Mirror, Mirror On The Wall...
God, to you all hearts are open, to you all longings speak, and to you no secret thing is hidden. I beg you – purify the intentions of my heart through the unspeakable gift of your grace, so I can love you with all I am and praise you for all you are. Amen.
That may sound familiar to you. I prayed a version of it at the start of the service – in the BCP – its called the collect for purity. And comes from Latin texts we have from the 11th century that were the private prayers a priest would say in preparation for the Eucharist.
That translation comes from another 11th century text out of England. A book called “The Cloud of Unknowing.” “The Cloud” is an instruction manual of sorts written from one anonymous monk to another – or perhaps to a community of monks. We don’t know for sure – but the author says the intention of writing is to “show you how to unite your soul with God’s.” Does that sound like something you want to do? Unite your soul with God? St. Paul talks about that when he says – put on the mind of Christ. Jesus talks about it when he says – abide in me as I abide in my Father and in you.
Both the story from Exodus and the parable from the gospel – are encouragements for us to reflect on the ways in which those of us who claim God’s authority in our lives – choose to not always abide in that truth. Which in one instance leads to weeping and gnashing of teeth – and in another instance – to getting Moses to talk God out some serious smiting.
Why does the king in this parable punish this guest who merely shows up in the wrong clothes? Let’s remember parables are meant to be extreme – hyperbolic – exaggerations to get a point across. And this is the third extreme instance in a row where Jesus tells a parable where the son of a Master or King is gravely disrespected. And if you keep in mind – timewise – that Jesus was telling this parable the week before his crucifixion – you might also get why he resorts to such extreme imagery.
But still –why is the guest sent to be tortured – when he hasn’t really done anything? Because he hasn’t done anything. It’s a parable that let’s us know - it isn’t enough just to show up. In Matthew’s gospel, most of the time Jesus is speaking to people who would call themselves religious. That is who this parable is for ad one of the reasons why it’s hard to hear. I went and looked back at the sermon I wrote three years ago when these writings came around – and guess what I skipped it – I preached on rejoice in the Lord.
But every Sunday – we end the Nicene Creed together saying – and he will come again to judge the living and the dead. Christians have to wrestle with this hard topic – and Matthew makes it impossible to avoid. In Matthew, Jesus talks about God separating the wheat from the chaff – the good fish from the bad – the sheep from the goats. And clearly states – whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me. In the Lord’s Prayer we say – forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others. So how is it that we believe we are entirely forgiven of our sins through the unmerited grace of God – and at the same time – we will be judged on what we do?
When I was a kid my mom’s version of time out was called – going to sit on the stairs. I hated going to sit on the stairs. Did you have a version of sitting on the stairs? Where 5, 10, 15 minutes might have well been an eternity? We all are children in the eyes of God – spending our lives trying to “grow into the full stature of Christ” – and I can remember tantrums of kicking and yelling that I’m sure would be akin to weeping and gnashing.
Why do parents put their kids in time out? Well as a parent I now know that one reason – is for the parent to take some time out, right? You get to a point when you recognize your anger – justified as it may be – is getting close to the danger zone and you might say – or even worse – do something you will very much regret. Separating yourself to calm down is the adult behavior. Think about that in the context of Moses’ “timeout” conversation with God. That’s really a fascinating exchange. If we think that God created us – because God needs us – this is a great example of that being true. Moses unites his soul to God in verbal – emotional – and prayerful argument on behalf of people who deserve punishment.
Moses helps God remember – and turn towards mercy. And I think that God – was perhaps using what we’d call reverse psychology (another great parenting tool) – because through God, Moses – again – risks his life and stands up for those who don’t deserve it – out of his love for God’s ways.
As a kid time out was a negative – it meant punishment. But when it works – it leads to reconciliation. When my mom would come back to the stairs, sometimes, we would be able to talk through whatever the wrong was, figure out a solution and I would see a different way of dealing with my anger. And as a parent – on some occasions – I’ve experienced the same. Because taking time out provides an opportunity on all sides, for self-examination.
The guest at the banquet – has shown up, but neglected to look in the mirror. He did not take the time to think about who had invited him and what he had been invited to. Remember he wasn’t on the original guest list – because the original guest list was for the big donors – the farmers and the business owners. But all of them disrespected the king by choosing their work – over the work of celebration and giving thanks. So the king – and this by the way is the good news of the parable – extends the invitation to all the people who would never get invited to something like this. That’s the grace – the invitation.
And as we all know in our social lives when we accept an invitation – it matters what you wear. You give it some thought, yes? And to be clear, Jesus isn’t talking about what we wear to church. There are a myriad of metaphors in scripture regarding the garments we can choose to wear when we accept we are a child of God. If you look at the front of your bulletin – you’ll see one that Paul wrote – as God’s chosen, holy, beloved – clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility and above all love – which binds everything together.
Those are the clothes that lead to doing something restorative and good. Compassion, kindness, humility – we only use those words about someone when there has been fruit. We describe when a person – showed compassion. We treat one another with kindness. We say a person is humble when we see them act selflessly. Do you see what I’m saying? Once we accept the invitation and practice giving thought to what that means in our ways and words – it impacts what you do, in everything – because your soul grows in being united to your Creator.
And when your words or actions don’t align with God’s ways – you know it, you see it – and it doesn’t feel good.
And upon reflection that awareness can cause you to weep – or invoke an uncomfortable clenching of the jaw – which might be a holy encouragement to take a time out. Throughout the gospels Jesus reminds us that self-examination - the ability to honestly look at one’s own behavior is a non-negotiable task of the Christian life. This is not a parable about God’s judgment for those who don’t believe – this is a parable for those who do.
The people following Moses want God to be something outside of themselves – and so do we – be it gold statutes – holy buildings – sacred relics and texts. It is easier to compartmentalize God – worship “that” – and say, I did my part. But God doesn’t want just a part – God wants us to be clothed in grace – covered – our souls united – so that nothing we see or do or say is separated from God’s will for us and for the whole human family.
So this morning before you walk up to the banquet – listen to the words that remind us we are forgiven. Hear again how because of God’s love for us we were created to enjoy every blessing that God has given. And when you open your hands to receive our symbol of that gift – think about what your heart is wearing – and the garment that surrounds your spirit.
For you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved – and God longs for us to unite ourselves to that truth in all our words and deeds – and God’s grace is our open invitation to do so. Amen.