Sermon Preached on 9 October 2011

I wonder what is the first thought that comes into your head when you open an invitation and find yourself invited to a wedding.

Do you say a wee prayer of thanksgiving for the couple?

Maybe you do.

Do you rejoice that two people have discovered that they love one another and give thanks for the places in your own life where you have known love too?

Maybe you do.

Or, upon reading that invitation, is the first thought that comes into your mind, “Oh no! What on earth am I going to wear?”

It is as though we have a global, cosmic, universal, catholic fear of being the man in the parable that I’ve just read – the one who was caught out at a wedding wearing the wrong clothes and thrown out into outer darkness where there is “weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth”.

I’ve already preached on that phrase once this year. I really must learn my lesson and look up the readings before doing the clergy rota. This parable is so horrible that it is the kind of thing that should only be scheduled for a curate. Or maybe a passing bishop.

It’s not too bad for a while – the idea that at the great wedding banquet folk haven’t turned up and God sends for the riff raff to fill the spaces is something that I think we can relate to. I always used to want to be in charge of a church which welcomed the riff-raff of the world….well, you should be careful what you wish for!

It is that last nasty bit that sticks in my craw – the story of the person not being dressed for the wedding being flung out into the dark.

On everything connected with this congregation we put the words “Open, inclusive welcoming”. There is no dress code here. This is a place where you can come in from the highways and byways of the world and just be present with God. You won’t be flung out for not knowing the routine or not wearing the right robe. We even provide great big pillars for you to hide behind, for as long as you chose. And that’s OK here.

A parable with a story that ends like this pulls us up short. Can that really be in the gospel, we think. Can that really be what God is on about in the world today?

I want to suggest to you that the answer to that question might just be “no”. And I also want to bring this all up to date by talking in a moment about the big current question about marriage – after all – there are people who feel very much excluded by God or God’s representatives from the institution of marriage. This little parable might be all too contemporary.

I’ll come back to that in a minute, but first, what on earth did it ever mean that allowed its hearers to hear it as Gospel.

Well, in a few week’s time we will turn the page and start to read Mark’s gospel on Sundays. We’ve been reading Matthew since last Advent. This parable is part of the stark black and white tone that Matthew strikes. The parable of the wedding feast that we have today is part of the old sheep and the goats, the saved and the damned stuff that permeates this gospel. I struggle with it every time we go through it. I’m not the only one who does. Though it has to be acknowledged as we read it that it makes perfect sense to many a religious community who need high barriers to entry and participation and who have a desperate need to see themselves as living in opposition to the ways of the world.

The most sense I can make of this parable is to go back to the theory that Matthew’s people were frightened people. The remnant of people who collected this parable were the ones trying to live as Christians without abandoning too much of their Jewishness. Issues of identity and probably dress were absolutely crucial to them.

I was reminded this week of seeing persecuted Christians in Egypt showing tattoos on their wrists to doorkeepers of churches in order to gain entry. They have crosses tattooed on themselves – something that Muslims would never ever do. These marks act as essential symbols of who they are and the faith they profess. You show a tattoo to gain entry – to prove who you are.

Matthew’s people may have had their own religious code – their own religious dress, their own tight religious world to preserve. In that context a parable about throwing someone out for wearing the wrong thing makes all kinds of sense, even if we may not like it now.

And coming back to now, what does it mean today?

Well, as I alluded today we would do well to remember that there are those amongst us (including me) who are cut off from the institution of marriage. Not quite thrown into the outer darkness where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, but outside the fold of respectability. Gay folk can’t get married and the government are consulting about whether the time is right to change that. I think it is and it is a change that some of us from this church have been working towards for quite a while – quietly writing letters and gathering signatures and speaking to politicians.

I believe that religious people have as much right to influence politicians as anyone else. Heaven knows I try to do so often.

However, I think that there is a danger that the influence of goodhearted, godly people is being undermined by some within the Christian community.

It vexes me greatly to say so in public, but at such a time as this, there seems no alternative but to speak up. The behaviour of our brothers, the Roman Catholic Bishops in recent days, has been so unpleasant and so ill judged that it risks harming the good influence of the whole Christian community.

To behave as though bishops carry some kind of block vote to Holyrood, to threaten politicians and to decry those who want access to the dignity of marriage as unnatural…. to say these things seems to me to go too far.

Such comments from the leaders of the Roman Catholic church have left me feeling embarrassed as a Christian. There is a risk that all of the churches will appear to be out of touch, arrogant, conceited and rude. We don’t all have to agree but we are all called to behave charitably and there has been an absence of love in this relentlessly bitter campaign and it diminishes us all.

One of the great things about living in Glasgow is that you can find out fairly quickly that one’s Roman Catholic friends and neighbours don’t all share all the views of the hierarchy of that church. Indeed a good many share that sense of embarrasment.

I hope that you were embarrassed and outraged by the parable told in this morning’s gospel. If you were not – go and read it again until you are. It may well have made sense to the people amongst whom it was first told but we must be frank, we must be bold and we must be clear – it has very little in it to edify us now.

