The first to read the story we just heard knew the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,was not a future judgment but a past reality.
They were looking back on what had happened in 70 AD when the Roman legions invaded Jerusalem and reduced the temple to a pile of rubble.
They saw it as punishment the religious leaders had brought on themselves. The priests of the Jews’ sacred hill had turned worship into their money-making business, and the teachers of the Ten Commandments had imposed the Law on others but themselves, evident in their refusal to attend a banquet, because it had been planned by God rather than by them; they would not come if they were not the ones seated at the head of the table.
Again, the pronouncement runs through last week’s Gospel story to this morning: “Use it or lose it!”
Come as a guest of God or you will lose your place in the company of God’s people; for, as told in the account of creation in Genesis, God longs for the companionship with all God has made, especially humans.
When the first to read today’s Gospel came to the story-line: "Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests” they saw themselves.
Jerusalem’s poverty-stricken, war refugee-like Jews and Gentiles saw themselves as “both the good and the bad,” receiving God’s radical invitation.
As they came together to worship and break the bread and pass the cup and share their meager goods with the neediest among them, they celebrated the amazing grace of an amazing God, and dressed their hearts and minds and souls in the garment of new life in Christ.
No matter what was happening outside their life together in the gathered community of Christ’s people, the church, they saw God’s banquet had already begun; the invitation was extended to them and to all who accept and come in.
In the words of an old Sunday School song: “Whosoever will may come!”
But, and it seems that word often pops up in Jesus’ stories, this BUT is a big one:“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless.”
The same fate was his; like the leaders of the temple and teachers of the law he refused to put on the robe that is required to be a guest of God and have a reserved seat on the table of God’s kingdom,already experienced in the fledgling community of Christ’s people, the church, and some day by God’s count, to come in all its fullness.
When the first to hear the question: ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ they turned the question inward. They saw themselves as the “good and the bad” to whom God’s extravagant welcome had been extended.
But – the big BUT in the story, they also knew there was a dress code, there was a standard; the invitation was only valid if received, and the reception required preparation.
For the first to hear the story that was what almost everyone had – the prized garment worn at one’s wedding and then preserved to be used for one’s burial, the garment dedicated to life’s biggest celebrations – with the
final one being the joyous celebration of a baptized Christian born through death to eternal life and a place at God’s table in God’s home.
And for the poorest of the poor, who had no special garment, the host provided one…a custom that turns poignant with meaning when we remember Paul’s words “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (1Cor.13:14)
and the imagery in Isaiah that is quoted in the last book of the Bible when God’s kingdom comes to earth, beginning as a wedding and a glorious reception: (Isaiah 61:10)
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.”
The man invited to come in and then thrown out, refused to put in the robe; he refused to dress himself in the “robe of righteousness,” the robe of right-ness, being made right with God through confession and pardon;
he refused to let his soul be filled with gladness; he refused to rejoice in the new life of Christ that made him a new creation in Jesus Christ.
Here is where we should feel ourselves being drawn into the story; here is where we must realize that the invitation which is freely given isn’t valid until received, and to receive it we need to ask ourselves,
“Am I refusing to put off, to discard the old garment with its flawed, knotted, discolored, maybe harsh or ugly threads dyed with a superior or an inferior attitude, with hate of self or of others; am I clinging to the rags of guilt or self-judgment, am I refusing to let them be burned in the fires of God’s forgiveness: am I refusing to put on the new life of God’s full pardon and recreating love woven with the threads of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection?”
Hearing today’s Gospel story, do we find ourselves asking, "Is it time to put an end to God’s pleading, to put on the robe of gladness and join in God’s banquet that has already begun and is waiting to be experienced in the company of Christ’s people?”
They are easy to find; they are anyone who has let God hand the wedding robe to them; they are heard even before they are seen. The clue is the sound of celebration even in the midst of hard times like the Jerusalem church knew and Christians today still know.
Some years ago when I took a mini-sabbatical to explore where wedding-garmented Christians might be found, a friend suggested a visit to Philadelphia’s inner city where rich and poor, Black, Hispanic, white Christians, came together in the basement of a deteriorating church building for an evening of visiting, talking, praying around
tables filled with whatever everyone had brought .
The dominate dish was a casserole of cut hot dogs, sauerkraut, potatoes, and stewed tomatoes, a favorite for the group into which we were welcomed as friends.
For several months anyone who came to the parsonage for a meal was served that casserole, until one evening when my Mother relayed a comment a guest whispered to her, “This is not a favorite food combination of mine.”
But being a gracious guest he ate it.
It was then that I realized I was serving the casserole, not for its contents, but for its tie to that meal in a church basement in a dilapidated building in a slum neighborhood where everyone was clothed in the wedding garment named in today’s Gospel.
The company of Christ’s people each of us prays we will be found to be in this gathered community named Trinity Church! AMEN.