10/12/2014 sermon: “The clothes of salvation”

Location: Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, Virginia
Text: Matthew 22:1-14
18Pentecost, Proper 23, Year A

The clothes of salvation

Imagine you are in a store with a really long line. In the middle of the line there is a harried looking man with a child who is throwing a very loud tantrum. Can you picture this scene?

If you look behind the man with the screaming child, you might see someone else, a well-dressed person wearing a big gold cross. And behind this person there might be a homeless man, one who hasn’t bathed lately, who isn’t very clean. Can you smell this scene?

The father doesn’t really notice the homeless man; he is too busy trying to deal with his child. The person with the cross tries to ignore the smell of the person behind him. Then, after one particularly shrill scream, the father hits his child.

Let’s freeze this moment.

How do you see this scene playing out? What comes next? What might you do, if you were there? This is what Jesus might call a Kingdom of God moment.

  • Maybe someone would take out his phone and call child protective services.
  • Or maybe someone would remember their own trying parental moments, and will step forward and ask, “How can I help?”
  • And maybe someone would exclaim, “Oh. My. God. I am soooo sorry,” take the child into his arms, and console him.

In the vignette I’ve painted for you, like Jesus’ parable of the Kingdom of God in our gospel lesson today, we can’t tell those who are part of God’s kingdom by their appearance or by their identity. Actions matter in God’s Kingdom.

In Jesus’ parable, there was a king who obviously represented God. This king threw a wedding feast for his son. Then the king invited the elite to the wedding feast, those whom you would expect to be at such an event. But the elite refused the king’s invitation.

Why did Jesus tell this story? If we look back in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus had re-entered the Temple in Jerusalem a day after he had driven out all of the money grubbers. So, the Temple leaders met Jesus as he entered and asked him hard questions. In response, Jesus told them three stories that each pointed out how they, the Temple leaders, had rejected God. Today’s gospel lesson was the third of the three stories, and in today’s parable Jesus clearly equates the Temple leaders with the first set of invited guests who refused God’s invitation and killed God’s prophets and son.

We would hope that God’s Temple would be full of God’s people, and that leaders of the Temple would be the most righteous. Here Jesus teaches us that we cannot judge where God’s kingdom can be found, or who has accepted God’s invitation.

Jesus’ parable today does provide a pointer or two, though, about who is part of God’s Kingdom. First, we learn that we must accept God’s invitation and show up at his son’s feast. We liturgical Christians have always understood the marriage feast of the king’s son to be the Eucharist. Isn’t the Eucharist where Jesus the Christ is uniquely present? And doesn’t St. Paul tell us that Christ’s Bride is the Church? “Aha,” we say, “the Jews rejected Jesus, so God invited the Gentiles to replace them. Yay, us!”

Lest we get too thrilled by being chosen of God, there is a second pointer to consider. Among we riff raff whom the king invited as substitute guests is a person who refused to wear the king’s attire. And the king didn’t take kindly to being dishonored in this way. Because the king provided the attire, there were no excuses for not being appropriately dressed. Jesus is saying that those who honor God, wear the clothes that God provided.

But what are the “king clothes” what we are to wear to the banquet? Jesus clearly wasn’t talking about actual clothes. His story is an allegory. But what do the clothes represent?

Some say, “The clothes are baptism.” Others say, “The clothes are our righteous acts.” St. Paul agreed with both answers. In Galatians (3:27), Paul said, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.” When we clothe ourselves in Christ, we sink more fully into Christ and learn to act as Christ would have us act.

Saying “yes” to God in baptism is how we accept the God-clothes that the king offers us. This is why we baptize infants and adults alike: We dress our children in Christ and teach them how to wear their God-clothes until they can choose those clothes for themselves and accept for themselves God’s invitation to the feast.

Today we are going to baptize baby Colin. We are offering Colin to God, asking God to clothe Colin in his God-suit. We are offering Colin to God and asking God to make Colin a member of Christ’s Body, the Church, and to make Colin an inheritor of the Kingdom of God.

We know that one day Colin must choose God for himself. However, we want Colin to have his God-clothes now, so that he can participate in God’s kingdom while he learns about righteousness and learns for himself about bringing God’s kingdom into reality in our world. Baptizing infants reminds us there is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace.

Baptism is not merely a symbolic act. The Spirit we evoke in baptism is Christ’s Spirit. And through this act of offering Colin to God, God’s Spirit will live within Colin in a new way. This is, indeed, a saving act. The change that will be wrought today will change Colin forever. Will this act, by itself, be sufficient to ensure Colin eternal life? The true answer is that we don’t know, despite all the theories that abound. The true answer is that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection alone can save us, and judging who is saved is up to Christ.

Jesus’ parable ends with the enigmatic phrase, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” This is a reminder that God is the one who ultimately judges us. We have to respond to God’s invitation. But our response alone is not what ensures our salvation. We can have all the theories we want about how our salvation is assured. But, in the end, our salvation is up to God, the creator of all, the ruler of all, and the judge of all.

What we affirm for Colin is our desire that he live into the clothes that he is given today. We affirm that, because of what happens here today, Colin will be part of God’s family forever. We hope that, in another person’s terrible moment—perhaps in a long line in a store—that Colin is so clothed in Christ he refuses to judge, and instead steps forward to help. And we most assuredly hope that, in his own terrible moments, Colin repents and returns to the Lord, the Lord who clothes all who seek him with righteousness.

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