ST. AUGUSTINE’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH, MORROW, GEORGIA
THE REV. BARRY GRIFFIN, RECTOR
So this couple got an invitation in the mail. “Well look! Our friends are getting married and we’re invited to the reception afterwards. Let’s do it!”
The invitation stated, “Come as you are. No wedding presents, please. Your presence is all we request.”
The day arrived, and the couple dressed according to the invitation. They wore nice, casual clothing: nothing fancy, nothing formal, but for a “come as you are” event, very nice.
As requested, they purchased no gift. That’s what the invitation stated, and they complied.
When the Uber driver arrived at their door that night, she smiled. “You are going to have a fabulous evening,” she said. Well, that sounded strange.
When they pulled into the driveway of the event site, the couple knew what she meant. The place was very lavish, and they became concerned. When they walked into the ball room their fears were confirmed. This was high society. Everybody else was wearing formal attire. The women wore evening dresses. The men wore suits. And the head table was piled high with wedding gifts.
Ouch. They felt so out of place, so embarrassed, and so small. They left early that night.
Have you ever showed up at a party or some other event under-dressed? Have you ever showed up somewhere over-dressed? That’s an awkward thing, too. You didn’t know. As they say, you never got the memo.
Most of us want to fit in. We want to present ourselves as others present themselves. And if other people bring gifts, we want to bring gifts, too. We don’t want to stand out from the crowd. We don’t want to feel embarrassed. At least I don’t. I don’t want to be perceived as less than or more than.
Last Thursday the clergy of our diocese gathered for a clergy day with The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Michael Curry. When I dressed that morning I wondered what I should wear. Now, most clergy days are informal. I usually wear a sport shirt and cargo pants or sometimes shorts, depending on the location and the season.
But hey. We don’t get the presiding bishop every day, right? What if everybody else dresses up? And what if everybody else wears a collar, except me? On the other hand, what if I’m the only one who dresses up and wears a collar?
What to do?
So I took the middle road. I played it safe. I wore a clerical shirt with collar and slacks, but no jacket. (However, I put my jacket in the trunk of my car, just in case.)
As I walked through the parking lot I saw Bishop Wright. He was wearing a colorful, casual shirt. Good sign. Later that morning he explained that this shirt was a gift from an African bishop. Okay.
As I entered the large meeting space I got my coffee and began to chat with some clergy friends.
My buddy Scott Kidd said, “I wondered what to wear today. Bishop Wright has on an African shirt, but Bishop Curry is wearing Episcopal purple and a suit.”
We all chuckled, because each of us had noticed both bishops. Each of us had wondered how to dress that day. We wanted to fit in. We didn’t want to stand out from the crowd.
The close of today’s gospel is about a man who stood out from the crowd. Unlike my clergy friends and me, he wasn’t on his way to a special event. He wasn’t dressed for anything out of the ordinary. He was called in off the street to attend a wedding banquet. But he didn’t measure up to the dress code. He wore no wedding robe. He never got the memo.
Formal invitations had been sent out. But those who were invited didn’t show up, and they were punished. I get that. But this fellow was pulled in off the street. What did he know? When he dressed that morning, no one told him he was going to a wedding banquet. Why was he punished?
This parable is more than a little confusing. It seems very unfair. It offends our sense of justice.
Honestly, I don’t know how to get around that. Some scholars think these are actually two different parables joined together by Matthew because they share a common setting: a wedding banquet. That could be. That makes sense to me. But we don’t know.
In any case, the point of this gospel is summed up in this way: many are called, but few are chosen. In other words, when it comes to the kingdom of heaven, it’s not enough to be called. How you dress matters. How you present yourself is extremely important.
Now, clearly, this parable is a metaphor. Jesus isn’t really talking about the clothing we wear. Suits are fine. So are cargo pants. Even shorts. That’s not the point. It’s not about our fashion choices. It’s about our character choices.
Our wedding robe is our character. It’s how we live out our lives. It’s who we are.
In his letter to the Colossians Saint Paul wrote, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.”
“Clothe yourselves,” Paul wrote. Because every day of our lives we make clothing decisions.
Will I wear compassion?
Will I wear kindness?
Will I put on humility, meekness and patience?
We make these choices every single day. They don’t just happen. We choose what we will wear. We choose how we will live and how we will present ourselves to others.
The blouse or shirt you put on covers your heart. Choose a blouse or shirt of compassion.
When it’s really cold outside you need gloves. In this cold world we live in, choose gloves of kindness. Reach out to others. Help those who need a kind word.
Appropriate shoes are always important. Wear shoes of humility. Stay grounded. Remember who you are and where you came from (from dust you were made, and to dust you shall return.)
And when it’s hot outside keep your head covered. Wear the hat of meekness.
And never forget to wear a belt. Buckle the belt of patience. Discipline yourself. Keep yourself tucked in. In my case that often means keeping my mouth shut.
Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience: these are clothing options. These are things we put on or things we cast aside every day.
Last Thursday Bishop Curry made this very important point: “Yes”, he said, “God loves us unconditionally, just the way we are. That’s true. But God is not finished with us yet.”
God has expectations. Simply put, God expects us to live right, to do right; to treat others right.
Here’s the good news: God is not finished with us yet. God helps us get properly dressed if that’s what we want. If not, God loves us no less. But God honors our choices.
I hope you choose to take your place at the wedding banquet. There’s a place at the table just for you. And now you know the dress code. Today you got the memo. Put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
And enjoy the party.
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