Scriptures: Luke 14:15-24; 14:12-14
A parable takes on different meanings depending on where you put yourself in the story. We saw that two months ago when we read the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the story of the Good Samaritan, if you see yourself as one of the people passing by the injured traveler, it becomes a parable about helping your neighbor. Either you are like the priest or Levite, too busy to help, or you are like the Good Samaritan, who stops to help. That’s one way to read the parable of the Good Samaritan: as a story about helping your neighbor.
But another way to read that parable is to see yourself as the injured traveler. If you are the helpless, injured traveler on the road, then the story takes on a different significance. It becomes a parable about salvation. We are not saved by how religious we are—that would be the priest; nor by how many good works we do—that would be the Levite. Instead we are saved by the one despised and rejected by others—that would be the Samaritan—the one who at great personal sacrifice paid the price for our healing. Looked at one way, the parable of the Good Samaritan is an illustration of how to be a good neighbor. But looked at another way, it is an illustration of salvation by grace through Jesus.
The same is true with this parable we just heard called the Parable of the Great Banquet. This parable has two different meanings, depending on where you see yourself in the story. So this morning I am going to preach two sermons. Don’t worry, they will be short. But I want to preach two sermons instead of one to highlight the two sides of the story.
In the first sermon I invite you to see yourself as one of the people invited to the banquet.
Jesus is at a dinner party when one of the guests says to him, “Blessed is the one who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.” In response Jesus tells a parable about a host who invites people to a dinner party. Verses 16-17:
Then Jesus said, “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.’”
You see the connection. This parable is a response to the person who said, “Blessed is the one who eats bread in the kingdom of God. The parable is about being invited to God’s banquet.
Notice that the invitation is free. To get into this banquet you don’t need a credit card or even a pledge card. You don’t have to show your voting record or your community service record or even your record of church attendance. According to Jesus, God is standing at the gate of heaven with open arms, ready to welcome you like the father who welcomed home the prodigal son. All you have to do is come.
But then comes the surprise. Verses 18-20:
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.’
Each of them had something in their lives that was keeping them from the party.
None of these things are bad in themselves. It is not wrong to own property. It is not wrong to have livestock or tools with which you earn a living. It is not wrong to get married and care about your spouse and family. These things are not bad. They only become bad if they keep us away from the relationship to God for which we were created.
I made this point last week, but let me make it again. Anything good in our lives can become bad if it becomes our god. Food is a good thing, but it becomes destructive if it becomes our god; if we become obsessed with it. Money and possessions can be a blessing, but if they become our god, if we become obsessed with them and constantly worried about them, if they begin to take all our attention, undermining our relationships to everyone else including God, they will destroy us.
Likewise family. Even something as good as marriage and family can become destructive if it becomes your god. Because if family relationships become your god you will not be able to give them the space they need to grow. You will become anxious and controlling of them and devastated if a family member should reject you or even not respond to you in the way you had hoped. As I said last week, the only way to really love our family is to love God first. And that’s why Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness—first accept the invitation to the banquet—then everything else in your life will find its proper place.
That is sermon #1. If you are one of the invited guests, don’t allow lesser things in your life to keep you from the party. Seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and everything else in your life will find its proper place.
Now Sermon #2. This time imagine yourself not as one of the invited guests but as the servant of the host. You probably didn’t even notice the servant or slave, but he or she is an important character. The master addresses the servant or slave three times:
- V. 17: “He sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’”
- Then in v. 21, when the first group declined the invitation, the master said to the servant, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.”
- Finally in v. 23 the master says again to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.”
This parable takes on a new meaning if you see yourself not as the invited guest but as the servant sent out with invitations. It means there is more work to do. There are more people to invite because God’s house is still not full.
Which is exactly what we are trying to do here at Southminster. We at Southminster are trying to see ourselves as the servant in this parable. We are trying to create occasions when we can invite friends and neighbors to come to the banquet. Sometimes these are actual meals: like SPC Together, Agape, the men’s barbecue, breakfast at the Cove or breakfast on Mother’s Day. Other times we invite people to metaphorical banquets like worship, communion, Bible studies, and prayer gatherings.
We have several special opportunities to do this coming up:
- You could use the insert in the bulletin this morning to invite a neighbor or friend to the Festival of Music next week. This could be a non-threatening way for someone with no church connection to experience a little bit of what church is like, meeting some of our folks and hearing about our faith as expressed in music.
- We also have an opportunity in the evening on June 2 to get to know some of our neighbors at the North Hill Elementary School. They have told us they would welcome our help running some of the games or concessions for their school carnival. This could be a great, non-threating way to meet some parents who are standing around while their children are playing a game. We don’t have to be aggressive; just get to know them. Sometimes people are touched just by knowing that folks across the street are interested in them.
These are just some of the opportunities we have to invite friends and neighbors to come to the party, to experience with us the joy and gratitude of being part of God’s family.
But Jesus does not stop there. Next the master tells the slave to go out into the streets and invite the poor, blind, lame, or crippled. So we try to do that as well. Here are some examples:
- The protein packs that we made at SPC Together. Many of you have taken one or more of these packs and given them to people you see on the street holding a sign asking for help. The pack includes the name of our church and a prayer for God’s blessing. We have a few more in the blue box in the coffee room.
- Others in our church have been involved with Praisealujah, a local shelter and Christian recovery program. Besides financial support for Praisealujah we have shared meals with them, worshiped with them, and done Bible study with them.
- We are just beginning a new relationship with City of Glory, a new Christian community of immigrants predominantly from East Africa. We hope that some of them will share appetizers with us tonight at 5:30 as well as joining us for worship at Agape.
There are many other ways we go out to invite others--people outside our usual circle of contacts: distributing food at the food bank, serving meals at Hospitality House, providing services at Kent Hope, books at the SCORE jail, and on and on. We are not just the people invited to the banquet in God’s kingdom, we are the messengers sent out with the invitation.
One of my favorite stories from my days as a pastor in Potlatch, Idaho, is the story of an elder in the church who invited her neighbor to come to our worship service one Sunday. The neighbor said, “I don’t want to go to that church; it’s full of hypocrites.” The elder replied, “That’s okay, there is always room for one more.”
That is the two sides of this parable. You are the undeserving guest invited to the greatest dinner party of all time: the banquet in God’s kingdom. But you are also the servant sent out to invite others.