Wearing the wrong clothes…the story of a wedding robe. Sermon for Adel Parish Church 11th Oct 2020

wrong clothes

Wearing the wrong clothes…the story of a wedding robe. Sermon for Adel Parish church 11th Oct 2020.

Matthew 22: 1-14

It’s probably something many of us have done…arrived at an event only to find we’re not suitably dressed. Or if we haven’t…we’ve probably worried about it.

As a teacher, the usual fears were added to by endless possibilities of getting the wrong day for non-uniform, red nose day, children in need…or worse still, the dreaded ‘World book day’. I have a vivid memory of walking to school rather conspicuously dressed as Willy Wonka – from Roald Dahl’s book about a chocolate factory. By the time I was half way I’d convinced myself I’d got the day wrong…so it was a great relief to meet a ‘Cat in the Hat’ coming the other way. We exchanged a wry smile…clearly a fellow sufferer who worked in a school!

It’s a very human failing isn’t it? Either we love clothes and spend too much time thinking about them…or we’ve no confidence with clothes…and spend too much time worrying about them.

Surely though, God is different? Surely God doesn’t care how we’re dressed? But then we hear this rather disturbing tale about the man without a wedding robe. A man just going about his daily business more or less forced into a wedding feast…and then apparently expected to be carrying a wedding robe – just in case.

We want to hear that God welcomes everyone – just as they are…and this parable disturbs that picture.

It’s fairly obvious the King in this story represents God. Presumably the party is for his Son Jesus…in recognition of his coming Kingdom. So we might assume he first invites the religious leaders, the great and the good – people who would expect to be invited to God’s banquet.

But they appear to think they’re already ‘in’ with God, they don’t recognise Jesus as his Son, so they find more important things to do…or even get angry at the repeated invitations…and kill the messengers.

So far so good, we know that bit of the story…many of God’s chosen people didn’t understand who Jesus was. They were indifferent, or angry and even violent towards him. So the message was taken out to others…the lame and blind, tax collectors, prostitutes, the riff raff…in fact the slaves were sent to fetch ‘everyone you find…both good and bad.’

Here’s the bit we want to hear…Christ’s banquet is for everyone. All are invited…the ones the world ignores…the ones who don’t feel themselves worthy…even the ones described as ‘bad’. Jesus welcomes us just the way we are…and then there’s that man without a wedding robe – who gets thrown into the outer darkness…

That’s the thing about Jesus…we think we have him pinned down, understood…but he upends our ideas leaving us totally disorientated.

So, let’s look at that bit of the story again. The king notices a man not wearing a wedding robe, and says to him “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” Not an angry dismissal – but a friendly enquiry. “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?”, a gentle encouragement to talk.

But the man apparently has nothing to say…’he was speechless’. He can hardly have been surprised…I don’t suppose 1st century Palestinians were any less embarrassed by not having the right clothes…but he has nothing to say.

Perhaps he had nothing to say because he just wasn’t interested, wasn’t bothered. He had somehow been gathered into the banquet, was happy to enjoy the food…but didn’t feel it required anything of him.

Is Jesus perhaps reminding us that God does indeed invite everyone to his banquet, good and bad alike…and does love us just the way we are, but that he doesn’t want us to stay that way?

God issues the invitation – but it’s up to us to really accept it. And that means being ready to change, to at least begin to clothe ourselves appropriately.

I’m not sure what appropriate clothes for the kingdom of God are…perhaps love, justice, mercy, truth? I’ve experienced enough of God’s love to feel confident that we aren’t expected to have perfected these before we’re welcome. In the parable both good and bad were brought in. It seems the only one who wasn’t welcomed was the one who couldn’t see the need for change. Who when gently asked about himself had nothing to say?

I wonder, what could he have said to the King?

“I was hungry and smelled the food…I hoped you would feed me”?

“I was lonely and saw the lights on…I hoped you would welcome me”?

“I was sad and grieving and heard the music…I hoped you would share your joy”?

“I didn’t have the right outfit…I hoped you would clothe me”?

Would he then have been welcomed…offered a robe?

