A Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

By: Louise Browner Blanchard, Rector

Matthew 22:1-14

If you’ve ever studied dreams, you know that there are several dreams that are common to many of us: the ones where we’re falling, or being chased, or taking a test that we haven’t studied for. One of the most common dreams is being dressed inappropriately. I have this dream more often than I like to admit.

In some versions of this dream, I show up in church, without my vestments. In other versions, I show up somewhere else either in the wrong clothes or, worse, missing some clothes altogether. What’s weird is that, in almost all the versions of this dream, before I leave for wherever I’m going, I tell myself that it’s okay, that no one will notice. I convince myself that whatever I’m wearing is fine…perfectly acceptable. And then, of course, I get to wherever I’m going, and I’m mortified. Obviously, I’ve dressed inappropriately, and I’m beyond uncomfortable. I can’t hide, and I can’t pretend. I’ve offended everyone. Talk about disrespect! I am isolated and alone. It’s a miserable feeling.

But over time, when I have a version of this dream, I’ve learned to pay attention. To pay attention to where in my life I might be acting arrogantly or insensitively or somehow unaware of what is going on around me.

Kind of like the guest at the wedding banquet. We don’t know what he was wearing, but we know that it wasn’t a wedding robe. The parable strongly suggests that he had to have known that what he was doing was wrong. For whatever reason, he must have convinced himself that he didn’t need to abide by the same rules as every-one else. When he got to the banquet, he soon learned how wrong he had been in his assumptions, how self-centered and thoughtless he had been.

If there is one consistent refrain in today’s parable, it is to pay attention. Once again, Jesus is speaking to the chief priests and elders. It is the day after his triumphal ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. The day after he was hailed by large crowds as their savior. The day after he threw the merchants and moneychangers out of the temple and healed the blind and the lame to the chorus of children shouting “Hosanna.”

And yet, the chief priests and scribes once again presume that their understand-ing of the way that God works in the world is correct and unchangeable and thus miss the importance of what they are witnessing. Instead of paying attention, they challenge Jesus’s authority.

Whatever Jesus is teaching in the temple – that we should love our enemies and do to others as we would have them do to us…that we should not worry, or judge…that Jesus has come to fulfill, not abolish, the law and the prophets – the chief priests and elders are so wrapped up in their own world and their own way of under-standing it that they fail to perceive how God might otherwise be at work, or even doing something new, in God’s kingdom.

“Pay attention,” Jesus essentially says as he tells them today’s parable. His time is getting short, and he’s trying to make a point and focus people’s attention on his message. He wants people to listen, to know what is available to them if they make themselves available to it.

The king has invited everyone to the wedding banquet – both good and bad – and we can only imagine the abundance with which they are welcomed: copious amounts of food and wine, beautiful music, gorgeous flowers, more than most of the people who were there could ever imagine. They are all there to celebrate at the good news about the son, to share in the love and laughter, to be guests of their king, beneficiaries of his generosity and hospitality. All that is asked is that they accept the invita-tion and come dressed appropriately. In other words, pay attention.

Pay attention. To receive the gifts of God’s kingdom, we must put ourselves in a posture of both receiving and respecting. To participate in the kingdom of heaven re-quires us to change from who we are without it. We do not get to operate by our own rules at our own convenience. We clothe ourselves in a way of living that acknowledges that we are not in charge, recognizes that God showers us with abundance, delights in God’s creation, and realizes that God wants us – all of us, everyone, both good and bad – to share fully in it. Whatever we face, wherever we are.

So, first of all, as Bob would say, we show up. That doesn’t necessarily mean coming to church. But what we do together here on Sundays and throughout the week matters in our life of faith. It reminds us that we are part of something larger than our-selves. It opens our eyes to the blessings and challenges of God’s kingdom. Jesus really did teach the Beatitudes. He also taught that we should love our enemies, turn the other cheek, and do to others as we would have them do to us. Whatever else is going on in the world around us, God’s kingdom offers a different, more hopeful, and more en-during way of life where God will indeed wipe away the tears from all faces. Pay attention.

The apostle Paul reminds us that we have been taught to “clothe [ourselves] with the new self, created according to the likeness of God.” In other words, to put on “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…[and] above all…love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

In his letter to the Philippians, he gives us both example and advice of how we might clothe ourselves for the heavenly banquet. Paul and his friends were living in anxious times, facing heartache, persecution, and uncertainty in general. Paul himself is in prison, and yet he writes with admiration, love, and respect for his colleagues and friends. In the midst of all that they are facing, he reminds them to rejoice. Rejoice in God’s kingdom and all that has been given to us. Rejoice that whatever else is going on in your lives, you woke up this morning. And you made your way here. And you, each and every one of you, are an integral part of this gathering in prayer, communion, and fellowship. Rejoice!

Paul continues. Be gentle, and do not worry. In the late 19th century, a Scottish pastor wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It’s such time-less advice that it’s been attributed to Plato and Philo of Alexandria. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Paul concludes, “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 there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things, keep on doing [them], and the God of peace will be with you.” Pay attention. No weep-ing and gnashing of teeth. The peace of God, the God of peace.

There’s no denying that we – like Jesus, like Paul and the Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians, and like people throughout history – live in anxious and potentially dangerous times. In words that ring hauntingly true today, the French Jesuit priest Tielhard de Chardin over 75 years ago:

Ah, you know it yourself, Lord, through having borne the anguish of it as a man: on certain days the world seems a terrifying thing: huge, blind, and brutal…At any moment the vast and horrible thing may break in through the cracks – the thing which we try hard to forget is always there, separated from us by a flimsy partition: fire, pestilence, storms, earthquakes, or the unleashing of dark moral forces – these callously sweep away in one moment what we had laboriously built up and beautified with all our intelligence and all our love.

Since my human dignity, O God, forbids me to close my eyes to this…teach me to adore it by seeing you concealed within it.

In other words, pay attention. We have been given a different invitation, a different way of seeing this world, a different way of being in it. There is more, more than we can ask or imagine, and it starts here, today, right now, wherever you are. Put on your wedding robe and partake.