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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

No Shoes, No Shirt, A Few Problems

2017-10-15 Mt 22 01-14 No Shoes, No Shirt, A Few Problems

Come as you are.
These days, a lot of those hip churches with cool names advertise their services saying, "Come as you are."
If you're working in the fields, don't even shower. Come as you are.
If you're performing surgery. Come as you are.
If you're on the lake and you're in a swimsuit, as long as it covers enough that you probably won't be arrested, just come on in. 
If you have no shoes, if you have no shirt, no problem.
You don't have to get dressed up.
Just come as you are.

My personal point of view is I'm fine with that. Says the man in a black robe. A bold, fresh look from European designers of 1590. Your family might see what you're wearing and they might tell you, "Oh, no you don't. You can not go to church looking like that. You will not leave this house until you go back upstairs and change into something dignified. Dad." 

I honestly don't care what you wear to church, I'm just happy you're here. Church is not Project Runway and I am no Tim Gunn. Besides, God knows how you really look without clothes and God still loves you. So, whatever. Come as you are. 

What you're wearing when you COME to church is not the point. 

The question is what do you have on when you leave?


The parable Jesus tells today, the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, tells what the kingdom of heaven is like. And how are things in the kingdom? Not heavenly. The kingdom of heaven is brutal. Once again, as with the scripture last Sunday, Jesus tells a parable ripped from today's headlines. 

The story has hatred and murder and even the extermination of an entire city. There's mockery and killing and holy vengeance. And this is heaven? Sounds more like the Bad Place than the Good Place.

The parable's king tries inviting his contact list. Like on a Facebook event. Click Yes, No, or "I'm interested." The king's so-called "friends" aren't even polite enough to click No. Those fancy-pants trolls delete the invite. They unfriend. 

So the king sends personal messengers to knock on their doors and tell them supper's ready. He's slaughtered his oxen. He's taken care of his fat calves. But the invitees push past the king's people on their way out the door. "Sorry, I'm late for a meeting." They mistreat the messengers. They kill the messengers.  

So the king sends his people out into the streets to bring in anybody and everybody. Bring the good. Bring the bad. Bring the really, really ugly. Bring the disasterously dressed. Bring the mismatched. Bring the plaid leisure-suited. Bring the ones who can't afford a shirt. Bring the ones whose shoes have been stolen. No problem. If the people you want tell you no, slaughter them and burn their city. Find new people. Find grateful people. And tell them, "Come as you are."


OK. Well. Doesn't this sound like a happy little party. Come as you are. Or else. Violence, murder, war. If it sounds like this parable was ripped from today's headlines, that's probably because it was ripped from yesterday's.

Matthew – the Gospel According to – was written around turn of second century Israel. It was written in a time when good, God-loving people were fighting with each other. Anyone who doesn't believe good, God-loving people can't fight with each other has never been to a Presbytery meeting. You had the majority Jewish people who did things the old-fashioned way. They were the ones who liked traditional worship. And you had those crazy Christians in love with their contemporary style. They believed Jesus was the prophesied Jewish Messiah who would come to liberate God's chosen people and establish eternal rule on earth as the King of Kings.

On top of this, with a great big stick, you had the Roman Empire. For them, Caesar wasn't just King, he was god. In 70AD, the Romans got sick and tired of Jerusalem ignoring their commands and rebelling against the rule of law and order. So the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem, destroyed the Jewish Temple. Left only the Western Wall standing. They burned the city. They killed everybody they could get their hands on.

So, if you had lived in Matthew's time, you would have heard this parable as a thinly veiled commentary on the headlines. It wasn't foretelling what WOULD happen. It was interpreting what already HAD. Followers of Jesus saw the rude "guests" in the story as the traditional Jews who laughed at them and mistreated them, whose holy city got burned. Christians hearing the parable saw themselves as the second-string replacement guests, the scrubs, who were, surprise, the true chosen.

