Invitation to An Abundant Feast
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
August 2, 2015
“One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.”
What’s the most memorable dinner, banquet or feast that you’ve ever been to? Do you remember one that stands out in your memory?
I have many that come to mind but one particularly stands out. When we lived in Europe for a few years, one year the acting US Ambassador invited us to his residence for Thanksgiving dinner. His residence was obtained by the US in the Marshall plan era. It was a mansion that had been built in the 1840s and was stunning. Also, he was high enough up in the State Department, that his home had a chef. It was a memorable event, made even more so by being Thanksgiving. And believe me, if you ever want to be highly thankful for the blessings of our nation, live outside of it awhile!
So, take a few moments and turn to a person seated nearby and share what came to your mind when I invited you to recollect a memorable feast, dinner or banquet.
I hope you continue your conversations after worship and that perhaps you’ve met someone new to you!
Our story today takes place while Jesus is attending a banquet at a Pharisee’s home. He’d watched the people all jockey for positions of honor nearest the host at the head table. Jesus had some striking comments about this.
Then, one of the attendees, perhaps to break the tension offered what may have been just a pious platitude, “blessed is on who eats in the Kingdom of heaven.” In response Jesus told our story about a man giving a banquet.
Now to fully understand the import of our story, it’s helpful to know about the practices of banqueting in the day of Jesus.
Banqueting, first off, was the domain of the wealthiest and the elite. Think of it! A person had to have the resources necessary to buy all of the food and drink. More, they had to have a dwelling large enough to house the event. Then, like the host in our story, they needed servants to carry it all off. Notice the people invited initially. They were a wealthy group: a landowner acquiring more land and one who owned enough farmland that he needed the almost unheard of acquisition of five more teams of oxen. Banqueting in Jesus’ day was dictated strictly by social status. People expected to mingle with their own peer group. Honor was involved. A person would be honored to receive an invitation to a banquet and the banquet host could retain and gain honor by those who came. Conversely, to be snubbed by attendees was a huge social embarrassment and resulted in a loss of honor.
Now, banqueting protocol was to send out the invitations well in advance. People would RSVP just as today. So, it’s important to note that our people had accepted an invitation to our host’s banquet to be held on a particular day they knew was coming. The servant in our story wasn’t going to spring an invitation on people. Rather, in those days after people accepted an invitation, they would wait at home on the evening of the banquet and expect a servant to come by, tell them the whole affair was ready and escort them to the feast. That’s what the servant in our story was doing.
And it’s at this point that lame excuses began flying, right at the last minute after they’d already accepted the invitation days or weeks before!
Two of the guests put commerce over relationship. But even their excuses were lame: Who would buy land without even seeing it and who would make the huge purchase of five teams of oxen without checking them out first? But it’s the last guy who takes the cake! He’d accepted the invitation sometime before, but when the servant showed up his response was rather like this, “I know I accepted the invitation, but oops, I just remembered this is my wedding date!” Come on…
The servant carried these messages back to the host. He was angry and sent the servant out into first the city and then the highways and lanes outside the city. The poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame were brought in. Even the geography of these rounds of invitation is important. You see, the city is the place where the haves live, protected from invading armies by the city walls. The city is the place of power, economic, religious and military. There also were some trades folk in the city that would never be invited to a banquet typically. And the poor, crippled, blind and the lame weren’t even allowed into the temple much less the houses of the wealthy. And to gather folks outside the city, why that was just unheard of! The folks outside the city were the poorest of the poor; the people who survived day-to-day and even worse, where the hated Gentiles would be. This man extended his invitation to these kinds of folks. And some of them couldn’t believe it to the point that they had to be urged in! And our story ends with the commitment of the host to the people who will come, not the ones who made excuses.
Today, we begin a sermon series around the theme of invitation we find in the Bible and today’s passage teaches us much. In this series we hope you’ll hear that the Christ extends his invitation to all, including you, to come to his life that’s a feast, both this morning while we commune, while we live the “movable feast” of his life day to day and the messianic banquet of eternity. More, in this series we want to help us hear anew that we are not only the invited but also the inviters of others.
