Sunday, October 05, 2014

According To Luke: Are You Invited?

According To Luke: Are You Invited?

Luke 14:15-24   (NRSV)
One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 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 regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ 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.’”

This morning our parable that Jesus shares with us has a multitude of possible lessons to be found in it.

It is, as is typical of Luke's Gospel, a parable about what the kingdom of God will be like. 
Keep that in mind as we explore this parable because it is important for us to understand that.

I am going to explore two possible lessons from this parable --- but there are many others we could sit and discuss for hours.

The first possible lesson is the one that you will find most often discussed in the commentaries on this story. 

I think most commentators like to focus on it because it is the most obvious lesson, but also because it is relatively safe. 
Of course it has its bite --- as all of Jesus parables do, but it is more of a nudge rather than a push.

The parable goes something like this:

Someone of importance gives a huge dinner party and all the invited guests have received a RSVP and have responded in the positive.  And as was tradition for an event like this --- at the appointed time for the dinner party to actually begin --- he sends his servant out to get the guests. 

And one by one, each of the guests comes up with an excuse as to why they no longer can come.

Did you pay attention to the excuses that they gave?

The first guest says that he can't come because he just bought a piece of land and needs to go inspect it.
Who buys property without first inspecting it?

The second guest says that he wants to go try out the oxen that he just bought.
So how many of you have bought a car --- a used car for that matter --- without test driving it first.

The excuses that they give are pretty lame!

And then finally the last guy says he just got married so he can't come --- and this may be the best excuse of the lot --- since the banquet was probably just for men and his new wife would not be invited or welcome.

However, he knew of the conflict when he initially said yes to the invitation.

In other words, none of the excuses are very good.

But before I become too self-righteous --- all three sound a lot like me.

I need to confess something right here:

I have been known to say YES, simply because it is easier than saying NO

I dream of having a more regular quiet time with God
          I time where I can meditate and grow my relationship with God.

I have been known to pray:
God, I am so busy.
Help me to say NO --- help me to simplify my schedule
Help me to put you first

Anybody else ever pray anything like that?

Unfortunately --- God has spoken to me --- when I have prayed that prayer.

God has seemed to say:
Wait a minute Conger --- When is the last time you missed a meal?
You get enough sleep most of the time. 
You make Duke Basketball a priority and almost never miss a game.
You find time for the things that are important to you.
I guess I must not be that important to you!
And then God seemed to say ----
I can handle that.
Can you?


Wow --- that cut me to the core.

God seemed to be asking me?
Do I believe that God's love is big enough to handle my lack of love for God?

This parable seems to be saying to us (to me) that the Kingdom of God is a banquet and some of us have found it so boring that we come up with all kinds of excuses.
We would rather spend our time on business details, property concerns or even family matters.

Do we have the courage to tell God that we think that serving God can be boring?

Because that is what we seem to be doing when we come up with excuses!

Martin Luther was known to say that sin does not hurt us as much as our own righteousness.

Excuses really are an attempt to be righteous and innocent before God.

God wants us in our broken wholeness.

We don't need to hide behind excuses --- God's love is enough.

But then there is a second possible lesson in this passage.

I believe that this is a much more difficult way to look at this story and one that most of us would rather ignore.

It is the question of WHO IS INVITED?

According to the Guinness book of World Records: what is the largest church in the world?

Nope --- it isn't St Peter's Basilica in Rome

It is actually in West Africa in the country of the Ivory Coast (Cote d'Ivoire)

It is the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro

It is almost 323,000 sq feet big and 518 feet high

It can accommodate about 18,000 worshippers

The annual per capita income for the Ivory Coast is $650  --- in other words, the Ivory Coast is pretty improvised.

The Basilica cost $300 million to build

And while we all gasp at those numbers that is not even the worst part

Only about 350 people call this basilica home
          It is virtually empty

It was built --- but nobody comes!

This big empty church isn't really the same as the situation in our story this morning.
But it reminds us of it.

In the story --- a rich man is holding a huge party.  It is the monster of all parties.

And no one wants to come --- it looks like the banquet hall will be empty

Let's examine the INVITER, the INVITATION and who is INVITED

First --- God is the great inviter --- God is an inviting God!

God is always inviting us to come
come to the waters
come home
come to the banquet
come to abundant life
come to kingdom (eternal) life
come to worship
come to the table on this World Communion Sunday
come to God!

In our story, God is excited about this banquet.
The calf has been fattened and slaughtered,
the wine has aged,
the tables are set,
the DJ and band have been hired.

God is really jazzed about the feast.

God can't wait to get the invitations out.

God is just that way.

This is the God we love, worship and serve -- a God who invites us to the dance, invites us to be a part of what God is doing.
          How great is that?!

God has made preparations for the feast, God wants everyone to be present --- God is not willing for any to miss this event.

God is always inviting.
          Every day is an invitation.
                   Every interruption is an invitation.

But what exactly is it that God is inviting us to?

Certainly throughout the Gospel God invites us to:

·         Abundant Life
John 10:10  The Message
I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

·         Service
Matthew 28  The Message
“God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”

·         Peace
John 14:27 NRSV
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

John 14:27 The Message
I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.

·         Worship
Psalm 100 NRSV
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he that made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations.
·         Turn to God in times of need
Jeremiah 33:3
“This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’

·         THE KINGDOM

Everything we have been learning in Luke's Gospel points to God's kingdom and it's reality in our lives.

The kingdom of God is NOW and that is the invitation we have all been given!

Finally, who is it that God is inviting to this party?

Initially it seems that MANY were invited to the party
But those that were invited to this great party don't seem too impressed

As we have already talked about --- they had all kinds of excuses

Traditionally, most commentaries have argued that these people represent Israel and their failure to be impressed --- their failure to grasp the significance of Jesus and God's kingdom that he proclaimed.

What is surprising is that people reject this invitation.

So what does God do?

Luke tells us:
‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’
Luke goes on and says when the Master sees that there is still room at the party:
‘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.’”

In other words, those that were invited but didn't have time are excluded from the party.

So who is invited?

My hunch is that the parable isn't about Israel and their rejection of Jesus ---- We are the people who are too busy to notice that we are invited to a great banquet in the Kingdom.

So, what gets in the way of our coming to God's party?
          The Bears
          our hobby's
          the list can go on and on

We fill our time and it leaves us no time for the Kingdom

And God says fine . . . that's not a problem . . . I will invite others

And what is so disturbing to us --- at least the way that Luke tells the story is that those others who are going to be invited are not the upstanding, righteous followers (like us) --- but the ones who are on the margins of society
·         the poor
·         the crippled
·         the blind
·         the lame

I think you can use your imagination and fill in who you think that might be

But God's invitation stands

God wants us to come to the banquet
          A banquet that is there to change the world

Are you ready to go?

Or do you already have your excuse in place?

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