Sermon for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost – October 15, 2017

Based on Matthew 22:1-14.

It is an off-putting gospel text to hear for a healing service. A rich fellow throws a wedding party to which his friends will not come. Then, throwing the doors wide open for everyone from the streets, he blows a gasket in anger that one of them came without appropriate attire. How fair is that? He’s a street dude, for goodness sake. But so were the others, who did manage to scavenge something fitting at a Goodwill or whatever. If this parable is about God, and God’s people, the story does not sound at first hearing like a god who is fair. Then again, it is a parable. Jesus is not necessarily talking about real clothes here.

And the story if taken too literally also does not quite fit a healing service. But hear prayerfully. Hear deeply. You might just hear the divine diagnosis and prescription for personal peace in the parable! Hearing deeply, you may not hear the parable like I do, but that’s okay. However you hear it, for us both it begins with this question. “What are you wearing to your healing?”

What are you wearing to your healing?
Are you wearing something that required careful thought before putting it on? Or did you choose healing clothes out of routine, like a uniform, or like something you’ve long worn to cover up deep wounds? Do you think of the physical, or social, or ethical and spiritual conditions that suggest what’s appropriate to wear? Or do you accessorize based on an already biased response? I have had that attitude. Once, on the ER table, the attending physician prescribed something I just knew was a mistake and I told him. He ordered it anyway, upon which my BP dropped, I turned over, noticed his $500 pair of new loafers, and introduced them to my breakfast. For a while after that I had a bias against loafer-wearing doctors and, as it were, didn’t care what I wore in their presence.

More seriously, maybe you have been similarly pre-conditioned by bad experiences with other leaders. Maybe you are quick with the idea that leaders are narcissists, so you resist wearing the clothes of good faith. All of us have worn our resistance or anger to God’s hospital one time or another. If you recall, those are the clothes without the 8th commandment designer label. Remember that brand? It seems to be fashionable only once in a while. That “do not bear false witness” label is not something only to wear in a court of law. It is for all the time. As Luther wrote, “We are to fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead, we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”

St. Paul is more specific about spiritual fashion sense. He says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Col. 3: 12).” Paul’s line“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Be tolerant with one another, and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. Forgive one another as the Lord forgave you.” (Col. 3:12-13) “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Be tolerant with one another, and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. Forgive one another as the Lord forgave you.” (Col. 3:12-13). “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Be tolerant with one another, and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. Forgive one another as the Lord forgave you.” (Col. 3:12-13). Paul’s clothing lineP is the appropriate year-round clothing for every one of us off the street folks who answer God’s call to this hospital.

And what a great holy hall is this, whose steeple is steeped in one of the world’s best med centers! This is even a funny place, crammed full of humans trying to reflect the image of God amidst the frantic busy-ness of natural disasters, ill health, social stresses, and human pretensions. Sometimes this holy field hospital may feel more like Judge Judy’s courtroom. But look closely, and you discover that we all are equally clothed in open-backed gowns of humility. The master finds this attire perfect.

Maybe that’s TMI, too much imagery. As funny or bothersome as the image may be, we are all gathered here by God’s Spirit with a particular spirited intention! We are called to love. So yes, all of us at different times are unlovely. God means thereby for us to practice loving. We are called to care for the poor. There is a poverty unique to each of us which others of us are called to fill. We are called to be peacemakers. Each of us harbors easily spurred reactivity, and so we are given to each other to model patience and peacemaking. Each of us is selfish in our own ways. So God gives us to each other to learn and live generosity. Each of us is ill in some manner; in no facet of our lives are we healthy or perfect. And so we are God’s hands and ears and mouths of healing for each other. In all these ways God has given us to each other and in these ways God means us to heal the world for the amplification of generosity and joy.

All this happens here more than not. Therefore it can happen everywhere more than not. Here we recognize we have a stake in each other’s humanity. That’s because we’ve responded more positively than not to God’s clear stake in us, confessing that sometimes we do not wear the right clothes. So, the question really is not just what are you wearing to your healing, but what are you wearing to each other’s healing? For God intends that what you wear also will be your very wedding garment, glistening with humility, gratitude, and joy. Let’s get dressed! Oh, and take our festive meds! The doctor, who is the master of the wedding, is world class!

Duane Larson                  Christ the King Lutheran Church Houston                 October 15, 2017