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October 11, 2020

Re-imagining the Dress Code

Watch the Sunday service video below.  The sermon begins approximately 13 minutes into the video recording.  (After you open the Vimeo page, you may fast forward, rewind or stop the video by clicking on the bar at the bottom of the screen.)

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Re-imaging the Dress Code - by Carol McDonald

Anticipation is building. The planning has been intense. Save the Date notes and formal invitations have been issued well in advance. Food has been ordered and decorations selected. The best wine and sparkling waters have been procured. Even new party clothes have been purchased.  With 24 hours to go, the texts, emails, and voice messages begin.  “Julie has a soccer game I didn’t know about. I’m so sorry.”  “Just found out my cousins from Topeka are passing through.  I’m so sorry.”  “My boss has ordered me to attend a conference this weekend in Chicago. I’m so sorry.”  “I’ve had the worst week of my life with my job, my children’s virtual learning difficulties, and little sleep. I’m so sorry!”  Text after text … e-mail upon e-mail, one voicemail after another.  And you wonder – what’s going to happen to all this delicious food and fabulous wine. Even the sparkling water was imported! What am I going to do?

Perhaps you feel a bit like the king in Jesus’ parable from Matthew’s gospel.  It’s a wedding banquet after all – or feels like one -- and no one who was invited is showing up.  Do you enlist your family members and closest friends to make phone calls, send texts, compose e-mails – messages of guilt and shame, hoping those you’ve invited will change their minds.  After all, you’ve prepared your finest recipes and everything is ready! How dare they refuse a second invitation!

As the food goes cold and the wine and sparkling waters grow warm, what do you do with your anger, your disappointment, your weeping, your disillusionment, your sadness?

We know what the king does! He destroys those who reject him – he burns the homes of those who even with last minute encouragement decline his invitation.  I doubt any of us would react quite that ferociously  … but would any of us do what the king did next? “Go, therefore, into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet,” the king orders his servants.

Would any of us demand our spouses and children to go into the neighborhood and out onto the main streets beyond our gates to invite everyone they encounter to come to our fabulous feast?  What if they invite the gay couple next door? What about the homeless men from the shelter 3 blocks over?  What about the people down the street whose first language is not English?  And what if they invite those living at Trinity Haven on North Meridian --  an Episcopal Church’s transitional housing for LGBTQIA youth?  What if? What if?

Soon your house is full of people you’ve never seen before – your elegant food table is ravaged by folks who’ve not eaten a decent meal in days – or even weeks.  Your expensive wine and fancy sparkling waters are disappearing.  You look around and smile as you realize most of the guests have tried to wear their best clothes – not nearly as fancy as what you expected from your original guest list … but, nevertheless, clean and colorful and festive.  

In the parable, the king spots a man not wearing suitable wedding attire and asks him with incredulity, “How did you get in here without a wedding robe?” With little ceremony, the guest is bound hand and foot, and thrown out of the banquet room. 

What do you do, as you walk among the strangers now your guests -- what do you do if you notice someone with pungent body odor, wearing filthy, torn clothing and shoes caked with mud?  You witness this guest talking animatedly with others – mouth full … and you perceive the guest is having the experience of a lifetime.  What do you do?  Do you suggest immediately that she’d enjoy her food more in the kitchen or in the back yard? Do you ask him to go find something more suitable to wear for this fancy occasion? Do you ask her simply to leave?  What you’ve failed to grasp is that this particular guest is clothed in obvious joy and delight at being included in such a special occasion.

At this point in the parable … and at this point in relating the story to our lives … I want to say not only to the king, but to all of us … it’s time to re-imagine the dress code.  Obviously, the king in Jesus’ story expects a certain dress code for a wedding banquet.  And, without a doubt, we expect friends and family to wear fancy clothes to an elegant dinner party.  But what if the only dress code we need – for absolutely any gathering – is the phase in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I will say rejoice.”

By any gathering, I truly mean ANY gathering.  Whether it’s a meeting on a Zoom call, or face to face with 4 other people in the Board room … whether it’s retreat planning with women from a wealthy suburban congregation, or a Session meeting in a small rural community  … whether it’s a family dinner or a friend’s retirement banquet … whether it’s worshiping by live-stream or sitting once again in these pews on Sunday morning … if I am more worried about my clothing than about my attitude of “rejoicing in the Lord always,” I have completely mis-interpreted the dress code instructions.  If I’m dressed in my fanciest clothes but arrive with an attitude of boredom, irritation, frustration, and impatience … I’m no good to anyone.  If I show up to any encounter rejoicing in the Lord, I’m ready to help good things happen – I’m ready to spread the good news of God’s love.

Let’s stretch the metaphor a bit farther … I believe we have the opportunity this very month to reimagine the dress code in our response to Northminster’s 2020 stewardship campaign.  I’m guessing that, for many of you, this is the time of year when you think “Here we go again... the annual request for money … nothing new under the sun” …  This year’s stewardship theme is “Reimagine Your Gifts.”  I believe today’s scripture passages are an invitation for us to clothe ourselves in rejoicing as we make our pledges for 2021.  I believe today’s scripture passages  are a challenge for us – a challenge to re-imagine, in the words of my college chaplain, that we give not because we must, not because we have to, not because we are required to … but we give because we may … because we want to … because giving is one visible and tangible way to say to the church and to the world, “I rejoice in the Lord always.”

Commitment Sunday is October 25 – two weeks from now. If you’ve not already received your pledge card in the mail, you will soon. Each of us has 2 weeks to re-imagine our dress code for this season.  As you prepare to make your financial promise to God for 2021 – pay attention to every attitude you find yourself wearing.  When you finally complete your pledge card, may you be clothed fully and completely in “rejoicing in the Lord” – so that as we seek, serve, and embrace in 2021, our anticipated banquet will be filled with abundance and grace.   “… and the God of peace will be with you.”  May it be so! Amen.