The Open Embrace of God’s Banquet

I’ll never forget soon after I began serving as the Pastor here, a little more than three years ago now: It was a Wednesday, and the church was serving our community soup lunch. I always check-in first thing in the morning, check in with the folks volunteering in the kitchen to be sure everything is coming together alright. And then, if everything goes smoothly, at lunch time I come back to eat and visit with our guests who have come to share in the good, hot, warm meal. So, I’ll never forget the Wednesday in the fall when I was coming down the stairs from the office going over to the fellowship hall for lunch. As I came near I heard the warm hubbub of voices in the Fellowship Hall and the clanking of silverware and then, emerging from the sounds of that communing: music. A piano. And the song that someone was playing on the piano in the Fellowship Hall is one where you can’t hear the melody without hearing the words: “There’s a place for us, Somewhere a place for us. Peace and quiet and open air Wait for us Somewhere. There’s a time for us, Someday a time for us, Time together with time to spare, Time to look, time to care, Someday! Somewhere. We’ll find a new way of living, We’ll find a way of forgiving Somewhere.” That was the prayer that sung through our Fellowship Hall in the midst of all the lives of all the people gathered there. The person at the piano was Dr. Sam Kirtley. Thank you, Sam. As you conjure that scene in your imagination and in your heart and perhaps imagine looking deeply into the face of each person who had come to sit at those open banquet tables, getting a look through their eyes into their beauty and humanity and troubles, and seeing each person gaze back at you, beholding you as you are, with that sung prayer echoing, the faith and the yearning of it, that there is a place for us, somewhere a place for us, a home for each of us, for all of us … If you feel the doors of your heart open, even a little … What I believe is that this is an opening, little or wide, an opening into the Realm of Heaven. Here and Now. Jesus told a story about such a banquet that gave a glimpse into the Realm of Heaven, and the open embrace it offers us all (Luke 14: 12-24). Jesus told this story to show how there is a place for us, somewhere, someday … and perhaps it has even come here and now. And we are warmly invited. Perhaps it is just up to us to say “yes” or “no.” In Jesus’ parable we first hear about the people who say, “no.” A man wants to throw a big party, a feast, a banquet. He has invited his friends. But when the day for the feast comes, everyone he has invited has some excuse not to go. One person is preoccupied with the land he just bought. Another person is preoccupied with livestock he just bought. The last person said he can’t go because he just got married. Notice that the excuses all have to do with status. It’s clear that the person throwing the feast is getting snubbed by high society here. He’s found himself unworthy of his friends’ attention. His friends are doing well in business or have married into money and are now in the next tax bracket, or he has done something that has miffed their pride or betrayed their class and they’re giving him the cold shoulder. They think that they have it made, they have a place for themselves, thank you very much, that they don’t need to join someone else’s feast. Now, this is a parable about the nature of the Realm of Heaven. And we see that nature playing out as the invitation to the banquet moves past those who say “No” and opens and opens to embrace all those who are ready and eager to say “Yes!” The story is very clear: it is those who are cast out of society, not the few or the proud, but those who are really yearning for there to be a place for them, somewhere, someday … especially if it’s a big party! “Of course, I’ll come! Are you kidding me? Thank you!” These are folks who are not preoccupied by their pretensions. And these are folks who know that it’s a fool who passes up free food – a fool or a rich man. And these are folks who are probably really grateful to be seen for who they are, to be beheld as fellow children of the living God and to be welcomed and offered a seat at the table. There is a part of that in each of us. That yearns with the notes: “There’s a place for us …” When we respond to God’s grace out of that need, then we can say “Yes.” But when we deny that need, and think that we have earned the right be the elect, the select righteous few, then we’re saying “No” to God’s grace. Notice how the one who throws the banquet is not coming from a place of pity or of charity when he invites those who are hungry to his open table. He’s coming from a place, you could say, of solidarity. Jesus’ parable about the Great Banquet is about a God whose welcome is so open, so total, so indiscriminate, that that God becomes an outcast in order to cast the circle of welcome so broad it’s almost scandalous. After the snub by the elect, the nature of the feast changes into an joyous, outrageous, generous invitation to grace. If you feel that you need that, if you’re in need of God’s love and grace, you can just say “Yes.” “There is a place for us, somewhere a place for us.” In Christ we know that is here and now, in the open embrace of God’s banquet.

#ParableoftheGreatBanquet #Christianity #Community #Justice #HolyCommunion #Generosity

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