Creekside Church
Sermon of October 1, 2017

"You Are Invited"
Luke 14:16-21

Rosanna McFadden


Good morning! The Spirit works in mysterious ways sometimes. Our worship planners can attest to the fact that I chose this text from Luke for this service over a month ago, but I got a new perspective on it just days ago. Some of you will recognize the name Center for Congregations, which is the grant foundation in Indiana funded by the Lilly Endowment. In addition to congregational resource grants like the one Creekside used for our Wholly Welcome series last fall, the Center for Congregations sponsors workshops, webinars and online educational events. Ron Nicodemus saw an event for this past week that he suggested Creekside folks attend, and he, Jan and I spent this past Thursday in Ft. Wayne.

It was a terrific presentation by Mike McHargue, a podcaster, blogger and researcher. You will be hearing more about this a little later, but first I want to look at our story from Luke. It is a story, one of the parables of Jesus, and a very similar parable is told in the gospel of Matthew, at the beginning of chapter 22. The version from Luke 14calls the event a great dinner; Matthew identifies it as a wedding feast. Whatever exactly it was, it was a big deal for the host -- although not so much for the guests.

I know a number of you have been involved in planning a wedding -- hopefully you were involved in planning your own wedding, but perhaps even more invested emotionally and financially in planning a wedding for your daughter or niece or sister. I’ve been there. There were lots of parts of the wedding planning that were creative and fun, but one of the most difficult things was planning the food: it’s hard to plan and budget just the right amount when you’re not sure who is coming. RSVPs help, of course, but sometimes people’s plans change -- a family of six who decides to come (or not to come) at the last minute can be a significant swing. I can remember before my daughters’ weddings waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat thinking, “What if everybody comes? What will we do?” and then waking up a few hours later even more panicked thinking, “What if nobody comes? What will we do?”

Weddings and great dinners were different in Palestine 2,000 years ago than they are now, but the pressure of being the host and inviting guests and preparing for them is still the same, even if the details and the menu are different. Jesus, of course, is not telling a literal story about someone he knew who had this exact thing happen; Jesus is taking a social situation that nearly everyone can relate to, and using it to illustrate the kingdom of God. His audience was the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day, the A-list guests who had turned their noses up at the invitation to believe in Jesus and experience the abundance and hospitality of God’s kingdom. Jesus makes it clear -- in both versions of this parable -- that if the invited guests do not accept the invitation, others will be brought to the Lord’s table. Those others are the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. Not a very glamourous bunch.

We then, who are here today, have been invited as guests with Jesus Christ as the host, but we’re the B-list guests; maybe even C- or D- list. We’re not the best-looking, the best-dressed, the wealthiest, the most powerful. For heaven’s sake, we’re not even the most moral or the best-behaved. We just showed up here because Jesus said it was OK, and we were hungry and in need. If you think you’re too good for the rest of us, you’re probably right. We’re a sorry bunch.

So in light of our identity as a sorry bunch -- you can substitute the theological word “sinner” if you want; it’s the same thing -- I have a proposal. Some of you aren’t going to like it. That’s OK, we can talk about it after the service or whenever you want to. My proposal doesn’t take financial resources, although there will some significant investment involved. It isn’t a new idea, I’ve shared it before and I believe it is firmly grounded in the witness of the Old and New Testament. I can give it to you in two words so you can leave here today with this proposal memorized. Do you want to hear it?

Welcome Everyone

This is not a program, it’s more like a posture of how we greet others. And that posture is not (arms crossed) Get off my lawn it’s (hands open). Welcome everyone.

Let me unpack that a bit, because I believe the implications are significant. Mike McHargue, the presenter who I mentioned earlier, does most of his research about and most of his podcasting to a demographic he calls Millennials. These are people in the United States born between 1980 and 2000. They don’t particularly like to be called Millennials -- they resist being labeled at all -- but it gives the rest of us some frame of reference. Here are some things about Millennials that you already know: they are leaving churches faster than any generation in American history. Not just churches, other institutions as well -- PTOs and service clubs, political parties and financial institutions -- this group is not looking to do things the way their parents did. As a group they skew differently than their parents on social issues: gender roles and marriage roles and when or if you get married at all.

Creekside’s future will be in the hands of Millennials, so this is not just a theoretical exercise. Can we welcome everyone, even if their ideas about politics and social issues are different than ours? Even if their ideas about God and faith are different than ours? We don’t have to accept beliefs that are in conflict with our own values, we don’t have to change our values to believe the same things that other people believe, but are we confident enough in our own faith to allow others to be welcomed? I know that it isn’t really fair to use words like “we” and “ours” as if all of us gathered here share all the same opinions. I know that I’m on the other side of some social issues than some of you. Thank you for being here in spite of that. I respect you for being courteous enough to listen to me. I am not interested in forcing anyone to have all the same convictions that I do; but I want us to imagine what Creekside could look like if we welcomed everyone. Not if we just tolerate most people, but if we actually welcome everyone.

Do you think each of us could commit to the work -- and sometimes it’s really hard work -- of seeing every other person at Creekside as a beloved child of God? And yes, this means people we’ve known for years and years just as much as the guest who walked through our doors for the first time. Can you greet them warmly, treat them with respect and listen to their stories? Are you willing to share your own struggles and the ways you have experienced God’s faithfulness? Some of you are probably thinking, Right. You first.

I have spent a lot of my life trying be a perfect person. It hasn’t gone so well. The best I could manage was to be a pretty good person who was completely shattered by my inability to live up to the expectations of other people -- and especially myself. It isn’t a unique story or an especially dramatic one, but it’s been a long recovery, and I can still get pulled back into trying to get other people’s approval and God’s approval. It’s pretty vulnerable to be a pastor and know that there is absolutely NO way that everyone will be happy with what I do. This would be true even if it were a very small church. Even if it were only me -- I would never be good enough.

That’s why I need Jesus Christ. To save me from myself -- not just all the stupid stuff I do, but actually myself and the demons I carry inside. I speak from my own experience when I say we need to welcome everyone -- because that is what saved me: when I realized I could not identify with the Pharisees and confessed that I belonged with the poor and the crippled and the blind. Of course people get under my skin sometimes and I slip back into my Pharisee thinking, and I have to remind myself that it is just ridiculous for a lame person to think they’re better than the blind man. We are called to welcome everyone because Jesus welcomed us when we were yet sinners. And you know what? We still are sinners, and Jesus still invites us to the table. Those of us who have received the grace of Jesus Christ should be the first -- the very first -- to offer it to others. Those who have not received the grace of Christ, should be surrounded by people who demonstrate that grace is a real thing.

You are invited to the Lord’s table this morning. It isn’t my table, although it is my privilege to serve here. It isn’t our table, although we share it with our brothers and sisters at Creekside, and with Christians around the world who celebrate the service of communion today. It is the Lord’s table, and in the name of Jesus Christ, if you are hungry, you are welcome to this table.

Before we move into the service of communion, here is some food for thought for your soul as well as your body. First of all, pay attention to the words of the song that Tom is going to sing for us; maybe the images on the screen will speak to you, too. Second, consider who you most identify with in the parable of the great dinner: the host ? one of those who declined the invitation? The crippled and poor and blind? The slave who was sent to bring them in? And finally, how can you extend the welcome of Christ? Not only today, but today is a fine time to start. What can you do to make this little corner of our world, this spot at Creekside Church a place where everyone is welcome? May we be blessed as we participate in the communion service.


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