This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Luke 14:15-24
Sermon by Rev. Jack Vos, Barrie, Ontario
Dearly loved friends of the Lord,
Do you like banquets? Most of us do. A few are boring, but that’s not the rule. Banquets are about good things to be celebrated, like graduations, weddings, promotions, and anniversaries. We dress up for them. A mood of cheer is there. And we consider it an honour to be invited.
In Bible times things were no different. People knew what to celebrate, and how to celebrate. Some celebrations were huge affairs and lasted far longer than any of ours today. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that banquets played a role in Jesus life and teaching. An invitation to a banquet is what this text is all about.
First, a word about the context of this parable. Jesus attends a dinner at a Pharisee’s house. Important guests are there, whose presence lends honour to the dinner. But this particular dinner is part of a self-serving syndrome of inviting others and then being invited back. So in the course of that dinner Jesus tells the host whom he really ought to invite as guests. Invite those, he says, who can’t invite you back, “… the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.” Then you will make a difference for good! Then you will show the kind of compassion that gets God’s attention. And even though such guests won’t be able to invite you back, God himself will reward you at the resurrection of the righteous.
What an explosive comment in that setting! It’s enough to make guests with the toughest skin squirm. To get away from Jesus’ disturbing words, one of the worthy guests wants to switch to a more comfortable and far away issue: eating at the great feast in the kingdom of God at the end of history. He doesn’t say, ‘Jesus, you’re right on, and I am going to change!’ He skirts the decision he needs to make right then and there. It’s the old trick of moving to a broad discussion about something that doesn’t cut close to the bone and requires no action. Jesus’ answer, both to him and to all of us, is the parable about an invitation to a special banquet. In this parable he highlights the direct connection between being at God’s great banquet at the end of history and what we do with Jesus right here and now.
The parable is based on a custom that was widely practiced in those days and can still be found in some near Eastern societies today. A person decides to put on a dinner. Through a messenger he sends invitations to the guests he’d like to honor. But when first given, that invitation does not yet mention day and hour. That comes later. Those invited take note that some time soon they have a banquet to attend. Then, when the banquet is ready, the servant quickly goes around again and tells them, ‘Come, now, for everything is ready.” Then the guests drop what they are doing, wash up, put on their dressy clothes and come to the feast.
Why a parable about a banquet? That’s not a great mystery. You’ve all read Psalm 23, “The LORD is my shepherd.” Partway through that psalm the poet says, “You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.” God’s preparing a table is a telling theme that runs through the whole Bible. The LORD, the Creator of the universe and its gracious Redeemer, is the ultimate host. He hosts a banquet. It’s an awesome banquet, based on the gift of his own Son. His Old Testament people were invited. So were the Jewish people of Jesus’ day. Millions and millions are invited today, regardless of race, colour or creed. You are invited too! And when God’s banquet hall is full -- to borrow a phrase from the text -- this banquet turns into the grand climax of all other celebrations that God ever hosted throughout the centuries. It will become “the wedding feast of the Lamb.”
It’s important to note that this is a parable about a banquet. Because it tells us a lot about the invitation to become a follower of Jesus, to become a Christian. The call to follow Jesus is not an invitation to a funeral, or a cry-in, or to a life that’s somber or boring. It’s an invitation to a feast, to a banquet, to a celebration! It’s an invitation to the great feast of God’s love in Jesus!
Is that how you hear it? If not, what do you hear in Jesus’ invitation? A summons to a life of duty, a life of always having to do this and do that, and of never getting done? That’s not unusual for those of us who’ve been around the Christian church for a long time. We develop a duty-oriented view of following Jesus. Being a Christian means, we think, working at a list of thousands of responsibilities. But if that’s the way you hear it, somehow the wires got crossed, and the message screwed up. The invitation of the Bible is to a banquet, to a celebration, to the feast of God’s great love in Jesus. And once we attend that banquet, our whole attitude to following Jesus changes. Then serving Jesus becomes something we want to do because we’re are thrilled by the invitation to feast on God’s love! Please remember – all of you, including you children and young people – the invitation to follow Jesus is the invitation to a celebration!
