Creekside Church
Sermon of October 23, 2016

"Community Dinner"
Luke 14:15-23

Rosanna McFadden


Good morning! It is good to be back with you. We have been well fed at Creekside this week. Literally, for those of us who got pulled pork and salad and fruit before Tuesday night’s Board meeting, but also the food for thought which we were given before that. Those of you who were able to attend were part of a Skype conversation with John Neff, the CEO of E3 Ministry Group out of Harrisonburg, VA. John is an enthusiastic guy who has a heart for Jesus Christ and the church. After a career as the owner of a successful construction company, he did pastoral ministry, and now does church consulting and mission work in Honduras. Fred Bernhard, who led our Wholly Welcome retreat, is a consultant for E3, and John shared observations from Fred, feedback from guests who worshipped with us, and comments of his own. I have a 20 page document with this information that I have sent electronically to our small group leaders. If you would like your own copy, please see me and I will email it to you or print a copy for you.

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 stay.

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 table.

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?


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