Sermon transcript for October 12, 2014
Belmont UMC—October 12, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching
There used to be a television show called “What Not to Wear.” In the show an unsuspecting person has been nominated by friends, relatives or co-workers because he or she has become a caricature of the fashion faux pas. Sometimes they are guilty of wearing clothes from a past decade, not for fun and not to be retro, but because they have not kept up with the current fashion trends. They wear baggy sweat suits to work or they have an inclination toward cut off t-shirts and bandanas.
These candidates for the worst dress list are surprised by 2 fashion experts, or as I like to call them “fashion Nazis,” who go through their current wardrobe and make sarcastic and critical remarks about the victim’s lack of style. (I have had some fear of being nominated for this show.)
The good part of the show is that the poorly dressed victim is given helpful advice and cash to spend on a new wardrobe, plus they get a new hairstyle and makeover. They go home to a party of their friends looking better than ever.
Clothing styles are an interesting sociological and culture phenomenon. We’ve had a tendency toward more casual attire over the last couple of decades. A few years ago I was called to a meeting with my then Bishop. I put on my best suit and drove to his office. The bishop was wearing blue jeans and a polo shirt and I was way overdressed. I’ve noticed that my colleagues in ministry wear neck ties less than they used to.
When I was child we wore dress shirts and ties to church on Sunday mornings. Ladies wore their best dresses and sometimes their fanciest hats. When we came to Belmont a little over 7 years ago, we came from a fairly casual church. I told my 3 sons that they needed to dress up a bit for Belmont and they complied. When we arrived on that first Sunday we found all the young people in short and casual shirts, so I was given the eye roll that said, “Dadddd!”
Sometimes people will call and ask how we dress for church and I tell them that some folks wear suits and dresses and some wear blue jeans and t-shirts. The term “Sunday best” doesn’t mean what it used to.
Today’s parable is the “what not to wear to a banquet” parable. The rather over-the-top story is about a king who had a wedding feast for his son and he sent his servants out to deliver the invitations but the invitees did not come. So he tried again and they made light of the invitation and went their way, and some mistreated or killed the king’s servants.
The king sent the servants out to invite others—those on the streets, good and bad, and invite them in to the feast, and they did just that.
When the king came in and found one guest who was not wearing the appropriate wedding clothes, he said, “Friend, how did you get in here without a robe?” The man did not answer so the king had him bound and kicked out into the farthest darkness (scary).
This parable is an allegory and not realism. It is about a king who throws a wedding banquet for his son. It is a story about Jesus and later Matthew’s disappointment that so few of God’s chosen were heeding the invitation to the banquet.
The latecomers represent the Gentiles, who often acted as though the invitation gave them permission to act anyway they chose. It is thought that the wedding hosts provided guests with garments to wear, but for some reason this one guest did not think he needed to wear it.
The parable reminds us that everyone is invited to the wedding banquet. First the invitation is offered to those who have proved themselves worthy and then the invitation is offered to the rest—the good and the bad. God’s invitation is always in the mailbox, no one is excluded.
When my oldest son was a child we lived in a parsonage next to some neighbors who were very unfriendly. They put a big fence up around their yard and put No Trespassing signs all around it. They were sort of snobbish and it was said they were disappointed that they could not afford to live in a better neighborhood. One day I was in the front yard working when the little girl from next door came over and announced to our son, “I’m having a birthday party on Saturday and you are not invited.” Lars was very hurt, but not surprised by her attitude.
I very quickly said, “It’s okay son because we are going to do something really fun on Saturday.”
He asked, “What, Dad?” I told him it was a surprise but the truth is I had no idea since I was making this up on the spot.
God’s having a party and you are all invited. The blessings and festivity of the salvation banquet are for all of us!
The parable teaches us that there is a dress code for the banquet. It’s not a white tunic embroidered with gold thread. It’s not a beautiful dress from Neiman Marcus or a rented jacket from Tuxedo World. It is a way of life that honors the invitation, that honors the host. It is a life that rises to the occasion.
Karl Barth wrote about the man who is kicked out of the banquet, “In the last resort, it all boils down to the fact that the invitation is to a feast, and that he who does not obey and come accordingly, and therefore festively, declines and spurns the invitation no less than those who are unwilling to obey and appear at all.” (Church Dogmatics, p. 588)
And so the parable challenges a culture of indifference and apathy toward the spiritual. The mistake of those who were invited is that they made light of the invitation. What we are part of here in this place today is to be valued, treasured, treated with reverence and respect. Our Bishop uses the word “excellence” a lot and he’s trying to create a culture of excellence among clergy and churches, that dispels mediocrity and rises to the occasion of the banquet to which we’ve all been invited.
Years ago, as a young pastor, our church was having a work day to attend to some things around the building and the grounds that can go untended. Some people were working in the yard; others were inside cleaning and repairing things. I heard one of the men who had completed a project say, “Well, it’s not very good, but it’s good enough for the church.” In Jesus parable he would have been the one without the wedding clothes, the one who didn’t rise to the occasion, the one who made light of the invitation.
The parable reminds us that we are invited to the kingdom of God and our response to this grace-filled invitation and how we live in obedience to that love and grace are the most important aspects of our lives. The story reminds us that our relationship with God is central to all that we do and all that we are.
Jesus’ parable teaches us what to wear. We are to wear a heart filled with anticipation. If a child is invited to a party, that child will talk about it all week long with excitement and enthusiasm. We may not be at the ultimate wedding party Jesus speaks of in the parable but we are at the dress rehearsal for it. So we can come here each week with hearts filled with anticipation because we never know what wonderful things will happen at God’s party.
