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Sermon transcript for October 26, 2014

Loving God’s Children
Matthew 22:34-46 and I Thessalonians 2:1-8
Belmont UMC—October 26, 2014
Susan Groseclose, preaching

Today, we conclude our financial campaign by celebrating Children’s Sabbath. We celebrate the presence and ministry of children that fill our hallways. We celebrate the children in our communities and around the world. We celebrate all of God’s children young and old.

Much of the violence today is targeted at children. Our nation allows millions of children to be hungry, homeless, uninsured, abused, and at high risk for a violent death. The Children’s Defense Fund compiles shocking facts about the devastation in the lives of America’s children. Among them are:

■ Persistent Hunger – day after day, hope-draining hunger affects the lives of 8.3 million        American children.
■ Deep Poverty – the humiliations and pains of abiding need haunt the lives of 7.1                million children in our rich nation.
■    Gunfire Violence – suicides, accidents, and homicides take the lives of seven children a        day.

For some, our tendency is to respond to these facts with apathy or despair. As people of faith, we can dare to comprehend the scope of injustices our children face because we know that, with God’s help, we can address them. We can help to bring about change and restoration. Today as we celebrate Children’s Sabbath we not only turn our attention to the needs of children but also affirm God’s call to use our resources, our skills, and our commitment to love all of God’s children.

A lawyer asked Jesus, “”Which is the greatest commandment?” Jesus answered, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind.   This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians reminds us that being an apostle - being a disciple - is to deeply care for one another like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children.  As infants depend on their mother, we also depend on God - loving God with our entire being. It is through our dependency and love of God we care and love one another. We are called to care for one another….bringing forth righteousness, wholeness, and harmony.

What does it mean to love God with our entire being? In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus illustrates loving God with our entire being - our heart, our soul, our strength, and our mind - by telling a story about his friends, Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Martha was busy welcoming Jesus into their home. She was probably washing the guests’ feet, providing a drink of water, preparing a meal, and all the other responsibilities of caring for the guests. Her sister, Mary, sat and listened to Jesus. Martha became upset with Mary for not helping with the work. However, Jesus told her that Mary was showing her love for God by sitting and listening to him.

For me personally, it is easy to to be a Martha - to be caught up in the day-to-day responsibilities but I know for my ministry to be faithful and fruitful, I must find ways to live out the Mary in me. I find that by making it a priority for personal devotion, reading, and prayer. I find the Mary in me through weekly worship - rarely do I participate in 8:15 worship leadership because that is the time for me to worship without thinking about logistics and to receive the gift of Holy Communion each week. I find the Mary in me by participating with 5 other sisters in Christ in a covenant discipleship group where we hold one another in love to our walk with Christ.

When we are rooted in God’s love, we are able to know and believe in God’s faithfulness. We are able to withstand the difficulties, disappointments, grief, and uncertainties in life because we trust and believe that God walks with us. When we are completely enveloped in our love for God all our thoughts, all our actions, all our decisions flow from our love of God.

When we are rooted in God’s love, we can trust God’s loving presence in the tragedy of a young man killed in the Edgehill community. We can believe that all God’s children, young and old, are of sacred worth and welcomed here at Belmont. We can welcome visiting families with a safe, loving, and nurturing place to worship and grow in our faith. We can work through our differences in communication, values, and customs to celebrate our diversity and our common ministry with the Golden Triangle Fellowship. We can proclaim that families who have a child with a disability will find a nurturing, caring, loving place where they can grow and share their gifts in ministry. When we are rooted in God’s love, we can open our hearts to receive and love those who are homeless in our midst with bus passes, food, and shelter. We can share out of our abundance to partner with Eakin Elementary to provide food for children’s backpacks, we can provide resources for young children and the oldest of God’s children at Bethlehem Centers, we can fill Christmas stockings for children in Grundy County, we can collect peanut butter and jelly for Community Care Fellowship,  and we can move out of the walls of this church in ministry and service in the community whenever we tutor, build relationships, and advocate for justice. 

It is a holy privilege to live out of our love for God as a witness of God’s love.

As we love God through our devotion and worship, we are moved to respond to God’s love by loving one another and responding with justice. God’s love propels us to go out into our communities, into our schools, into the prisons, along the streets of Nashville, and as far away as Mexico and Malawi. As we experience loving God and loving one another we deepen and transform our relationships with God and with others.

