Change of Clothes

Garrison Keillor used to open in his monologue on Prairie Home Companion: “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Woebegone.” But the world beyond that fictional town in Minnesota has been anything but quiet this week. 

  • the war in Ukraine continues unabated, 
  • divisions within the Republican Party have paralyzed the United States House of Representatives, Congress, and the nation as a whole;  
  • a terrorist war in the Middle East has and is killing and maiming thousands of non-combatant women and children and men on all sides. 
  • All of this is against a backdrop of global warming,
  •  an opioid crisis, 
  • an ongoing COVID pandemic, 
  • uncontrolled gun epidemic
  • racism
  •  international tensions in Africa, Asia, and South America and on . . . and on . . . and on.

It’s overwhelming. 

I’m getting to the point that I don’t want to open the newspaper or turn on the news. Although I have to admit that it’s almost a relief to open the Dayton Daily News where most of the articles are two days old—old news . . . a little more like reading history than breaking current events.

I don’t pretend to have the wisdom to know how to solve these and many other issues and challenges that we face. But one thing is certain. As Barak Obama once said, “We have a severe empathy deficit.” We seem to be unable to imagine standing in another’s shoes—in theological language, difficulty seeing the face of God in those with whom we disagree.

As a Christian, however, I feel obliged to pay attention to what’s going on in the world around me—whether I like it or not. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once said, “We should read our Bibles right alongside the New York Times.” 

I was in seminary when I heard that Niebuhr quote. It was another time of crisis in the late 1960’s with Vietnam, Civil Rights, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. I went to my favorite teacher, Old Testament Professor Murray Newman, and suggested that we start a new course in the coming year entitled, “The Bible and the New York Times.” And we did. We read the daily lectionary and the Sunday New York Times—and were amazed at how often the Bible spoke to what was going on in the world around us. 

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the Gospel text that we just heard. 

Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they wouldn’t come. Again he sent others, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they refused to come.

So he sent his servants out into the streets and told them to invite everyone they found to the banquet. These folk responded and filled the hall with guests. 

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who wasn’t wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

On the one hand, it sounds like an awful injustice. The poor guy was just hanging out in the street when he was invited to the wedding feast. He’s speechless when asked how he even got in. And then he’s chastised and thrown into the outer darkness, because he doesn’t have the right clothes?!? 

  • Maybe he was poor. 
  • Maybe he didn’t own a tux. 
  • Maybe he didn’t have time to go home and change. 
  • Maybe he didn’t even know the dress code.

What’s going on here?

Well, we need to remember that this is a parable. At the beginning of the passage we’re told that Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” Now in part, this is a story about those who just couldn’t be bothered to come. They had other, to them, more important things to do like caring for their own concerns rather than God’s. We should note here that this parable was told during the week before the crucifixion in the presence of scribes and Pharisees who were refusing to join the party for the Son of God.

But the troubling part of this parable is the last part where the guest is chastised, bound hand and foot, and thrown out for not wearing the proper wedding robe. 

However, if this is a parable about the Kingdom – the Realm of God – then you don’t just show up. You’ve got to change your clothes . . . a metaphor for a change of heart, a change of mind, a change in your way of thinking. 

Everyone is invited. Sure. No one is to be left out of God’s love, God’s banquet. But if you show up, then there’s an expectation that you will be transformed and take on new clothes—new ways of thinking and being. As St. Paul says in another place, “we are to take on the mind of Christ.”

Thinking particularly about the Middle East—about Israel and Hamas—there has been a lot of language about vengeance, retribution, destruction of the other. There’s not much that we Christians, gathered on a mid-October Sunday morning in a little church on the outskirts of Fairborn, Ohio—there’s hardly anything that we can do to influence the decision-makers in Israel and Hamas—other than to offer our prayers for peace . . . and to check ourselves, to make sure that we’re taking account of the teaching of our faith and the mind of Christ.

Vengeance belongs to God, not us.

Deuteronomy 32:35 – “Vengeance is mine, and recompense . . .”

And Romans 12:19 – “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” 

And Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)

Isaiah: “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain…” (Isaiah 11:9)

And, of course, there was Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. A disciple pulled out a sword and cut off the ear of one of those who had come out to arrest him. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword“. (Matthew 26:52).

There was a time in my life when I thought that I was a pacifist. I still am in some ways. Having been around so many military people in my life—Navy people in Maine and Air Force (and now Space Force) people here—I’ve learned one thing clearly. Military folk are among the most peace-loving people on earth . . . because they know the horror of the alternative. 

There may be times when weapons must be used. And when they are employed, we hope and pray that they’re used with limited goals and with a healthy dose of humility regarding the brokenness of our existence. And with full recognition of the distance between our experience and God’s dream.

That’s where we live—in that tension between our sinfulness, our limited vision, and God’s desire. And even when we fall short, there’s always the invitation to be transformed—in heart and mind and soul. 

And the question is always before us: What are you wearing?

Let us Pray.

Healer of the Nations,

from the noise of war

and the drumbeat of vengeance,

give us undiminished determination

to wage peace.

Out of brokenness, violence, and destruction

let us plant seeds of hope.

Out of chaos, confusion, and hatred,

build bridges of love.

Out of distrust, disunity, and distance,

walk together in harmony.

Heal our divisions and make us whole. Amen.

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