Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sermon: "You're Invited!" (Matthew 22:1-14)

I want to begin by reminding you how banquets took place in the first century.
Banquets were the big social event. Everyone went to banquets. Not everyone went to the king’s banquets, of course, much less a wedding banquet that a king hosted...But everyone went to a banquet. Even those who were poor, who lived in poverty, would attend banquets and, when they could, they’d save up their money to host banquets.
And invitations were always sent out in advance. And the people who were invited were people who the host hoped to impress. If the host invites you, it’s because he hopes to impress you. Maybe he needs a favor from you. Or, maybe he doesn’t need anything right now, but knows that maintaining a good relationship with you might benefit him at some point in the future.
And you would accept the invitation for similar reasons. If the host was someone of good reputation, at the very least, perhaps some of that good reputation would rub off on you, and help you get your foot in the door somewhere.
So everyone who attended a banquet knew that their invitation was not simply due to the grace and kindness of the host. Everyone was expecting something from someone else. It was all a big social give and take. At some point, in some way, the favor would be returned.
It would be an insult to refuse an invitation. It would especially be an insult if that invitation came from the king himself. Refusing the invitation would be like saying, “you have nothing for me: nothing that I want, nothing that I could benefit from. I need nothing from you. You’re not worth my time… so I’m not coming.”
This is not the message you want to send to the king! Kings considered themselves the father of their people, the one on whom all their people depended.
You wouldn’t say to the king, “you are nothing to me, you have nothing I want, nothing I need, nothing that could help me.” You wouldn’t say that! Refusing the king’s invitation sends the message, “You’re not worth my time.” You wouldn’t do that!
Yet that’s exactly what the invited guests in this story do. The king invites them, and sends out some of his slaves to let them know when the banquet is ready, but they refuse to come.
Maybe they didn’t understand. Doubtful! But just maybe there was some confusion. Maybe the message wasn’t clear. So the king sends out another group of slaves, to say to the invited guests: “Look; everything is ready. I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet!”
But the invited guests joked and laughed - as if they’d really want to attend the king’s banquet! Ha! And some of them even took the king’s slaves and killed them, to show that they were insulted and offended at having received an invitation from the king; they did this to show that attending the king’s banquet would do absolutely nothing for them. Everything that the king stood for, they mocked and insulted by refusing the invitation and killing the messengers.
So, yeah, the king was enraged!
Then the king sent other slaves to invite anyone they could find: people from the streets, people who could not possibly return the favor, people whose presence in the king’s banquet hall would be of absolutely no benefit to the king.
In other words, the king was now inviting people who could in no way earn their right to be there, people who could never pay back the king for what they were about to receive. These were people who could not buy their way in. These were people who could never return the favor. These were people who would never get invited to the king’s banquet in real life, but this isn’t a real life story; it’s a parable, and in a parable, anything can happen.
And anything can happen in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is an alternative kingdom, a parallel universe, existing in the very midst of the kingdoms of earth.
And in the kingdom of God, it doesn’t matter what your position is in the kingdoms of this world, whether you are rich or poor or powerful or vulnerable, whether you could return the favor or not. All are invited to the banquet party.
Including you.
Friends. Brothers and sisters. You have been invited to the party.
You are not among those who could buy their way in. There is, in fact, no one who could buy their way into this party. You are here, at the banquet, because of the host’s grace and goodness….
It’s kind of neat to think of the kingdom of God as a party. And the fact that this party is a wedding banquet thrown by the king means no expense is spared. It’s the greatest, most magnificent party the world has ever seen.
But it’s also a party with a purpose. The kingdom of God is a party with a purpose. It’s a party that changes lives. It’s a party that brings wholeness to the world.
This is the party, the banquet, to which you and I are invited. It’s a party of love and fellowship and great celebration. It’s a party of mutual service, where even the king will don a servant’s apron and will wash the feet of even the most humble, lowly person in the room.
We’re having a party, and you’re invited, but you better be ready. Our party has a purpose. Don’t be like that one guy, that one guy who showed up unprepared, that one guy who came wearing the wrong clothes. Don’t be that guy! In the Bible, in the book of Colossians, it says to clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. In the Bible, in the book of Ephesians, it says to clothe yourself with justice and true holiness. In the Bible, in the book of Galatians, it says to clothe yourselves with Christ.
