Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Like most couples preparing for a wedding, Dave and his fiancée Michele were a little worried about whether all the guests would show up for the ceremony on July 6, 2008.  They didn't need to worry about their friend Jim Barclay, though.   When Dave wrote his best friend Jim, telling him about the July 6 wedding in Wales, Barclay thought he was talking about 2007.  So Barclay bought a plane ticket from Toronto for $1,000.  Once he arrived in Wales, he called Dave to get the details about the location for the ceremony.  It was only then that he discovered he was ahead of schedule, like a whole year.  "At least, he said, as the best man, it gave me a great story when I toasted the groom."
Do you like parties?  Isn’t it a joy, an honor, to be invited to someone’s house for a party?  It’s fun to get together with people, friends and strangers, for a social occasion.  Whatever the occasion, a birthday celebration, a backyard barbeque, an anniversary, a graduation, a wedding reception, a baby shower, or simply having a few friends over, it is one of the joys of life.
Jesus was at a Pharisee's house for dinner on the Sabbath.  At some point in the evening, Jesus tells a story.  What seems to have prompted it is a comment by one of the guests:  “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God.”  These words look to the future, to the Great Messianic banquet in God’s Kingdom.  The parable is about a man who throws a party.
The custom in Jesus’ day was to send out two invitations. The first invitation said: “I am having a party and you’re invited.”  All the guests sent back their RSVPS saying they were honored to be invited and to count on them to come.  When the preparations were ready, the host sent out a servant to bring the second invitation – “Come, everything is ready now.”
So what happens?  One by one all the guests start making excuses.  Now that hurts.  Has that ever happened to you?  All the food and drink and preparations are ready, but no one is coming. 
Now you need to know a little more about the custom of the day.  Today when people RSVP and then don’t show or call at the last minute with an excuse, we are a little hurt or disappointed, but it’s a fairly small deal.  In Jesus’ day it was different.  To decline after accepting an invitation, was a terrible insult, a serious social offense, and literally some tribes or families went to war over such things.    Turning down an invitation could have major consequences.
The first guest says: “I know I said I would come, but I’m too busy.  I just bought a piece of land and I have to go out and see it.”  Sounds a little lame to me. Why? How many of you would purchase a piece of property without first seeing it?  And couldn’t you go out to check out the property the next day?   
The second guest says: “I know I said I would come, but I’m too busy, I just bought five oxen and I need to try them out.”  I’ve got to ask how many of you would buy an ox without first checking it out?  Or to translate to our day - How many of you would buy a car without first test-driving it?   It sounds pretty flimsy.  A similar excuse might be, “Sorry, I can’t come, I just bought a dog and have to give him a bath.”
The third guest tells the servant: “Sorry, I thought I could come, but I can’t because I just got married.  Now this sounds like a good reason.    However, you again must look at the custom of the day.  Jewish engagements were planned well in advance.   A Jewish wedding was a long anticipated community event, it lasted about a week and the whole village or town was invited. The groom would have long known that the party would conflict with the wedding plans.  
When the servant returns and tells his master the news, the host becomes angry.  He had made all the preparations, everything was ready for a grand party, and now everyone had backed out.  These invited guests had insulted and dishonored him.  That’s what it was all about in Jesus’ day, honor.  It was the equivalent to a backhand to the face or a spit in the eye.  You might as well have said: “Ah, I’ve changed my mind, you throw lousy parties anyway.”  I'm sure the others at the Pharisee’s home were shaking their heads in disgust at the impertinence of these invited guests.  
How did the host respond to the bad news?  In a way that would have shocked the Pharisees.  He sends his servant out into the streets and alleys to tell the poor, the beggars, the crippled, the blind and the lame to come to his party.
The master wanted a full house and when the servant returns and says there is still room, the host sent him out into the country along the roads and country lanes to invite others to come.  Here we see clearly see the generosity and magnanimity of the host.  The guests didn’t come off as well.  Each of the original guests had put something else ahead of the party - business, material possessions, relationships. 
In this parable, we see a glimpse of the future, the future Messianic banquet in the Kingdom of God.  What is the story saying?  It’s saying that God’s invitation is inclusive, rather than exclusive.  God’s invitation to come to the table is broad and wide, rather than narrow and selective.  It is extended to all persons regardless of their race, sex, social status or education or economic class.  It’s saying we’re going to be surprised when we sit at the Lord’s heavenly table.  We will be dining with people we perhaps never dreamed would be there.   And likewise, they may be just as surprised to see us.  The guest list in God’s Kingdom is different from the one most of us would have made. 
It’s saying that God is a host who throws parties.  God throws parties whenever someone enters the Kingdom of God.   How do I know this?   The stories in Luke chapter 15 are metaphors for God.  A shepherd finds a lost sheep and throws a party, a woman finds a lost coin and throws a party, a prodigal son returns home and his father throws a party, Jesus turns water into wine at a party.  God desires all people to come to his banquet.  God invites people from all walks of life.   It is saying that God gives us the freedom to respond, to either accept or reject the invitation to the table, to His Messianic Banquet in the Kingdom of God. 
God has invited us, you and me, to a party in His Kingdom.   What is evangelism?  It’s an invitation to God’s banquet.  Through the church’s evangelistic message, through our sharing our faith with others, the invitations are being sent out. 
Our conversion, our faith, our believing in God in Christ, our worshipping God, our trusting and following Him is accepting God’s gracious invitation. 
The story reminds us that God is both the gracious host and the holy Judge.  The King of the banquet extends an invitation, but gives the guests the freedom to respond.  He is the Lord of Lords.  The first guests declined the host’s invitation and were not allowed to enter the banquet hall and join in the feast. 
The parable concludes with words that would have hit everyone at the dinner like a bombshell.   Jesus would have stunned everyone when he said: “I tell you not one of those who were invited will taste my banquet.”   “My banquet.”   Jesus dares to claim that he is the host of the future Messianic banquet.   This would have shocked and offended everyone in the house.
The glorious news is that there is an invitation to God’s banquet with your name on it.  No one of us deserves the invitation.  No one can earn a place at the banquet table.  It is our gracious God who sends out the invitations.  The only thing that keeps us out of the party is our refusal to accept the invitation that’s been extended to us.
Have you put off Jesus’ invitation until it’s more convenient for your schedule?   As one writer put it: “Everything else can wait, because God is waiting for you."
Accepting the invitation means entering by faith into Christ’s ministry and confessing and worshipping and serving and witnessing to the Lord.  One Christian author wrote: “Jesus didn't intend His church merely to provide bigger and better amusement for bigger and more upscale audiences.  His vision was of a church that would inject His Light and Life and love into a lost, dark and dying world.” 
The Kingdom of God has come in Christ, though not completely and we await its final coming.  The one who throws this banquet is the loving, gracious and generous Lord.   “Come, for everything is now ready.”   Take a seat at his table that he has saved for you.   Our supper this morning is a foretaste of the Great banquet to come.   Amen

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