Change Is Not Optional
October 12, 2014
The invitation read “Black Tie Optional”.I knew that that meant that I could wear Tux or a nice dark suit and tie. Since I did not at that time and still do not, own Tux I opted for the dark suit. In fact, I had “outgrown” ( in width, not height) my dark “Preaching suit” and needed a new one, anyway. So I bought a new suit and was ready.
The invitation was to the 2 Those Who Care Awards Dinner that WFMY TV in Greensboro holds to honor community volunteers. I had nominated one of our volunteers at the Reidsville Outreach Center, which I was the Director of while I served the Wentworth Presbyterian Church, and she was one of those chosen for the award. Since I had nominated her and it was her work at the Outreach Center where I was the Director that was being recognized, I had to be there. That evening at the ceremony, which was televised, I was shown on TV sitting at the table with others listening to the volunteer I had nominated accept her award. It was a fun evening and I’m glad I was able to be there. I’m glad I accepted the invitation and attended the banquet.
In Matthew 22:1-14 Jesus tells about some invited guests who fail to show for the wedding of the king’s son. You know, people don’t usually fail o show up for a palace wedding. When a king’s son or daughter gets married, everyone wants to come, but in this parable it seems a king invited people to his son’s wedding, and nobody showed up. They gave excuses. They even mistreated the servants that the king sent to them. So the king sent his servants to invite whomever they could. “Go into the streets.” he said, “Find me some guests.” So the servants went to the streets and invited everyone they saw. They filled the banquet hall with guests, which is what the king needed. He couldn’t have a party in an empty hall! But then the king noticed a guest who was not wearing a wedding robe. Everyone else had robes, but this man did not. The king told his servants to throw the man out. Then Jesus concluded this parable by saying, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Now maybe you’re thinking: “That story doesn’t make sense!” Frankly, the first time I read it, I thought the same thing. But then I studied it and learned that it does make sense and that it has something important to say to us today. So let me explain it briefly. I know we have to be careful when we allegorize scripture, but I think making this passage an allegory will be helpful.
Let’s say that – in this story, the king is God, and let’s say that the invited guests are Israel. And let’s say that the mistreated servants are the prophets, God’s messengers. Israel was infamous for mistreating the prophets. Then let’s say that the people from the streets are Gentiles. This, then, can be seen as a story of Israel rejecting the prophets and rejecting Jesus. It can be seen as the story of God wanting faithful people and opening the door to all sorts of people to fill the banquet hall. But it is also the story of people offering to follow Jesus and then failing to do so. It might be our story. We are always tempted to accept the invitation to follow Jesus, and then to balk when it comes time to pay the price.
Sometimes following Christ is difficult. Will Willimon used to be the Dean of Duke Chapel at Duke University and is now the Bishop of Alabama for the United Methodist Church. As bishop, he assigns pastors to churches. He told recently of moving a pastor from one church to another, with the result that the man took a $7,000 pay cut. Willimon was almost apologetic about the move but the man said, “Bishop, you don’t have to apologize. I came into the ministry from a $100,000 job with Mobil Oil. There’s nothing you can do to hurt me as bad economically as when I did that.”
Sometimes following Christ involves real sacrifice! I doubt that Christ has called you to quit your hundred thousand dollar job to go to seminary, but he has called you to faithful discipleship.
What does that mean?
It might mean that Christ has called you to be faithful with your time. Christ has called you to devote time to prayer, to public worship, and to service in the church. It might mean that Christ has called you to be faithful with your money. Christ has called you to tithe, to support the church financially, and to help needy people. It might mean that Christ has called you to live a life that will draw people to Christ.
calls all of us to do — but he probably has other plans for your life as well. He might want you to feed the hungry. He might want you to reach out to others with His love and touch their lives. Listen to Jesus’ invitation to you and take Him up on it!
Don’t be like those who refused the invitation of the king but accept Jesus’ invitation in your life.
But accepting the invitation is only part of what we have to do. In my opening illustration I told about the invitation to the “2 Those Who Care” banquet and how I accepted the invitation. I also told about how I bought a new black suit I could fit into for the occasion and that I could use for other events, also. Just accepting the invitation and having an appropriate suit to wear was not enough, though. The day of the banquet happened to be a Monday, and it happened to be one of the Mondays the Outreach Center would get food delivered from the Food Bank. This was in August, and unloading the truck full of meats and canned goods and putting everything where they needed to go was a hot, dirty job. Needless to say. I was not wearing my black suit. I had on khakis and an old knit shirt and some of our volunteers had on shorts and T – shirts. After we finished, we noticed the time. It was mid – afternoon and the banquet was going to begin in Greensboro , 45 minutes away, at 6:00. We looked at each other and saw how hot, dirty, and sweaty we were and decided we all needed to go home and change before going to the banquet. “I don’t think we can go like this” one person said. “Nope” — I replied – “changing is not optional”
Apparently it was not optional for those who finally accepted the invitation to the wedding banquet, either. Jesus told about the man who came to the wedding in the wrong clothing. He was supposed to wear a wedding robe, but he came in his grubbies. The king had the man cast “into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
What was that all about?
Again. if we take the story allegorically, the wedding robe in this story can stand for letting Jesus change our lives. The man who came to the party without a robe is like the Christian who says that he will follow Jesus, but who continues to live in sin. It would be as if the volunteers from the Outreach Center and I had gone to the banquet shown up in our dirty clothes, sweaty and looking like we had just finished unloading a truck! That is almost worse than not showing up at all.
I believe Jesus is warning us that He won’t tolerate the person who claims to be a Christian but continues to live as always. He expects us to show up, but then he also expects us to grow in grace, to become new people whose lives reflect that we belong to him. That doesn’t mean that Christ requires us to be perfect. Far from it! Christ is happy to forgive our sins, and we all need forgiveness! But there are limits! This parable teaches us that when we give our lives to Christ, He expects that to make a difference. He expects us to begin to change. He expects us to let the Spirit begin reshaping our lives. If we insist on coming to the party unshaven and unwashed and dressed in our grubbies, it is as bad as never showing up at all.
Letting Christ change us is not optional.
Changing is not optional – it is a requirement.
So there are a few responses we can make to Christ’s invitation to us:
First, listen for Christ’s invitation. Listen so that you will hear where He wants you to be and what he wants you to do. When you hear his call, answer it. Come to the party!
Second, examine your life. Have you given your life to Christ? Has that made a difference? Do you spend time in worship? In prayer? Are you willing to let God change you?
Christ has big plans for you. He has big plans for you personally. He wants you to accept His invitation, but He also wants to change you.
Let Christ reshape your life. Let Him make you into a new person. If you will be faithful to Him, He will be faithful to you. He will give you a better life than you ever expected. For this life in Christ, He must change you.
Changing is not optional.
Soon after the “2 Those Who Care” banquet a “group shot” of those of us from the Outreach Center who attended hung over my desk. I must say we looked nice, all of us dressed up in our suits and long dresses. About a month later one of our clients looked at the picture and asked who the people were. I began to point out each one, and finally the client looked at some of the same volunteers packing bags for the food distribution but dressed in shorts and T shirts and looked at me in my Khakis and knit shirt. The client finally said: “Y’all cleaned up real good for that picture”
Yea “cleaning up”, changing, letting Christ clean you, letting Christ change you, is not an option. It is a requirement. Amen.