The Parable Itself
In the parable, a certain man prepares a banquet, not a run-of-the-mill affair, but a great one. To which he invites many guests. This will be a huge celebration! And when everything is ready to go, the servant quickly goes around to tell all the invited guests to come, and to come now. The host wants to honour them , and have them share in the celebration. And the time is now.
Then something unexpected happens. One after the other says, “I can’t come!” The servant gets to hear three typical excuses. The first one says, “In am so sorry! I just bought a field. I’ve got to go and see it. I have to let the soil run through my fingers and get the feel of this nice addition to my property. Any time but this evening. Give the host my apologies. I’m sure he’ll understand.”
The second one has just bought more work animals, the faster to do his farm work. “I’ve just bought five yoke of oxen and I’m on my way [right now] to try them out.” How well they work will make a huge difference in my operation. I’ve just got to get a better look at them. Too bad the timing works out so poorly! But give the host my royal apologies!”
The third one says in a flat voice, “Sorry, I just got married. I’ve got my own celebration. I’m sure the host doesn’t expect me to come. Just tell him that I won’t be there”.
So the first excuse is dictated by the demands of business, of increasing one’s property, adding another house, growing one’s investments. That’s always exciting stuff, isn’t it?! The second excuse is driven by the demand of something useful, a new car, new equipment for the office or shop, new toys or what have you. That, too, is stuff we can’t wait to try out! The third excuse is driven by the good gift of finding a marriage partner. And when we look at these excuses, what strikes us is that they all seem so legitimate. In instances like that we say, “Well, you know, things do come up!”
But from the excuses this much clear. While these activities in themselves are not at all wrong, the problem lies in the priority given to them. Each excuse puts a lower value on the banquet! Looking at that new field, trying out the new farm animals, getting on with one’s own wedding celebration – all these are seen as a lot more exciting than going to the master’s banquet, and as far more important than being honoured by the host! Each excuse is a slap in the face of the host. For the real message is, “Sorry, but we’ve got better things to do!”
Now put yourself in the position of the host. What would you do in that situation? Accept their excuses as valid? Cancel the banquet? And give the food to the pigs?
That’s not the response of the host in the parable! First, he is angry about being slapped in the face. As you and I would be. And he decides to never invite them again. But as for the banquet, does their turning down the invitation make him cancel it? Not on your life! There is going to be a celebration!
He says to his servant, “Quick! Go into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” (vs. 22) In the Jewish society of that day those were the people from the other side of the tracks. As low life, they were not used to invitations to important banquets. But the master orders his servant to invite them, urgently, and to be sure to tell them what a great banquet it is! The servant does as he’s told. And a steady stream of poor and needy, of tax collectors and prostitutes comes to the banquet.
But when the flow has stopped, there are still empty tables. Then the host instructs the servant, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in.” Those on the roads and in the country lanes represent the non-Jewish people, the gentiles. When they get an invitation, their response will be that the invitation must be a mistake. A mistake that they got an invitation, for Gentiles don’t get invited to such banquets! So the servant is told, literally, to “compel them to come in.” Press the invitation, graciously, of course, but with fervor! Tell them what great a feast it is. And the reason for the invitation is that this celebration deserves a full house, a house with every last seat taken!
And the master rounds it off with a solemn warning, “I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.” (vs. 24). It’s a solemn warning to all those who think that they have better things to do. For it tells them that to decline the invitation to this banquet has eternal consequences.
Receiving the Invitation to Come Now
Where does this parable leave you and me?
As we live, we’re occupied with lots of routine stuff. We study; we work at our jobs; we follow our retirement routines; we have our busy weekends and vacations. Then there are the special events that add spice and excitement to our life: a celebration here and there, getting some new equipment or toys, remodeling the place, adding to our investments, and so on. All activities that in and of themselves are OK. But right smack in the middle of all this busy living comes an invitation, God’s invitation to the banquet of his love. The message is: The feast is ready. Drop all other priorities and come. Come! Now!