The words of Jesus to cling onto are the words which nourish and the words which heal. The stories that inspire, the sayings which embrace. Those ways of thinking which enfold the weary like that shepherd we sang about in the psalm – those are the elements of Gospel which the whole world craves.

As the apostle said, “So beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, 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 in the name of God, forget all the rest.


  1. william says

    You speak of some members of the Church being embarrassed by the words of others within the Church.
    Do you ever consider it a possibility that the God in whose name you claim to speak – as you recite at the end of your sermon, no doubt Sunday by Sunday! – is embarrassed by many of the words which you speak.
    It really is not open to any of us, especially ordained clergy in the Church of Jesus Christ, to decide, by ourselves, what this Jesus Christ would or would not have said, and then declare that is what He meant.
    I ask you in the spirit of the frustrated Oliver Cromwell as he addressed the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland – “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

    • Bowels or no bowels, I’m very happy to admit that I may often be wrong.

      I also stand by what I said this morning.

  2. Well said – glad the LGBT letter writing paid off!

    Depressingly, St.Silas has already sent out an egroup message encouraging people to attend what amounts to a Glasgow Evangementalist Homophobia Rally (which I suspect – or at least hope – will, most evangelicals being normal, have the same pathetically poor attendance that past “Christian” Institute/Flat Earth Creationism@ICC/Homophobic Church egroup advertised events have had) . At a time like this, it’s very encouraging that clerical voices like yourself are willing to put themselves out there (you should get yourself in The Sun again ;-))

  3. william says

    I’ll settle for that, Kelvin!
    But if you really mean that you believe you could be wrong in what you say Sunday by Sunday, could you not give evidence of that by saying before and after each sermon – instead of in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who never get wrong what they say!! – I may or may not be wrong in what I say here today, but this is how I currently see things.
    The discerning in your congregation at least would then hear your words for what they really are, rather than the godly sandwich in which you seem presently to envelop them.

    • No WIlliam, I’m content to say that I do speak in the name of God, just as we do everything we do in the name of God. The invocation of the Trinity isn’t merely a declaration but more a prayer and quite common in the tradition in which I work.

      The deal at St Mary’s is always that the congregation get to discern what God is saying to them through the worship. I quite often give several different and completely contradictory interpretations of scripture in my preaching and suggest that people try to work out for themselves where they discern the voice of God. I do even that in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The sermons at St Mary’s are given in God’s name but make no pretence to be the voice of God.

      Invoking the Trinity is also a sign of how seriously I take the responsibility of the preaching task. Nothing I ever say in the pulpit is said without a greate deal of thought.

  4. Rosemary Hannah says

    As regards the parable – it seems pretty clear the parable of the wrongly-dressed guest has got tacked on to another feast parable to which it does not belong. However, is it really really impossible to turn up for the feast with one’s attitude so very very wrong that although one SAYS one wants to be there, one IS in fact just making trouble? Or spoiling for a fight? Because I strongly suspect that in its origins, that is what this is about. It is, of course, story-telling hyperbole. Nobody WOULD go to a royal wedding in their gardening clothes. But do some actually turn up so disrespectful of their fellow guests, so unforgiving and accepting … ? May this not be a story told – not to encourage us to exclude, but to think of how grudging we ourselves can be? Are we looking for the wrong kind of teaching, and should we be looking at Jesus more as a provocative teacher, rather than a guide-lines-laying-down teacher?

  5. Rosemary Hannah says

    P.s. the late great Jim White used to say that God always spoke to him through the sermon, usually be encouraging him to disagree with the preacher.

  6. Thanks Rosemary – yes, the end bit is very clearly tacked on.

    Yes, I think that your interpretation could fit nicely.

    I’ve another one to add into the mix which is to ask who God is in the parable. Might it not be that God is the one being thrown out of the feast?

    • Rosemary Hannah says

      That I like as well – I suppose I am by temperament always more inclined to play around with these powerful stories than to dislike them – in my version of the Importunate Widow, the widow turns out to be God. I THAT way THAT story works for me. But like you, I do no more than offer readings, and do not seriously think my versions the only ones.

  7. In my preparation I came across the theory that wedding garments would be provided free and for everyone as they entered the feast. This meant that it didn’t matter what you were wearing, as a wedding garment would be provided. A bit like God’s free grace?

    The man not wearing the garment, then, would be someone who had rejected the free grace which God is giving, and was therefore casting himself into “darkness”. I suppose we all get the chance to choose whether we want to accept God’s grace or not. However, whether we be good, bad or indifferent, we are given the wedding garment anyway!

  8. Revd Ross Kennedy says

    Kelvin, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that I feel somewhat uncomfortable with all of this. In my ministry I have always recognised couples who live together in a loving monogamous relationship but who don’t have a certificate of marriage as acceptable to God as those who do. I also fully support civil partnerships as being fair and just.

    But when it comes to marriage between a same sex couple I am afraid that I find myself somewhat in agreement with the RC hierarchy. That is my honest opinion based on scripture and tradition. Am I ‘arrogant, conceited, rude and out of touch’ for daring to express such an opinion? (I heard one gay commenter referring to an MSP as evil for holding such views.) I accept I may be wrong about this but I have yet to be persuaded.