Now, a real bugaboo I have about a lot of preaching is that it lays on a congregation a call to action: pray more, study Scripture more, serve more, but then fails to teach and equip regarding the “how.” So, a hope we have for this series is to provide help in our role as inviters. It’s a role that can’t be conveniently neglected or relegated to professional religionists, like a church staff! One writer observes that the calling of every Christian is to “share the Good News of Jesus by doing, being and saying.” If we are honest with ourselves, most of us United Methodists are pretty high on the scale of doing. We bring groceries for food drives, go on mission trips, hammer a nail we Habitat. We’re medium on being—that is prayer, worship and other spiritual disciplines—but honestly, we’re low on saying, that is, verbally sharing the gospel. Your pastoral team hopes to begin the process of addressing that in this series.
But here is a simple truth: You can’t give away what you don’t have, can you? So, here’s where we begin: Christ invites you to a life of feasting richness, grace, and encouragement, hope and joy in him! Have you or will you accept that invitation with no excuses? Are you ready to take it seriously and perhaps accepting it even kneeling in communion with him this morning?
You’re included on his guest list you know. In our story the invitation was given to every kind of person on the spectrum of humanity. From landowners, the elite class of the day, who were cutting deals to acquire more land; to one with so many agricultural interests he was acquiring an unbelievably large asset for working even more land; to those would have lived within the city walls but never be invited to a banquet, tradesman, the middle class; to those who were poor, blind and lame and unable to even go to temple; to those most vulnerable, marginalized ones outside the city which would include lepers and Gentiles. This story has within it the broadest view of humanity found in perhaps any other passage. And here’s the point, you fit in there somewhere! The invitation to the banquet is for you! Whether you’re rich or poor, healthy or ill, accepted by or rejected by the religious powers that be, the invitation is for you.
Here’s something important to notice from our passage, human choice and excuses are realities of the human condition.
What do you choose to do then with this invitation? Do you truly accept it, no excuse making, fully and completely? God’s wants you to do so you know.
Finally, if we’re to be Christ’s servants, we are to be those who bring everyone we can to him. The best way I know is to bring them to him is to bring them to his body, the church.
Soren Kierkegaard, a theologian of long ago once described this ministry. It is “one beggar telling another beggar where to find free bread.” In our story’s context it could be said “we are beggars who have found a free, inexhaustible feast and are to bring others to it!” The feast is the life in Christ at this great congregation.
And your pastoral staff wants to help you with this. Now, nothing we do in the church ever happens at it’s faithful best without the foundation and embrace of prayer. So please, at this time take out your “Invite” prayer cards. You found them in your worship bulletins this morning. Look at the categories and the prayer. We’d like you to complete this card and pray for your list every day and just be open to God presenting opportunities for you to bring someone, not active in a local church, to worship with you. As you consider it, remember our story is about the broadness of Christ’s invitation. That means being open to inviting someone out of your comfort zone: the person who works on your lawn, fixes your hair, or that ostracized, alternate-lifestyle family member. As you’re looking at the card let me try and help prime the pump.
- Think of family members: spouse, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, nephews, and nieces.
- Think of neighbors: next-door neighbors, elderly persons in the neighborhood, and new families on your block.
- Think of people at work: supervisors, employees you supervise, secretaries, clerical staff, students you teach, clients, new staff members, and colleagues you see occasionally.
- Think of friends with whom you dine out: single friends, parents of your child’s friends, old friends from school, and friends of your spouse.
- Think of casual associates: your dentist, doctor, real estate or life insurance agent, your child’s teacher, merchants, service or luncheon club members, people who belong to clubs or associations or professional groups that you attend, babysitters, sales representatives who call on you, people who graduated from the same university.
- Think especially of people undergoing personal life stresses of some kind. These individuals are often ready to hear answers to their problems from within the Christian faith: People who recently divorced, couples with new babies, families that have experienced a recent death, households where someone has lost their job or suffered business reverses.
Let us pray: Blessed Three-in-One, for the grace of being on your guest list we are thankful. As another act of grace, open us all to accept your invitation without excuses. Empower us with your grace to be your inviting servants, of all people. We ask this in Christ Name. Amen.