We are to wear a life lived in reverence to God. In our Covenant Bible Study last Wednesday we talked about reclaiming a kind of awe and reverence for the holy. I see this on your faces on Sunday mornings when the choir is singing one of those beautiful anthems or the pianist/organist plays something that takes us to a better place than we were in when we arrived.
I see it in your faces during Holy Communion. Our staff has observed that the people of Belmont will look you in the eye when you are serving communion and there is a kind of longing anticipation in the faces of our people.
I see it in the faces of our acolytes, as they know the light they bring represents the light of Christ.
In my last appointment there was a little boy who loved to be the acolyte. His mom said, “On Sundays when he is scheduled, he talks about it all week. He gets up on Sunday before everyone else and lays out the clothes he wants to wear, even though they will be under his robe. He wants to come early so he can practice. When he comes down the aisle he watches the flame on his wick as though he is looking into the face of God.”
He teaches us what to wear to the party, our Sunday best, the best our heart can muster.
Sermon transcript for October 5, 2014
The Most Important Things
Belmont UMC—October 5, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching
As we were thinking about today’s worship service for World Communion, our worship staff talked about global concerns. One of those concerns is the growing numbers of refugees, persons who have had to flee their homes because of threats of violence or natural disasters. Statistical information about the current refugee crisis is all over the place but most sources agree that the current refugee population is in the tens of millions and that is the largest number in modern history.
I’ve been thinking about what it means to have to flee your home and leave most of your belongings behind. We were in California a few weeks ago. We drove from Southern Oregon down Interstate 5, through the mountains, near Mt. Shasta, a beautiful mountain peak. It is surrounded by Lake Shasta, which is currently at about one-third of its capacity because of the drought. We drove through the town of Weed, California—only in California would you find a town named Weed. The sign at the edge of town reads, “Weed Like to Welcome You.”
A week or so after we left California the town of Weed was in the path of a huge forest and brush fire that consumed thousands of acres and about 200 homes. There was another huge fire east of Sacramento along another route we had traveled to and from Yosemite National Park. I was watching the news footage on television. A woman was standing beside her minivan and she was telling reporters that she and her family had been given 30 minutes to evacuate their home. She said, “We started grabbing everything we thought we couldn’t live without and throwing it into the van. We are not sure if we’ll have a home when we return.”
We’ve seen similar scenes with persons in the path of hurricanes. We see the faces of refugees fleeing Syria. They have traveled with their meager belongings to refugee camps.
Many of our Belmont members from the Golden Triangle Fellowship have dramatic stories of fleeing their homes in Burma for safety. As we think about Joy in Giving during this season, remember that your gifts to the church are allowing us to be in ministry with, and alongside of, refugees throughout the world and here in Nashville.
What would you take with you if you had to flee your home? What are the most important things that you could not live without—your computer, important papers, clothes, or photographs of your family?
What are the most important things?
There are times in our lives when we are forced to answer that question. There are serious times. What if the doctor walks into your hospital room with a grim look on her face? She says, “The news is not good. You’re probably going to want to get your affairs in order.” You are forced to reflect on what is most important in your life.
Or it could be more subtle experience (if we can call guilt a subtle experience), that can force us to think about what is most important. You were cleaning the garage and your child walks up to you and says, “Dad, I thought you were going to spend some time with me today?” What are the most important things?
Our staff in another church received a threat from someone who was suspected of arson. It’s a complicated story, but we were advised to remove anything we valued from our house. We did a video inventory of our contents, but we did not remove a lot from the house—mostly photos of the children and a couple of small things that had belonged to our grandparents. We realized that the most important things in our life could not be put in boxes.
The Apostle Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians from prison near the end of his life. He was under house arrest. In that setting he was forced to think about the most important things in his life. When you is at the end of your life, you tend to do and say the things that mean the most to you. The result is a beautiful little letter full of doxologies and affirmations.
Paul knows what was once most important to him: his credentials, his heritage, and his bragging rights. He writes, “If anyone has reason to put their confidence in physical advantages, I have even more: I was circumcised on the eighth day, born a Jew--not converted, from the tribe of Benjamin (it’s a small tribe but from it came the first king, Saul, and I was named for him), I was a Pharisee—a strict keeper of the law. I was zealous and blameless. I have a lot of important baggage.” (my paraphrase)
But that is not what Paul would pack into his minivan. What is most important to him is the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. Compared to that everything else is “sewer trash.” The word can be translated “excrement.” This is pretty strong language but his hyperbole makes the point that at the end of his life he knows what is most important.
Heritage is a good thing. Credentials can be helpful. The past can help inform th present and the future, but faith in Christ as Lord trumps everything else.
And Paul says it is this one thing that keeps him moving forward. It is this singular focus that keeps him motivated to fulfill God’s purposes in the world.
What about us? What is most important to us? Is it the superior value of knowing Christ as Lord? If so, how will we live into the importance of that affirmation? If we believe this we will not stand in a circle and congratulate ourselves. We will not rest on our past accomplishments, or slow down, or get stuck in mediocrity. We will live each day as church as though this is the most important thing in our lives.
Today we come to this table and celebrate a meal that had its birth at Passover. The Passover meal was a refugee meal, made up symbols that represented the suffering of people under oppression and the faithfulness of God. The bread was unleavened because they had to leave their homes quickly before the bread could rise.
Jesus’ own family had to flee their home and go to Egypt for fear of violence. What did these Biblical refugees take with them? They probably took some of the basic things they needed. Jesus’ family may have taken the gifts of the magi to provide for their basic needs. But they also took the knowledge that God was faithful and that God loved them and led them.
As we come to this table today, let us be in prayer for all those who are displaced in our world and let us ask ourselves, “What is the most important thing for me, for my family?”