“Room at the Table”

July 14, 2016

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses![Daniel walks in carrying a map] You there, what’s your excuse? Why can’t you come to the party? Oh, you just bought a piece of land. I see. Yeah, that makes sense. In today’s world, where every little hiccup leads to economic uncertainty, where decisions made by kingdoms an ocean away can change the market overnight, where wars faugh in the East bread volatility. I get it. Here in ancient Israel, with the Romans ruling over us, I guess buying real estate mean security. I get it. It makes sense. But, you know, it’s keeping you away from one heck of a party![Daniel walks away. Bryan and Andrew walk in, one leading the other by a rope.] What about you? What’s your excuse? You just bought some oxen, did you? Well, aren’t you special! Folks around here can’t even afford a donkey, and you just bought 5 yokes, 10 head of oxen. You must be somebody important. But, I get it. It makes sense. If you’ve got it, you might as well flaunt it. How else will everyone know how rich you are without you parading your oxen through the middle of town? Still, you’re missing a great party![Andrew and Bryan walk away. Ruth and Daniel walk in, arm in arm.] What about you? What’s your excuse? You just got married, Oh, I get it. Trust me, I do. There’s nothing like young love and nothing more important than a honeymoon. You need those days away together to detox from all that family time you’ve had at the wedding. I get it. You’re obviously smitten with one another. But still, you know, you’re missing the party of the century![Ruth and Daniel walk away.] Excuses. Excuses. Excuses. My master is throwing a party, a feast, a banquet, and he’s invited all the most important people in town. In our culture here in ancient Israel, we have a way of doing things. We show honor by the gifts and invitations that we give and by reciprocating those gifts. People around here keep score. Whoever can afford to give the most and invite the most shows himself to be the most honorable, and everyone else is held in his debt until they honor him in return.
Have you ever seen that T.V. show, The Big Bang Theory? Well, there’s this character named Sheldon, who is like a combination of Barney Fife and Mr. Spock. He’s winey and wiry and meticulous about everything. And Sheldon hates receiving gifts because he knows that as soon as someone gives him something he owes them a gift in return. If you give him a gift, he’ll research to find out exactly how much it cost and then give you a gift that’s precisely the same amount. If his gift is even a few dollars short, he’ll just hand you the change in cash so that everything is perfectly even.
That’s how we do things here in ancient Israel. An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. A gift for a gift. An invite for an invite.
My master is a pretty big deal here in town. He spends his time with the high rollers. He’s been to their houses for dinner, and now it’s his turn to return the favor. That’s how the world works. But now, they’ve all snubbed him! They’ve all turned down his invitation. Word is going to spread like wildfire through this town—“Did you hear about old Jim? He threw a party and nobody showed up! What an embarrassment. What a joke. He thought he was somebody, but he’s just an insignificant underling, it turns out.”
Oh, don’t get me wrong; those folks had all the right excuses: security, prestige, family. Those are what our society says are the most important. And those are precisely what kept them from going to the party.
Boy is my master going to be angry. I can already see it. I know what he’ll say. He’ll say, “Go out at once into the streets and the lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” He won’t care who comes now. He just needs a party.
So come on! Yes, you. Come! Come to the party. Come to the table. I don’t care if you don’t think you’re worthy. Come! I don’t care if you’re not important. Come! Come one and all, together to this party. For around this table, all are welcome. However you look or act. Whatever language you speak. Whatever the color of your skin. Whoever you love. Come! All are welcome here. We need you at this party. Young and old, black and white. At this party there is no Jew or Greek. There is not slave or free. There is no male or female. Come! At this party there is no liberal or conservative, there is no insider or outsider. Come! At this party there is no foreigner or native-born. There is not zip code or neighborhood. There is no boundary or division. Come!
All are welcome here because all are needed for this party. This is going to be the party of the century. The party of the millennium. The party of eternity! The party that no one ever expected. People will be talking about this banquet for years to come. And you, yes you, are invited.
It reminds me of a story—a true story—the story of Willie and Carol from Atlanta, GA. A few years ago they were excited parents, making plans to celebrate their daughter’s wedding. They were joyful for the young woman she had grown to be and for the new life she was beginning with her fiancé. They were also excited about the wedding that was about to happen. They had rented an exclusive venue for the reception, they had booked an awesome band and caterer. It was going to be an event to remember! With a price tag to remember as well.
Then 40 days before the wedding, everything screeched to a halt. Their daughter told them she and her fiancé had broken off their engagement. The wedding was cancelled. We don’t know how they felt? Were they sad for their daughter? Were they proud of her for making a hard decision? Were they worried about they all the money they would lose on the wedding? Were they anxious about calling everyone to tell them that the wedding was off? We don’t know how they felt…but we know what they did.
That night Willie and Carol prayed. And when they awoke the next morning they knew what they were going to do. They decided to have a party. A fancy party. Everything was already arranged and paid for. They couldn’t get their money back, so they kept the band, they kept the exclusive venue, they kept the expensive caterer. But they invited some new guests.

They called a local non-prophet that worked to feed people who are homeless and they said that they wanted to throw a fancy party for 200 homeless folks. They woman who answered the phone almost hung up because she thought this was a prank call. Thankfully it was not. Through this agency, Willie and Carol reached out to other local ministries, especially to those that serve families and children in poverty. In Atlanta, 70% of the homeless population are children. Willie and Carol invited them to the party.
The agencies worked with local clothing donation centers to track down fancy attire for each guest. Buses picked them up from homeless shelters and brought them to the party, which began outside on the grounds with appetizers before moving inside for a 5-course meal. They supplemented the entertainment with a clown, face painting and other child friendly games. And standing at the door to great every guest were Willie and Carol. Their grief had turned into joy, beyond their wildest imaginations.
You want to know what the kingdom of God looks like? It looks like a child whom the world would tell has no place, is a burden to society, doesn’t belong—it looks like that child being invited to a grand feast. Being treated as special as everyone else. You want to know what the kingdom of God looks like? It looks like room at the table for an unexpected guest.

So, the first question for us is, what’s your excuse? Are you coming to this Kingdom party or not? This party where you aren’t in control, where you don’t get to decide who’s on the guest list.
And the second question for us is, who are you inviting? Are you willing to go out into the streets and lanes and invite others in as well? Others who are very different than yourself? Are you willing and ready to welcome them in—not to change them to be more like you, but to welcome them as equal members at this table, where none of us belong?

It’s one this to open the doors and say all are welcome. It’s something else to go out into the city and invite folks in ourselves. To invite folks to encounter the majesty of God, to encounter the presence of the risen Christ, to encounter the community of the Holy Spirit! To encounter the Triune God who is host at this party.

A wise man once said, “Mission’s big sister is Hope.” Mission’s big sister is Hope. If we have a hope, a faith, a trust that God’s love has welcomed us into the party, then our mission must be to go out and welcome others as well. Because friends, the good news of the gospel is that there is plenty of room at this table!
To God alone be the glory.

Luke 14: 1,16-24

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely.

Then Jesus said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.”

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