Dressed to Meet Jesus

How long has it been it been since you’ve been to the Beebe Flea Market?

Well, that’s too long!

We’re not up there every Saturday morning but if the weather’s pretty good and it’s the time of year for genuine Cave City watermelons we’re up there pretty often.

I guess it was a year or so ago that we first noticed the signs. We go up Old Highway 67 and just before you get to Beebe and the flea market, we noticed the signs. They were on a wooded area; some timber had been cut on it recently. Big white painted signs with bright red lettering:

“BE DRESSED TO MEET JESUS IF YOU TRESPASS ON THIS PROPERTY!”

Woo!  What does that mean?

I guess it means that if you trespass on this land something serious is about to happen: So serious that you need to be dressed to meet the Savior. So serious that unless you are prepared to meet God like right now you best stay off this property.

Every time we go to the flea market, we see the signs, they are still there.

I thought about those signs when I read the gospel reading from Matthew.

Jesus tells a parable about a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. The king sends his slaves to those who have been invited but they would not come. He sends more but still the invited guests do not come – indeed some mistreat and kill the messengers of the king. This infuriates the king who sends his troops, who destroy the murderers and burn their city.

Then the king says to his slaves, ‘the wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went into the streets and gathered all whom they find, both good and bad, so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

Now comes the part I have a little difficulty with.

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 the man 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.’

This seems a little strong.  After all, it was the king who told his slaves to bring in everyone.

A staple of comics and comedians is the newly deceased person coming before St. Peter at the pearly gates of heaven. A staple of comedians certainly and probably a residue of the belief that we are accountable for our lives and that there is an eternity after death and in some fashion how we live our lives will determine how we spend that eternity.

And the expression on that sign on the way to Beebe – “Be dressed to meet Jesus” – is sort of a throwback to that idea that we have an accountability for how we live our lives. And the wedding banquet mentioned in Jesus’ parable probably refers to the age to come – rather than just the church we encounter in this life. Also, older times were much more accustomed to greater formality rather than the sweatpants and flip-flops of our own age.

So maybe from time to time it is good to think about how we are dressed to meet Jesus. We laugh about the Devil a whole lot and that too is a staple of the comedians.  Yet we of all people who have gone through the world wars and Holocaust of the last century should understand the reality of evil. There are more than enough real devils to go around.

So how are we “dressed to meet Jesus?”

St. Augustine is reputed to have said one time, ‘Love God and do whatever you will. ” If you love God, truly love him, everything you do will be colored by that love. 

As it happens our Epistle reading is from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. ‘I urge Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.’ He is asking them to resolve their dispute. They are good people and better than their quarrel. And then he follows with a request to the other members of that church, ‘Yes, and I ask you, also, my loyal companions, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the Gospel…’Love those around you, work to seek harmony and peace. He is talking about a real situation and how they can be of real help. And to us hearing his letter read in our own times he is asking us to do the same thing in our own lives.

How do we respond to discord? Do we relish every word of gossip? Do we relive every moment of disputes in juicy detail? Do we second guess and judge, ‘I don’t understand how they could get in such a dispute – they put themselves up as such good Christians?

Paul continuing, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.’

And then Paul follows with that wonderful expression that describes those who are clothed with the love of God: ‘And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.

Paul continues, ‘Finally, beloved whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…and the God of peace will be with you.’

For the truth is God does not conform to us but we need to conform to Him. His heart reaches out to us in love. And in conformity to that great love he has for us and all of his creation we need to conform the love of our heart to Him and to his creation.

But sometimes we don’t get it.

And sometimes those of us in church don’t get it.

Back in the day when we could go to church there might be the time when someone would sit in your pew before you get there and rather than welcome them to our church you glare at them as you conspicuously find a seat elsewhere. Sometimes clergy can even get the bug as we insist on our little pet way of doing some minor part of the liturgy as if it were dictated by the Master Himself and Heaven help anyone who dares to do it differently.

I hesitate to give too many examples. Maybe the point is not the things we do but rather the attitude of our heart – if we truly love each other we will overlook rather than offend.

Our church follows a lectionary which spells out the readings for each Sunday. The discipline of such a lectionary is that over a year there will be a good cross-section of the Scriptures read rather than just the pet Scriptures of a pastor. This is good overall but it does mean that some Sundays we will have readings from some Scriptures that may be more difficult than others.

As we talk about our Gospel reading today – possibly not as easy and clear-cut maybe as some other Scriptures – and I use words like “accountability” – and we live in an age for which the word “bureaucratic” is apt we might have thoughts that all this  sounds like some “checklist” is required and that we need to be prepared to check off the right boxes on such a checklist “to get in.”

Some of us may already be following a checklist: I go to church on Sunday, I send in a check to the church as part of my pledge, my tithe, I help out in this project to help people down on their luck, and so on and so on.

All these are important. But how am I dressed to meet Jesus? Does my heart mirror God’s love? Do I reach out to others in love?

Sometimes it’s good to read Scriptures that are not as familiar. It’s good to think about how we live our faith maybe looking at it a little differently.

In the course of our lives many of us have made a firm commitment, a decisive move in our lives to be a follower of Christ – in a sense to be dressed in His love. Maybe that was the time we were baptized or were confirmed as a member of the church.  Maybe there was a time that our heart was touched by God in a special way.

But all of that was “then” or “long ago” and we live in new times and a new age.

Some years ago, I was involved in a prison ministry called “Kairos.” We would invite certain inmates to a short retreat held usually in the prison chapel. Lasting three days it included several talks about living the Christian life, following Christ, even in a prison environment. “Dressing your life in Christ’s love” could have been its title.

One of the meditations involved the reading of Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son.

During this time of virus and quarantine one of the books I am reading is Henri Nouven’s meditation on that same parable, “The Return of the Prodigal Son.”

You might want to consider reading that book as one of the things you do during this time.

I guess the reason I am bringing up another one of Jesus’ parables is not just to give you an outside reading assignment but rather to more completely describe our imperfect understanding of the nature of God.

And to whatever I have said or suggested to this point I would add this additional parable of Jesus we call the Prodigal Son. You know the story. The younger son has wasted his inheritance, has fallen on bad times, and resolves to return to his father and ask only to be treated as a hired hand.

So tired, ashamed, dirty the younger son makes his way back to the home of his father.

And a long way off, the father sees his son – rushes to him – embraces his son and kisses him and makes him welcome…

And maybe that is an important part of being dressed to meet Jesus – God invites us from whatever bad place – or place of loneliness – or place of unhappiness – or uncertainty – or wherever we are – and turn to him.

Just turn to Him and He greets us in love, enfolds us in His arms….

And in these times that is pretty Good News.

 

…Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;

For Thou art with me;

Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me….                         Amen.

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