    By the way you were quoted in ‘The Times’ this morning.


    • Hi Ross, thanks for your comments.

      I think if you look carefully you’ll find that I was commenting on something more broadly than the particular view of the RC Bishops which you may share. I was very clear in saying that I didn’t think we all had to agree on this particular issue.

      The quote was this:

      To behave as though bishops carry some kind of block vote to Holyrood, to threaten politicians and to decry those who want access to the dignity of marriage as unnatural…. to say these things seems to me to go too far.

      Such comments from the leaders of the Roman Catholic church have left me feeling embarrassed as a Christian. There is a risk that all of the churches will appear to be out of touch, arrogant, conceited and rude.

      Rather broader, I think, than simply a comment on what view any of us might take about the future of marriage.

      I’ve just got hold of a copy of today’s Times and am very pleased with the coverage.

    • I’d be interested, Rev. Ross, if you take all of the scripture seriously, or just the bits which fit your views. What about Jacob’s polygamy, or Abraham having a child with another woman just because his wife was infertile. This last point might be an alternative view of the procreation point so beloved of the RC hierarchy? If your wife can’t have kids, have them with the cleaner, or the nanny or au pear, as Abraham did with his wife’s servant. What about Levirite marriage or forced marriage, all sanctioned in the bible? Polygamy is still practiced by some Muslim men who are allowed up to four wives, I believe…

      Surely one can see from the scriptures that the concept of marriage has evolved over the years as indeed has just what is acceptable. After all, do you enjoy shellfish or pork, or mix the fibres in your clothes each day, or keep slaves? Yes, yes, yes and no, probably. Isn’t that an evolving understanding of tradition?

      Biblical precedents set by the relationships between Ruth and Naomi and David and Jonathan surely cover both the tradition and acceptability of same sex relationships? After all, Ruth and Naomi’s relationship is described in the original Hebrew with exactly the same word as that of Adam and Eve…

  9. william says

    Jaye – it’s good to ask one another, do we take all of scripture seriously?
    I trust the answer of all ordained clergy is a resounding yes!
    Kelvin’s response – nothing I ever say in the pulpit is said without a greate deal of thought – does not have that resonance!!
    I note your references to Jacob’s and Abraham’s sinful behaviour – all such behaviour, and there are many other examples of failure among God’s people, does not receive biblical approval [contra “all sanctioned in the bible”] – God does not always spell out His disapproval of our behaviour; in His grace He covers His people’s sins in His Son, as the NT reveals, or ultimately will require us to bear that punishment ourselves.
    I also note, Jaye, your comment – “Surely one can see from the scriptures that the concept of marriage has evolved over the years as indeed has just what is acceptable.”
    Well – what do you make of Jesus’ comments in Matt 5 & 19 on marriage? The utter amazement of the disciples to His teaching reveals their surprise that their Master’s understanding of marriage had not evolved!
    The precedents you quote to suggest biblical acceptability of same sex relationships
    surely owe more to a contemporary cultural reading of scripture, than the result of careful exegesis.

    • All members of the clergy that I know take the Bible seriously.

      Don’t forget, William that it is grown up discussion that is welcomed by me and by those who form a community around this blog.

      Ad hominem attacks, endless repetitions of the theory of substitutionary atonement (which we’ve covered plenty of times before and which we know I don’t believe) and generalisations about what all Christians should/must/ought believe are better placed elsewhere on the internet.

    • …but Willam, didn’t God command Abraham to take Hagar to bear his child? And as I said, the similarity of the relationships of Adam/Eve and Ruth/Naomi owes nothing to contemporary interpretation and more to translation of the original Hebrew…wouldn’t you say? And didn’t Christ argue against divorce, previously, and still permitted under Jewish law? He certainly said nothing against faithful same-sex unions.

  10. william says

    I’m encouraged with words ‘grown up’ – although it strikes me your last blog hardly fits that category.
    Is it your conscience that takes you to the theory of substitutionary atonement – I would like you to point me to one reference I have made to that, far less many. I certainly did not know “which we know I don’t believe” !!
    Is it in order for only one side of this blog to make ‘ad hominem attacks’;from my perspective my comments are always reactive.
    I’m sure we all have tender consciences – but we must live in the light, which leaves us all fairly exposed!

    • Rosemary Hannah says

      Well, I don’t believe in substitutionary atonement because it is is not at all in tune with the biblical view of either sacrifice or of covenant.

  11. Brother David says

    Admitted, it is a strange story, whether it does or does not have someone else’s ending tacked on. But I choose not to read this as a parable about Merciful God who throws Heaven’s banquet open to everyone. It is rather a story about a manipulative tyrant and the one who chose not to wear the provided and required garment as Jesus himself.

    Makes for a whole different perspective on what is happening here.

    PS – What happened to the Preview button?

    • The preview button may make a return – I’ve a problem with comments not showing on posts with very many comments and I had thought that disabling the preview button might sort it out. It hasn’t.

  12. agatha says

    I remember being told the same as Kenny – that everyone would have been given wedding clothes at the door so if he didn’t have any he must have ditched what he had been given.

    • It is a good interpretation.