I’d like to think so. I’d like to think this parable isn’t describing an arbitrary, ruthless God…who apparently on a whim throws someone out. I think it’s something just as tough – but much more loving. I think it’s a challenge to those of us who feel we’ve accepted God’s invitation…to those who have just stumbled through the door…to understand the invitation brings with it a requirement to at least engage.

Following Jesus is a call to action. A call to listen to his words and consider how they apply to our lives; to repent and reform. I don’t know what that looks like for you…reaching out to heal a rift with family or friends…spending more time in prayer…offering more of your time, talents, money to help others…finding time to enjoy God’s creation…owning up to a part of you that is especially unChristlike…giving faith a bit of serious thought?

I don’t think there’s one identical robe…but I do think we’re all invited to consider how we need to change…and to make a start.

I think this parable tells us these two things…God will go to extraordinary lengths and look in the most improbable places to invite everyone to his table…

…if we accept his invitation, we should be ready for change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Harvest Lament. Words for Adel Parish church Harvest evensong Oct 4th 2020.

lark

A Harvest Lament – words for Adel Parish Church harvest evensong. Oct 4th 2020.

Harvest has always been one of my favourite church celebrations. As a child it was a time of making a basket of fruit and veg to take to church; singing harvest hymns; and best of all, the church barn dance. This was a magnificent occasion of pooled supper, putting on our long dresses (yes I did own a dress or two in those days), relearning how to strip the willow, and best of all, it didn’t end until midnight!

Harvest – not one of the beautiful, sombre times in the church calendar – but a chaotic community celebration. The festival always has that wonderful anarchic point where an apparently endless stream of gifts are brought up, with the first hymn having to be sung on repeat.

Harvest a reminder of the certainties of life. Leaves will fall, conkers will ripen, the harvest will be gathered in and celebrated in church.

I have to admit that this year it’s been hard to celebrate. Autumn leaves, conkers, harvest have still come round – but this seems merely to underline how few of our old certainties are still there.

Last Sunday our wonderful small choir began to rehearse as I cleared up at the end of the service. In many ways it was such a joyful sound…sacred music sung once more in this ancient place. But actually, I wanted to cry.

That harvest anthem – the only one I ever remember singing as a child – seemed more like a lament.

But although it’s not usually a part of harvest, lament has always been part of the journey of faith. Tonight we shared the beautiful psalm 42. I chose it partly for those words…’ When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.’

God’s people have been lamenting for thousands of years. Not because they have lost hope – but because it’s ok to admit to each other and to God when we’re finding things tough.

It is almost exactly a year since my first services here, when I looked forward to travelling through the church year with you all. I find that today I need to lament what I have lost, what we have lost this year. And as usual when I don’t have the words…I reached for poetry to help me.

Firstly, a book I used in this service last year…at harvest it seems appropriate to ask nature to help us speak.

Lark

Little astronaut, where have you gone, and why is your song still torrenting on?

Aren’t you short of breath as you climb higher, up there in the thin air, with your magical song still tumbling on?

Right now I need you, for my sadness has come again and my heart grows flatter – so I’m coming to find you by following your song.

Keeping on into deep space, past dying stars and exploding suns, to where at last, little astronaut, you sing your heart out at all that dark matter.

I love the song of the sky lark, and have been very aware of them this year, especially early on when traffic noise was so much reduced. I love the song, but I find it plaintive, almost like a lament.

Plaintive – but still – as the poem says – singing its heart out at all that dark matter.

A beautiful parallel from the natural world for the lament of God’s people. For lament is not despair. It is sorrow for what is lost, held in the knowledge and trust of God’s steadfast love.

So, like the skylark, the psalmist can end with words of hope, ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.’

So tonight, I come before God with tears of lament for what has been lost this year. But also as befits a harvest celebration, with tears of joy and gratitude for his faithful love, that is surer than the harvest.

Connections – a celebration for Harvest Festival. Adel Parish Church

holding hands

Connections – a celebration for Harvest Festival, Adel Parish Church. Oct 4th 2020

In China in 1958, as part of the ‘Great leap forward’, a campaign was launched to rid the country of sparrows. Sparrows, after all, were gobbling up fruit and grain needed to feed people. Soon 1 billion sparrows had been killed. Of course, it turned out not to be that simple. The sparrows had been eating more insects than grain…particularly locusts…locust populations exploded…

Soon, far from increasing, harvests had reduced by 70%, mass starvation followed. Killing the sparrows wasn’t the only cause…but it certainly didn’t help. It’s a good example of how interconnected nature is…and how we too are part of this web.

