+ In Nomine Jesu +
There is a legend about four Muslim brothers who lived together. One morning they awoke and found that a cow had died during the night and was lying in front of their house. The situation created quite a dilemma for the brothers. None of them, you see, wanted to dispose of the carcass. It's not that they enjoyed the carcass, or, that they thought it was an appealing lawn ornament. No, the point is, they didn't want to touch it lest they be declared unclean.
Finally the youngest brother offered to take the carcass away if his brothers would agree not to hold it against him. They agreed. However, since the law is the law, they agreed he would have to be considered unclean, at least for a time. They agreed on four days, so, after those four days of isolation the younger brother could return to his brothers. So, the younger brother removed the rotting carcass from in front of the house. But when he came home after four days, the brothers changed their minds. They determined that he would have to stay away for four months. At the end of four months they changed their minds again. Their brother would have to stay away for four years. Finally they set their brothers period of purification at four generations.
To this day, there is a group of Hindu people in Pakistan, the alleged descendants of the youngest brother, who are considered by the Muslim majority to be one of the most unclean, untouchable groups of people in their land. Even centuries later, their existence depicts the curse of the unclean. They live in slums. They clean latrines. They remove dead bodies from the streets. They scavenge in the garbage simply to eek out an existence.
Imagine, if you would, the impact that Christian missionaries are having in that part of the world - as they offer such despised and rejected people a new suit—a spotless garment, the very righteousness of Jesus Christ. No longer would they be counted unclean, a people to be despised and rejected. Instead, they would be counted among the righteous in the kingdom of God, clothed, as it were, with a wedding garment suitable for the King's great banquet.
Call it un-cleanliness. Call it unworthiness. Call it sinfulness. The longer I preach and teach the more I am convinced that we really do not fully grasp one of the fundamental tenants of our faith, namely the depths to which creation fell in the Garden and the desperation and the despair from which God found us and saved us purely through the sacrifice and mercy of His Son. Please hear me right…I'm not suggesting, by any means, that we, the baptized, despise God's grace in Christ, or, that we are unthankful for it. However, Christ, in all of His glory and in all of His graciousness is exalted only to the extent that we recognize and confess the depths from which God found us and saved us. As Luther once said, "the error of neither knowing nor understanding what sin is usually brings with it another error, that of neither knowing nor understanding what grace is."
The King, God, calls His covenant people to the grand wedding feast of His Son, Jesus Christ. Many of them refuse His invitation because they have more pressing things to do. The King's invitation goes out to the highways and byways. The good and bad are called because the invitation of the King isn't based on the worthiness of the guests.
Perhaps over in the corner of the room, there is man trying to hide because he is not wearing a wedding garment. Because he is not properly clothed he is singled out, severely questioned and finally cast out! He is rejected! He is thrown into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing teeth, where the rich man, of Lazarus', fame calls out for a cup of cold water to touch his tongue to relieve his agony, where the cry of "how long, O Lord," is heard eternally, and yet, God does not hear, nor does He answer.
Because we don't fully understand the essential corruption of our nature, the depths to which we fell in Adam's fall, an accusing spirit arises in our hearts and with all of the righteous indignation of a person who endeavors to judge God we wonder why God would cast someone out of the banquet hall simply because they aren't dressed properly for the feast!? Give an account of yourself, we demand of God! Tell me why you would reject a man because of his attire! Perhaps our queries span beyond the walls of the feast to the highways and byways where our life consists. Why do the young sometimes die when they have taken but few breaths!? Why do the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper!? Why are few saved while many are lost!? Tell me God, why!? Give an account of Yourself!!
God looked down upon His creation. He saw us in our broken condition. He saw us rebelling against His will and judging His motives. He saw us exalting ourselves over His providence and His compassionate care. He saw us worshipping the creation instead of the Creator. He witnessed our love of self as it triumphed over our love for our neighbor, even over our love for Him. He heard our mumbling and our complaining. And worst of all, He saw us choose death over life, condemnation and bondage, over forgiveness and freedom.
God saw us in our miserable state, unclean and unworthy. And yet, He loved us unto death, even death on a cross. He invited us to the great banquet to celebrate the marriage feast of Christ and His bride, the Church. As honored guests, He gave us a garment to wear. The garment itself would be our worthiness. The garment would be our defense against the judgment of God. "My soul shall be joyful in my God (says the prophet Isaiah); for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as bride adorns herself with jewels."
Only by being clothed in the righteous of Christ does one worthy to remain in the banquet hall, in the Kingdom of God. The wedding garment that the man lacked was not some piece of fabric, or, some costume, but the very righteousness of Jesus, God's Son, slain for the sins of the world. Without that garment, the man stood before God in the nakedness of his sin. He was exposed, if you will, unable to hide, without excuse, without some way to cover a life of sin and his willful rejection of God's grace in Christ.
Do not, my friends, assume that the garment that God has placed on you has changed your essential nature. It hasn't. Beneath the garment is that same old nature that God looked upon, that nature that He saw. It is rebellious. It is self-absorbed. It is unworthy and unclean. And it doesn't die easily. And yet, because you are clothed with Christ you are a welcome guest, indeed, you are an honored guest of the King at His great feast.
So wear, my friends, the suit of righteousness Jesus bought for you on Calvary and put on you in your Baptism. Come to the feast! Cast off your tattered suit, soiled by years of foolish decisions and indecision. Discard those days you soiled and then stuffed in the back of life's drawer. Abandon all attempts to make yourself right with God, since that kind of righteousness is nothing more than filthy rags in His sight. Wear the new suit God alone supplies—the garment of salvation. I have to say, the suit suits you just fine.
"Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head."
In Jesus' name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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