Proper 21, Year A, 2005

My best friend in college was a woman named Carissa. She was raised in Houston and Singapore in a family in the oil business. I was raised overseas, too, but by two teachers. While my family cleaned up okay, elegance was never our greatest strength.

Carissa got married right after college and, as one of her readers, I was invited to the casual barbeque rehearsal dinner—I believe the dinner was actually described as a pig-pickin’. Since the dinner was casual, I dressed the part—a plain blue t-shirt and a pair of khaki pants. When I arrived at the party, all the other women were wearing silk dresses and pearls. You see, I had missed two important social clues. First, the party was thrown by Texans and Texas casual, it turns out, is not so casual. Secondly, the party was being held at the Virginia Country Club. Now, being southern, all the guests were very kind to me. . .even the ones who thought I must be on staff and kept asking me where the bathrooms were.

I was much luckier than the poor underdressed guest at the wedding in our gospel reading today. I was not cast into outer darkness and I did not once gnash my teeth. As you might imagine, however, I have a great deal of sympathy for this poor character. Why was he punished for wearing the wrong outfit?

The parable we read today about the wedding banquet is the last in three parables commonly known as the vineyard parables. These parables are Jesus’ response to the Pharisees challenging his authority—we heard the other two the last two Sundays. First, the parable about the owner of the vineyard asking his two sons to work, second, the parable about the tenants killing the landowners son, and now this parable about the wedding feast.

In our parable today, a King is giving a wedding banquet for his son. He invites the usual fancyguests, but all of them refuse to come. After punishing them thoroughly, he invites poor people off the streets.

So far, this parable makes a lot of sense. God has initiated a party for his son Jesus, the religious establishment of the day rejects the party, so God extends his invitation to prostitutes, tax collectors, and the like.

Now, however, we come to the poor unfortunate guest who is not wearing a wedding garment. The King does not show him an OUNCE of Southern hospitality, in fact he throws him out on his ear, to eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Phew!

Here’s my question. How many poor, off the street people do you know that own silk dresses or tuxedos.

Not too many, right? But in the world of this parable, no one else is getting berated for wearing the wrong clothes, but all the guests came off the street. So, where did the other guests get their wedding garments?I wonder if the King actually provided clothing for his guests.

And if the King DID provide clothes for his guest, and this particular guest insulted him by rejecting the gift, the King’s reaction makes a little more sense.

At the risk of piling metaphor upon parable and confusing us all mercilessly, imagine this garmentless guy as the kind of person who never really invests in anything, but always likes to hover around and see what is going on. He wanted to be at the wedding party, but he did not necessarily want to be associated with the King.

He’s the nosy neighborhood woman who takes a sharp intake of breath (tssss) when you give your kid a snack before dinner, but would stand idly by if your kid was running into traffic. He’s the guy not even assigned to your project at work who always has some negative comment to say about your ideas, but never offers to pitch in and help. He is, if I may be so bold, the kind of guy who comes to church to see and be seen, but is not particularly interested in God or his own spiritual journey.

Our friend is the kind of guy who is always detached, never passionate, never a “joiner”, but always has an opinion.

There’s a great scene in “O Brother Where Art Thou” in which one character has recently been baptized and another has sold his soul to the Devil. George Clooney’s character looks back and forth between the two and says, “I guess I’m the only one here that remains unaffiliated.”

Our parable today indicates that not affiliating with God is dangerous behavior. This kind of wishy washy behavior is the kind of behavior that gets a person tossed into outer darkness.Yikes!

You see, aligning ourselves to God is not a passive act, aligning ourselves to God—like William’s parents are choosing today—is a choice, a commitment for something.>

When Jesus told the Pharisees this parable, he was on the long, bloody road to the cross. Jesus knew the cost he was going to have to pay to be obedient to God and you can understand his impatience with people who would not commit to being on God’s team.

As the King offered to change the identity of this wedding guest with the wedding garment, God wants to change our identity. He wants us to wear outward and visible signs of our commitment to him, not in the form of crosses around our neck or Christian T-shirts, but in the form of our lives.

Our God is a passionate God, who is passionately jealous. He does not want us running around dating money or power or sex as our other Gods. He wants us to choose him, to align ourselves with him in worship, our prayer life, and the choices we make throughout the day.

There is no joy in a relationship in which one member is detached. No marriage is satisfying unless both partners are completely engaged. God is completely committed to us. He has shown that through Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection. Through our parable today, he reminds us that he wants our utter commitment to him. He longs for our energy, time, and love.

Being a half-way Christian is not enough. God can handle our doubts and questions and fears, what he does not want is for us to hold back. Better to engage, argue, even berate God, then to say, “Eh. I’ll pray tomorrow.” God offers us more than a wedding garment to accept, he offers himself.

Amen.

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