Isaiah 57:1-8, Luke 14:12-24
March 30, 2014
I was thinking this week, wouldn’t this have been a great passage to look at last week! That was the day after our banquet and dinner dance. And what a wonderful celebration that was! Many were invited, like the man in this passage, and many came!
As I remember saying at our first banquet, it doesn’t surprise me that Jesus’ first miracle took place in the setting of a wedding celebration, the wedding at Cana! And thinking about that, I have to believe he was a regular part of those community celebrations throughout his life. And not only did he honor them, not only did he see them as very important in the life of the community. But I believe he loved the joy that such celebrations brought to the people’s lives!
In 1972 a man named Buryl Red wrote a Christian musical called “Celebrate Life.” Did you ever hear of it? Or him? (Adrienne?) We sang it when I was in High School. Unfortunately, I learned this week that Buryl Red died last April. But even if you’ve never heard the musical, I’ll bet you know one of the songs from it. I’ll be you’ve heard the choir sing “In Remembrance of me.” That’s from Buryl Red’s “Celebrate life.”
Well that title is what we’re talking about here today. I believe God wants us to celebrate this life he’s given us. As I said a couple weeks ago, we’re not meant just to “slog through” this life. We’re not simply to “eke out” an existence. God wants us to celebrate this life! After all, what is the “chief end of man?” according to the catechism? “To glorify God and study him forever?” Right? No. “to enjoy him forever.”
I remember that it was Tony Campolo who was the first to suggest to me that God’s kingdom is a party! That’s how he describes it. And that’s how it’s described in the scriptures. God’s kingdom is described in terms of a celebration. We are told there will be great feast at the second coming of Christ. It will be the great “Eschatological Banquet.” (“Eschatological” comes from the Greek word “Eschaton,” meaning “end times.”) In Revelation that feast is even referred to as “The Marriage supper of the Lamb.” And notice also how that also speaks of the relationship between God and his people in very intimate terms. In fact, the Church is pictured thered as “A bride adorned for her husband.”
So then, I think it’s no coincidence at all that Jesus describes the kingdom in this parable as a banquet. In verse 15, we find him talking about the kingdom of God. And this man says, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” And then, in telling this story, it’s as though Jesus is asking that man, “And who do you think that will be?” Then he starts telling this story of how this certain man gave a great banquet, and invited many. But many of them began making excuses. (Do you remember that song? “I cannot come to the banquet, don’t trouble me now…” We sang that in High School, too! It’s like all High School reminiscence for me today!)
Well, this teaching, this parable, has to do with who’s going to be in the kingdom and who won’t be. And it’s about who, by their own choice, will avoid that banquet, which is alarming considering who was present as Jesus told this story! He was in the home of a Pharisee who had invited him! What he was saying would have been shocking to the people there. And it would have been equally shocking as he described those who the man finally called to fill his table – the poor and the lame and the outcast! Those who were there would have been surprised as he described this. And I have a funny feeling we’ll be surprised on that day, too!
God wants his banquet full! And Jesus was suggesting that day that those who thought they were part of the kingdom, might be surprised! And they would be even more surprised at who was there! And that’s a challenge we all need to hear. I’m sure we have our ideas of who’s in and who’s not. And we need to be prepared that Jesus might just stand those ideas on their ear!
This year for Lent, we’ve been talking about the road to the cross. We’re talking about the things that led Jesus to that end. Well, who he reached out to, who he loved, and who he said was going to be part of his kingdom, was one of the biggest controversies in his ministries! And the more I read the Gospels, the more it seems to be one of the biggest factors that led him to that cross!
Even so, that wouldn’t be the end! This controversy would follow him. As I said last year after Easter, nearly half of the book of Acts was about that. All throughout that book was story after story dealing with the question of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the new Church. That was a very difficult subject in those days! And it was the main cause for the gathering of the very first Church council in Jerusalem.
So, as we think of this, and as we examine our lives of faith this Lenten season, we need to ask ourselves, “Are we ever hung up on who’s in and who’s not?” And make no mistake! Christian groups throughout history have been notoriously concerned about that very thing. “We’re in and you’re out!” How different was that from the attitude of those Pharisees? That’s a scary thought, isn’t it?
I’ll never forget a moment in college, when one of my friends in the christian fellowship group asked me, “Do you think the Catholics are saved?” And yes, I had some reservations about some of the Roman Catholic beliefs and practices in those days. But fortunately the Holy Spirit touched me at that moment. He stopped me before I voiced those reservations. And I’ll never forget a little red light going off in the back of my head, and a voice, almost audible, that said, “Be careful how you answer that question. You’re about to pass judgment on an enormous group of people!” “There are way more Roman Catholic Christians in this world than all the other Christians all put together – and it’s not even close!”
I’ll never forget that moment! And I’ll never forget the prompting of the Spirit in the days that followed, challenging me to think about my own beliefs and practices, and how they might be flawed as well. We need to do that, especially during Lent. Because we people have a tendency to think our ways are the only ways! Don’t we? “Other ways” of thinking might threaten “our ways” of thinking, and that’s not comfortable, is it?!
We can think of God’s judgment. That’s easy, as long as it fits our understanding. But at the same time, we must also think of God’s mercy and grace. And those are beyond our comprehension! Those are beyond our ability to define, understand, and quantify! Whether we like it or not, our God is beyond our control or understanding! And that’s an uncomfortable feeling, isn’t it?
If you go on the church website, you can read my “Statement of Faith.” And in it you will find these words. “I believe in an all-powerful God, by whose will all things were created in a process that we cannot begin to comprehend. I believe in God who is wonderfully expressed by C. S. Lewis in the image of the great lion Aslan, who is described as being an ‘Un-tame lion.’ When the question was asked ‘Is he safe?’ the answer was, ‘Of course he’s not safe. But he is good.’”
Friends, I truly believe that about God. The Spirit has taught me to think over the years that when we really think we have God “all figured out” that’s when we probably misunderstand him the most! God is beyond our comprehension! And I know, that’s not a comfortable thought. And these men Jesus were dealing with in the religious leadership of Israel were uncomfortable with that as well. But my prayer is that, when we think that way, we’ll take a deep breath and remember the God of C. S. Lewis’ description. “Of course he’s not safe!” He’s beyond our comprehension and his power is beyond our imagining! “But he is good!”
So then, God’s kingdom is a party! It’s a celebration! It’s a banquet! Many are invited. But the sad thing is not so much those who will be kept out, but those who will opt out. May they never do so by something we said or failed to say. And may our words and actions compel them to think about their response to the call, the invitation into God’s kingdom!
Father, you are our God and we are your people, the sheep of your pasture. Help us to have a more clearer understanding of that relationship. Help us to know that we are part of your kingdom, though we don’t deserve it, and that through your amazing Grace, many others we don’t think deserve it will be part of it through that same Grace. We thank you. We praise you. We worship you. And we pray these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.