By Linda Dolby
A fried-egg sandwich walks into a bar and orders a drink. The bartender looks him up and down, then says, "Sorry, we don't serve food here,"
Who gets served? That’s the point of our scripture this morning: all are welcome at the banquet where God is the host. In the parable, a man planned a large banquet and sent out invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to contact each of the invited guests, telling them that all was ready and the meal was about to start. One after another, the guests made excuses for not coming. One had just bought a piece of land and said he had to go see it. Another had purchased some oxen and said he was on the way to yoke them up and try them out. Another gave the excuse that he was newly married and therefore could not come.
When the master of the house heard these flimsy excuses, he was angry. He told his servant to forget the guest list and go into the back streets and alleyways of the town and invite “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” The servant had already brought in the down-and-out townspeople, and still there was room in the banquet hall. So the master sent his servant on a broader search: “Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.”
You may not believe this, but when I was younger, I was quite the fiery feminist. I was determined that I could do anything a man could do. Thus, things that were traditionally the female role held no interest for me. In our young marriage, my husband and I attempted to split all the household chores equally.
I continued in this mindset until one summer when I was attending a week-long retreat. There the leader made the point that when we receive communion, Jesus is the host at the table. It is Jesus who invites us to eat and drink. “He sets the table before us,” says scripture.
Well, that caused me to re-think my stance. I was reminded of my Aunt Lottie. Aunt Lottie is the hostess with mostest. When my sister and I visited her in NorthCarolina, she prepared a fabulous meal. My sister and I wanted to reciprocate, so we said we would take her out to lunch the next day. “Oh, no honey,” she replied. “I have already prepared all of the lunches and all of the dinners for the 3 days you are here.”
I began to pattern myself after Aunt Lottie. I learned I loved having guests for dinner, hosting dinner parties. I loved the planning, the preparing, the cleaning, the cooking.
Our best friends – people who have been our friends for over 40 years – live in Muncie IN. A few years ago, we invited them, they accepted to come to our house for a few days. I was so excited. I got the house clean. I planned the menus. I went grocery shopping. And then the night before they were to arrive, my friend called to say they weren’t coming. I was crushed. At first, on the phone, all I could says was , “well, alright.” But when I hung up, I realized how angry – very angry – I was. I had done all this preparing and my gift of hospitality was rejected.
Don’t you think that is the way the host of the great banquet felt? We feel badly when we are rejected, but what about our God? Think of his grief and broken heart. Think of his anger and mercy.
But, anger does not over come him. He keeps on inviting. “Well, if they won’t come,” he tells his servant, “go find someone else.” Jesus ends the parable by relating the master’s determination that “not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet”.
The master of the house is God, and the great banquet is the kingdom, a metaphor that was suggested by the speaker at the table. The invited guests picture the Jewish nation. The kingdom was prepared for them, but when Jesus came preaching that “the kingdom of heaven is near.” He was rejected. The gospel of John says, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”
The excuses for skipping the banquet are laughably bad. No one buys land without seeing it first, and the same can be said for buying oxen. And what, exactly, would keep a newly married couple from attending a social event? All three excuses in the parable reveal insincerity on the part of those invited. The interpretation is that the Jews of Jesus’ day had no valid excuse for spurning Jesus’ message; in fact, they had every reason to accept Him as their Messiah.
The detail that the invitation is opened up to society’s maimed and downtrodden is important. These were the types of people that the Pharisees considered “unclean” and under God’s curse. Jesus, however, taught that the kingdom was available even to those considered “unclean.” His involvement with tax collectors and sinners brought condemnation from the Pharisees, yet it showed the extent of God’s grace. The fact that the master in the parable sends the servant far afield to persuade everyone to come indicates that the offer of salvation would be extended to the Gentiles and “to the ends of the earth.”
The master is not satisfied with a partially full banquet hall; he wants every place at the table to be filled. Someone once said, “God is more willing to save sinners than sinners are to be saved.” God wants everyone to be a part of the party.
I once heard Cecil Williams preach. Cecil was the pastor of Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, a church that was about to close when he arrived, but he started inviting the least, the last, the lost, the lonely to worship. And the church grew – exponentially. In the sermon I heard, Cecil told this story, “I come from a family of 8 children. And we were all busy, sports practices, extra-curricular activities. And when it was time for supper to be served, mama would look around the table and ask, “who is missing from the table?”
Friends, who is missing from our tables? Do we only eat with those who are like us or do we search the highways and byways for those who are hungry and hurting?
One of the great problems of this day is how divided we are. We even have gated communities. Communities that are for only those like the residents who live there and no one else. I hate gated communities. What would happen if we would open our hearts and our homes to someone who is a stranger, someone we don’t know very well, someone, who, to be honest, scares us a little bit?
Would the world be a happier place? If only we would extend ourselves to others. We live such solitary, individualistic lives.
Years ago, my then 8 year old son and I went to Honduras with a mission group from our church. We went specifically to form relationships with a church in the capital city of Tegucigalpa called “Amor, Fe, Vida” – love, faith, and life. With the help of translators, we studied the Bible, shared our lives and prayed together. We painted the church walls. By the end of the week we had become friends.
The last night we were there, different members of the church invited us to sleep in their homes. My son and I went to Marianna’s house, on a dirt road with raw sewage on the edge of the street. We got there about 4 p.m. and our hostess was in the kitchen cooking. She was making a treat – a big pot of tomatillas, which is meat and sauce wrapped inside corn husks.
Then I noticed that different people from the barrio were coming in, carrying little buckets, and would leave with their buckets filled with tomatillas. You see, these people had next to nothing. They knew they needed their neighbors. They shared, and it was a beautiful community.
How many of us like to think of ourselves as self-sufficient? Do we need others? How would we get along without the people in our lives? How much richer would our lives be if we were to set the table for one and all?
These are tough days. It’s a hurting world. Storms, earthquakes, shootings. What are we to do? I think I have a clue. A friend posted this on facebook this week –
My door is always open. My house is safe. A pot of coffee, bottled water, diet coke, tea, beer or glass of wine can be out of fridge in minutes, and the kitchen table is a place of peace and non-judgment. Anyone who needs to chat is welcome anytime. It's no good suffering in silence. I have food in the fridge, cookies and snacks in cupboards a listening ear, and shoulders to cry on. I will always do my best to be available...you are always welcome!
May it be so. Amen.
Sermon videos are currently available on our homepage.
On a lifelong journey of seeking to live out God's call on my life and to reflect His grace.
10 Minute Sermons