      Anyone any source for it or evidence of such a wedding practise?

      • I found the practice from here that special wedding clothes may have been provided at the door by the host, free to all who came to the banquet:-

        However, it seemed to be a common theme in other places I was looking without the strength of quoting any NT Theology Big Hitters!

        I like the idea and it makes a bit more sense of the parable.

      • Main source I’m afraid:-

        • Thanks Kenny

          I’m still thinking about it, but I’m a little suspicious of an interpretation which fits so necessarily with one particular understanding of the atonement. Without that understanding of the atonement, it seems to me to struggle.

          Either way, it seems to make God a tyrant. You will wear what I want or go to hell = You will accept my salvation or go to hell. Neither represents a God I want to know.

          I’m interested and pleased that there is such interest in the interpretation of the parable from Sunday’s sermon, whilst attention elsewhere is being paid to a later passage in what I said. As one of my friends said on reading it, “Hmm, something for everyone. Quite dense really. Quite dense.”

      • Anyone who has suffered from the darkness of addiction will identify fully with the rejection of God’s grace leading them to outer darkness, where there are indeed bonds and weeping and gnashing of teeth. Teeth are even provided. Is this (second) parable from the Gospel particularly about the End Times, or does it pertain to the fact that the Kingdom can be ours today, if we so choose. Even in Deuteronomy we are given a choice, and encouraged to choose life!

      • Reference for the King who has wardrobes for all 2 Kings 10:22 — everyone who came into the King’s presence had wardrobe provided; at least this is what I was taught at university, and our professor was a Biblical scholar who could read the original Biblical languages of Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. (She is awesome.)

      • Hmm, that story is a very long way indeed from a wedding feast.

        The imagery of a king who demands conformity is still a pretty unattractive one to me. If that is what the parable refers to, I’m not convinced it makes God any the more attractive.

  13. Rosemary Hannah says

    The origin of the story of the clothes provided story is older than that – it is St Augustine. Which probably means that it does fit neatly to one theology, though Augustine is so much nearer to a near eastern world than us, it might, just possibly, represent a slightly better insight.

    But actually, to go as invited guest to a wedding dressed in totally wrong clothes, to go -not with say Princess Beatrice’s hat (or was it Eugene?) but with an old sun hat, deliberately, would that not be a calculated insult? And, really, is the behaviour of some allegedly Christian bishops, in going to the Feast, and refusing to dine with other Bishops, not an insult, in the same way? Isn’t it equally refusing to accept an invitation and laying down one’s own rules??

    I would like to do some of the late Matthew parables as puppet theatre as the parables of Mr Punch. Because they are both interesting and challenging and only to be taken seriously in certain ways. They are stories of a story-teller. Outrageous, and funny, and improbable (‘There was a royal wedding, and the Queen sent out invitations, but the Beckhams sent a refusal on the grounds Mrs was having a baby, and the Primus had a conference to attend, and… yes, like that is going to happen’). They are about unimaginable things. About going to a royal wedding and not begging, or borrowing, or buying second hand a decent pair of trousers and a polished pair of shoes. This parable is set in a culture of mutual support. Somebody, anybody, would have LENT an appropriate jacket – as to this day women who are a bit hard up lend bags, shoes, jackets for formal occasions. The guest could not be bothered, or was making a point.

    Try this ‘There was a Feast at the Cathedral, and all the clergy turned up. And one of them was wearing a pair of scruffy trainers, white, with dirty laces, and the Provost …’

    • Brilliant, Rosemary.

      But is God like a grumpy provost on a shoe crusade?

      That’s where it falls I think.

      • Rosemary Hannah says

        But why is the grumpy Provost really on a shoe crusade, I ask? Because he generally dislikes pink Docs? I think not. Because he feels, passionately, that the Feast is the most important thing that happens in the church week, and he does not want anybody to spoil it for anybody else, and because he does not want anybody in a place of authority to do anything which is intentionally (and I think intentionality is important here) disrespectful.

        But the point is, it is a parable. It only works up to a point. God is like a grumpy Provost but only up to a point. God is not bound to act like Provosts, or like Kings, although seeing how Provosts and Kings might act, may well give you some insight into how one’s own behaviour is regarded by God. What happens is that individuals come to the Feast, like a wedding guest who has not taken the trouble to sort out the right clothes. It is disrespectful – and a King would at once have them thrown out. That is what the Kingdom is like. Supposing this IS an authentic parable, Jesus is saying ‘Watch it, sunshine. Actually, the Feast is here, and you expect to flout the King and insult him forever and get away with it? You do?’ And that I think, is an underlying thread in quite a lot of his teaching.

  14. Rosemary Hannah says

    p.s. I don’t take the hell bit seriously – it is a story-book place in a story-book world when used in this kind of way. The guest is dragged out by Mr Punch’s policeman, wailing. Moreover we do pretty much know the wailing and gnashing of teeth is a Matthew invention – and I am not actually sure that where ever he got it from meant it to do more than act as a signifier anyhow – it may always have been a high-coloured way of expressing disapprobation. Stories are stories.

  15. Steven says


    What an interesting debate your sermon has provoked!

