Proper 23, A
Today, we celebrate! Today we cry out with Isaiah, O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things. Today, we celebrate Natalie Karen Josephine Pavek’s birthday – her birth into the family of the Church, our family; her adoption into the body of Christ. We will baptize her, seal her as Christ’s own, pray for her, break bread together in a celebration of Christ among us, then join together for a feast of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. (or in this case, the MN equivalent of rich food and well aged wine; bars and coffee)
Jesus tells a story of a celebration today, also. A wedding banquet. The King is celebrating his son’s wedding. The pillars of society, the celebrities, the up-and-coming – all the important people are invited as befits a royal wedding. But they don’t come. They actively avoid coming. Even after reassurances that this is the party to end all parties, this is THE EVENT, they persistently and in some cases violently reject the invitation. Left without a guest roster, the King opens the invitation to all the world: good or bad, rich or poor, sick or well, worthy or not.
Common theological wisdom says this parable is an allegory – a story in which each element represents something specific. The royal invited guests are the nation of Israel, represented by the religious elite of the day. The first invitation represents the prophets of old; heard but not taken seriously. The second invitation represents the prophetic Christian missionaries. Spiritual destruction and devastating distance from God is the fate awaiting Israel’s elite as they ignore and mistreat God’s messengers and spurn God’s gifts.
The parable moves on to clearly elucidate Jesus’s all-inclusive, all-encompassing approach to ministry. Everyone is welcome. Fr. Richard Capon says, “The characters in the parable – whether they are graciously invited or compelled to attend, whether they accept or reject the King’s party – are plainly intended as stand-ins for the great, gray-green, greasy catholic mass of humanity with which God insists on doing business.” This is the Good News – it doesn’t matter who you are or who you know – you are a child of God. You are invited to the party. If only the parable stopped there. If only we just didn’t have to think about the whole outer-darkness, teeth gnashing, weeping bit. Over a fashion statement?
A bit of background: in the ancient near East, it was customary to wear a wedding robe. The garment showed respect for the host and for the occasion. Some modern restaurants which require men to wear a suit coat and tie in order to be served will keep a few around to lend to anyone who found themselves unexpectedly lacking the required gear. Similarly, the hosts of large occasions such as this wedding banquet would keep some of the appropriate garb around, ready to lend to the unexpected guest as required. Presumably, the man who did not don a wedding robe made that choice. Maybe he was overwhelmed, maybe he was deliberately being disrespectful, maybe he was just hanging back until he found out if this really was a party worth going to.
In college, I thought it would be fun to learn Highland Dance. I thought of it as a break from study, a way to keep muscles working and blood flowing without actually calling it exercise. I showed up in shorts and a t-shirt and bounced my way through a few lessons. Finally, Florence, my phenomenal instructor, frustrated, said “Yoo cannae be a dancer if yoo dinnae look like a dancer” It had nothing to do with clothing – it had to do with posture and discipline of movement. It had to do with putting self into the dance.
The man came to the party, but did not join the party. He may have tapped his toe, but he did not join the dance. He did not allow himself transformation from outsider to participant. He was cast back into a darkness of his own making.
Parker Palmer tells this story,
“On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks – an African American woman who was a seamstress and in her early 40’s – did something she was not supposed to do; she sat down at the front of a bus in one of the seats reserved for whites – a dangerous, daring and provocative act in a racist society.
“Legend has it that, years later, a graduate student came to Rosa Parks and asked, ‘Why did you sit down at the front of the bus that day?’….She replied, ‘I sat down because I was tired.’ … It was a moment of existential truth, of claiming authentic selfhood, of reclaiming birthright, baptismal right, giftedness, beloved-ness and by doing so she set in motion a process that changed both the lay and law of the land.
“Rosa Parks sat down because she had reached the point where it was essential to embrace her true vocation, her calling as a child of God, a person loved and graced by God – not as someone who was trying necessarily to reshape our society but as someone who would live out her full self in the world – come what may. She decided,” Palmer writes, “I will no longer act on the outside in a way that contradicts the truth that I hold deeply on the inside. I will no longer act as if I were less than the whole person I know myself to be.”
In a few minutes, not only will we invite Miss Natalie into our midst, but we will have the opportunity to renew our own baptismal covenant. Will you proclaim the Good News? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons? Will you strive for justice and peace? We are all children of God. God calls us all into relationship. We are all invited to the party.
It is your choice. Will you wear the mantle of Christ, the garment of our baptismal covenant? Will you join the party? Live the relationship? Thus we are transformed and join in God’s work providing refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. We will wipe the tears from others’ faces, and find our own tears wiped away. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Amen.