Sermon November 8: Unlimited Seating

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Faith United Methodist Church

November 8, 2015

Soul Food Series: Banquet

Rev. Kristabeth E. Atwood

Scripture: Luke 14:12-24

Prayer of Illumination:

Since we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth, make us hunger for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven. Amen.

Sermon: Unlimited Seating

There is nothing more frustrating than being stood up, right? Waiting for your friend to arrive, the clock slows to a crawl. You wonder how long you should wait before throwing in the towel…. 20 minutes, half an hour? Traffic might be bad? What if she’s been in an accident! Or maybe you’re waiting for someone you’ve never met before, such as a business contact or a blind date. Every new face that walks into the coffee shop could be him or her, so you watch the door expectantly while trying to ‘play it cool.’

Now being stood up on a blind date at a coffee shop is one thing, but being stood up when you’ve prepared a feast is something else entirely. It’s challenging enough to prepare a big meal today, but imagine what went into preparing a large banquet in Jesus’ day. You couldn’t order a party platter from Costco or get catering from Panera. The carrots didn’t come pre-sliced. You had to kill and prepare the fatted calf. You had to go to market and gather the ingredients that you didn’t have in your own garden. And there were no modern ovens like we find in our kitchens. Cooking took place over an open fire. Preparing a banquet of the sort spoken about in our Scripture lesson would have taken days.

And, after all that preparation, what happened in Jesus’ story? The excuses began rolling in, one after the other. “Oh, I can’t make it after all.” “Thanks for the invite, but I got a better offer.” The folks on the invitation list were suddenly busy with family, work and personal obligations. In fact, no one originally invited showed up. In Sunday School I learned a song about this very passage:

I cannot come to the banquet.

Don’t trouble me now.

I have married a wife.

I have bought me a cow.

I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum.

Pray, hold me excused, I cannot come.

 Now, we’ve probably all had the experience of being stood up. And we’ve probably all stood someone else up as well, either intentionally or otherwise, right? The truth is, we aren’t always as thoughtful or considerate as we like to think we are. We get involved in our own ‘stuff.’ We become distracted by the circumstances of our lives and forget how our behavior affects other people. Sometimes we are the invited guests with all the excuses.

Even so, the host in Jesus’ story became very upset. It’s understandable, right? He spent a small fortune on a banquet for his friends that he and his servants had been preparing for days, and it was all for nothing. Everyone cancelled. No one was going to show up to enjoy his hospitality. But instead of just moping in response to the radical-inconsiderateness of his friends, what did the host do? That’s right… He went out and found new guests to fill his table.

A few years ago United Methodist (now Bishop) William Willimon wrote a little book called Sunday Dinner. One of the chapters is dedicated to this Gospel story. Willimon wrote:

Once upon a time, a man gave a great banquet. He spared nothing to make it a grand and glorious occasion. It was to be the social event of the year. At last, when all was ready, he sent his servant to issue the invitation. “Come; for all is now ready.”

Come, the thing for which you have been waiting…is here….the wait is over; the table is spread…

But the response of those who are invited is shocking…One person has bought a house, but doesn’t know where it is. Another person has bought a new car, but hasn’t had the chance to drive it. Someone else married a wife and she wants him to shampoo the carpet tonight….One can imagine that everyone is rolling in the aisles with laughter after Jesus finishes listing these ridiculous reasons for refusing the invitation.

When the servant tells this to the master, the would-be-host goes through the ceiling. The master then compiles a new and radically different guest list, and says to his servant, go out quickly to the streets and the lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.

And that is exactly what the servant did. The feast was prepared and someone had to eat it! There was no need for all that hard work to go to waste. So the master sent his servant out to find those folks who may never have been invited to a banquet before, folks who were more likely to beg for scraps than find themselves at a table. It must have been astonishing to receive that invitation. So what else could they do, right? They came!

         Again, Willimon shares in his small book:

They come not necessarily because the poor and the maimed are better or more perceptive than the rich and the well. They come because, in their oppression, they have nowhere else to go. No other door is open to them, save this one. They come because they are hungry. Need they have a better reason?

So, what about you? Do you have a better reason? Are you an excuse-maker or an invitation accepter? The fact that you are here means that, at some point in your life, you accepted an invitation. Maybe it was a friend who invited you to church. Maybe it was an invitation you heard in the depths of your heart.   What invitations have you accepted lately? What invitations have you made?

I know that I am excellent at making excuses and am easily distracted by shiny things. I get absorbed by the ‘stuff’ of my life and forget what is truly important. The Good News is that whenever we gather, we are invited to be part of a banquet that extends beyond this time and space to include all who have ever responded to the invitation. Thankfully its not a once and done invitation. There is unlimited seating at Jesus’ table. In fact, we might be surprised at who we find there. And it includes you and me.   I think that’s pretty amazing. Maybe we’ve never been to a banquet before. Maybe we’ve been many times. But no matter… Will we respond that we are too busy? Will we ask for a rain check? Or will we take our seat at the banquet table?