    My two cents are as follows. I would question your approach which could by characterised as “ignore what offends and embrace what affirms” within scripture, although having listened to a good few of your sermons I know that this is not what you preach. What I am saying is that those who might seek to reject the substance of what you have said would find it easier to do so by the way in which you said it, in this instance.

    I am not sure whether or not we can simply reject such passages out of hand. Jesus (or Matthew or his community) clearly meant to offend by this passage, not only by the arbitrary inclusion of good and bad from the street (i.e., gentiles) but also by this random act of exclusion.

    One possible option might be to adopt the so-called “Evangelical Universalist” position (per Robin Parry aka “Gregory MacDonald” in his book of the same name) which argues that such parables do point to the reality of hell, as a terrible BUT temporary fate for those who reject the grace of God. However God will, according to Parry, act to restore all creation so that even hell will be redeemed. Obviously this chimes with the idea of purgatory and so is comprehensible within traditional RC theology.

    In addition it should be noted that in the parable the man cast out is left, not dead, but vulnerable (with hands and feet bound and cast into the night). There is nothing eternal about his fate in the darkness, again suggesting the temporary nature of this separation.

    How many of us need to be made vulnerable before we are willing to set aside our pride and accept the full implications of God’s love for us?

    God will be all in all, in the end.

    • Thanks Steven – that comment about the person being thrown into vulnerability is very interesting.

      As for Evangelical Purgatory – it is a tricky one to justify, and I’m fascinated by those who try. I think that there were those who tried to accuse John Stott of going down that line.

      If I want to go down the line of hell being real, I’m inclined myself to go with Mother Julian who asserted that hell was very real indeed. And empty.

  16. I’m really interested in it being Augustine that started the free clothing at weddings meme.

    I think that the argument that Augustine was closer to the social mores of the time than we are can work both ways.

    If he was so close to it, why would he need to explain it?

    Rather suggests that he is spinning the story to fit his theology, no?

  17. Steven says

    I admit to being totally lost on the issue of Augustine and wedding wear!

    I note your reference to those who would have accused John Stott of something akin to evangelical purgatory. What really interests me in this debate – in general – is the way in which people are so keen to avoid even the possibility or hope of universal salvation (by whatever means). If I was a conservative evangelical Christian I would like to think that I would want salvation for all to be true even if I didn’t believe it to be so. Some people seem to want hell to be true and eternal, even though many Christians have offered alternative visions over the years.

  18. Zebadee says

    Medieval theologians and others wasted vast amounts of their time debating about ‘How many angels could balence on the head of a pin’. Is it possible that many who have contibuted to this debate have missed the major thrust of the provosts sermon? Kelvin attacked the power complex of the RC Bishops in Scotland, correctly in my all too humble opinion. Why have there been no comments on this Matter? When looking at the ancients mentioned in the OT let us remember the context in which they lived and remind ourselves of the context in which we live now. Arrogant power attitudes need to be challenged no matter who utters them. In this regard the provost has done society a favour and needs support and backing now or are we going to carry on debating hypothetical utterances about what might be or might not ‘true’. I will be at St Marys this coming Sunday and would be happy to discuss this with any of you.

    • Agatha says

      Hello Zebadee, probably people didn’t think they had to express their agreement with Kelvin when he was stating the obvious, preferring to debate with him where they held a different point of view.

  19. Rosemary Hannah says

    Kelvin knows very well that I believe in marriage equality and will speak up for it in season and out – however, just as there are more interesting things about him than that he is gay, so there were other interesting things about his sermon. My opinion of the way the RC hierarchy can on occasion act was formed by working through the life of the 3rd Marquess of Bute to whom, although he was a rich and generous convert who gave as freely of his learning and his energy as he did his money, to whom they were horrid – I think top heavy, powerful institutions are liable to be corrupted by their nature. However the question of this parable remains interesting to me. And actually, so is ‘scholastic’ theology and philosophy.

  20. I’m amazed that this parable is being discussed as if it’s a lesson about wearing the proper attire to a wedding or church service.

    With all due respect, Kelvin, when you were studying to be a priest were you encouraged to be “embarassed and outraged” or even “forget” difficult passages of scripture, rather than look for deeper meaning?

    • There was almost no bible study (nor homilitics) on offer when I was training to be a priest.

      However, when I was reading theology, I was encouraged to explore scripture in a number of ways – exegetical, liberationist/womanist, intertextual criticism, source criticism, form criticism and all the rest. A wonderfully rich tapestry.

      • what, no Zoomer Scriptura Proof-Texting!?

      • I think, Ryan, that you and I both know that I’ve been around.

      • In exploring this passage of scripture in all these ways as you say above, did you find no way in which we could understand this parable except to see it at face value as a horrible story? In that case, why was Jesus said to have told this parable, given that, taken at face value, it contradicts His teachings on love, forgiveness, inclusion, etc.? Is it possible that Jesus contradicted Himself, or that passages like this were included in scripture by accident?

        • I’ve preached on this passage differently in the past and would expect to preach on it in different ways again in the future.

          The gospels certainly contradict themselves sometimes. If Jesus was fully human, it seems unlikely to me that he didn’t contradict himself on occasion too. I know I do.

