Luke 14: 15-24
A family was hosting a dinner for the minister and his family of ten. At the table, the hostess turned to her 6-year-old daughter and said, “Would you like to say the blessing?” The little girl replied, “I don’t know what to say.” Her mother said, “Just say what you hear Mommy say.” The youngster bowed her head and said, “Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner? Amen”
There are many times in the New Testament where feasts are mentioned or referenced. The implication always seemed to be that those invited to the feats or wedding banquets were honored guests, and there was always a celebratory atmosphere of great joy for all who would attend. There were always preparations to be made or the guests had to be prepared to attend when the door opened or when the hour came. Even in the Passover meal for Jesus and his disciples prior to his arrest and the instituting of the tradition of Holy Communion, there were preparations, and those at the table were called upon to remember what the Lord had done and what the Lord was about to do. Eat and drink in remembrance of me.
Feasts are always meant to be joyful. William Barclay, in his Daily Bible Study on the gospel of Luke wrote, “It is most significant that Jesus thought of his kingdom and his service in terms of a feast. The symbol of the kingdom was the happiest thing that human life could know. . . A gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms.” Barclay concluded, “There is no healthy pleasure which is forbidden to a Christian, for a Christian is like anyone who is forever at a wedding feast.”
A young couple invited their pastor for Sunday dinner. While they were in the kitchen preparing the meal, the minister asked their son what they were having. “Goat,” the boy replied. “Goat?” replied the minister. “Are you sure about that?” “Yep,” said the boy. “I heard Dad say to Mom, ‘Might as well have the old goat for dinner today as any other day.'” Even goat could make a good meal for a feast I’m told.
Who gets invited? The Jews in the era of the second temple in Jerusalem pictured a Messianic banquet at the end of time. On that day God would give a great feast to his own people at which Leviathan, the sea monster mentioned in scripture, would be served. The picture of this end time banquet would consist of guests being Jews alone. The average orthodox Jew would never have dreamed that Gentiles, sinners and the afflicted would find a place at this feast of God. In the parable Jesus shared the master stands for God. The originally invited guests stand for the covenant people, the Jewish community. Throughout all their history they’d looked forward to the day when God would break into history. When he did in the advent of Jesus Christ, they tragically refused the invitation. This is Jesus’ message to his listeners.
What was their response to the invitation? In the parable of the great dinner, the host sent out invitations for the great dinner, but they gave excuses. A country preacher decided to skip Sunday services to go bear hunting. As he rounded the trail, he and a bear collided, sending the preacher tumbling down the mountainside. His rifle flew one way, and he flew the other, breaking both legs when he landed. Unfortunately, the bear was charging straight at him. “Oh, Lord,” the preacher prayed. “Forgive me for skipping church today. Please grant me one wish – make a Christian out of that bear.” That very instant, the bear skidded to a halt, fell to its knees, and began to pray, “Dear God, bless this food I am about to receive.”
The invited gave excuses for not coming. Tradition held that such invitations were delivered orally. When the feast was ready the word was sent out to come. That’s what we hear in this parable: “‘Come! Everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. (14: 17-18)” An invitation was given to plan to attend a great feast. That would have excited me! How about you? Our children have gotten old enough to invite us to share events and gatherings with them. They tell us to plan accordingly. If at all possible, we make our plans. This excites us. We’re making memories. Some of you know our son invites me to go to concerts with him. He invites both of us to go hear concerts and gigs where he’s performing. They value our company and what we bring to those experiences. Jesus conveys God’s plan of breaking into history to unveil his redemptive plan, to display his kingdom in the form of his Son, and to incorporate an invitation for the world he loves to come and partake in what our Lord offers: grace and truth, power and love extended in an ongoing fashion to all generations. They were invited just like we’ve been invited. So many gave excuses – I bought a piece of land, I bought a yoke of oxen, I just got married – and so many give excuses today.
