Dress Code

by | Jun 19, 2022

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Meg Peery McLaughlin
“Dress Code”
June 19, 2022
Matthew 22:1-14

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts,
be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.
3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet,
but they would not come. 4Again 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.”
5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business,
6while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them.
7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers,
and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves,
“The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy.
9Go therefore into the main streets,
and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.”
10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found,
both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 ‘But when the king came in to see the guests,
he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe,
12and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?”
And he was speechless.
13Then 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.”
14For many are called, but few are chosen.’

This is the Word of the Lord.

 

Okay, hands up if you like order and precision.
Good news—this parable can be read as a neatly packaged allegory.

The King? Easy peasy–God. The Son, Jesus Christ
And the Wedding Banquet– a party celebrating salvation:
a soiree honoring that God has been faithful in God’s vows to us
that God’s promises of life and life abundant have been upheld.
It’s a gorgeous reference to Christ drawing all of creation to himself as a bride-
earth and heaven joining.

For isn’t this God’s dream for us all?
Salvation—to be joined with God—hand in hand,
Not just in heaven, but right here, right now,
in plenty and want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and health.
Yes, God’s love for us is indeed worthy of a celebration. Pop the bubbly.

The slaves in the parable are sent out to gather guests.
They are understood as God’s messengers, the Prophets.

The guests who make excuses and refuse to come are the people of Israel,
the (OG) chosen ones.

The guests on the “B list”—those who are last minute invitees,
those called in from the street corners: those guests are us—
the good, the bad, the whoever, it’s you and me– the church.

Even the strange comment about the King’s troops destroying the city
is understood as the fall of Jerusalem.
Rome destroyed Jerusalem and burned the Temple in 70AD,
and the Christians’ in Matthew’s church interpreted that
as an act of God leveled against Israel for rejecting the invitation.

God throws a party—and sends out the invitations–
for God is always a God of welcome.
When the invitation is ignored or rejected,
God grieves, but that will not stop God from inviting others…
the party will go on and God wants us all to be there,
to come be a part of the kingdom.

You see, a place for everything and everything in its place.

Now, hands up if you’re the kind of person who sees the crack in everything,
One of those types who reside in the grey of life,
Who can’t come in these doors without questioning something?

You heard it, right?
The part about the poor guy who got thrown out
into the outer darkness with the teeth!

Yea, how is that supposed to make sense?

The king sees his guest,
and mind you, this is the guest that the King begged to come,
the king even calls him “friend”
then orders the cocktail waiters to cuff him and toss him out.
Something is fishy.

The poor fellow didn’t even know he was going to be at a party that day.
For all we know he was just bumming around about town,
minding his own business
when someone started hollering from the street corner about a feast.

“When you invite a bum to dinner, what do you expect? A tuxedo?”
It seems harsh to throw this guy out because he wasn’t in couture.

What is God’s deal with the dress code?

I have preached on this text only once before and it was nearly 15 years ago.
Should be a hazy memory. Preachers preach a lot of sermons.
But I will never forget preaching this parable one August morning in Kansas City.

That summer weekend, some old girlfriends flew out to the middle of the country to see me. We had a great reunion weekend, and on Sunday, Jarrett and I left the house early to get ready for worship. Jarrett had showed them where his extra car key was (under the floor board), I had prepped the coffee maker and left a note saying I’d see them at 11am church.

Long after we left the house, my friends sauntered out of bed, poured their coffee, and made their way onto our back deck.

Somehow they managed to lock the deck door, and all of a sudden they were locked out of our house. I’m still unsure how they found the church in Jarrett’s car, having never been to KC and not having cell phones, but they had made a plan to sneak into my office to find my house keys in order to shower and get back to church on time. Problem was, once they arrived at 6641 Mission Road, they faced the doors of Village Presbyterian Church realizing that they were in fact in their pajamas.

Katina, for reasons unknown, was wearing black satin pajamas with kissy-lips as the print. Joanna was in a more respectable situation of gym shorts and a tank top. Vickie, God bless her soul, was the only one with a bra on, so she was the one nominated to go inside for the keys. She walked in the narthex doors.

