So two years after my mom passed away, my dad got married again. This was nine years ago now—and my dad himself has since died—but that was an interesting time in my life. The woman he married was his brother’s widow, my aunt. At the time I described our family as going from zero to Jerry Springer in one fell swoop. And when my cousin came out after the service starting to say that now this made her both my cousin and my step-sister, I cut her off before she could utter the words.
The wedding took place in Michigan where I grew up, at a church I was unfamiliar with, and a pastor who obviously thought the best part was that the bride would still have the same married name. After the ceremony, my siblings and I dutifully made our way to the reception only to discover that two of my cousins-now-step-siblings had changed into shorts and t-shirts over the course of the ten minute car ride. “It’s their mother’s wedding,” I muttered to my brothers and sisters. “You’d think they’d make more of an effort to look even partially presentable out of respect for her.” We shook our heads and tut-tutted to each other as we tried to enjoy a beverage and wondered what the future held.
And of course it’s that image that I remembered when reading Jesus’ parable for today. I do a lot of weddings, and I’ve seen all sorts of interesting clothing worn to them, but shorts and t-shirts pushed all my buttons, especially since it was also my dad’s wedding. Jesus tells this tale about the kingdom, and the thing that sticks out most is what a hothead the king must be to kick out that impromptu guest who showed up at the last minute wearing the wrong thing. It seems harsh, but boy, do I get it. I wanted to kick out those cousins too. And frankly I’m okay with my own righteous anger, but I’m not to keen when it’s Gods. If I’m honest, I want to know what the problem was with this dude who unwittingly stumbled onto the set of What Not To Where. Surely, as theologian Karoline Lewis puts it, “there’s more to this parable than proper attire. More is at stake than what to wear or what not to wear when invited to royal nuptials.”(from WorkingPreacher.org)
She continues, “And what is the ‘more’ of this story? What ‘more’ is necessary? What ‘more’ is demanded? What ‘more’ is expected? What ‘more’ is required? What do we assume that ‘more’ to be? How do we determine what that ‘more’ looks like? How do we define what the ‘more’ includes?” We want to know what happens to that unfortunate guest, but the text remains silent. What if, Lewis posits, “the text simply states a truth—a seat at the matrimonial banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven will require something more than merely accepting an invitation to discipleship. It’s not enough to RSVP and then just show up.”
Being a preacher is a hazardous enterprise. It is not a vocation to be taken lightly. If you think I’m joking, consider that the prophets and Jesus himself ended up killed due to their words. On this Sunday I get handed a text in which Jesus declares that just showing up to the wedding banquet won’t cut it. And clergy everywhere respond, “But Jesus I’m just glad they’re in the pews! Let’s not get them angry by saying that there needs to be more. Can’t entering through the doors be enough? Can’t I tell them something that may want to make them come back?” His response is pretty clear and daunting: “Many are called, and few are chosen.”
And so we sit uneasily this morning pondering that response. Are we among the many or the few? If it takes more than just the right clothes, what else do we need?
I’d like to suggest the answer is “Urgency.” The proclamation of the kingdom is pressing, critical, intense, demanding. Our world is hurting, looking for life and love, and we wonder if showing up is good enough, if it will not only get us a trophy but entrance into the kingdom. We phone in our spirituality on Sunday mornings when we get a chance, but then go on with our lives the rest of the week as if it didn’t really matter. We’ve gotten so accustomed to a lackadaisical approach to our faith that we’re not sure it makes much difference in our own lives let alone in the world.
And yet the world needs us. When tragedies happen weekly, when we see the wheels coming off our society and worry that things will figuratively and literally blow up, when pain and despair appear all to regularly on our newsfeeds from friends both near and far, we must hold up the light and hope of Christ. We cannot assume that this is just business as usual, that the point of gathering each week is to see a few friends, and feel good about getting some positive marks in with the Big Guy upstairs. The point to the Kingdom of God hinges on the fact that God wants to shower the world with good news through us. That’s what we disciples have been called and chosen for, to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven here and now.
We’re called to stand up when we hear news yet again about inexplicable violence and proclaim that the culture of death we’ve become accustomed to must stop. We’re chosen to face injustice head on and work toward racial and ethnic healing in our nation. We’ve been called to walk alongside the the family whose child has overdosed and help ensure that we’re fighting to end this epidemic. We’re chosen to wear the clothes of hope and to lift up the lowly who believe that no one cares about them. And above all of that we are called to exude life. We cannot allow the despair to overwhelm, to make us look through the closet on our way to the wedding feast and decide that it doesn’t matter what we wear anyway. We must wear, as Karoline Lewis puts it, “the kind of compassion, birthed by God’s own righteousness, that cannot, anymore, leave things the way they are.” There is too much at stake, friends. Too much to lose. We are called and chosen. We are disciples.
But that does not mean we focus solely on the pain. We’ve been invited to a Wedding Banquet, to a party. A place to kick up our heels, and spin around on the dance floor, and see who catches the bouquet. It is to live with joy. It’s the Kingdom.
A clergy friend shared a poem with a group I met with this past week. It had been slid under her office door in the aftermath of Las Vegas, and the California wildfires, and Puerto Rico, and all the news we’ve been swimming in lately. It’s called “A Brief for the Defense” by poet Jack Gilbert. Here are a few of the lines.
A Brief For The Defense
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
We can no longer wear those clothes of indifference and complacency in the face of so much, but we cannot wear clothes suited only for a funeral either. The Almighty One has come among us—God is with us—and we have been chosen to wear the clothes of the Kingdom and to make our way to the wedding banquet, to the party. Life and love and compassion and mercy and healing and delight. That is what our world needs to hear and see in us. We have been called and chosen. So let us live as true disciples, as the ones who know that the Kingdom is among us now. Let us proclaim good news and walk alongside the hurting and embody the very way of Jesus. And let us all live as those who delight in all of the God given goodness of this world because our own lives, and the lives of the world, depend on it. Amen.