Sermon preached on 12 October 2014

20141012 kelvin holdsworth – gnashing of from Kelvin Holdsworth on Vimeo.

‘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

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Here in St Mary’s we end our Gospel reading with the response – Give thanks to the Lord for his Glorious Gospel, Praise to Christ our Lord.

In many churches, they end readings with the response “This is the Word of the Lord – Thanks be to God”.

I think that is one of those readings from scripture that would tempt me greatly, if that was the response that we were used to, to say, “Is this the word of the Lord?”

There’s no denying at all that it is a tricky gospel reading for many people who will be sitting here this morning.

Maybe you don’t think so and find it an obvious way of reinforcing what you believe – that anyone who doesn’t conform with what God wants will be thrown out of the feast unto the outer darkness.

Well, if that’s you, then good luck living your life with it. I know it isn’t for me.

Conformity to anything is a challenge to me and I find myself immediately troubled by the poor victim of Jesus’s tale who gets thrown out of all that is good and nourishing simply for breaking a dress code. What’s that all about?

Well, perhaps the best I can do this morning is to tell a few more stories. Let us see whether we can start to unravel this parable by telling some more parables.

Here’s one about dress codes to soften you up and we’ll come back to the gospel story in a minute.

Once upon a time (about four weeks ago) in a land far away (the West End of Glasgow) there was a Provost. And the Provost would strut around his cathedral the Lord of all he surveyed. He was young (or at least he still thought he was still young) and witty (or so they told him at the end of the service in about half an hour’s time) and he was handsome and fair…..and thanks be to God, he was modest and humble too.

And as he was checking his post one day he realised that he had received an envelope that was made of fine thick paper. And on opening it, he found that he had received a card with lovely gold edges inviting him to a big event – a party of sorts in the big city. It was a gathering of those who were doing their bit to improve the lot of others in the best way they knew how and this was their annual dinner.

And the provost looked at the date and decided he could go. And he looked at the corner of the invitation and read the dress code.

It read: Dress: “Official, Evening (White Tie) or Highland Dress. Insignia and Decorations”

And the young Provost took the invitation home and put it on his mantelpiece and thought about it.

And a little later he was back in the office and opening his mail and he came upon a glitzy envelope and on opening it found inside a card that actually shone and sparkled. It too was an invitation to an event gathering together those trying to make the world a better place in the only way they knew how. And the provost looked at the date and decided he could go. And he looked at the corner of the invitation and read the dress code.

Dress: Wear Whatever You Like.

And he took the invitation home and put it on his mantelpiece and thought a great deal.

Now, which was invitation was the easiest for him to receive?


Now, I almost feel as though I should stop there and ask you all to talk about that story and see what you think. Because that’s how parables work. For I suspect that different people might answer the question in different ways.

Which dress code would you find easiest to follow?

Well, Once upon a time (about 2000 years ago) and in a land far away (a land we call holy to this day) there was a young preacher.

And the young preacher was trying to tell people about God and about the kind of heaven on earth that the God he knew wanted for people here on earth.

And the young preacher was fully human, despite what some people thought and at night we got tired and he fell asleep and he dreamed a dream.

Now because he was fully human he dreamed the same kind of dream that other people dream – he dreamed that he turned up for a big party and was wearing the wrong clothes. And he dreamed that anxiety dream that lots of people have about not fitting in and not looking right and of being thrown out of the feast.

And when he woke up, he decided to use the dream to tell a story.

Now, the young preacher wasn’t just fully human he was also fully divine and he could see what lay ahead for the band of disciples who followed him around trying to understand what he was on about.

And he knew that a time would come when the band of disciples would grow into a whole knitted together tangle of churches which would somehow keep alive the idea of the kingdom of heaven long enough for it to be built on earth as he hoped.

But he foresaw a time when people would turn away from the church because the church had itself stopped being fully human, had lost some of the compassion (that is wholly divine) that he had taught them and was preaching a high-handed version of the old stories that was strong on morality and low on compassion and grace.

And he told the story of a man at a banquet being thrown out because he wasn’t wearing the right clothes for the wedding feast and hoped they would remember it.

And he thought, surely they will understand that the church is the man wearing the wrong clothes. Surely they will understand that for the great feast to be celebrated the godly people I love will work out how to love the world so much that they’ll do anything to tell others about the love I have told them about. They’ll do anything to share that, surely. They’ll even change in order to reach those who do not know about my stories yet.

And years later the church told the story. Now, did they all assume that the church was the grubby man needing to spruce up its act and smarten up its message in order to reach others with news of the kingdom of God?

Or did they assume instead that the feast belonged to them and that the story was about outsiders being judged as to whether they were worthy of being inside the club?


Or was it like this?

Once upon a time in a land far away a familiar young preacher thought about how to get people to understand that his message was all about inviting people in, all about telling people there was always enough grace to go around, all about plenty and fullness and joy forevermore.

I know, he thought, I’ll tell them a story about a wedding banquet that is so outrageous, so unfair and so horrible that they’ll work out my message for themselves.

They’ll rebel against my story and tell one another they don’t believe a word of it. They will each become little saviours of the world by spreading the news far and wide that God loves them and that there is always room for just one more.

And so he told his story. And all these years later, how do you think people did at understanding the message of love and grace that the preacher was sneakily trying to get them to work out for themselves?


Anyway, Once upon a time, not long ago and for a pulpit not far away, a preacher thought about how to preach on a tricky text.

“What do you do with a gospel story like that?” he thought. He looked at the story and as he thought about how to preach on it there was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

And then he had an idea. “I know”, he thought, “I’ll tell them a few new stories – a few new parables of my own and they’ll be able to work it out for themselves – or if not themselves, by talking about the stories with one another”

And so he told them some stories.

He made up some new parables.

And one way or another, either by thinking things through or by chatting to those around them, they all worked it out in the end.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.



  1. Pleasingly meta.

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