Saturday, October 8, 2011

Wearing the Clothes God Gave Us

Exodus 31:1-14
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14


Once again Pastor Bob has decided to take off and leave me with a set of scriptures that deal with a feast. A year ago it was Lazarus and the Rich Man; in February it was Salt of the Earth; today, it’s a Wedding Banquet. For a man who has never eaten a meal I’ve prepared, he has an uncanny knack for leaving me with the food metaphors. Which is, at the very least, somewhat interesting, and may be an indication that I ought to play to my strengths.  

After all, our Exodus reading tells us that the Lord filled Moses with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge, and with all kinds of skills. Now, I don’t know about wisdom, or understanding, or knowledge, but I know, and I don’t mind sharing with you (yet again) that I have got some made skills in the kitchen. And I love it!

As I was reflecting on the scriptures for today, I was trying to find some way to get at them, to enter into them, to make them come alive for me as I read them. I was kind of at a loss. What do I know about weddings and wedding feasts? I’ve never been married. I’ve never even been close. A number of my friends are married, but I’ve been to very weddings. Time and space have, on occasion, prevented me from celebrating the marriages of those I love.

And then I remembered. I’ve actually baked for weddings, plural. Three, in fact. When I was still in college, a friend of mine was getting married. She and her fiancĂ© decided they didn’t want to do a big fancy wedding cake. It really wasn’t their style, and they wanted to share their love of other desserts with their guests. So, I was commissioned, and invited to do whatever I wanted using as much chocolate as the check they cut me would afford. Now, the groom’s favorite dessert is chocolate chip cookies. So, I baked a couple. Probably 10 cookies, actually. Which might not seem like many. Except they were pressed into 12-inch pizza pans. 10 giant chocolate chip cookies! They were awesome.

And cheesecake. Chocolate cheesecake. And tortes. And French Silk pies. And truffles. The hardest part was delivering it all, in searing July 4th heat, from my kitchen in Buckingham to the reception hall in Iowa City. Fortunately, it all held up, and people feasted on some of the best desserts ever beheld at a wedding a banquet.

Seven years ago when another friend got married, I actually got to make her wedding cake! It was quite possibly the most fun I’ve ever had making a cake. Pink Champagne cake, filled with raspberry cream, and frosted with pink champagne buttercream. Decorated with flowers. De-lightful! I can’t even begin to tell you! There are pictures of it somewhere. I’ll have to see if I can’t find those one of these days.

Again, three years ago, when another friend was getting married, she asked if I would assist her mother in the kitchen. She and her husband decided to have a mini, cookies and coffee reception before the dinner, so that she and her husband could have their wedding photos taken. An entire day was spent making her and her husband’s favorite cookies from their families recipes. I really do LOVE to bake.

And in today’s gospel lesson, we have a king who has prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He has invited his friends, and is expecting their presence. Now in the ancient world, two invitations were sent when it came to wedding feasts. A first was sent to invite the guests, to let them know that a feast was being prepared and that their presence was desired. A second invitation was sent out after the feast had been prepared, to let the guests know the time had come, and it was appropriate for them to arrive.

At the same time that the initial invitation was sent out, the host of the wedding feast would also send garments to be worn to the banquet. Being a party, in a culture where hospitality is a fundamental value, the host would provide appropriate clothing so that no one would feel ashamed of their dress or status and refuse to come.

So, here we are. The invitations have been sent. The guests have been informed that the feast is prepared, the oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered. Everything is ready. And those to whom an invitation was sent all refuse to come.

So, here we are. The invitations have been sent. The guests have been informed that the feast is prepared, the oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered. Everything is ready. And those to whom an invitation was sent all refuse to come. Instead, they go elsewhere, one to his field, another to his business. The rest killed those who came to fetch them for the feast.

So, the king sends out a new batch of servants. He tells them that the feast is ready, and they are to go out into the streets and gather all of the people they can find, and to fill the wedding hall with guests. And so, the servants go out. They gather all the people they can find. They present them with the wedding clothes, and bring them to the feast. The wedding hall was filled with people! It was time to party.

But then the king stumbles upon a man who is not wearing the wedding clothes. And the king asks the man, “How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?” And having no answer, the man is thrown out of the banquet. He has indicated, by his dress, that he does not respect the king or the gift the king has given him.

Now, in the book of Ephesians, Paul compares Jesus to a husband, the church to his wife. If we are a part of the church, we’re all kind of hanging out at the party. And we’ve been given good food to eat and fancy clothes to wear.

And I sometimes wonder if we realize it. We have been filled with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge, and with all kinds of skills. And like Bezalel, who was given these gifts to honor God by building a resting place the Ark of the Covenant Law—the very thing that was believed to hold the presence of God—we are called to use our gifts, skills, talents, knowledge to honor God by building a world in which the presence of God is experienced by all. These, I believe, are the clothes the Lord has bestowed upon us.

And the good food, on which we get to feast, is being of the same mind in the Lord—having the mind of Christ. And in choosing this, we are truly able to “rejoice in the Lord always,” no matter our circumstances or struggles. We do not need to be anxious about anything. Because we can always present our requests to God.  When we do so, the peace of God will guard our hearts and our mind in Christ Jesus.  

And how do we share in this mind of Christ? By choosing to follow the directive Paul gives us in Philippians: whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Do you know what I believe to be true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of praise?

These three simple facts: You are acceptable. You are worthy. You are loved. Just the way you are. And how do I know this? Because God said so. And once we come to believe these truths ourselves, we become uniquely equipped to use the gifts which God has bestowed upon us to share these truths with others. So today, may you know how truly acceptable, worthy, and loved you are, and may you share that truth with those around you, that someday the love of God may be experienced by all.

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