This morning’s gospel indicates that those who respond in love to God’s invitation deck themselves out in “glad rags” of joy. This hymn has a lovely tune with interesting harmonies that sets a text calling us to deck ourselves out that way. But it expresses no facile, superficial piety: it was written in Germany near the end of the horrors of the 30 Years’ War in 1646.
--Donna Wessel Walker
Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness; leave the gloomy haunts of sadness.
Come into the daylight’s splendor; there with joy thy praises render
unto him whose grace unbounded hath this wondrous banquet founded.
High o’er all the heavens he reigneth, yet to dwell with thee he deigneth.
Sun, who all my life dost brighten; Light, who dost my soul enlighten;
Joy, the best that any knoweth: Fount, whence all my being floweth:
At thy feet I cry, My Maker, let me be a fit partaker
of this blessed food from heaven, for our good, thy glory, given.
Jesus, Bread of life, I pray thee, let me gladly here obey thee.
Never to my hurt invited, be thy love with love requited.
From this banquet let me measure, Lord, how vast and deep its treasure.
Through the gifts thou here dost give me, as thy guest in heaven receive me.
- Johann Franck (1618-1677), translated by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), alt.
Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.
The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”
But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23
Confitemini Domino, Et fecerunt vitulum
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, *
for his mercy endures for ever.
2 Who can declare the mighty acts of the Lord *
or show forth all his praise?
3 Happy are those who act with justice *
and always do what is right!
4 Remember me, O Lord, with the favor you have for your people, *
and visit me with your saving help;
5 That I may see the prosperity of your elect
and be glad with the gladness of your people, *
that I may glory with your inheritance.
6 We have sinned as our forebears did; *
we have done wrong and dealt wickedly.
19 Israel made a bull-calf at Horeb *
and worshiped a molten image;
20 And so they exchanged their Glory *
for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.
21 They forgot God their Savior, *
who had done great things in Egypt,
22 Wonderful deeds in the land of Ham, *
and fearful things at the Red Sea.
23 So he would have destroyed them,
had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, *
to turn away his wrath from consuming them.
My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 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.
“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. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
The man in our gospel lesson finds himself in the middle of an allegory. It’s a place where no 0ne should find themselves. And when we get to the end of the story we will find that it is indeed about how we are to clothe ourselves for the work of the Kingdom, allegorically at any rate!
This is one of the more peculiar and puzzling plot twists in all of Jesus’ parables. He was just standing on the street corner when someone comes by and says, “Hey, do you want to go to a party?” He says, “Sure, why not?” and so he goes. And before he can finish his salad, somebody comes by and says, “Arrest that man, he’s not wearing a tux. Throw him out of here!” It leaves us scratching our heads and wondering, “What was that all about?” Most of us end up muttering “I don’t get it, I really don’t get it.” Well, let’s see if we can sort this out.
Three of our lessons today refer to celebratory meals: Isaiah 25:6 “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich foods.” Psalm 23: 5 “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” And our Gospel lesson all about the wedding banquet the king was giving for his son. Throughout the scriptures such meals are an image of the kingdom of heaven.
In Isaiah it is vision of what God is aiming at, what God’s plan and hope for all humanity is, where life is leading us. Did you hear, “for all peoples?” In the next verse, Isaiah goes further and talks about God destroying death – not just for some, but for everyone “And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations, he will swallow up death forever.”
This hope of a safe place with God is reflected in the psalm’s use of “prepare a table before me.” While the psalmist is not likely to have thought of this in quite the same universal way that Isaiah did, the image, coupled with the next line about dwelling in the house of the Lord forever, is a reflection of the deep awareness of the Hebrew people that their life and death were all in the hands of God and that God’s love and provision were to be trusted.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells us very clearly that this is a parable about the “kingdom of heaven.”
This is perhaps best understood as the community of those who have given themselves completely to following the will and way of God in the world. To paraphrase Paul in Philippians; wherever you find folk who are pursuing, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable . . .” there you will find the kingdom of heaven. It is something God creates and that we human beings participate in at God’s invitation. It is very clear in both Isaiah and Matthew that everyone is ultimately invited.
But, not everyone accepts the invitation. This is the subject of the parable. It is an exploration of two basic facts; not everyone who is invited decides to come and, not everyone who comes is really ready to be there.
Jesus is telling this parable in Jerusalem and he is pointedly telling it to the chief priests and elders, people who have turned down the invitation to the kingdom first issued by John the Baptist and then by Jesus. Throughout the gospel of Matthew, Jesus has been saying what he started saying way back in chapter 4, verse 17, “From that time Jesus began to preach saying, ‘Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”
But a lot of people didn’t want to repent, they didn’t want to turn around and go in a new direction, they didn’t want to be a part of the kingdom of heaven, they were very happy going about their business as they were. They were much too busy with their financial and cultural and familial obligations to respond to an invitation to get involved in dangerous things like justice and mercy and caring for the poor and the suffering.
As the parable unfolds, the king responds to their snub with fury, and then he says, “Well, if the supposedly good people won’t come, let’s open the doors to everybody.” Now, this is a message we in the modern world want to hear. The kingdom of heaven is inclusive, everybody’s welcome.
But, actually there’s a catch, and it’s a catch most of us don’t like to think about.
Ellenita Zimmerman put it best I think when she says, “It is true that God loves you just the way you are. It is also true that God loves you too much to let you stay that way.” While the going out and gathering together everyone “good and bad,” and bringing them in to the banquet is a clear proclamation of the fact that God invites all to come; the expelling of the man who did not have a wedding robe is an equally clear expression of the fact that those who come to the party are expected to respond to the love of God by changing their lives.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, there is a world of hurting people around us in desperate need of a touch of the kingdom of heaven in their midst. There are needs crying out from across the world and across the street. Homelessness, poverty, hunger, war, environmental disaster, etc. etc. We have been invited to carry the kingdom to these people, we have been called to go and get them and bring them into God’s banquet of love. And the question is, what are you going to do? How are you going to respond?
We respond by putting on our best clothing, acts of mercy, justice, loving kindness and solidarity with the weak and powerless.