Proper 23, A
I had a dream when I was little. I had it over and over and over – so many times that I still remember it even though I haven’t had it in years. I couldn’t have been much more than 3 or 4 when I started having it, because it was at a time when it was still a bit of a challenge to climb into my bed by myself. My surroundings in the dream always seemed warm, humid, sweaty – the atmosphere somehow mists of swirling hues of orange and yellow and red. The dream always started with the sound of foot steps, soft and slow at first. Thump. thump. I would walk away from them, but they would get faster and louder the faster I walked away. Thumpthump. thumpthump. I would begin to run. Thumpthumpthumpthump. It was the monster chasing me – and I was trying to get to my bed because somehow the monster was chasing me because I wasn’t in my bed yet and I was supposed to be in my bed, but I ran and I ran and I couldn’t find my bed. Thumpthump… Finally I found my bed but I jumped and struggled and I couldn’t…quite…crawl…in the bed because somehow it was just too high. I didn’t have my pajamas on yet and I was supposed to have my pajamas on but if I was just in bed maybe it would be ok but I couldn’t jump. high. enough. Thumpthumpthumpthump. Just as the menacing swirls of hairy orange monster arms reached out for my naked pajama less ankles not quite under the covers I woke up. Sweaty. Heart pounding. Years later I realized that the sound of my heart beat exactly mimicked the sound of those monster’s steps.
The underdressed guest was having one of those days. One of those dreams…
We read from Matthew today, but Luke tells the same parable. One preacher has this to say on the subject of Luke and Matthew:
If Matthew and Luke had churches in my town, I would definitely go to Luke’s church. Every time I visit Matthew’s church, I sit near the door. Things are so clear-cut for him. In his world, you are either a sheep or a goat, wheat or tare, a wise maiden or a foolish one. If you pretend to be one when you are in fact the other, then woe to you, you hypocrite—you wolf in sheep’s clothing, you splinter picker with loggy eyes. Three guesses where you are headed when the kingdom comes!
[In my part of the country,] Matthew is what we call a fire and brimstone preacher. He gets really excited about hell, which he conceives as a burning trash dump where a lot of sorry hypocrites are going to grind their teeth for all eternity. Luke mentions the dump once, so maybe there’s something to it, but Matthew can’t seem to get enough of it. Over and over, he puts hell in Jesus’ mouth, filling the fiery furnace with sinners of every kind: evildoers, unfaithful stewards, [and] wicked servants…(Barbara Brown Taylor)
The Gospel of Luke relays today’s parable; so does the “Gospel of Thomas”. Luke and Thomas both manage to tell the story with no troops, no destruction, no burning, no binding, no weeping, no gnashing. The poor dumb schmuck caught without the wedding garment didn’t wander into Luke or Thomas at all. He was tucked into bed at home in his nice clean jammies, safe from the hairy orange monsters born of his own disconnect from relationship when Luke told his story.
And this is why we have the lectionary: the prescribed formula by which we wend our way through the scriptures in an orderly fashion week by week, year by year. We have the lectionary because if we did not I would soften those sharp Matthean edges; default back to the modulated tones of Luke and his message of inclusiveness and service allowing our hapless guest get to bed early for a dreamless, sweet rest. Then we would miss what he has to tell us in his waking fear.
I’ll be honest, I have no trouble identifying with the initial invitees to this soiree. Some people live to party. Some decidedly do not. My world is rather more in line with A.A. Milne’s Eeyore in this regard, as he says, “We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.” “Can’t all WHAT?” asks the social Poohbear, rubbing his nose. “Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush…I’m not complaining, but There It Is.”
Unlike Eeyore, it’s not the gaiety, the song and dance I mind. It’s the sense of being ill-prepared and unqualified for the role, unsure what the role actually should be – perpetually convinced I will wear/say/do the wrong things the wrong way. If I go to the party, if I cannot find an excuse which conveniently pulls me away, I function at the periphery of the gathering, people watching, safely at the edges where any social gaffes remain unlikely to garner general attention.
That is what happens to our under-dressed party goer. He goes the to the party, but he does not join the party. He does not honor the king, honor his son, dress for the occasion. He is living two lives – in attendance but not participating, present but not engaged.
At the combined team vestry retreat last week, Robyn and Becky presented a proposal to support “Move To Amend”. Becky talked about it briefly in church last week. Ask them for details if you are interested. The upshot is that it is a grass roots movement designed to upend the current legal situation which defines corporations as people, entitled to the same rights as any individual; and defines money as speech, therefore protecting unlimited flow of money in support of any cause or candidate. At the retreat, the very reasonable question was asked, whatever you might think of the movement, isn’t this bringing politics into church? Harold Lasswell, an American political scientist wrote the most commonly accepted definition of politics: “Politics is who gets what, when, how.”
By that definition, while we need not and arguably should not be partisan, we cannot, as a church, as the body of Christ, help but participate in politics. Worship restores, rejuvenates, but we cannot just come to the feast without donning the new clothes of a transformed life – a life transformed in Christ, in the things that concerned Christ. Clothe the naked, feed the hungry, comfort the prisoners, pity the afflicted, care for the sick. Who gets what, when, how.
Worthy or not, prepared or not, busy or not, we are all of us invited to the feast of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. The table is spread before us. Not to attend is to risk alienation from our creator, from the ground of our being. “God is not looking for warm bodies but for wedding guests who will rise to the occasion of honoring the son. We can do that in shorts and sneakers, I think, as well as in suits and high heels, because our wedding robes are not made of denim or silk. They are made of the whole fabric of our lives, using patterns God has given us — patterns of justice, forgiveness, loving-kindness, peace.” (Barbara Brown Taylor)
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things… May the God of peace be with you. Amen.