Sermon for 9th October 2011

Does Dress Matter?

When there is a wedding in the family, many people spend a huge amount of time and energy, not to mention money, making the preparations. One of the most difficult tasks is to agree who to invite from your huge list, doing your best to avoid diplomatic gaffes in the family if possible.


How you would feel after all your efforts, if your specially selected guests turned you down flat despite being asked over and again? You may well think what a fine bunch of friends they turned out to be and go ahead with the celebrations anyway; inviting instead the people that were on your original list of possible guests, but had to be set aside at the time.


In the two parables from the gospel reading this morning, Jesus addressed the chief priests and Pharisees directly. And there can be little doubt that they understood that they were in the firing line yet again.


Jesus pulled no punches in the first parable. He is close to the end of his ministry on earth and he intensified his efforts to make the message of God’s kingdom very clear. Jesus attacked the chief priests and Pharisees in their home territory, the temple; and he must have been aware that his attacks would infuriate them. His continued actions as a troublemaker reinforced the Jewish leader’s intention to be rid of him.


The invitation by the king to his selected guests for the wedding banquet for his son had been accepted. When the banquet was ready, it was the custom for the host to send a second invitation for the guests; however, when the king’s slaves went to bring them to the banquet, they refused to go and sent the slaves away. The king sent more slaves, giving the guests another chance, but they ignored the invitation. Some went off to their own farm or business whilst others assaulted and murdered the slaves. To put it bluntly they were insulting the king.


In his fury, the king took vengeance against the murderers and then sent his slaves out onto the streets to gather up anyone they could find, and bring them to the wedding banquet. These new guests included the good and the bad, the tax-collectors, the prostitutes, the scruffy and the unclean, and the Gentiles that would have been in Jerusalem.


This would have come as a shock to them – an invitation to feast with the king – unimaginable, what would they wear! However, it was the tradition that the king provided the wedding clothes, solving that particular concern.


If the chief priests and Pharisees had not already understood Jesus’ message, they must have done from this parable. The leaders of God’s chosen people, the Jews, had rejected Jesus and his invitation to the Kingdom.


Their minds were closed, God would judge them, and they should expect that judgement to be harsh. Those whom the slaves gathered from the streets represented the Gentiles, and Jesus made it clear that whilst the Jews and their leaders had rejected him, the kingdom was to be open to all.


The invitation was, and remains, open to everyone, regardless of race, sex, colour, age or intellect, the only qualification being a willingness to come with an openness of heart.


The message remains the same for us today. Jesus’ message is an invitation to us all to join in the infinite richness of God’s kingdom, ALL OF US, it is our own free choice.


However, the message of the second, parable is one that brings us up short if we think that it is an easy option to accept Jesus’ invitation.


The king spotted a man who was not wearing the wedding clothes that would have been offered to him, and when the man did not explain how he had managed to get into the banquet without respectful clothes, he was unceremoniously thrown out into the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.


If we receive an invitation to a formal event, most of us try to work out what we ought to wear, what is appropriate for the occasion.


Not many of us would opt for jeans, tee shirt and muddy trainers to go to a dinner at Buckingham Palace; I wonder if you would even get past the gates, far less get as far as being thrown out by the guards!


Nonetheless, there are those who would say that what they look like or dress like does not matter; they should be accepted as they are; in other words, on their own self serving terms.


The man at the king’s banquet had accepted the invitation, but he wanted to be accepted on his own terms and therefore rejected the wedding clothes. He had abused the honour and privilege of a place at the table and paid the price.


When we accept Jesus’ invitation to the kingdom, we are also indebted to accept the price. We need to change our ways, to set aside our old lives and put on the clothes of a new life in Jesus’ image. We must put our trust and faith in God, move away from our self centred materialistic existence, help others rather than ourselves, and open ourselves to all the possibilities that God’s grace through the Holy Spirit offers.


Our actions must follow our words, it is not good enough to accept the most gracious of all invitations and then turn up on our own terms, wearing the rags of our old life.


So does dress matter?

Well, maybe it does. What is infinitely more important is that we accept a change in our lives. In the parable, Jesus portrays clothes as an outward symbol of inward life; and it is our inward life that matters to God.


Are we too pre-occupied with our own busyness in this world to accept God’s invitation? Or are we ready to receive his open-hearted welcome?


And if we have received his welcome, are we ready and grateful to do our best to act out our whole lives with God as our priority?


We can choose to follow Jesus or not, we can choose whether to change our lives or not; but if we DO choose to follow, it is a choice that commits us utterly to be changed.





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