The invitation list gets amended in this story. In the parable I read, the owner of the house heard the invited gave excuses and wouldn’t be coming. The master of the house then told the servants to go into the streets of town to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and lame to the feast. Afterward, there was still room. The servants went back out and compelled people to come in to fill the house. The invitation list gets amended. From the privileged and known who refuse the invitation, the sight of the master of the house was cast to the afflicted and then to anyone in town was welcome into the feast. Who are you and I in this story? I don’t believe anyone in this fellowship was invited to join and participate so you can help pay the church’s bills, or sit in a pew or chair to make the room look full. Who are you and I in this story? We were invited to a feast, to sit at a place setting prepared for us from the foundation of the world. We were invited to join in a celebration, a wedding feast, a joyous, elaborate banquet of grace and mercy, love and favor lavishly offered and displayed for our eternal wonder and enjoyment. Great is our God, and greatly to be praised!
Now that we know what it is to respond to a lavish invitation and a celebration of love and life in Jesus our Savior, we can invite others to respond to the blessings of grace and mercy in our Lord. We know the invitation, and we know how to invite. I close with an old story from the Christian author, preacher and educator, Tony Campolo. He tells a story which illustrates the kingdom of God is really a party. He was lecturing in Hawaii many years ago. Jet lag affected him, so his sleep pattern was disrupted. He was wide awake in the middle of the night. He went walking in the town he was staying and found an all-night diner. He went in and sat at the counter with coffee and a donut. Moments later, at about 3 a.m., much to his discomfort, several provocatively dressed and boisterous prostitutes came in the tiny diner. They sat on either side of him. Their talk was loud and crude. He was about to make his getaway when he heard one of them say, “Tomorrow is my birthday! I’m going to be thirty-nine.” The guy behind the counter said loudly and rudely, “What do you want me to do about it? Throw you a birthday party? That ain’t gonna happen!” The woman said he didn’t have to be so mean. She said, “I’m not asking you to do anything. It’s my birthday. That’s all. In fact, I’ve never had a birthday party. Why should I expect one now?” With that, Tony got an idea. The women soon left. Tony asked the guy if those women come in here often. He said every night. Tony asked about the one next to him who talked about her birthday. He said, again, every night. Her name was Agnes. Tony then asked the guy if he’d join with him in giving Agnes a birthday party the next night. The guy, whose name was Harry, loved the idea. In fact, he said he’d bake the cake and put candles on it. Tony said he’d take care of everything else.
The next morning at about 2:30, Tony came in and decorated. Harry brought out the cake on which was iced the message, “Happy Birthday, Agnes.” Harry had evidently gotten the word to the street about the party because by 2:45 that morning the diner was wall-to-wall prostitutes and Tony. At 3 on the dot, Agnes and her friends came in. Tony had everyone ready, so they all screamed, “Happy birthday!” Agnes was stunned and shaken. She was escorted to the counter, and everyone sang “Happy Birthday.” As the song ended, Agnes was overwhelmed with tears of emotion. Harry handed Agnes a knife to cut the cake. Agnes composed herself and asked Harry if she could keep the cake a little while. Harry said she could take it home if she wanted. She slowly rose from her stool, picked up the cake and slowly walked out the door. After she left, there was a stunned silence in the place. Not knowing what else to do, Tony broke the silence by saying, “What do say we pray?” When recollecting about this, Tony shared that it was a strange thing to do, to lead a prayer meeting with a bunch of prostitutes in a diner at 3 in the morning in Honolulu, but it felt right. He prayed for Agnes’ salvation, that her life would be changed, and that God would be good to her. Afterward, Harry leaned over the counter, said he didn’t know Tony was a preacher and what church he belonged to. Tony said he belonged to a church that gave prostitutes birthday parties at 3 in the morning. Harry said, “No, you don’t. There’s no church like that. If there was, I’d join it!”
You and I have been invited to the party, the banquet of the kingdom of God. We’ve been invited so we know how to invite.
(Preached at St Mark UMC in Anniston, AL, August 28, 2022)