Jim, a pastor friend of mine once talked about his first invitation to a party with his church members. His story begins when he just out of seminary, he was invited to attend a 100th birthday party for a grandmother of this particular family. Having never attended a 100th birthday party before Jim assumed that it would be a classy affair with fine china and a few close friends gathered around a table. So to fit in with what he expected, he put on his suit and drove out to the house. But upon his arrival he realized that this was not the classy affair he was expecting, there were at least 50 people gathered playing Frisbee, grilling, in shorts and t-shirts. Having a grand time. When Jim realized how out of place he was with the pressed suit and wingtip shoes he had hoped he could quietly leave and come back, but before he could he was spotted. At sometime during the gathering he overheard one of the family members say “ministers, they never know what to wear.”
How many of us really like to go to a party? I mean really how many really like to go. I imagine if we had a show of hands there we would be surprised at who doesn't like to go. To me parties are often just an invitation to have more stress. Don’t get me wrong, I usually enjoy them once I’m there, but parties, especially large social gatherings can be a source of stress. To begin with parties never come at a convenient time. They either begin just before or just after dinner, or they are in the middle of the Wyatt’s nap time. They are always on the wrong day of the week. There are always other things that we think we have to do, or games that cannot be missed. Parties call for us to wear something we usually don't wear. Parties always involve spending money that we would rather not spend. Parties make have debates as to whether we should go or not. Parties always call for us to change our routines, which at times is nearly impossible. Then there is the debate as to what time we should arrive, where we should park when we get there. Yes just thinking about attending a party is stressful.
When we accept that invitation there are certain things that are expected of us. How many of us know what RSVP stands for. Well it comes from the French language meaning respondez sil vous plais or in English respond please! When we are asked to RSVP we are being asked to respond. Our host hopes that we will respond to that invitation not just by calling them and saying that we will come, but that we will respond to that invitation by actually showing up and living up to the expectation that our host has for us by joining them at their celebration.
Our Scripture this morning beings with an invitation to a party. A king was throwing a party for his son who had just gotten married. This was going to be a grand event, the social spectacle of the year. And so, as people do when they are throwing a party, the king sent out his invitation and asked the invitees to respond please of which they did. Everyone said they were coming.
When the day of the big event arrives and the party is ready, the king sent his servants out to inform his guests that the time had arrived, the time had come for them to respond to the invitation he had given them. But as the servants went out to summons the people one by one all who had been invited made up excuses and missed the party. One had to tend to his farm, another to his business, and the rest just captured the servants and mistreated them. This enraged the king, so not wanting the social disgrace of throwing a party that no one attended the king orders his servants to hurry out into the streets and invite everyone they could find to come to the party. It didn't matter who they were or what they were like, and in just a matter of minutes the banquet hall was overflowing with guests.
When the king walked into the banquet hall he was thrilled by what he saw. People were dancing, laughing and having a great time. Everyone was enjoying themselves, loving the unexpected party. Everyone except that is, for this one fellow.
Have you ever been to a party and noticed that there is someone who didn’t want to be there. We have all seen them they are the ones who aren’t dressed like everyone else. They are the ones with the headphones on trying to tune everyone out. They are the ones in the back corner trying hard not to talk to anyone. We have all been that person and at times I wish I had someone tell me relax and fun or go home.
Our scripture continues with the king noticing that there was someone there not wearing the wedding robe. Now those of us who have been to a wedding know that there is a dress code, this same rule applied to this wedding. To not dress appropriately for a wedding reception, is really an insult to the host. It is a way of saying I don't care about you or your party. So this man insulted the host by not dressing appropriately. Upset the king orders the man away and tossed him out to be punished.
Now, what are we to make of that story? Wasn’t the king maybe a tad bit harsh on that guy? After all, maybe he didn’t own a wedding robe. Being bound and thrown out seems pretty harsh for not wearing the right outfit.
But maybe, just maybe there is more going on here. When Steve and I got married we asked some of our best friends to be in our wedding party. They all accepted, of course, but as time got closer to the wedding I had one of my bridesmaids come and tell me that she couldn’t be in the wedding, but that she would attend. When I pressed her enough she finally told me it was because she couldn’t afford the bridesmaid dresses that we were having made. I went to my parents with the very upsetting news, and asked my Dad if we could help her pay for her dress. He said “No.” I was shocked. MyDad is the most generous person I know and that he wasn’t going to offer to help my friend be in my wedding was quite frankly inconceivable. But before I could begin to voice this he spoke again. “No, we can’t help her buy the dress. We will buy the dresses for all of the girls, and while we are at it we will pay for the tux rentals for the guys too.”
The way the story is told in Matthew, with the king sending his servants out into the streets and bringing all those people into the party on the spur of the moment like that, most likely none of those people went home and got dressed. There wasn’t time for that. No, probably what the parable is implying is that the king provided his guests with those wedding robes. As the guests stepped through the door, the royal valet probably handed each person an appropriate wedding robe to put on and pointed them in the direction of the changing rooms. And everyone went along and did that, because they understood that that was what was expected of people who accepted an invitation to a wedding banquet everyone did that, that is, except for that one fellow.
Imagine how I would have felt if after my parents bought everyone their wedding cloths, this one bridesmaid had decided that she was going to wear something different. I’m pretty sure bridezilla would have been an accurate term for my reaction!
The wedding robe as a symbol meant something to the readers and to the listeners of the time of Jesus. They knew that a wedding robe implied the hospitality that was being extended and the respect and recognition that was due in return. That's been lost to us in our culture, where we are so informal that the idea of showing up without having the proper attire would not necessarily mean a one-way ticket to damnation.
So the problem was that that particular fellow didn’t accept the wedding robe. He came to the party he accepted the kings invitation but that was it. He refused to fully respond to the king’s invitation and allow himself to embrace to celebration and be clothed by the king.
Isn't that what we do. The guest answered the call but refused to conform to the requirements for the party. Don't we do that, we answer God calling and join into a relationship and then we refuse to clothe ourselves in righteousness. Aren't we sometimes merely satisfied with just showing up, never allowing ourselves to be molded by God?
What this parable invites us to do, I believe, is to consider whether we’ve responded to our king, whether we have responded to God. Sure, all of us here have responded to the extent that we’ve shown up, we’re here this morning, we’re sitting in the chairs. But have we fully responded to God? Have we allowed ourselves to be changed to the way that God expects us to be?
When it comes to what we do with our lives, when it comes to what we do with our time, are we responding to God in such a way so that instead of focusing merely on what we expect out of life, we’re focusing on what God expects out of us in life?
Are we responding to God, by making the effort to develop a relationship with God? God is there inviting us to the party, inviting us to be God’s people. And so God expects us to come and get to know God. Are we doing that? Are we making prayer, Bible study, and worship the kinds of priorities in our lives that God expects that we will?
Or when it comes to our money, when it comes to what we do with our possessions, are we responding to God? Are we responding to God in such a way that instead of concentrating on our own wants and desires, we’re concentrating on those things that God expects us to do?
You’re invited. We’re all invited. We’re all invited to come and be God’s people. That’s the message that God has for us. The question is: do we accept that invitation? Because if we do, we need to respond to that invitation not just with our words, but we need to respond to that invitation with our whole selves with all that we are and with all that we have. After all, that’s the kind of response God expects.
So let us cheerfully accept the invitation to God’s kingdom. Let us put on the clothing of Christ, kindness, generosity, humility, meekness and love. Let us be humbled once more by God’s gracious gift of relationship. In short friends, Let’s Party!