Our party has a purpose, and a dress code, and these are the clothes you need to wear...
There is a lot of hate in our world, but our party is focused on love. There is a lot of violence in our world, but our party is focused on nonviolence. There is a lot of racism in our world, but our party is focused on equality. There is a lot of negative attitudes in our world toward the LGBTQ community, but our party is focused on inclusion and affirmation. There is a lot of people thinking they are superior in this world, but our party is focused on humbling ourselves. There is a lot of injustice in our world, but our party is focused on justice.
The invitation is sent out to everyone. Everyone is welcome. But you must be clothed appropriately. Your heart must be clothed in love.
I hope you are ready to accept the invitation. The more people who accept the invitation and who join the party, the more powerful our movement becomes.
We need people to help the party achieve its purpose.
We need people who will show up. Your presence is a powerful thing. Early in my ministry I was once called to be present on a high school campus because tragedy had struck a member of that community, and perhaps some students would want to talk to a pastor... No one came and talked to me, and I felt kind of discouraged, like I had just wasted the day, but later, I heard from some how good it made them feel, how helpful it was, just knowing I was present, that I cared enough to show up.
Your presence here is a powerful thing.
We need people who will show up. As you know, we are not a large congregation. When you’re not here, you’re missed. When you young people don’t show up, and we have visitors, people will ask, “where are all the young people, the ones with the energy and the new ideas?” When you older folks don’t show up, people will ask, “where are all the elders, those who know the stories and the history of this place, and whose lifetime of wisdom we need?”
When you’re not here, you are missed. It negatively affects the party when you are absent. It negatively affects the church.
We need people who will show up.
We also need people who will pray. Prayer works wonders. This summer, on our mission trip to Hawaii, I could feel the prayers being said for us as we engaged in acts of service and learned about traditional polynesian culture. This summer, when my mom was in the hospital, I could feel the prayers being said for her and for me. Prayer really does work.
Our church needs prayer. Our church needs people who will pray daily, that our church might be led in wisdom and spirit as we carry out our mission, as we do the work God calls us to do, and as we strive to bring wholeness to this fragmented world. Even on those Sundays that you can’t show up, because of health, because you are called out of town for the weekend, you can still pray.
We need people who will pray.
And, we need people who will give. When you give money to the church, you give life. It is your life’s energy that went into earning that money, right? I mean, if you earn $15 an hour… you work for one hour, you get $15, and then you give $15 to the church, that $15 equals one hour of your life. So that’s one hour of your life that you have given.
When you were baptized, you committed yourself to living for God. When you were baptized, you committed your life to God. You joined yourself to Jesus, who gave his life to God, and who calls you to do the same. It’s not about dying for God, it’s about living for God. And one way we do that is through giving a portion of the money we earn to the church, so that the church’s ministry and mission can be funded and can succeed.
Some can give a lot. Some can give a little. If one person earns $100 an hour, and another person earns $10 an hour, then maybe one person’s tithe of $100 might equal another person’s tithe of $10, for both represent equal amounts of one’s life.
So it’s not about the amount. It’s about giving yourself - your life - to God and to God’s church.
We need people who will give.
There are many different types of parties. There are many ways to do church. There are, of course, churches where people sit in pews on Sunday morning. There are churches where people meet in bars on Sunday evening. There are churches where people gather around a table or multiple tables and enjoy a meal as a part of their worship. There are drive-in churches where people don’t have to get out of their cars. There are churches that meet in specifically-designed church buildings, and there are churches that meet in schools, churches that meet in storefronts, churches that meet in nursing homes, and I’ve even heard of churches meeting in funeral homes.
Some of these things I have a hard time imagining. But the church takes many forms.  
And anyway, it’s not about what I can or can’t imagine. It’s about what God can imagine for us. It’s about what God envisions for us. And in the coming months, we are going to work real hard to open our minds to the future God has imagined for us.
What will our party look like? Right now, it’s hard to say.
All I know is that God has something amazing and incredible in store for Bixby Knolls Christian Church, and what I need to do - and what you need to do - is to keep our minds open to whatever God is going to show us.
And in the meantime, we need to show up. We need to pray. And we need to give.

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