Another thing. The early Christians thought of "clothing" as a metaphor for faith. Pretty much wherever you find references to clothing in the Bible, but especially in what we call the New Testament, clothing isn't about fashion; it's about faith. Clothing was a poetic way of identifying who was in and who was out. "How did you get in here without a wedding robe?" The clothes of faith separate believers from infidels. 

But as time goes on, clothing changes. The fashions of faith change. We can see the change taking place in scripture itself. What starts as a metaphor for right people and wrong people, becomes a sign of peace among ALL people.

Colossians 3:12-15
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other's faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.

And the very progressive Paul wrote in Galatians 3:27-28

for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

So come as you are. The church of Jesus Christ will take anybody. Well-dressed, poorly-dressed, undressed. Because it's not how you come to church that matters. What matters is what you have on when you leave.


The problem with the world today.... Have you heard someone start to sermonize like that? Do not get me started. The problem with young people today. The problem with these Millennials. The problem with the world today is people just don't go to church. If more people went to church, the world wouldn't be in such a mess. So, go to church. Stop being so heathen. Stop lying in bed on Sundays and going out for croissants. Get your noses out of your phones and stop having so much fun. Go to church.

And yet people ignore and refuse this kind invitation. It makes us who put on neckwear and uncomfortable shoes feel like the king's mistreated messengers. Sometimes we get resentful and spend Sundays grousing about how rotten everybody else is. Some people are drawn to churches like that. Come as you are.

More often, though, we soften the invite. Please come to church. We have cookies. We're not grumpy old people. We're cool old people. Think pipe organs are boring? We'll get a band and turn it up to eleven. You don't even have to dress up. Come as you are.

So given how loudly churches are telling people to come as they are, what's the matter? Attendance is down all across the board. Why aren't more people coming to church? 

The problem is not that we don't market ourselves well enough. We've actually gotten pretty good at that. The problem is not that people won't come even as they are. The problem, I believe, is not that people don't come as they are. The problem is that that too many of us leave as we were. 

The Bible talks of faith as clothing. And if you're wearing exactly the same thing going out of church as when you came in, something's not right. If the good news of Jesus Christ doesn't change the fashion of your life, people will see. And they will rightly ask, "What difference does church make?" If we aren't compelling people to strip off their old duds and clothe themselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience - and above all – love, if we aren't changing our own lives' fabric, people will see. They'll say, "Those people look exactly the same coming out as they did going in." They'll say, "Those people came as they are, and they left exactly as they were."


'But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, "Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?" And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, "Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." For many are called, but few are chosen.'

And of those who are chosen, even fewer choose to put on the wedding robe of Christ's good news. They just want to keep on wearing, thinking, believing, what they always have. That's a problem.

A little later, in Chapter 25, Matthew will have Jesus tell another parable about a king. 

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing....

We all come into this world naked. Sometimes we inherit the faith of our fathers and mothers. Sometimes not. 

Sometimes our faith is the Christ-given wedding robe of tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience - and above all – love. Sometimes not. If it's not, something's wrong. We'd better put on something new. Not only for our own sakes, but for the sake of those who are still outside the doors. Not only for our own sakes, but for the sake of those who need food, who need drink, who need care and compassion. For the sake of those who need clothing. Sometimes literal clothing. Sometimes the threads of hope. 2000 years after Jesus told his parables, there are still far, far too many who need to be clothed in a world that far too often turns its back, and exposes its people to the elements.

When too many people have no shirt and no shoes, there is a problem. Is it their problem? Or is it ours? Too many times we dress the way we want to dress, act the way we want to act, believe the things we want to believe – and expect our church, our God, to look, act, and believe exactly the same as we do. If not, there's another church on another corner, that better fits our style. The problem is not that people change churches. The problem - is that churches don't change people. They're the same going out as they are coming in.

Jesus does not care what you wear to church. There is no dress code. Come as you are. But Jesus does care what you have on, Jesus does care what you have on your mind, and Jesus does care what you have on your heart when you leave.