Our loving God and loving one another is rooted in the Wesleyan Way of Life. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed that persons grow in their faith following a rule of life. There are three simple rules, or principles of a Christian life:

First: Do no harm.
Second: Do all the good you can.
Third: Stay in love with God through the public worship of God; ministry of the Word; the Lord’s Supper; family and private prayer; reading and studying the Bible; fasting or abstinence.

Through this General Rule of Discipleship – we love God through our devotion and worship and we are a witness to Jesus Christ’s love in the world through our acts of compassion and justice. We all practice and learn to live as Christ lived, to forgive as Christ forgave, to serve as Christ served, and above all to love as Christ loved.  As we learn and grow in our faith, others see and experience the love of God through, with, and in us.

Think for a minute about the children and families in our day who are suffering, powerless in the face of overwhelming political forces, displaced and feeling abandoned. We want every child to be comforted in the assurance of God’s presence with them through the affirming and loving times of their lives as well as the scariest, most difficult times in their lives. How do we as Belmont UMC congregation communicate not only through our words but more importantly through our actions that all children are precious in God’s sight - that they are honored and that they are loved? How do we love our own children and children around the world? How can we help children from their earliest days have nurturing and supportive experiences at home, in school, at church, and in our communities?   

Justice is more than loving another person. It is becoming aware of unjust issues and learning the deep causes for the injustice. It is being a voice for those who are voiceless or marginalized by society and standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.  It is changing our own behavior or encouraging others to change their behavior toward another. It is serving others, speaking out on behalf of others, and acting in ways that restore community so that all creation is treated with fairness, respect, and dignity. It is standing alongside the oppressed and restoring each other’s dignity and sacred worth.

As people of faith, we are called upon to make a different choice. We are called upon to persevere in the face of injustice, and to stand strong while we address the violence of our own day. We are called upon to proclaim our Christian conviction in God’s final victory of justice over evil. When we resolve to persist, we are empowered to seek out the injustice that afflicts our communities and replace it with just and merciful options. As God exposes the failures of our society, our trust in God allows us to use the tools of truth and justice to act as agents of restoration.

As we make our financial commitments….as we prioritize our ministries…as we seek to be faithful in loving God and one another let us imagine communities where all God’s children are cherished, honored, and loved; where all God’s children are fed and clothed and live in safe homes; where all God’s children experience and know the love of Jesus Christ.


Sermon transcript for October 19, 2014

Thank God for All of You
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Belmont UMC—October 19, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching

Paul usually begins his letters to the churches with gratitude for the people, even in those letters where he proceeds to take them to task for something they’ve done wrong. But he had a deep love for the people of Thessalonica and he prayed for them and longed for them, especially in their struggles and persecution.

And as I read this passage again, and as we looked at this passage and others from the Pastoral Letters a few weeks ago in Covenant Bible Study, I was touched by the phrase, “Thank God for all of you.” As I look out at all of you this morning that phrase goes through my mind, “I do thank God for all of you.”

On Monday and Tuesday of last week, I was at gatherings of clergy from the Memphis Conference (West Tennessee) and then the Tennessee Conference (middle Tennessee) and I received such warm greetings from so many friends gathered over the course of several decades of ministry. I even received some warm hugs. As I looked out over that group, people so different in so many ways and yet bound to the same call to serve, I thought, “I thank God for all of you.”

I was telling a young clergy friend recently that I still get anxious before preaching. He asked, “What do you about that?” My answer, “I look at the people and the anxiety is dispelled.” That seems counterintuitive to some folks but looking at the people who I have come to know and love, helps calm any fears I have about what I am about to do. “I thank God for all of you.”

I like the theme for our operating campaign, “Joy in Giving” but it’s in this shared community, this community of people who love one another and serve alongside one another, that we find that real joy, that deep gladness in giving.

Community, church, and family have always been important to me. It’s how I was raised, surrounded by family, church and the simple traditions that accompany them. I knew every acre of our farm when I was a kid, but I knew every acre of all my cousins farms as well. We worked on all those farms and shared meals in all those farm houses. We were surrounded by family and friends. Holidays meant being around lots of those folks and eating some delicious food.