    • Brother David says

      I marvel at your Anglo-Saxon cultures where you state With all due respect and then proceed to insult one another. It is a lie you know, there is no respect intended.

      The Bible was written by frail humans Ann, countless numbers were involved. The canon was compiled by folks just as frail. The current text is assembled by scholars with just as many blemishes. In the 21st Century must we solely rely on the ancient past for our world view, our understanding of morals. Did the past have a corner on that market? Or can we not make decisions in those areas ourselves, and on occasion have to flat out remark, I think that the text is wrong here!

      • I have always been interested in this parable, its harshness and it’s apparent contradictions to Jesus’ other teachings. I felt that it might have some deeper spiritual significance than would appear. I was surprised that people seemed to be taking the story at face value and not delving deeper and trying to understand. No direspect intended, just a question and a challenge.

        • I think that it is a fair question, Ann. However there is more to preaching in St Mary’s (a very public pulpit) than simply theology, even though one must take theological study seriously.

          Simply to read that parable in a busy cathedral church in modern day Glasgow is to invite rather a lot of people to think very directly about the story that is being told. There does have to be some engagement with it as it stands. That’s not, of course, the final word, but it does matter rather.

  21. Douglas says

    Perhaps the robes mentioned in the parable are consistent with the image of purity in many parts of Scripture: Our garment washed in the blood of Jesus. Is it that the one who was not dressed properly had denied this and was therefore still stained with sin?

    If this is the case then Kelvin’s remarks are rather ironic. Where in the ‘sermon’ the outcast was to be pitied and needed acceptance, with the above interpretation the outcast has not repented and is full of sin – having refused God’s grace. Does the parable mean that those who do not repent do not recieve the gift of eternal life?

    All were invited but only those who were clean and accepted the ‘dress code’ (God’s infallible law) were welcome at the feast. So it is with us. All are invited but we must repent and aspire to God’s perfect and glorious standard in order to be acceptable to Him.

    We all fall short of God’s standard but, might it be that there are those in the church who advocate what the Bible explicitly describes as sin? This is what “embarrasses and outrages” me. Will their garments be white before the throne of judgment? Perhaps this parable is all too contemporary…

  22. I liked the sermon, thanks. One of the manifold delights of being taught NT by Hugh Anderson and Douglas Templeton back in the day at New College was the way they handled shirty fundies. Cruel but fair I suppose you could call it, generally letting them dig themselves deeper into a cloaca of their own making. Some of them seem still to be with us, sadly.

  23. J Smith says

    Hi Kelvin,

    I just wanted to say I – a Catholic – resent you saying Catholic commentry on gay marriage has left you feeling “embarrassed” as a Christian. Although I can empathise with the feeling of embarrassment, when I view various protestant groups, including your own.

    The Catholic Bishops comments have been to do with defending Christian teaching on marriage. Few so called “Christians” have had the courage to affirm and defend their faith, in a similar way. Jesus Christ himself spoke of marriage and repeatedly defined it as a covenant between a man and a woman. Nothing else. Perhaps, if you are embarrassed by the teachings of Christ, you might wish to consider how suited you are to your occupation.

    Catholicism is both traditional and mainstream Christianity. The various protestant groups in the UK, most of whom are in terminal decline, are now little more than sunday morning coffee clubs. As evidenced by your sermon above. You do not talk about the parable of the wedding, you talk of “Gay marriage now” and deliver a (self-interested) homosexual propaganda talk, not any Christian teaching.

    You are cheating the people who come to sit in your Chruch of a sunday. They probably think they are listening to Christian thought; in reality, they are listening to trendy, PC hokum.

    The question about “gay marriage” is not one of discrimination or unfairness. The real question is “do you want the law to pretend that there is no difference between hetero- and homosexuality?”.

    I dont think “pretending” is a good thing for the law to be doing, on any subject.

    Homosexuality is a sexual deviation and is not representative of fundamental human nature. It represent some biological failure, not the fulfillment of the natural purpose written into the bodies of us all.

    As a clergyman, your job should be to bring people to Christ, not to use them as a captive audience for airing your personal political bugbears.

    Instead of fighting to achieve some faux notion of equality, via having the law officially repudiate basic human biology, should you not accept the cup the Father has given you?

    • Thank you for commenting, J Smith, bless you for doing so.

      As for your comments, all I can say is that on the Sunday in question, my church was full, the worship was rich and though I can’t come near to knowing what everyone there thought, the support for my sermon both from long-standing Episcopalians and from ex-Roman Catholics was fulsome. The sermon was reported worldwide and led to more discussion of that parable than I’ve ever known.

      I not only try to accept the cup the Father has given me, I share it weekly.

      And the taste of justice is sweet indeed.

  24. Your disdain for fundamentalist protestant sects (which, in many ways, one can share) is ironic, J Smith, since the Christian groups who agree with your hardline condemnation of homosexuality are the Brian Souter-esque cults. Is it not more than likely that your average Catholic-in-the-pews – long since accustomed to ignoring the no birth control teaching which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is also founded on the alleged intrinsic truth of human bodies – has the same attitude to the kind of demonisation of gay people and gay relationships that was divorced from reality even in the bad old Section 28 days?