Harvest festival has always been a celebration of our connection with, and need for nature…as we thank God for the harvest…for crops safely gathered in. In recent years, with people less connected to the land, Harvest has also been a chance to remember our dependence on farmers and others who produce food…and how they depend on us paying a fair price.

This year, interdependence seems an even more relevant focus for our Harvest celebrations. When the pandemic hit in March, we were suddenly made aware of how much we depend on one another – of how connected we are even in a world where many people hardly knew their neighbours.

We were forcibly reminded of how our lives depend on the many low paid workers often taken for granted. Care workers, refuse collectors, teaching assistants, hospital cleaners all found themselves on a list of ‘key-workers’.

Perhaps even more disruptive to our picture of society was the inclusion of fruit pickers and supermarket shelf stackers. As the official key-worker list described them…’those involved in the production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery of food’ had never seemed so vital to our daily lives. It’s obvious when you think about it – but in normal times we take it for granted that we can buy whatever we want, whenever we want. And we don’t always think much about those who put it there.

That very long list of key workers brought home to us just how much we depend on one another…how we are part of a community. How a problem for one part of that community is a problem for us all.

This virus has brought home the importance of community in more deadly ways. Restrictions have stolen our times together, even with family. Restrictions have stolen our children’s schooling; our dream wedding, our chance to gather to mourn loved ones…in losing them, we’ve realised how life-giving these connections are.

Yet we need restrictions because we are so connected…and the virus exploits this…spreading most easily when we gather. The paradox of this harvest is that the virus has helped us rediscover how connected we are – and made many of those connections impossible.

But Harvest is a time of celebration. So let’s celebrate our rediscovery of community: people who’ve reached out to elderly neighbours to offer help…and the friendships which have grown as a result;  small local shops who stocked essentials…delivered to the vulnerable; gardeners and carers who became shoppers; young families sending cards to cheer older people and ensure they don’t feel alone; friendships which have blossomed out of phone calls.

Let’s celebrate how love has found a way. In words the Archbishop of York used at Synod last week, ‘We have learned that at the moment the best way to love one another is to keep a distance. And we have learned that love transcends boundaries and can easily jump 2 metres.’

But traditionally Harvest is also a time for action. We have our Foodbank collection – sadly more needed than ever. Do come along to the churchyard and add to it. But perhaps this year we can also act to build on the connectedness we’ve found.

Let’s do our bit to make sure restrictions are upheld and work for the common good. Let’s remember how local businesses supported us when we needed them; and think about supporting them not just when we run out of milk.

Whenever we find ourselves in a position to speak about or influence political decisions, let’s remember the value of the lowest paid in our society and speak out for their rights. We clapped our carers; let’s support them in more concrete ways.

And above all let’s build on the community links that have grown. Let’s come out of this horrible time with new traditions, things that grew out of necessity but turned out to be even better than what they replaced.

The slaughter of sparrows in China had unexpected consequences. Large upheavals always do.

An unexpected consequence of social distancing has been the rediscovery of community. An unexpected consequence of closing church buildings and restrictions on worship has perhaps been to refocus our faith.

We’ve been forced to reevaluate what it means to be Christian. And we’ve found that although the building and the rituals enrich our faith, faith survives without them, because it is Christ on whom we depend.

The removal of the usual ways we meet with Christ has forced us to think about what they meant to us, and why. Recognising what we miss has helped us find new ways to engage with Christ.

So, this harvest as we celebrate the web that binds us together, we do so knowing that the whole web is also bound in the love of Christ. He is the glue that joins us and holds us. He is the source of creativity, energy and love that will help us build new links and sustain us in the coming months.

This harvest – as we thank God for his goodness, let’s thank him for creating us to live in community. Let’s celebrate our interdependence, and pledge ourselves to work for the good of all. And above all, let’s remember our connection to Christ who in his life showed us how to value everyone, and through his death and resurrection gives us the courage to depend on him.