We were in California in September, visiting our son and daughter-in-law in Berkeley. We had a conversation about Thanksgiving and holidays away from family. I knew that Lars and Laura would not be coming home for Thanksgiving so I asked about their plans. They have a group of friends, friends who also live far from their families, and they share holidays with them with pot luck dinners. These are the people who give them rides to the airport or take care of their pets and plants when they are away. These are the people who step in and do the things that families normally do.

In our mobile world we see the development of makeshift families. The church often has a role in these new communities of friends.

In The Shelter of Each Other, Mary Pipher writes, “When I speak of families, I usually mean biological families. There is a power in blood ties that cannot be denied. But in our fragmented, chaotic culture, many people don’t have biological families nearby. For many people, friends become family. Family is a collection of people who pool resources and help each other over the long haul. Families love one another even when that requires sacrifice. Family means that if you disagree, you still stay together.

Families are the people for whom it matters if you have a cold, are feuding with your mate or training a new puppy. Family members used magnets to fasten the newspaper clipping about your bowling team on the refrigerator door. They save your drawings and homemade pottery. They like to hear stories about when you were young. They’ll help you can tomatoes or change the oil in your car. They’re the people who will come visit you in the hospital, will talk to you when you call with a dark night of the soul and will loan you money to pay the rent if you lose your job. Whether or not they are biologically related to each other, the people who do these things are family.” (pp. 21-22)

Friends become like family in some of these settings. They become communities that support and care for one another. I recently spoke to a group of United Methodist young adults who meet in the Nashville area on Tuesday nights. They are called Anchor and they agreed that their lives reflect that quote from Mary Pipher.

And we also agreed that there are two ingredients to building that kind of community. One is food. There is an old saying that “A friend is someone who has eaten a peck of salt with you.” That’s a lot of salt but it means you’ve eaten a lot of meals together. I still believe that something wonderful and sacred happens when we sit down at a table and share a meal together. Something happens in that setting that doesn’t happen anywhere else. We recently shared a meal together with some clergy friends. We’d each brought something to add to the meal. Our conversations were light-hearted but our time in each other’s presence was beautiful and holy. I looked around the table and thought, “I give thanks for all of you.”

The other ingredient to build community is our stories. We learn each other’s stories, where we were born, how we were raised. We learn about struggles and successes. We share our faith stories. We talk about our children or our siblings and our crazy old Uncle Harold. To really know someone we must know their story.

Is it no wonder that the center of our faith is this table, where we share the food that Jesus gave us to share and to remember him by. And when we come to this table we retell our story and God’s story. And we look around and think to ourselves, “Thank God for all of you.”

I believe we need these communities of friends. We were created to live in community. Yes, we need private space and solitude, but even the introvert among us needs to know that there are people who care about them, love them and will be there for them.

I like social media and find it to be an efficient way of connecting with lots of people.  I like having Facebook friends, even if the definition of friend there is very loose. But we need personal, face to face, encounters, like sitting at Fidos over a cup of coffee in the late afternoon, sharing stories and laughing until your face hurts. It doesn’t get any better than that.

The church is one of those special communities and I’m not sure I know how to live without it. We are not perfect but we can do some amazing things together as a community. We believe that it’s in the presence of community, where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus that we experience something holy, something beyond ourselves.

Bishop Ken Carder used to tell a story of his seminary days. He was an excellent student but he had gotten a paper back and he’d been given a “C” and he thought he deserved a better grade. He wanted to talk to the professor but he couldn’t find the words. One day he saw the professor walking across campus. The professor spoke to him but Ken ignored him. The professor stopped him and asked, ‘What’s wrong?” Ken told him and the professor could see that Ken was tearful and hurt. The professor literally put his arms around Ken and held him and said, “I gave you that grade because you can do so much better.” Ken Carder said, “He held me and he held me accountable.” For Ken Carder that was a metaphor for the church.

This is the place where we hold each other. We love each other. We express this love in many ways. Our doorbell rang one afternoon and there were several men and women standing at my door with covered dishes in their hands. They were at the wrong house but the food in their dishes smelled wonderful. The house on the cul de sac up from our house has a similar address and we often get their mail and deliveries by mistake. The woman who lived there had cancer and these folks were members of her Sunday School Class bringing food to support the family.

