The Rev. Dani Gabriel, Deacon
St. Alban’s, Albany
Have you ever been invited somewhere you weren’t sure you’d fit in? Have you ever been asked to attend a party for someone you barely knew, or maybe a work function with your boss hosting? Have you worried what to wear, if you had appropriate shoes, which tie was right?
I was invited to an extremely fancy party, pre Covid. It was the first actual black tie affair I’d ever been asked to attend. I was initially horrified, because I didn’t want to wear a gown. Tulle and taffeta are not for me. I went thrift store shopping and bought a tuxedo jacket instead.
The party was every bit as over the top as I had anticipated. I was extremely uncomfortable, walking between the open bar and the trays of hors d’oevers. I kept thinking about how much everything had cost: that ice sculpture must have been a month’s worth of groceries, that dessert was more than a tank of gas. But everyone was welcoming, and I found myself having a good time in spite of myself.
We are all invited to the party. God invites us to meet his Son, invites us from the streets or even whatever jails we occupy, he’s demanding our presence even. It’s an over the top affair.
How nervous you are to meet fancy people or be at a King’s banquet doesn’t matter. You are worthy. Show up. All your mistakes, all your failures, all the things that trouble you in the two a.m. darkness don’t matter. You are worthy. Show up. The identities that push you to the edges of conversations and keep you out of community, they are valued. You are worthy. Show up.
That is a message for this week. As we see division all over our tv screens and many of us are left wondering: is there a place for us in America anymore? This is an alternative vision. A lavish banquet that God is basically begging us to attend. One that has room for the ordinary, and the outcast, and the other.
We need to think about who we invite into our spaces, too. Is our worship welcoming to all? Who do we not invite to come to events or participate in conversations? How can we lengthen the guest list to include everyone who might be interested?
When I was first invited to attend an Episcopal church I said “no.” Emphatically. I definitely did not want anything to do with the Episcopal Church, thank you very much. I didn’t feel particularly welcomed and I didn’t think I’d fit in. It took the person who invited me six months of pestering to get me to go, and then look what happened. Ten years later I’m ordained in the church.
What happened was that when I got to that party I met God. I met God in the liturgy and I met her in the people. That was a lavish party to be sure, full of grace. I never ever wanted to leave. The more we can share the unique things about the Episcopal Church, the more we can share that we really do mean ALL are welcome, the more that we can invite people directly to join us, the bigger and louder and more celebratory this party will get. And that will have a positive impact on the world.
And what about these original guests who refused the invitation? I am often like one of them. Too busy to hear God’s call. I’ve got things I want to do, I’m not interested in God’s agenda even when I’m given a clear invite. I have to practice prayer so I can hear God’s call, so that there will be space for me to respond.
And what about this guest that is cast into the outer darkness for having the wrong clothes? That doesn’t seem to fit with the message.
One suggestion I have read is that this guest has refused to be “clothed in Christ.” He has shown up to the banquet, but wants to retain his earthly clothing and his earthly ways.
How would we be clothed in Christ? What would we wear to this heavenly banquet?
Maybe a scarf woven from our gifts to the poor.
Maybe a hat sewn from our service to the sick.
How about a dress cut from our care for our families?
A shirt tailored with our love for people who are difficult.
Shoes cobbled from patience, and kindness, and mercy.
You don’t need a tux from the thrift store for this party. You don’t need to look this way or that way, you don’t need anything expensive.
If “many are called, but few are chosen” maybe it’s because we got the invitation but not the deeper message.
You just need to show up with your best try, with your efforts at putting on the ways of Jesus, and dance.
Bartlett and Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word Year A, Volume 4, pages 164-169.