They knew I wouldn’t remember, probably because the first time they did it, they didn’t remember. So they watched and waited for the teachable moment and there is no other teachable moment quite like it, one that really, really sticks with you for the next time. I only had to do it once, years ago, and I haven’t done it since, but I guarantee you that I wouldn’t forget again to this day. The “thing” has to do with a Hazardous Material Operator class that I was taking while working as an EMT. I was not training nor had I been trained as a firefighter, but having a fairly in depth HAZMAT understanding was an asset then and has definitely made me more aware of many things for my safety and the safety of others to this day. The class was like no other I had ever been a part of. One moment you’re learning about placards or train cars, or foam and the very next moment an alarm goes off and everyone but you is gone. You wander around the firehouse, gather questions about all the cool stuff you see, consider sliding down the pole about 1000 times, and just wait and wonder how your new found friends are doing out there and what they are facing. Then they come back and you are back to learning. I did OK with the book stuff, as it made sense to me, but then I noticed that to pass the course I would have to be able to don firefighter Personal Protective Equipment in under 1 minute. That’s boots, trousers, coat (completely fastened), gloves, hood, Self Contained Breathing Apparatus harness and tank, mask and helmet. I was cool how the firefighters were dedicated to making this happen for me. They gave me a heads up, that I had to remember this one button and that I needed to press it. On your mark, get set, go. I channeled the part of me that remembered waking up late for class in college and being dressed and out the door in the blink of an eye. The coat is tough, lots of very important latches. But I got it all on and I pulled down the mask and it sealed. Remember me mentioning the teachable moment? Well it happened right then. I beat the minute, but I was so focused on all the other stuff that I forgot the one little thing. You would think that if you put a large mask over your face, that you would be able to breathe the air inside, but that’s not how physics works. No air or even the ability to make my chest rise. My eyes got big and I felt trapped. I could see the outside world and the guy in front of me who smiled and looked like he was punching me in the face but he bonked the button on the front of my mask and suddenly my lungs would work and the best air I had ever smelled or tasted flowed into my mouth and nose. No one made fun of me, they just chuckled and said how they guaranteed I would only make that mistake once. That exercise is very important. Each piece of the PPE can be critical given the situation. The thing is you truly have no idea which piece might be critical on a given call, which piece might save your life or limbs, or keep you from becoming a problem or a hindrance to your crew. So the policy is that you wear it all in case. The instructor asked how are you going to explain, “Wait, I need to run back down 4 fights of stairs and out to the truck because I didn’t feel like putting on my (fill in the blank). Each piece and it’s proper donning have an important purpose. I have a friend who is now retired that served on a VFD as a firefighter and chaplain. He was older than the other guys and I guess he felt sort of a fatherly responsibility. He would always point out when someone was not wearing their gear correctly, especially when someone didn’t fasten the top hook on the collar of their coat. Firefighters even have a website where photos of incorrect PPE usage or the lack thereof are posted to shame one another into having respect for equipment and the seriousness of the job. Well my friend responded to a fire. A fruit tree was on fire. No big deal. Spray some water on it and it would all be over, except that HE did not button his top button. He was below the tree looking up when a burning ember found that window of opportunity down inside his turnout gear and next to his body. Ge told us of trying to get it open and yelling for a hose which resulted in the pleasant experience of having a full on firehose aimed at that little hole and subsequently, his face and head. Nothing like drinking long and deep from the fountain of humility. Jesus once again is back to the basics this week. Giving the same sermon in his parable, the same message that God has been trying to get across ever since. Put on your turnout gear! Robe yourself completely in righteousness! Put on Christ completely all the way to the top button not leaving one square inch open and I realize that Jesus was not walking around on earth during the Old Testament but the message was and we were not listening and that is why the Son had to come and give it a shot and while Jesus was speaking and the Son was right there it was still not sinking in. But guess what it goes even further. It’s pointed out in the parable. We hear it all the time. All you have to do is accept Jesus, say the word, but in this parable it points us back to the mission of the Son which is the part we would rather whiz past. Last week we talked about the Son coming to the vineyard to gather the output which is supposed to be justice and mercy and humility before God but finds wrath there. Now we are watching a wedding banquet where invited guests refuse to come, so everyone else is invited. But then there’s this troubling part. The person who didn’t put on the robe. Jesus is addressing following the Son, which means also following the mission and participating in it fully, up to fastening the top button. Standing for, working for, and above all putting into practice loving our neighbor, even and especially our enemies, praying for those who persecute us, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting and healing the sick and those in need. I may sound like a broken record, but the fact is the message of Jesus Christ does not change. And as we look out our window do we see this happening everywhere 24/7? Where there is supposed to be love there is hatred, neglect and indifference. That hasn’t changed. It is the same world that Jesus faced, yet he kept proclaiming the same message, the message of the prophets, which was the message God had given us from the very beginning of justice and mercy. The thing is the Son lived the mission and message and he was righteous, completely to the top button and he gave his life for that message. In the parable the person shows up but is there in name only, not willing to put on the turn-out gear. “I’ll put a fish symbol on my car, sing the songs and attend church every Sunday, but I reserve the right to treat God’s other children like garbage, all of them, or maybe just some of them or maybe even just one of them.” When we do this we are putting on Christ piecemeal, picking the parts that are appealing to us and leaving the other parts on the firetruck or back at the station. How can it be a robe of righteousness if it has even one hole of wrongfulness in it. Now we have to be very careful here because we can hear this message in part and begin once again to think that it is all about us and how awesome we are at fighting the fires of injustice and make it about our works and thinking that we have to earn our way in. We can get locked into cycles of despair like Martin Luther, fretting so hard and paralyzed by the fear that we have missed a latch or a zipper or that button on the front of the mask. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but the Good News in Jesus Christ is that we are not alone. Firefighters are team players. Think about my examples. I can still see the face of the guy that bopped my SCBA button and gave me air. My buddy had a buddy blast him with a firehose. Both were humbling experiences, to desperately need the help of someone else, a fellow traveler, a fellow sinner that also needs you. Humility. Jesus is the prime example of humility as he became a servant to everyone. We are not in this alone. Above all, and I love these lines from Luther’s A Mighty Fortress which offer us courage and comfort as we gear up and put on the robe against sin, death and the devil, “No strength of ours can match his might. we would be lost, rejected. But now A Champion comes to fight, and God himself, elected. You ask who this maybe? the Lord of hosts is he. Christ Jesus mighty Lord.” And Luther speaks of God fighting by our side and even though it looks like all is lost, all our stuff is burned away, and even our lives, that the kingdom is ours forever. It is not me or I or you it is we, all of us all of God’s children that are invited so gear up and watch out for one another and let’s put out the fires of injustice. See you on the truck, and be sure to check your collar latch.