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Attending the Great Banquet?

During an interview during the 1950’s, the famed journalist Edward Morrow asked Pulitzer Prize winning poet Carl Sandburg, “What’s the ugliest word in the English language?”

Sandburg, this master of words, thought about the question for a bit, then responded: “Exclusive.”

Whether we agree with Sandburg probably depends on our position as being among the “included” or “excluded.”

I suspect for any of us who have spent any time at all on the ‘outside looking in,’ or in the ‘back of the line’ or at ‘the bottom of the barrel’ – or on the not invited list – Carl Sandburg got it right.

Exclusive is an ugly word.

In Luke’s gospel account of the Parable of the Great Banquet, we find Jesus reclining at the table at the home of a prominent Pharisee.

Jesus uses to occasion to teach the included, or those perpetually on the Invited List, about the importance of humility in the economy of God’s Kingdom.

He exhorts the guests at the exclusive dinner he’s attending to expand the guest list at a banquet to include those who cannot pay you back, namely, “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.” In doing so, Jesus says, “you will be blessed – or made happy by God.

When one of the guests at the dinner affirms this idea, Jesus turns his attention to the irony of the situation.

The prominent Pharisee and his exclusive guests are the very ones in danger of not participating in the Great Banquet in eternity.

Though they’ve been invited, through their refusal to believe in the saving power of Jesus Christ over sin and death, the religious “in-crowd” of their day will find themselves on the “excluded list” when it counts the most.

The plain meaning of the parable is clear: Jesus was sent first to the people of Israel to call them to a saving faith as a loving- shepherd calls out to his lost sheep.

For those who responded to the Shepherd’s call with belief and faith in Him, their names were added to the attending list.

However, throughout the New Testament we learn that most of those who originally heard the call refused to respond with faith and put their trust in the Messiah.

These ones, Jesus said, are in danger of being excluded from the Great Banquet.

And so, the invitation list is greatly expanded to include the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame – and even Gentiles, who did not originally share in the promises of God’s covenant with His chosen people.

By God’s grace, the Great Banquet has enough room for everyone who chooses to accept the Lord’s invitation and actually attends.

Comedian Woody Allen once quipped, “80% of success is showing up.”

According to the Parable of the Great Banquet, 100% of success is showing up.

In God’s economy, the ideas of “exclusion” and “inclusion” are turned on their head.

God’s plan of salvation included the whole world: “For God so loved the world that he sent his only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Said another way, ‘God so loved the world he invited everyone in the world to believe in his only Son, and everyone who believes in him will have a place at the table at the Great Banquet.’

All who believe are included.

The irony present around the Prominent Pharisees’ dinner table as the in-crowd dined with Jesus is ominously present in our own day and age.

Many of those who enjoy the finest fruits of our worldly economy run in circles closed off to the common man or the average person.

Excuses as to why the in-crowd includes or excludes certain persons from their gatherings are carefully cultivated and craftily communicated.

We know this for many of us have been to these gatherings. Sometimes we’ve probably even hosted these gatherings.

Of course, the irony here is that those with the power, authority and ability to “exclude” others from earthly delights may end up excluding themselves from the eternal delights of the Heavenly Banquet.

The opposite is also true.

As we heard last Sunday in the account of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the one wearing fine purple linen and living in luxury every day of their life is the one who faces the great challenge of seeing and attending to the needs of those less fortunate than themselves.

Lazarus, the poor and diseased beggar, ended up being seated at the table at the Great Banquet, while the privileged Rich Man found himself on the excluded list.

Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright said he once preached on this text and received no less than three (3) invitations to dinner over the course of the following week.

Bishop Wright and his wife found this comical and enjoyed wondering in which one of the groups – the poor, the crippled, the blind or the lame – their hosts had classified them!

So what does this parable mean for us?

First, it means as followers of Jesus Christ, we are to be encouraged at our favored position in the Kingdom of God.

Through our faith in Jesus and our determination to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength – and to love our neighbors as ourselves - we have been grafted into God’s family and have the promise of a seat at the family table.

Secondly, it means that as those who will be hosted by God at the Great Banquet, we are in turn called to play the part of hosts while we dwell in the earthly realm.

We do not assume the role of the man preparing the Great Banquet; rather we assume the role of the servant sent out into the “streets and alleys of the town” and the “roads and country lanes” doing our best to persuade others to enjoy a seat at the table.

Many theologians and pastors call this activity evangelism. I prefer to the definition offered by evangelist D.T. Niles who said, “Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”

In two weeks times, you and I have the opportunity to put this reality in to practice.

On Sunday, June 27th at 5pm, we will gather as a faith community at our house to enjoy good Louisiana food, a time of warm fellowship and an opportunity to extend our community beyond the walls of the church building.

In the invitation to the Sunday Supper, I encouraged you to bring your favorite Louisiana dish – and invite your favorite Louisiana friend.

I want to encourage you to think through your realms of influence.

Who do you know that you think might benefit the most from a time of fellowship with you and your parish community?

Maybe its someone you met recently – or someone you’ve known for quite some time.

When you think and pray through your list of friendships, remember this:

From a spiritual perspective, all of us fall into the category of the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. We are made whole through our relationship with Jesus Christ and live the remainder of our lives as branches connected to the vine.

It is only abiding in Christ that bears real fruit in our lives.

And remember this: Each of us is “simply one beggar telling another where to find bread.”

By taking the risk of inviting someone to attend an event with you – an invitation that will either be accepted or rejected – you may be opening the door for someone to a relationship that will change their life forever.


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