I’d like to do some interpreting of that report through a
story. It isn’t my story, it isn’t John Neff’s
story; it’s a story told by Jesus Christ in the gospel of
Luke -- you can also find this story in Matthew 22. It’s a
story you’ve probably heard before and may even know as the
parable of the Wedding Banquet, the Great Feast, the Great Dinner,
or something like that. I bet some of you even know the song, “I
Cannot Come,” by Miriam Therese Winter. The chorus is pretty
catchy; it goes like this (sing with me if you know it): “I
cannot come to the banquet . . .” If you were able to go to
12 Baskets and a Goat at Union Center last Sunday, you experienced
Ted & Co.’s version of this story -- which is a lot funnier
than anything you’re going to hear this morning.
This is a parable of Jesus, and like all parables which Jesus told,
its significance is not because it actually happened a certain way,
or the specific details of what happened (how many guests? what
was the menu? Were the blind truly blind or just visually impaired?)
It might be fun, and even funny -- if you’re Ted Schwartz--to
imagine those details, but the purpose of Jesus’ parables
is to teach us about the kingdom of God. I believe that this parable
can help us think about the kingdom of God and our place in it here
at Creekside Church.
There’s not a lot of scholarly debate about the point that
Jesus was making with this parable. In fact, I bet most of us would
understand this parable in the same way -- let me review it for
you: someone had a great dinner and invited lots of people, but
they all made excuses about why they couldn’t come. The master
of the house got angry and told his slaves to go get folks off the
street: the poor and the disabled. There was still room at the table.
Not everyone who is invited makes it to the dinner.
So in this parable, what does the banquet represent? The kingdom
of God Who is the host of the dinner? God, Jesus Who is invited
first? Insiders How do they respond? Make excuses Who else is invited?
Anyone What do they have to do? Show up Excellent, thank you. Now,
here’s a little different question since you’re on a
roll: who are we in this parable? That’s what I want us to
think about this morning: who are we as individuals and who are
we corporately as the church. You have all been invited here this
morning: most of you have a standing invitation; we don’t
send out a Phone Tree message every week saying: come to worship
with us at 9:30 on Sunday! Many of you accepted the invitation years
ago and have been showing up for most of your lives. God bless you.
A few of you may have gotten a specific invitation to come to Creekside
Church for worship this morning and you showed up. Halleluia! But
everyone here today has responded to some kind of invitation, right?
Why else would you be here? If you wandered into today thinking
this is someplace besides Creekside Church of the Brethren, you’re
not where you planned to be -- but you’re still welcome to
So as individuals, we’re the ones who have accepted the invitation
-- no matter how crippled and blind we are, no matter where or who
we were before we came, no matter where we are now on the journey
of faith and discipleship and spiritual maturity, we accepted the
invitation to be part of the kingdom of God and showed up. So who
is the church in this parable? I believe the church is the host;
the person giving the dinner. We, as individuals who have accepted
the invitation and as the faith community have been called to continue
the work of Jesus, inviting people into the kingdom of God. Do you
agree? Then why are we the ones making excuses? That’s not
how the parable goes. The host doesn’t plan a big banquet
and then decide it’s too expensive to mail invitations , and
maybe people won’t like the food, and someone might say “No”
and that would be embarrassing, and a whole meal sounds like a lot
of work, and maybe it would be simpler not to invite anyone after
all. In Jesus’ parable, when the host plans a banquet and
the guests make excuses, the host expands the guest list.
Let me remind you of something Fred Bernhard mentioned several
times at our retreat: Whose behavior is on trial in the Bible? Believers
or non-believers? The community of faith, or the people we’re
trying to reach? Or to put it bluntly: is this non-believers problem
because they didn’t come, or the church’s problem because
we haven’t invited them? We put “Wholly Welcome”
out on our sign, and we post the hours of worship on our website
and on the answering machine at the office. Isn’t that enough?
You don’t have to tell me the answer to that one.
Brothers and sisters, we have a lot going for us. We have a great
banquet hall here: an attractive facility which was designed and
built for accessibility and welcome. We have beautiful grounds which
are beautifully tended. We have friendly people--some folks are
willing to wear names tags -- and some people are even strike up
a conversation with someone they don’t know. We have an informal
worship service with capable -- and in some cases exceptional --
leadership: I’m not talking about the preaching. I’m
not making this stuff up: these are things that the secret guests
from E3 Ministries who came to Creekside said about us. I commend
you, and I thank you for the ways you extend hospitality: there
is no way strangers would have said this about us if you weren’t
making it happen. We have mowed the lawn and cleaned the house and
planned the menu and prepared the food and set the table. Excellent!
Now, are we missing anything?
I will be the first to admit that inviting guests is intimidating.
My excuses are probably slightly different than yours -- it’s
pretty personal to me if someone doesn’t like the pastor;
I worry about being present as a host when I’m also a choir
director, preacher, and Sunday School teacher. Married a wife, bought
me a cow; they are still excuses. And like all excuses, they’re
about me and what is comfortable and safe for me, rather than my
responsibility to invite someone into the kingdom of God. Inviting
someone to your home so they can be impressed by what a nice house
you have is not hospitality, it’s just showing off. Feeding
someone who is hungry is hospitality. It isn’t about how fancy
the china is, it’s about the hunger we all have for acceptance
and love and community. It’s about coming to the table of
the family of God. There is still room at that table. There will
always be room at that table. We are guests at that table, and we
are called as disciples of Jesus Christ to invite others to that
In your small group studies, in your family conversations, in your
personal devotions, in whatever ways you ponder these things in
your heart, please make some time in the coming weeks to consider
how to expand the guest list. Maybe you already have a long list
of ideas to give to the Outreach Team or Hospitality Team, or helpful
critique for Team Spirit or the Church Board. Before you hand that
list to someone else, and congratulate yourself on all the good
things you have thought of for other people to do, pause for a moment.
Take a breath. Give thanks to God that someone invited you and welcomed
you into a family of faith and the kingdom of God. Pray that God
would show you where you are being called to follow Jesus. Take
stock of ways that discipleship has made a difference in your life.
How has knowing Christ and being part of a faith community transformed
you? Have there been hurtful things which you would want to prevent
from happening to anyone else? How could you participate in making
this community look more like the kingdom of God? What has been
so affirming, life-giving and empowering that you want someone else
to experience it? Who do you know who needs to experience welcome
and community and transformation?