Pentecost XIII – Proper 23 – October 12, 2014
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.
So let’s just cut through it. The story of the wedding banquet tells of an invitation to a gala event. A wedding was one of the most joyous and festive events in the life of the community, often lasting many days. To refuse an invitation to such an event would be like us snubbing an invitation to a state dinner at the White House. The initial invitation was ignored, there was violence and murder and retribution. This is a crazy story… But gets better, and then it gets crazy again. The king gives the order to extend the invitation to absolutely everyone… the good and the bad… the day care worker, the accountant, the used car salesman, the drug dealer, the loan shark, the prostitute, the baker and the field worker… all are invited… all are welcome…. They come and the wedding hall is filled with guests enjoying a lavish feast…
But there is one man… whose story is the stuff of our nightmares… You know the ones… like my repeated childhood nightmare of walking into class full of nosy students. I sit down at my desk and realize that I am more than under dressed, I am still in my pajamas! I look down and I see pink fluffy bunny slippers and I am mortified… Then there is the college version of showing up to a class where the professor is handing out the final exam… uh oh… forgot to study… forgot to buy the books… forgot to drop the course… this is bad…
The part of the story about the man who gets punished for not wearing the right wedding attire is hard to understand… and I cannot explain it to my satisfaction. If folks had been invited right off of the street they would not have had time to put on a fine garment, even if they had been well off enough to own one. One of the best historical tidbits I came across was the idea that at such a feast there may have been porters standing at the door handing out wedding coats to all of the guests… a king could certainly make that happen. So a man who was found not to be wearing a garment suitable for the occasion would be one who had said “no” to the full invitation to participate in the banquet feast. He said “yes” to the initial invitation… but his presence at the celebration was casual and lackluster. And for that he was not allowed to party with the others. For that he was cast out into out the outer darkness of suffering in his own version of hell. It could have been different. “For many are called but few are chosen.” All were called to be attentive, to say “yes” to the good invitation, and to put on the garment of engagement and participation in the heavenly party where the correct response is to say “yes” to all just and noble and true… all that is of heaven.
One of the ways I like to think about “heaven wear” is to think about wrapping ourselves in the cloak of Christ’s peace and protection. When you hear the word “peace” what image or sensation comes to you? Do you think of the blessed silence that descends on a battlefield after a truce is called? … or the vision of a baby sleeping soundly in his mothers arms? Maybe it is the image of an elder slowly rocking on the front porch enjoying a colorful sunset? Maybe the word “peace” evokes that deep prayerful place where you can release your mind and your body into calm and stillness. Maybe it is the peace you return to again and again when placing one foot in front of the other in a slow walk along the shore or in the temple of the forest… With so many images of violence, conflict and war swirling around us we often forget that peace is a reality, that peace is in our midst…it is so very, very close to us… it is available and it is abundant… and we wish that that every man, woman and child on this planet knew this too. I want to tell you a story:
There once was a king who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. The king looked at all the pictures. But there were only two he really liked, and he had to choose between them.
One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror for peaceful towering mountains all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought that it was a perfect picture of peace.
The other picture had mountains, too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky, from which rain fell and in which lightning played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all.
But when the king looked closely, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on her nest – in perfect peace.
Which picture do you think won the prize? The king chose the second picture. Do you know why?
“Because,” explained the king, “peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace.”
This past week a young woman named Malala stood before the world to receive a Nobel Peace prize. Hers is a steady voice of peace, hope and possibility that was honed and strengthened amidst the ravages of brutality, murder and war. Her clear message is that opportunity and education are the tools to transform a world that is saying “no” to God’s invitation to feast in peace and heavenly prosperity. Her town had crumbled around her… and the Taliban tried to kill her as they had so many others who had not joined their party that is taking place in the outer darkness. Malala survived a bullet to the head. She more than survived and her reminder to us and to the world is to say “yes” to the feast that builds up, nurtures and supports. The Peace Prize was shared between two champions of children’s causes who come from different sides of the religious divide. The Pakistani Malala shared the Peace Prize with the Indian Kailash Satyarthi who works to end child slavery. Their “yes” is to the greater feast that is beyond war, abuse and servitude. For any of us succumb to hopeless despair in the midst of the world’s problems is to doom ourselves to a form of hell. There is a greater invitation… there is peace to be had in the midst of the angry cacophony of our times… and we are all invited to live and prosper in that peace, where we are, like the mother bird who build her nest and tended her young ones amidst the rush of angry water. We are in a harsh and hardened landscape, and we are called to life!
Every Sunday when I say the blessing at the end of the service I tend use the same one. There are other choices but I most often use words from Paul’s letter to the Philippians that resonate so very deeply with me… “May the peace of God, which passes all understanding… keep your hearts and your minds in the knowledge and love of God…” I pray that we go forth form our worship… not only fed, but taking out into the world… a world that is filled with conflict and hurt… a world hungry for peace… I pray that each and every one of us go forth cloaked in the blessing of God’s deepest peace, honor, and integrity, bringing into the world the invitation to join the feast of hope and possibility… cloaked in garments, making us ready to participate in the building up of heaven on earth. Let us go forth cloaked in “heaven wear”… and invite the rest of the world to the party!