Unlike UPC, Village had clear glass windows that separated the narthex from the sanctuary, so you could stand in the narthex and still fully see what was happening up front. I don’t know where the ushers were at this point at the 9:30 service, maybe it was the offering or something, but Vickie walked in, saw a sanctuary full of people in their Sunday finest, looked down at her cotton pajama pants and then hit the deck and crawled across the narthex floor to the hallway where she rightfully assumed my office was.

By 11am, they were sitting in the pews, dresses on, hair and make-up fixed.
But I could not for the life of me figure out why they were laughing through my sermon that day as I drone on about a wedding guest being thrown out because of the dress code.

Being dressed, it seems to me, has become synonymous with being ready.

The same was true in the days of these scriptures.

Biblically, clothes have symbolized being ready for the Christian life.
To “be clothed in Christ” is to be ready to live as his disciple,
to put on Christ is to be prepared to live a life of faith.

Today we baptized sweet baby James Crews.
In early Christianity, baptism was talked about as a change of clothes.
Paul said in his letter to the church in Galatia,
“as many of you were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

Baptism was about giving up an old way of life
and putting on the new Christian identity…it was about,
as Paul said in another one of his letters,
being clothed in compassion, kindness, humility and patience.

The man at the wedding banquet was breaking dress code.
He wasn’t wearing a “wedding robe.”
One biblical scholar puts it this way,
“Only a fool would fail to see the difference between what he wore and where he was.
He was at the wedding feast for the royal son. He is the recipient of massive grace.
Where is his awe? his wonder?
The other guests quietly trade in their street clothes for the festive wedding robes of worship and celebration, but there he is,
bellying up to the punchbowl, stuffing his mouth with fig preserves,
and wiping his hands on his T-shirt. When the host demands to know where his wedding robe is, he is speechless, and well he should be.”

You see: our old lives do not belong at God’s grand party.
When we come into the kingdom of God,
do we think we can continue to don the old clothes
of always having to be right while forgetting to be kind?
of saying the correct thing without doing it?
Do we think we can wear
our occasional charity,
our halfhearted trust,
our attachment to fear,
our addiction to comfort?

No way, we’ll want to match God’s own unlimited generosity
with an extravagant love for others.
Anything less will be out of place in the kingdom.
What does this dress code mean for us?
Nothing but a new life.
When we come to the kingdom, we want to be dressed up.

My friends, we are called to put on our wedding robe.
We’re called to get rid of our old stuff and come to God’s party… all dressed up.

Carrie, an only child, was a teenager in the church where I was confirmed.
Her mom worked in retail, therefore, Carrie was always dressed to the nines.
As a young child her sock color always matched the grosgrain ribbon that donned her hair. It was a bit obsessive, if you ask me.
As she grew, it was no wonder that Carrie cared about fashion.
When we were sophomores in High School,
our youth group traveled to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico for a mission trip.
We slept in hammocks with the scorpions, as we spent our days
putting a roof on a local Presbyterian Church. After siesta,
there was always time to play with the children of that local church.

Carrie gave the young girls stickers to put all over their dusty dresses
and played with the little girl’s hair, “Que bonita!” she would say to them, How pretty!
In between play-time with the girls, there was work to be done.
A roof needed to be constructed: after the steel I-beams were in place,
and after the cinderblocks were appropriately lined up:
it was time for the concrete to be poured.
The group started what is known as a bucket brigade.

The adults and youth with strong backs lifted buckets full of concrete up
scaffolding to the roof. The smaller group members had the equally important task
of catching empty buckets that were thrown off the roof
to return them to the concrete pourers to keep the brigade going.

Carrie was on bucket catching duty.
By the end of the morning, she was covered head to toe in splatters of concrete.
Her Nike shoes and Gap tshirt were barely recognizable—
she was dressed in concrete. She was clothed in it.

Clothed in the labor of building a church.
Carrie was clothed in the care and connection to a community in Mexico.

And the little girls – they came by to see our work at the end of that day—
and when those little girls saw Carrie, all clothed in concrete,
they smiled and said “Que bonita!”

 

It seems to me that the gospel asks
that when we are standing in the closet wondering what to wear,
we should pull our wedding robe off the hanger,
put on the garment of our baptism, our Christian life.

We are to dress in the clothes of compassion and justice,
the clothes of love and peace.
We are to put on Christ to attend the amazing party
to which we are all invited.

Hands up if you want to be ready for that?