Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 15, 2017
“Dress For Success”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
“Who dressed you?” Those words usually aren’t a compliment!! Colors don’t match; the pattern should have been vertical, not horizontal, or horizontal and not vertical, and it makes you look old or fat or skinny. When Sam Westra or his dear father, Steve, come in here, wearing Kansas City Chief red, I wonder who dressed them!!
One Sunday morning at my first congregation, in Nebraska, JoAnn Dodson came to church, looked at her shoes, and promptly left. She had gotten dressed in the dark, not wanting to wake her husband, Merwin, while she found the clothes to wear. She had two different shoes on. I told her it was ok, no one would notice. She didn’t believe me. She left to get dressed with two shoes that matched.
About a month ago we had a funeral and Henry Peepgrass showed up to usher. But he had a problem. His shirt had shrunk and he couldn’t get the top button on his dress shirt to button. So he came to me. I had to dress Henry Peepgrass!! First getting behind him and trying to close the button and then going in front to do it – it finally worked. Boy, did he look good!! (I’m just glad his problem was with his shirt and not his pants!!)
Getting dressed with the right clothes is the account in today’s text from Matthew 22. “But then the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.” (Matthew 22:11-12)
Here’s the story that leads up to this encounter. The king was throwing a wedding reception for his own son. He sent out invitations to his friends. But they weren’t interested. They were working. They were busy. They had a lot of excuses!! Then the friends of the king turned mean and mistreated those that brought the invitations. They even put some of the ones carrying the invites to death!! So the king says, “The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find. So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.” (Matthew 22:8-10)
I think the parable is about God’s invite to His chosen people, and those who weren’t the chosen – and the reaction to God’s invitation. Jesus came to the Jews. He spoke in their synagogues, He showed that God had sent Him to be the Messiah. But He was rejected. Very few came to the banquet. Very few came to faith. They were too busy or not interested.
So the invitation for salvation went to others – “Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you can find.” The Gentiles were invited. The words from Matthew 11 were seen to be fully true, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Verse 28) All were invited. All came. As Jesus told the story, “So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
But you’ve got to be dressed right. If you don’t have the right garment on, you’ll get thrown out!! If I have it right, there was weeping and gnashing of teeth outside that door. Don’t let the devil dress you. If he dresses you, you’ll never have the right garment to be at the feast in heaven. The devil will dress you will all types of ugliness. Unbelief. Discord. Hatred. Lust. Selfishness. Everything evil and ugly and false will be the dress that you’ll wear. Maybe you’ll know that your clothes are just the wrong ones, but maybe you’ve worn them for so long you don’t think about how you look anymore. But you let the wrong person dress you.
And don’t dress yourself. You’ll get it all wrong, right, Henry?? The Stephen Ministers at Ascension, those who are a supporting hand to those who are struggling in life, are studying the book by Max Lucado, “Facing Your Giants”. David and Goliath type of stuff. He writes, “Your Goliath doesn’t carry sword or shield; he brandishes blades of unemployment, sexual abuse, or depression. Your giant doesn’t parade up and down the hills of Elah; he prances through your office, your bedroom, your classroom. He brings bills you can’t pay, grades you can’t make, people you can’t please, whiskey you can’t resist, pornography you can’t refuse, a career you can’t escape, a past you can’t shake, and a future you can’t face.” (Pages 2-3)
You’d better not even try to get dressed to come into God’s Kingdom by yourself. Do you know the verse from Isaiah? “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6) If we try to dress ourselves with self-righteousness, good deeds and a salvation by self we will be asked why we entered the wedding banquet without the right wedding clothes.
Last week in our lesson from Philippians, Paul contrasts his own righteousness with Christ’s, “I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Philippians 3:8b-9)
Let God dress you. Don’t ever let the devil dress you. Don’t try to dress yourself. But let God dress you. When we first read the parable it seems to be a bit unfair, didn’t it? The king comes into the wedding banquet and he notices one guy who sticks out like a sore thumb. He has the wrong clothes. Does that seem right? Just because a guy is poor and can’t afford the nice, fancy clothes, you throw him out on his ear?? A number of commentaries say that not only did the king invite everyone to the feast, and provided all the food and beverage and the best chocolate fountain, he also gave them the clothes they were to wear. But this man refused to wear the robe that he had been given.
Let God dress you. Here is another picture from Isaiah, “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.” (Isaiah 61:10a) “Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness my beauty are, my glorious dress…” (LSB, 563, Verse 1)
Our church has people who have come from many different Christian denominations. We have Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists, Catholics and others. I learn something from each of them. Even from the Catholics. I never read Luke 7 the same after hearing how my Catholic friends apply this word. The account is about the centurion, his servant and a humble faith. This soldier of 100 men, a centurion, had a servant that he valued highly but this man was deathly sick, so he sent folks to Jesus to have him come and grant his servant healing. Jesus, when hearing of the situation, came. But I guess the centurion realized that he had no right to ask this great healer to come to his house. So, he sent his servants to Jesus with this second word, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I do not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Luke 7:6b-7)
Before Holy Communion, before receiving the very body and blood of Jesus Himself, a Catholic will think or say or sing those words, “Lord, I do not deserve to have You come under my roof, only say Your word and Your servant will be healed.” We don’t deserve Him to come here, to this Table, but He does. And when He speaks His word we are healed. He dresses you perfectly, beautifully and holy. In the book of Revelation the picture of God’s people beautifully dressed by our God is given like this, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (Revelation 21:2)
In our parable, when the man is questioned about not having the wedding garment, he is speechless. He doesn’t have one word to say. He doesn’t apologize or say that he is sorry or ask for forgiveness. He doesn’t even give any excuses. His tongue is tied.
That is not the case for those who have been dressed by God – the good and bad who have been invited to the banquet and who have been given the wedding robe to wear. Adoration. Praise. Humble thanks. As Paul writes, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11)
“Who dressed you?” Usually those words are accusatory. We didn’t quite get it right. But now, as believers in Jesus, wearing the robe of righteousness given by Jesus, made whole in His blood, we have a great answer to give everyone. Who dressed you? God did!! Perfectly. Completely. Beautifully. Forever. We’re dressed for success!! Amen!!