Original post at http://umclead.com/no-shirt-no-shoes-no-salvation/
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said 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 out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
‘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 he 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.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’ Matthew 22:1-14
“THAT AIN’T RIGHT!!” yelled Charles.
“What do you mean?” we asked.
“I mean that ain’t right. How are you going to send someone to hell just because they don’t have the right clothes? I sure don’t have a fancy wedding robe and if I did it would probably have gotten dirt or stolen. Are you saying that I’m going to hell?” he responded.
At this point we explained to Charles that Jesus in all likelihood was not talking literally about having to wear the right clothes but instead it’s a parable about being prepared. Although Jesus’ grace is freely given, there are still expectations placed on those who wish to receive it.
Charles snapped back, “Well I think you need to tell that to some of these other churches around here because I’m pretty sure they still think you have to dress fancy in order to get into heaven.”
Charles was speaking from past experiences where he had either explicitly or implicitly been unwelcome in certain congregations because he did not dress as well as the other members of the congregation or perhaps had not had access to a shower in a couple of days. It deeply saddens me when I hear about other people running into these same experiences. What are our unwritten dress codes saying about our openness to others in worship?
In extreme circumstances those unwritten dress codes may be strictly enforced by members explicitly telling people they can not come to the church if their clothing is not up to snuff. Fortunately that is rarely the case yet the dress codes are still enforced through unwanted glares, whispers from others, or passing comments. “Is he really wearing that to church?” “Does she have not respect?” “That might be fine for a ball game but this is church.”
Again, I understand someone’s personal decision to wear their “Sunday Best” because they want to show respect for God but sometimes that showing respect for God turns into showing off for others. If there really is an expectation for everyone to wear their very best outfit to church on Sunday then we are inviting people to quite literally wear their income on their sleeve. It becomes very clear rather quickly who has means to dress to the nines while others may be only able to dress to the threes or maybe fours. Let’s not allow how we dress affect how we worship and welcome others into that worship experience.
Far too often when I invite friends and family to worship I get the question, “what do I need to wear.” What, if any role should our clothing play in worship? I realize that the day of wearing your “Sunday Best” are beginning to fade away. I again respect the idea of wearing your best to pay respect but I also recognize a God who calls us where we are and as we are. Maybe this post is pointless. Maybe there’s no point in even bringing it up. Hearing Charles concern about clothing, however, is enough for me to ask the questions: What kind of stock do we put into clothing? What, if anything, does what clothes our congregants wear say about our worship community? Are there deeper questions that come from a conversation about clothes?
***Charles was a beloved member of the Nuevo Dia worship community in West Dallas. Last February he was tragically found dead in the streets. I am confident that Charles did not have to worry for a moment about the clothes he was wearing but is indeed clothed in his wedding robe feasting at the Lord’s Banquet***