destroys the murderers and their towns towns. Then he says to his slave to invite everyone to the feast that has been prepared. The wedding hall ends up filled with guests. But one guest sticks out like a sore thumb. One guest has eschewed the wedding robe provided by the host. One guest has decided to trust in his own apparel. The king is once again incensed. He has the guest bound and tossed into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

     I came to the conclusion early in the week that the purported leaders in our church, who were arguing over whether it is more important to live as Christ commanded or simply to identify themselves as His believers, must not have had to preach this week. How else can one explain their fixation on a false dichotomy between ontology (who are we) and praxis (what we do)? Matthew's Gospel spoke right into the midst of their debates, and yet they lacked ears and eyes to hear God's message. Of course, such selfishness is not too surprising. How often do we ignore the clothing with which our Father in heaven has clothed us in exchange for garments of our own choosing and our own creation.

     This message was driven home by my so-called secular voices this past week. One of my guilty pleasures, as many already know, are science fiction movies and books. I broke down last week and purchased Ironman. Without spoiling the details for those who might want to watch the movie later, the hero, (played by Robert Downey, Jr.) of the movie, Tony Stark, spends a great deal of time and energy trying to develop an amazing suit. It must protect him against bullets, explosions, extreme temperatures and any other number threats. Plus, it is armed. And, lest we forget, what good is a superhero is he cannot fly? Stark spends a great deal of his time, energy and fortune after an epiphanic vision of sorts in his attempt to combat evil in the world. Of course, it is a suit of his creation, and, for all the good he can do with it, it still does not function as it should. And, sometimes when damaged, it can be awfully hard to remove.

     I also managed to watch Sex and the City which had an interesting subplot or two. The wedding dress, for Carrie, determined everything. The dress designed the size of the wedding party, the number of people invited, the headpiece, and everything else. And, in the midst of this party being created to match the dress, the viewers are given an important lesson in forgiveness. Miranda's husband has committed a horrible sin against her. Miranda, ever the strong-willed lawyer, knows just what to do. She throws the bum out. Then, later, when she commits a sin against Carrie, she asks Carrie why she will not forgive her. Carrie asks why she should expect to be forgiven when she cannot forgive her soon-to-be ex.

     Two movies, two interesting comments on human nature which coincide with this week's readings about a proper wedding robe. So often, you and I are like Stark. Sometimes, we try to craft our own clothing, trusting that we will be able to clothe ourselves in a righteousness of our own making. We trust that our best will be good enough for God. At other times, however, we fall prey to the idols of the world like Carrie and allow them to dictate what "we wear." Perhaps we adorn ourselves with the trappings of wealth, maybe we feel called to surround ourselves with friends from a particular social clique, we might even feel called by the world to reject the wedding robe offer by our Father in heaven because of its perceived shortcomings (we suffer when we wear it, it is not quite as fancy, etc). Whatever the reason, far too often we reject God's intended robe for us. Neither of these choices ends well in Jesus' story.

     One of the unfortunate comments in the parable is the king's judgment on such people. Those who reject his invitation and those who refuse to wear his robe are cast out and destroyed. Imagine, Jesus tells us another story about judgment. And the judgment is all about the leaders' rejection of God's invitation and about how individuals respond to that invitation to the feast. The fact of the matter is that His feast has been prepared, and He has crafted us all robes of righteousness, if only we will accept His invitation and His offer of salvation through Christ. All other clothing is insufficient in God's eyes. Only the robes washed in the blood of the Lamb will cleanse us, and the object of our desire ought to be that wonderful communion feast with Him for all eternity. As the author of Ecclesiastes will often note, all else is a vanity, a chasing after the wind.

     What is your attitude to your clothing? Do you spend a great deal of time picking out the perfect outfit? Or, are you more likely to throw something together in the dark as you head out to face life? Far too often, those of us in Christian circles forget that we wear His robe over all our clothes. We forget that our identity is intimately tied to Him, and we forget that our actions bring honor or dishonor to our Lord.  How we dress testifies to the world where we place ourselves.  When we wear His robe, we can accomplish miracles in His name.  When we dress in anything else, we often lead or drive others astray.

     The fact is that each of us, as well as everyone we meet, is offered an invitation to God's banquet? God has also made it clear that acceptance of His invitation requires a faith in His beloved Son. But, as Paul would say, faith without works is dead. When we claim to clothe ourselves in Christ's righteousness, we should be about His work. We should be feeding His people, clothing His people, loving His people in as many ways as we can each conceive. Similarly, all these works must be done with an eye to the need to "go and invite everyone whom we find" to His feast. Feeding a hungry person without offering the testimony of Christ only prolongs their dying. Granting a thirsty person a drink while withholding the living water of Christ only prolongs their spiritual dehydration and eventual death.  Clothing the needy while withholding the Gospel only leaves them in the outer darkness, isolated and apart from their heavenly Father. Who we are is defined by what we do, and what we do is defined by who we are. We are not called to an identity without any action, and we are not called to any action without His identity!

     One of the challenges of the parables of Jesus is that we are able to find ourselves in the story. Sometimes, we may not like who we think we are. Are we like Stark or the one who rejected the host's robe in the story today, trusting in our own worth and righteousness? Are we perhaps like those others invited earlier who went about their own business rather than accepting His invitation to the feast? Do we, like the leaders whom Jesus criticizes in this parable, trust that who we are will ensure our ability to get into the feast at a time of our own choosing rather than when He calls? The wonderful Gospel is that, still, He calls us. Despite our terrible wardrobe selections, despite our efforts to wear styles not appropriate to His people, still, He offers to clothe us! All He asks is that we accept His offer. He will take care of all the details and all the accessories. We need only to accept the invitation.  He will prepare a feast for us the likes of which this world will never know, and He will make us each worthy to attend to such a gathering.


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