We hold each other accountable. We need people who will tell us the truth in love and help us be better people. We need to hang out with folks who are better at keeping their spiritual disciplines, who understand the joy in giving, and who pray for us. There are people in this church who will cause you to be a better disciple just because you hang out with them. And in this place we grow to understand the words of Paul, “I give thanks for all of you.”

Look around this morning. Look into the faces of these dear friends. Remember their stories. And give thanks.


Sermon transcript for October 12, 2014 (8:15 a.m. service)

Nick Baird Chrisohon
“The Grace of Getting Over Myself” : A Sermon on Romans 12:1-8
Sermon for Belmont UMC, 8:15 service
October 12, 2014

I have a confession to make: About ten years ago there was a trend of music known as “emo.” Some of the older adults in the audience may have no idea what I’m talking about, but I’d be willing to bet many parents and friends in my generation have experienced “emo” in one way or the other.  Think of it as old “woe is me” country lyrics backed by whiny rock ‘n’ roll.  This music had a powerful effect on younger generations.  Parents dealt with moody, dark teenagers who thought “things are so hard,” or, you were like me and were the moody, dark teenager.

I really liked the emo scene, because they were generally accepting people, but if you’ve spent more than a minute with me, you would quickly realize I didn’t quite fit the aesthetic.  I smile too much and eyeliner is super hard to put on.  

What drew me to this kind of music was its honesty – albeit somewhat fabricated and a little too dramatic – because many of the artists asked some very hard questions about the human condition.  Themes like “I’m not perfect,” “what if no one likes me,” “Am I relevant,” “who cares,” “what if I’m not good enough” and on and on.  These are valuable issues to young minds, and I don’t believe we ever really escape our curiosity of our own value.  We all struggle to understand the potential we have and hate it when we fall short of perfection.  It seems like everyone is telling us what we can be and should be, but that kind of pressure can make it difficult to get out of bed.  The weight of the world somehow hangs on your shoulders, and that is a terrible burden to bear.

That’s where music came in to play for me.  It was the best way I could rebel against my own feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt [and it was a great way to get girls to notice me, too.]  Obviously, we have to go through the risk of understanding our identities, but after a while, our obsession in knowing ourselves leads us away from fruitful self-reflection and into darker realms of depression or narcissism.

Add to that problem the fact that as we get older and adjust to who we are, we start filling our lives with things to do, places to be, friends to see, and on and on.  Between work, kids, church, and the myriad things that demand our attention, we become taskmasters of a neverending calendar of “stuff I have to do.”  I call this the vice of busy-ness.  For whatever reason, we fill our calendars to the point where spending time with loved ones has to be “penciled in.”  Isn’t it weird how troubled teens I knew from a decade ago have transitioned from hours alone with their radios and MP3 players wallowing in their emotions all of a sudden become driven robots who barely have time for a cup of coffee?  Again, matters where we are not fully engaged in something other than ourselves signals a need for reflection. They sound so different, but I don’t think they are.

So, in light of concerns about ourselves and how we go about living, today’s passage from Romans sounds like a tall order.  It says all of those concerns are the wrong concerns, and we are to sacrifice what we have and who we are to God.  The ideals that we hold so dear – being accepted, being noticed, being “good enough,” having a good life, having tons of friends – these are all goals of the same self-centered mind.  We build noise into our lives to the point where everything becomes a static-y mess.  Our hopes toward understanding who we are built on our accomplishments rather than our status as children of God.

What are we to do?  Paul is telling us to have the grace to get over ourselves.
We have to put down what we want in sacrifice to God’s wants, but sacrificing your life to God is the opposite of what the world demands, and we like the world.  We are producers and doers so we can have more stuff.  We spend years in school before all that to get the degree that will qualify us for jobs that pay lots of money (if you have a liberal arts degree, just nod) because we think money brings happiness and stuff and the way to get there is by doing whatever it is we do best.  We turn back to what tells us that we are special and should forge our own paths to greatness.  We hold on to what we think we should do tightly, because we can’t be bothered to do what God asks.

But we have to. We have to give it up.

