May I speak in the name of the living and loving God. Amen
Today’s reading always makes me think of the RAC club.
It is outwardly very hospitable – all are welcome
The facilities are wonderful – it’s a great place to have a wedding reception – I had my wedding reception there
They welcome new members – especially young ones
And they encourage existing members to invite new ones to join
But once you start the process of becoming a member you discover that it is not quite so easy.
There is a long waiting list, a substantial joining fee and then is the ‘familiarisation with the rules’ of the Clubhouses – not least of which the dress code:
Let me give you a taste of this- these are the rules for the Pall MAll Clubhouse in London:
The dress code allows for more formal attire during the week and less formal attire at the weekends.
Weekdays are considered 11:00am Monday through to 5:00pm Friday. Weekends are considered 5:00pm Friday through to 11:00am Monday.
On weekdays, the dress code identifies three levels of formality which apply in different areas of the clubhouse as shown in Map 1 below.
At the weekend, the dress code identifies three levels of formality which apply in different areas of the clubhouse as shown in Map 2 below.
Definitions of each level of formality – smart, smart casual, and casual – and a short list of prohibited items of clothing are to be found at the end of this document.
Men should dress in a jacket (suit, blazer or sports jacket), tie and fully button fronted collared shirt tucked in with tailored trousers, corduroys, chinos or moleskins.
Men should dress as above, however, a tie is not required.
Men should dress as above, however, neither jacket nor tie is required. Sweaters over a shirt and short sleeve button-fronted shirts are permitted.
So far so good …
It is in the area of ‘banned items’ that this really starts to resemble Leviticus.
- Jeans or denim wear, including trousers, dresses, skirts, jackets, and shirts – any colour.
- – Flip-flops, double band footbeds such as Birkenstocks, [what are they?] leisure shoes including plimsolls, trainers, canvas shoes, sneakers and walking shoes, casual boots, hiking shoes and boots and ‘Ugg’ – like boots. [ugh indeed!]
- Leisure-wear, such as shorts (applies to men only), polo shirts, T-shirts, items with large logos and leggings, even leather [!!] (except under dresses).
- Strapless, flimsy, transparent and very low-cut tops/shirts/blouses, except for formal evening wear (!)
And so it goes on … you can read it all here
I am wearing a non-standard chasuble – or at least not a St Martin’s Epsom one – in memory of my Godfather – John Jefferies Stratton, priest, whose funeral was on Friday.
At which I preached
On one of these texts – Isa 25 – the Isaiah apocalypse which looks forward to a final heavenly banquet
The more time I spend in ministry – the more all of the areas of my life seem to link up so that there is an almost visible underlying skein
Father Jeff was 61 years married – and served 60 years as a priest
In his time, Jeff was an innovator perhaps you have a sense of that from the colour – the colour of spring – and the stained glass effect on the orphrey
The key to innovation is knowing what to change and what is fundamental
So chasubles should be worn as distinctive marks of the president of the Eucharist
In ordinary time they are green representing the season of new life and renewal. But they need not be dull
Keeping a relationship with the past is important if we are to have meaning in our lives
This topic of tradition versus innovation is a live debate in the church of England
Its Liturgy – its hymnody – its vestments – even the Parish system
And above all its Ethics – all are subject to debate
Relationship is at the heart of religion
Which is literally the ‘binding together’ of people of common faith
So determining what are and what are not ‘the ties which bind’ is absolutely crucial.
Loyalty, tradition and innovation are at the heart of today’s Gospel reading
On one level it is about the offering and receipt of hospitality
Have you ever been invited to a dinner party and initially said yes
Happy to go – A chance to see friends – A night out
As the date draws nearer you begin to see reasons not to go
Not feeling so good- a tough week – the cooking is never very good
And so refused.
It seems to me that this kind of behaviour is now quite common place
People say one thing and do another. Let people down
At its most profound level this is a breach of promise, breach of covenant
To the millennial generation. all arrangements appear now to be provisional
What does that mean for society
We are increasingly utilitarian rather than covenantal
What’s in it for me not the fidelity to an underlying law
But if we refuse hospitality then relationship is weakened or broken
It is a form of rejection
How many çhances will we get?
We take a risk – assuming the relationship will survive
Similarly if we fail to offer hospitality then potential relationships are never made
In this parable Jesus tells us that God’s hospitality is extreme
The king has invited guests to a sumptuous feast – oxen and fatted calves have been slaughtered – all is ready when he sends his slaves out and summons the invited guests to the wedding banquet
But they ‘made light of this’ – they did not value it
Instead they did other things – one went to his field (perhaps to do the gardening or watch his son play rugby) another went to his business – in fact the Greek says ’emporium’ – that’s right, he went shopping!
So instead – the King had those who were invited killed (ouch!) and invites instead all of the hitherto uninvited
‘the good and the bad’ to the feast – he innovates!
The allegory is clear – God has offered the chance to all of Israel to join in the new relationship, the new covenant with God
They refuse out of vested interest, selfishness and complacency and instead treat very badly those who Bring the news of this new relationship (ie Jesus and his disciples)
And so the offer has been extended to those who would not otherwise have been invited – that is we the gentiles.
So we are all welcome, in the language of the book of Revelation, ‘to the wedding feast of the lamb’
But the story does not end there – at least not in the Gospel according to Matthew
Where Luke’s account stops and has a happy ending, Matthew’s has a sting in the tail
For even those who are new to the relationship – late invitations to the wedding banquet – are expected to know the form and come properly dressed or be bound and tossed into the abyss
Does this seem harsh?
Apparently the conditions were easily met – the required garment was just something white (not like following the RAC dress code )
There might be a link with Baptism in this – since the traditional garment for a baptism candidate is white
In the good old days then a Christian catechumen would be expected to learn a lot of doctrine and liturgy before being admitted (like joining the RAC)
What this parable might then be saying is that it is all very well to be invited to the wedding feast of the lamb but if you do not take it seriously then it would be better that you had never come.
It’s not enough to just turn up – you have to learn the rules, obey them, join the club, get into relationship with your fellow members
There are many lessons then for us in this
We should be like our outrageously hospitable God and develop a culture of hospitality – how many people did you invite here today?
Have we invited people before but they said “no”?
Did we go back com again as God does – again and again to repeat the offer?
We should be outrageously hospitable like God
We should keep our promises – hold on to tradition and learning
We should not forget our baptism – I am wearing white as a remembrance of mine
Nor the promises made at baptism
When we pass the font, remember your promise to bring up your children and Godchildren as followers of Christ
Nor our marriage and the promises made there – to be bound to one another until death us do part
Nor our confirmation and the promises made there to keep learning and keep turning to Christ
In summary we should keep learning and keep turning to God.
And keep inviting others to do the same.
Sermon delivered by Revd Christopher Hancock 10:00am Eucharist at St. Martin’s Epsom, 15th October, 2017