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Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey of the Louisiana Area gives the sermon during morning worship at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey of the Louisiana Area gives the sermon during morning worship at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore.

Harvey: ‘Wear the robe like it matters’

By Betty Backstrom
May 16, 2016 | PORTLAND, Ore. (UMNS)

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey reminded those attending General Conference 2016 that all are called to “bear fruit for God’s sake.”

Preaching from Matthew 22:1-14 and the parable of the king’s wedding banquet, the Louisiana Episcopal Area leader told delegates God invites people to come as they are, but not to stay as they are.

“Our showing up at the party, our standing before God, is about our willingness to receive, to put on God’s grace,” Harvey said in her sermon on May 16 at General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body.

In the banquet parable, those originally invited to the banquet refused to come. So the king sends his servants out a second time to the “edge of town” with instructions to invite “everyone to the party.”

“I take that to mean EVERYONE — the good, the bad, the fit and the misfit, the rich and the poor, those the elite of the day viewed as throwaways! The kind of folk that don’t often get invited to many parties!” Harvey said.

She also pointed out that one of the guests had not put on the expected wedding attire. “The ill-dressed man had no excuse. You see, the host always provided the guests with the appropriate wedding garment or robe.”

“I am from Louisiana and we have a party every year that we call Mardi Gras; others call it Carnival,” said Harvey. “The dress code is clear. Women must wear ball gowns to the floor. No short dresses, no tea-length dresses.” 

The ill-dressed man had committed more than a clothing faux pas, indicated Harvey. “He had come to the party, but failed to show honor to the host. He makes light of the occasion by failing to put on that garment of righteousness, the robe that is ‘one size fits all’ and is available to anyone willing to put it one. It’s hanging right there at the entrance.”

‘God is the host’

God is the host for our “banquet,” be it General Conference or God’s “kingdom on earth,” she added. “Our host is the One who calls us and empowers us to disturb the system. Maybe even disturb our own human condition and put on the robe of righteousness, the robe of grace, the robe that is the outward and visible sign of our response to God’s deep faithfulness for God’s people. … Wear the robe like it matters. This could just turn the world upside down.”

Harvey painted an ideal and hopeful picture of this “banquet,” where there is “no more crying, no more pain.

“Could this be the banquet that’s filled with the things that really, really matter?  Like a world free from addiction; where families are built on love and a trust that defies the headlines; where children do not die of diseases that can be prevented; a world where parenting is a joy not a burden; a world where children go to bed with full bellies; a world where women don’t have to sell their bodies or themselves to survive; a world where children are safe in schools; where everyone is paid a fair wage … where loved ones are free from random mass shootings; where terrorists are no more?  A world turned upside down!”

She challenged delegates by saying, “I am convinced that if we are willing to erase the imaginary line in our imaginary fellowship or conference floor and put on the robe provided for each and every one of us, regardless of where we are from — central conference, the United States. Whether you are progressive or conservative, gay or straight. Rich, poor. Black, white, Latino. Fit or misfit, broken or not, we will experience transformation that will turn the world upside down.”

Lauren Hudson, an intern for the Louisiana State University Wesley Foundation in Baton Rouge, provided a graphic recording in chalk during Harvey’s sermon.

General Conference continues through May 20 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

Backstrom is the communications director of the Louisiana Conference.