Paul exhorts the audience to take whatever it is they do well and see it as a God-given gift to use for the greater good.  The request is to be sober – not dramatic buried in our own self-doubt or clutching to what we think is ours – and to assess what it is that we can offer simply because we should.  As someone who continually struggles with the definitions of purpose and call and career, it is indeed a welcome sobriety to be asked to see what it is that I do well and to only focus on that and give up the rest.  Paul says, if you’ll allow me to paraphrase, “just go with it.” Getting over myself is the greatest luxury because I don’t have to prove my worth to anyone.  I just have to what I already know I do well and use it for the work toward God’s ministry of creation and recreation.
Romans offers a promise for our compliance: laying down our lives leads to transformation.  God’s working in your life will be brought to perfection in God’s will.  I think this is what John Wesley was pointing to when he laid out the process toward Christian perfection.  We answer the calls of God’s grace, and by continually laying down our will  , we are given the will of God that leads to what is perfect. Your desires for busyness are gone.  Money loses its power.  Self-doubt cannot survive.  There is no emo in perfection.

The road to perfection doesn’t ask much of us..”  Paul says, “teachers will teach, preachers will preach, cooks will cook, givers give, etc. etc.” I do not see this as a limit – merely an encouragement to hone our gifts and not force ourselves to be jacks of all trades.  I do believe that if the entire church could manage to find their one thing to do in service for God, we wouldn’t have people asking us to join yet another committee.
Sacrificing your life to God is the ultimate expression of freedom.  It is total acceptance and validation of the self.  It is what makes it all worthwhile. You are welcome to build upon your one thing and be good at multi-tasking; however, this passage speaks directly against our society’s demands to juggle many things and be successful at most or all of them and continually work and produce and be super all the time [breathe] because that is exhausting.

The church was not designed to be full of multi-taskers, either.  It is a collaborative effort. All of the many parts of the body working together is what we call mission. Paul is telling the Romans to think beyond their own value and to discern God’s perfection in the world, and they are to be actors in it.  If I am not using my gifts to point to the holy beyond me, what good am I? If we as the church aren’t pointing to God, then why are we here?

The world teaches us that our life’s mission is to do great things for the sake of building up our own assets and living in security.  Somewhere along the way, the American church took that definition of manifest destiny of capital and sprinkled in language of God and Jesus.  The same thing was true in Rome.  Power and wealth were the same then as they are now, and the way we get them is to produce and accomplish more than others.

My friends, you have been told that mission means we must accomplish something.  Paul’s letter makes no mention of “accomplishing” or “succeeding” but rather asks we reimagine our lives as part of the greater body of Christ.  Mission is not living independently and striving alone; mission is recognizing your gifts as being of immense value – knit intimately into your being from your very beginning – that are also part of the grand tapestry of God’s kin-dom of heaven come to earth.
As the body of Christ, it is your responsibility to see that happen.  By offering our bodies and lives as living sacrifices to be transformed into perfection, we welcome God’s mission into our lives.
We are to welcome mission in our lives whether it asks us to open a permanent homeless shelter in our community center, open our doors to local schoolchildren who go home to empty houses while their parents work to make ends meet, or to simply be open to prayer.

We are to cook dinners for the hungry, for those who think church is full of naïve fools, and to share the table with those who express religion in other ways.  We are to give what is left to those who ask for it without being suspicious of whether it gets eaten.
We are to give our money to research to solve disease, to the Global Board of Ministry and UMCOR who heal aches around the world, give to the shelters that need to expand and renovate so a roof over a needy person’s head can also be a place where they are safe to sleep.  We are to give in hope and not in cynicism.
We are to teach those who don’t speak the native tongue. We are to teach those who learn at a slower rate than others.  We are to teach the community that there is hope for a better world, and Belmont wants to lead the way.  
We are to grow community gardens and community outreach. Build playgrounds and relationships. Comfort crying babies and crying elderly.  Belmont, you show such great efforts toward doing the mission of God here and abroad, but we all know that we can do more.

My friends, before you can hold on to this call to mission, you have to go back to the good news: doing mission isn’t all that hard.  It takes our desire to reimagine our gifts in ways that can be used by only being present enough to ask, “God, what can I do?”  How do I do that?: It takes having the grace to get over myself.

Go out and be a blessing to the world.  Give of both your time and your resources.  Yes, you must give to the church so the church can sustain its mission, but also sacrifice and give of your being.  Earlier, we read pieces of a Wendell Berry poem called the “Peace of the Wild Things.”  I believe this is the perfect meditation to step back and see the path towards mission.   To close, let us read that piece one more time.



Sermon transcript for October 12, 2014

“Sunday Best”
Matthew 22:1-14
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.



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