Monday, October 13, 2008

Dressing Right for the Party

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

“One is Only Poor only if they choose to be. . . “

I think I own probably 30 ties. I like a good tie, and I love clever, tasteful, understated ones. I think Phil’s wood tie is very clever, for instance!

Though I appreciate ties, I really only wear about 7 of the ones I own, and I wear them rarely, usually only the occasion of a funeral or wedding. I have a tie that has little champagne corks on it from when I used to be a tour guide at a champagne house. I have a tie from both of the universities I graduated from, I have a tie from the school Joe goes to and Donna works for. I wore one most days when I taught school last spring.

I have three or four sober, somber ties for most of the occasions that call for a tie in ministry, black, gray, one with a little bit of purple. I still have the tie I was married in. I have to say, though, that I am not a fan. I get very fussy about them, and after a while, I just want to take the thing off. I’m always afraid that I will get stuff on them, they are hard to control unless you have a little piece of jewelry that pokes holes in them, and no matter how loose the shirt’s collar is, they can sometimes feel tight, and that whole bit of making sure the end of the tie being below one’s belt, or the tip of the tie meeting the belt buckle, well, that’s just a level of engineering that is beyond me.

The thing is, they do look nice. When one is put together, the colors or the patterns are complementary, It’s a good look. My taste runs more toward the classic looks, understated and muted, New England Prep School styles. Preppy was huge when I was in high school.

It’s a war—clothes most definitely do not make the person- their value is not determined by their wrapping, but by golly, it is nice when people look nice. It’s almost a reverse psychology thing. Wearing a suit and a tie doesn’t call attention to yourself in a situation that calls for it-–it helps you blend in. If you went to a wedding in a college sweatshirt, jeans, and flip flops, people would notice. If you went to the beach in a suit with wingtip shoes, people will notice, too. There’s a way to dress that is appropriate to the situation.

We live in a time now where there is no clear dress code for church. I’ve been in churches where one of my predecessors preached in the boots and jeans he’d just been plowing in before church started. I’ve also been in churches where not too long before, women did wear white gloves, and the ushers wore tuxedos.

Jesus tells the story of the king who can’t get guests for the party until he invites everybody in the street, both good and bad. But then Jesus concludes the parable with the king kicking someone out of the wedding for not dressing right.

I think what Jesus is getting at here is how one’s soul is dressed. How does one dress properly for the occasion of the Kingdom coming? In this part of Matthew, he is still in the teaching mode he’s been in since he entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey colt, and his teachings all through this part of Matthew have the Pharisees listening in to everything he says. And even though he speaks to disciples and others, he’s really speaking to them. And so there is this parable about a wedding banquet, with the impossible plot of a king that can’t get anyone to come to his banquet. Of course it isn’t about clothes. It is about how your soul is dressed before God. This is a parable, so of course we are not supposed to take this literally. No one gets to be booted out of church for dressing “wrong”. There is no wrong. There is clashing, there is badly fitting, there is a question of conventional taste, but there is no wrong.

We come to dress our spirits in the proper clothing of God—in the fashion that Paul describes for us. Rejoicing, gentleness, prayer, no worries, thanksgiving. Paul tells us that to be fashion forward in the kingdom, we are to keep our minds on those things that are honorable, true, pure, just, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. By keeping our mind on these things, by keeping our mind on God in these ways, we will clothe ourselves in the proper clothing for the kingdom.

We are called to live as if Jesus has already come to this world. Our choices, our opinions, our priorities should reflect the way we think the world will work when God’s love is the prevailing ethic of the world. So, to reflect that belief, we should be dressed for that party appropriately. We should be clothed in righteousness. Not self-righteousness, saying by how we act in the world that we are better than everyone else, but righteousness—humility, wisdom, courage, and grace. We should clothe ourselves in the actions of a people who believe that the Love of God is here, the grace of God is present for everyone. Let the clothes you wear reflect how you think the world works for those who live in the Beloved Community. The fashionistas of the kingdom don’t design clothes, they design ways to show the love of God to the world. They sew together ways for God’s grace to be shown in the world. They make wedding robes, and work so that no one will ever be kicked out of the banquet.

Dolly Parton has an old song called “Coat of Many Colors”, and the story goes like this; She grew up very poor in the mountains of Tennessee. When she was a child, her mother took a bunch of old rags and sewed them together to make a coat for her, because there was nothing else. But as she sewed, her mother told her the story of how much Jacob loved Joseph, so much that he gave him a coat that had as many colors in it as this coat the little girl was about to receive. And she was proud when she wore it to school, but other children saw it for what it was, the desperate attempt to give a poor child some warm clothing with what was available. But the song ends with the claim that because she had a coat that was sewn with love, she was as rich as anyone else.

The right clothes for the party of the Kingdom, the wedding banquet of God, are the ones that are made with love.

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