All that I am and all that I have is a gift from God... Amen.
When I was a little girl around 4, I went with my one grandmother to the Roman church and saw a first communion rite and immediately knew that I HAD TO HAVE a white dress to wear on Easter Sunday.
My mom, of course, said no. But when mom says no, who do you go to? Grandma of course! I got a white lace dress for Easter, and I was in my glory. I can remember sitting with my feet swinging on the front porch. “Don’t you move a muscle! My mom told me. I have to do your sister’s hair and then we’ll be ready for church. As I sat there, I remember thinking of my nanny who bought me the dress. When said prayers with me at night, she’d kiss me on the forehead and say, “God loves you, Jesus loves you and Nanny loves you!” Somehow that day sitting on the porch waiting I was so happy with that idea that God and Jesus loved me that I decided to rejoice by splashing down in a mud puddle.
By the time my family was ready, I was covered in mud from head to toe. Obviously, I had not heard today’s gospel but my mom sure had! And I will just say, like today’s Gospel, there was weeping and gnashing of teeth. My poor mom—her best laid plans were set aside as she dressed me in jeans and a sweatshirt. Much like that moment, our plans today are set aside as our dear Bishop has Covid. He will be with us one Sunday quite soon.
I love Matthew’s dark parables. They are among my favorite bits in the gospel. I love them because they are dark like Grimm’s fairy tales. And I hope we play with parables in our holy imagination the way we would play as a child would with dragons and witches and princesses and other archetypes and stories. These stories are that rich and deep. And yup, dark. Much like life in the empire of the 1st century, much like life right now so much brokenness and pain: from the Holy Land to our parish, there is so much that hurts.
And here’s the thing:
How can we know we know the celestial brightness of God’s stunning goodness and love without the dark to radiate its scintillating beauty?
Of all the gospels, Matthew (my favorite gospel) points us in dark parables to imagination and questions and deep hope.
Hope is not about holding cheerleader like optimism that everything is fine and dandy. Hope is like Matthew’s perplexing stories of darkness: hope says it’s broken and from that brokenness something beautiful will emerge.
Matthew’s Jesus is a trickster that challenges the arrogant and wise: if you think you know it all, or you have all the answers. You’re an imposture. A poser. You’re wearing the wrong dress.
Who belongs at the party? Who gets an invitation? Not the select not the few or the favorite ones but everyone.
Anyone who wants to live and do the will of the good. What does the will of the good that look like? You know what the good looks like:
For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as
Yourself. If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed... and the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,
gentleness, and self-control.” That’s the garment we are invited to wear.
The hardest reality we will ever have to accept is that God loves us ALL. Full stop.
Forget about wrapping our brains around the virgin birth and the resurrection for a moment and take a gander at the indiscriminate costly love of God that we are called to imitate each and every day with our broken lives. We are called to love like that. Accepting resurrection from the dead is far easier than this kind of costly love. And the willingness to try and live it.
But this is the love that defines who we are as Christians, and it is why we gather for Eucharist week after week to offer to God all that we have and all that we are. And without fail, God accepts us our broken selves-- just as we are and transforms us through the gift of Christ’s radical love. In the Eucharist, we receive what we are and become what we receive.
As we receive Christ’s Body in the bread, we become Christ’s Body in the world, known by the way we reflect God’s transformative love.
That’s what we are called to wear. Those actions of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are how we show who we are. And we are accountable for living that way—that’s why we say a confession so very often because we are broken and forget and remember and need to be accountable to God and each other. That’s the call we are chosen to live as beloved ones of Jesus Christ. It’s what we are called to wear.
And guess what? Sometimes that garment won’t fit us at all! Sometimes in our alacrity and pain, we will splash in mud puddles and forget how to dress. And when we do, here’s the thing: God’s love for us is everything! Even judgement in darkness is for us. Even when we forget how to dress and what to wear in the fruits of the spirit, we will be made whole. Why is this? Because God loves us. Jesus loves us.
C’mon—let’s get dressed up!