    Slightly naughty, but I always wondered how the Natural Law purist would explain the link between prostate stimulation (in, needless to say, the male) and superior orgasms. Surely a Design Fault? (Unless Satan was in charge of that bit, in the same way he’s prone to leave behind fossils that befuddle creationists so).

    • Brother David says

      Unless Satan was in charge of that bit, in the same way he’s prone to leave behind fossils that befuddle creationists so.

      Oh Ryan, I have met those people who believe that, they are widely prevalent in the US where they have such institutions as creationism museums, and they are fortunately not us.

      I also know “Orthodox” Anglicans by way of the internet who will argue to the point of suffering a cranial/rectal inversion, that God actually created the universe about 6,000 years ago in a state of already being 13 billion years old. They believe that “He” did it, but have no explanation as to why “He” would do such a thing.

  25. A week later Catriona preached a very interesting sermon at Hillhead Baptist Church about partnership. You can hear it at the Hillhead Baptist Church sermon site, which includes other extracts from that Sunday’s services. She also comments further in her own blog.

    I commend both as they support the sermon that Kelvin preached, looking, as there do, at the whole situation of relationship commitment and how recent our current concept of marriage is.

  26. J Smith says

    @ Ryan,

    Hi Ryan,

    I had not meant to express “disdain” for anyone, I guess these days it is difficult to criticise anyone (bar Catholics!) without being cast as a bigot or ranter (a cheap tactic used frequently by liberals).

    Regarding the stance of various Churches; Mainstream Christianity – that is, Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy – has an objective view of homosexuality as a disorder. Mainstream Christianity will not shy away from stating this stance or defending it. I understand why some people might object to it, but I would still hope people can see that it is not at all an inflammatory or deliberately offensive stance. Rather, it is simply an accurate stance, drawn from logical conclusions about human biology. It certainly doesnt mean gay people as individuals are bad, inferior or to be avoided (or course not). It just means homosexuality is a deviation from fundemantal human sexuality.

    I do not see that making logical conclusions about human sexuality is at all “hardline” as you put it. It just a fact, and facts are neither “hardline” nor “easy going”. They are just facts. Nor does logic constitute “demonisation” of anyone.

    British protestantism agrees about homosexuality, but for different reasons. They object “because it says so in the Bible”. Ultimately fair enough, they are arriving at the same conclusion by different (though less credible and convincing, for many) means.

    However, they mostly seem to lack the courage to defend their thoughts, or even contribute to the debate.

    For me, Churches who continue to abandon Christian orthodoxy in favour of trendy modern fashions will continue to decline. The CoS is a great example – their demise is a great example of a cultural collapse, I am sure it will be studied in future. They have what, maybe 20 – 30 years left in them, at best? (Perhas less, depending on how badly this Scott Rennie business finally affects them). They have gone from being a dominant and powerful institution in Scotland, to being a hollow shell, creaking under financial problems, internal discord and an utter lack of interest from the public.

    Catholicism is again the largest religious denomination in the UK, (based on actual attendence), while the national Churches flounder. I think this is because the National Churches / protestantism does not offer people anything. Anything they do or believe, can be equally had in secular society. Furthermore, the people who go to these Churches, do not seem to care to learn anything, or have their lives challenged at all. Anything sounding like a teaching or principle is cast as old-fashioned, bigoted or worse. (See Kelvin’s constant reference to “the old” sheep and the goats in his sermon).

    I think the relative success or appeal of Churches in various societies is a good barometer as to how close to Christ they are. The Scottish Episcopal Church has what? 30,000 members is it? The attendance of a football match.

    Once, the topic of “prostrate stimulation” being raised in a discussion on Christianity would have surprised/baffled me, but no longer (not among protestants anyway!). In any case, your example is a red herring. Natural law is the concept ‘physical structure/features indicates purpose’. In this way, the structure and features of (eg) the human eye, the hand and, indeed, human genitalia, clearly allude to their natural purpose. Your example concerns neither the physical structure nor biological purpose of the prostrate gland, just the fact that some people like sticking things up their bottoms!

    I am sure the various denominations will take their own stance on “gay marriage”, as is likely fair enough in a democracy (what isnt fair is demonising or marginalising those who think differently, as per Kelvin’s comments on the Catholic Bishops).

    But how can any Church marry (eg) two men and still credibly claim to be Christian? What readings would they have? Jesus’ own reference to “Male and Female, he created them”? How long do you think till various protestant denoms start editing the Bible for their own ends, to avoid such embarassing situations?


  27. J Smith says

    @ Kelvin,

    Hi there,

    Thanks for your response. Apologies if I came across as rather combatative in my original post, but I did think it unfair of you to marginalise our Bishops for defending orthodox Christianity. Orthodox Chrisitianity clearly doesnt suit you personally, which is entirely your perogative, but its unfair of you to slate (however gently) people who think differently.

    I agree it is a good thing if sermons get people talking. But surely it would be better if they were discussing the parable for its actual message, and not because it has been used as a vehicle to promote gay marriage?