Why is it so hard for us to accept this invitation? Two reasons come to mind right away. First, accepting this invitations means that we have to give up something that we enjoy doing! Being who we are, that’s hard to give up. It takes a great deal of effort to tear ourselves away. As it did for the invited guests in the parable. Their excuses were rooted in being busy with things they enjoyed. That’s also why, in the second place, the invitation never seems to come at the right time. There’s always some other stuff that we eagerly look forward to, some other priority that we want to keep on the front burner of our life. Maybe when this project’s done, when we’ve scored that success, when we’ve graduated or have been married for a while… sometime later, but not now! Now is not the time!
There’s a special danger here for those of us who have grown up with the Bible’s invitation. We’ve read it, studied it, and heard all kinds of sermons about it. It’s all so familiar. But in the process we’ve lost the amazement about God’s inviting us. The invitation no longer makes us dance in the kitchen. Somewhere inside we say, Yes, Í ought to accept the invitation, but I’m not ready for it yet. Maybe, maybe later.
But do you know what the biggest miracle is? That God created the world? That Jesus rose from the dead? No! It’s this: that God wants friendship and fellowship with you, and with me! The biggest miracle is that God asks for the honour of your presence at the banquet of his love. God, the awesome Creator and Redeemer of the universe, invites you and me to enter into the joy of his love! What an invitation! You’ll never receive another like it! And this invitation comes to you personally, from God, through Jesus Christ! It says that the feast is ready! Therefore come! Come, now!
And What Do We Say?
The response of the leadership of the church in Jesus’ day was, “No thanks!” They had their own agendas. They also assumed that at the end of time they would all be feasting in the kingdom of God ! They felt no need for God’s invitation through Jesus, and no desire to accept it. But their rejection of it was an insult to God and his great love.
Today in Western Europe and North America , people are walking away from the Christian church by the thousands. They don’t appreciate that the host who invites them is none other than God, the Creator and the great Director of human history. Because of their Christian background most of them assume that when they die, they will surely go to “a better place.” But they rank the banquet of God’s love well below the many other fascinating things that occupy them.
In contrast, in other parts of the world -- in Africa and even among the youth in Japan – thousands upon thousands see it as a marvelous invitation. They are stunned by the fact that God should invite them. They recognize that the feast that God is putting on is the greatest one, and they come in countless numbers.
You see, there is a time limit on God’s invitation. God will fill his house. Every last seat in the banquet hall will be taken. But if you and I can’t be bothered, God sends his servants to go and find others! With this sad consequence for us: we leave ourselves out in the cold. The joys we prefer above the Lord’s feast are ever so brief. When they’ve run out – and run out they will – what kind of life is left to us? A life without God’s love, and without the joy that love in Jesus brings.
What are you doing with God’s invitation today? What’s my response? Are we overwhelmed that none other than God invites us to feast with him? That it’s the invitation to the great feast of his love? Will we chuck our good excuses, and come?
Through Jesus God’s feast is ready. The invitation is to you and me. Shall we drop everything and come? Or send our apologies? Which will it be?
When you accept it, you discover how awesome is the Host who invited you. And you’ll dance with joy that you received an invitation to the feast that never ends! God is the eternal host of love! Come! Come! Now! To the feast of God’s love! Amen.
ORDER OF WORSHIP
WE GATHER TO WORSHIP
Welcome & announcements
Silent Prayer followed by hymn 289:1
* Call to worship – Psalm 36:7-9
* God’s greeting
* Hymn of praise 475
WE ARE RECONCILED TO GOD
How the Lord measures our life: James 1:26,27
Personal, silent prayer of confession, concluded by worship leader
Assurance of pardon: 1 Timothy 1:15-17
God’s will for our lives
Hymn of dedication: 209
WE HEAR GOD’S WORD PROCLAIMED
Prayer for illumination
Scripture Reading : Luke 14:15-24
(children are dismissed for Sunday School)
Text: Luke 14:15-24
Sermon: There’s No Invitation Like It!
Hymn of response: 553
WE BRING OUR PRAYERS AND GIFTS
Prayer of thanksgiving and intercession
Offertory Hymn 289: 6
WE GO OUR TO SERVE THE LORD
* Doxology: 189:1,2