    Might not the parable be a good fit for much of modern British protestantism, those who profess Christianity and a love of God, (ie they have a wedding invite), but when it comes to the crunch, somehow fall away? (ie they do not show up at the wedding).

    Ultimately, my – and I think the Catholic Bishops – objection to the law equating hetero- and homosexuality is not to do with how gay people perceive their own relationships, (which is a matter for no-one but themselves), but rather that such a pretence under law must, clearly, repudiate biology. I do not think that – i.e distorting reality to suit ourselves – is progressive, nor enlightened.

    If society has no clear idea of what fundamental human sexuality or relationships are – instead falsely placing them all on a par, to avoid offending anyone – then who could criticise (e.g.) polygamy?

    All the best,

  28. william says

    “How long do you think till various protestant denoms start editing the Bible for their own ends, to avoid such embarassing situations?”
    Sadly not very long – for some the editing process has already reached the status of a revised edition – even when it is claimed that they take the original edition seriously!

    • I have little interest in protestantism, but a great interest in the Bible.

      I also have little interest in these petty slurs.

      The Scottish Episcopal Church is not a protestant denomination nor is it engaged in any revision of the Bibile. So far as I know, in modern times, it never has.

      The Bible translation we use in St Mary’s is the New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha. We use an anglicised text. There is no prospect of that changing in the near future. It has been around for years. It has been used for years in St Mary’s. It is in widespread use in many denominations.

      Such Bibles are also available for sale from the Cathedral Office at £15 per copy.

  29. Now, I think we are in danger of moving away from commenting on the sermon that was posted above.

    Further comments that are focused on that sermon are welcome. I think that I will exercise my perogative and choose not to host any further debates on this thread unless they pertain directly to the orginal post.

    Several comments from those of differing opinions have been gently hushed.

  30. I remember hearing you preach this sermon, Kelvin, and being surprised at your take on it. Mine, I now realise (thanks for the research, Rosemary), came from Augustine (via my RC school chaplain, now happily married, whose constant theme was the love of God for us). It’s difficult to revise views learned while young as the evidence we accepted as children is not always acceptable to our adult minds – if we chose to review it. So I sympathise both with my coreligionist and with our Cromwellian interlocutor, despite their abrasive tone and the fun we can have with bowels and prostrates: they appear both to speak the truth as they see it. But so does everyone else commenting – and some (like Jaye) read the Hebrew scriptures in the original. I like the interpretation put forward by Kenny and Agatha and just because it was a convenient one for Augustine doesn’t mean it has to lack truth. So I turned to the Greek for backup and the first word that struck me was Ἀρίστων (ariston) which has connotations of excellence and survives in ‘aristocrat’. This king calls his ‘banquet’ (Jerusalem Bible) literally ‘my excellence’ – and he’s obviously gone all out. So none of the big wigs turn up and he goes all inclusive and gets the good and the bad in. Then throws a hissy fit about the dress code. He sounds A LOT like me when I’m directing. Then I noticed there’s a lot of play on IN and OUT (even ‘crossroads’ is διεξόδους – diexodous – way out ways?) and the final words are a pun on κλητοί (kletoi – named/ invited) and ἐκλεκτοί (eklektoi – called/ chosen).
    Now I suspect that shackling a quest hand and foot and shoving him out the door into outer darkness (the Greek word for darkness is the Classical root of ‘Scotland’!) may have put a rather gloomy outlook on the evening’s festivities. Could that be the point? It’s sandwiched between the parable of the wicked husbandmen that has the son of vineyard owner exit sharply and the trap Jesus escapes about taxes.
    With all this about ‘who’s in who’s out?’ and ‘which side of the coin are you on?’ can we take this passage with a pinch of Paul (and Augustine, and Cromwell) and say ‘our righteousness is as filthy rags before the Lord’? So the point is not how we are named/ that we are invited but that the church (ekklesia) we are chosen and called to be is not one of domineering control freaks throwing hissy fits because the excellence of their table arrangements has been spoilt by someone not following rubrics. Or by (ditto) because their nice ideas about biology (JS, once you mention ‘purpose’, no biologist will take you seriously) have been spoilt by people in love. St Mary’s is a great liturgical feast indeed. Everyone goes all out for excellence. Yet I’ve seen the oddest-dressed people doing the oddest things (me late, again, in my glad rags included) welcomed. The RC Church in Scotland, of whose hierarchy I am deeply deeply ashamed, would do well to stop whitewashing sepulchers and start calling the clergy and laity in their charge to inclusive love.

    • That should be άριστον, guest, εκλεκτοί. Transliteration is correct, it was the cut and paste that was slapdash. Fortunately my phone does Greek (no pun intended) but it doesn’t do breathings.


  1. This weekend, The Very Reverend Kelvin Holdsworth, the Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, has expressed his disagreement with the Roman Catholic bishops and I encourage you to take a look at the sermon he gave on Sunday. […]

  2. […] a great disservice. You can watch or read the text of Provost Holdsworth’s sermon from yesterday here. The passage which particularly hit home for me (and I hope he doesn’t mind me reproducing it […]

Speak Your Mind