“The Christmas Banquet”
Pastor Tom Millner
December 19, 2010
Isaiah 25:6, Luke 14:15-17
Each Sunday, promptly at 10:00AM, we begin a process of worship here at this place known as the SpiritSong Worship Center. We notify, we advertise, we list, and you who are here found your way despite those things that might have lured you away. Christmas shopping; recovery from a late Saturday night; any number of excuses could have kept you from the invitation to feast at God’s table of grace this day. Last week we talked briefly about living out our faith, rather than our unbelief. The source of the healing and the nourishment of our souls is here (in the Bible) for the taking. Blessed be the Name of the Lord!
Let’s read the Gospel of Luke, chapter 14 verse 15. “When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
In our scripture reading today we see that Jesus has just been visiting in the home of a Pharisee, one of the spiritual leaders of the Jewish community. Jesus had instructed them on protocol of not placing self in the seat of honor lest we be uprooted from that seat by someone of greater stature. He had even gone so far as to assert that the honored among them should not be on the preferred list, but rather the lowly, the outcast and the shunned. To borrow from C.S. Lewis, we are called here to not “think less of ourselves, but to think of ourselves less”!
This guy at the table didn’t get it. He was associating what was a commonly held notion that at the coming of the Messianic Kingdom, there would be a great feast of celebration for all the pious and righteous. Jesus replied here with a different message.
Luke 14:17 “At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.”
Jesus is speaking here in a parable. Now a parable is a rather succinct story that has a setting, describes an action, and a subsequent result. Parables can be prose or poetry. Within them, as Jesus used them, there is a lesson that is both moral and spiritual.
The Jews had been given the promise of the Kingdom since the time of Abraham. All of their history had been a part of the birthing pains for the Kingdom to come. John the Baptist had proclaimed the coming of the One whose truth provides the substance upon which we may spiritually feast. Jesus is here telling those who hear that the banquet is set for those for whom the feast was prepared.
The folks of that day were busy with the things of life and so the response to the invitation was less than stellar. Luke 14:18-19 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.' Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me. Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.'” Now in Jesus’ parable, He’s pegging those who were so about their own agendas that they missed the invitation of eternity. The first – bought a field – a piece of property sight unseen? It was dark by the time the banquet was being held… how could he see his field? Could there have been something else going on? The other bought oxen (new machine for the business)… have to try it out. The last just got married and the sensual pleasures that await me are far more important to me now than this invitation. What was the master’s response? Anger! We don’t often like to think of an angry God, but here we see the illustration – anger with just cause. Scripture tells us to be angry and sin not! (Psalm 4:4 and Ephesians 4:26) What was the Master’s response here? Anger is a normal response; it’s what we do with it that matters!
Luke 14: 21-24 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.' 'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.' Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.' "
The Master then invited all those who were “sinners” in the eyes of the pious… Those deemed not worthy by the standards of the day. The result of the master’s anger was loving inclusion for all except those who chose not to participate in the feast.
In what ways are we like the ones on the invitation list and in what ways are we like the others who were invited in for the feast?
In today’s world, even with the economic downturn and worldwide economic distress, we are among the most affluent and privileged people in the world. Even our homeless brothers and sisters here have it better than those living on the streets of Ahmadabad, India, or Nairobi, Kenya. What do we hold to be so important in our fast paced world today? If there’s one thing we share in common, it’s the quest for significance at the core of our being. Where do we go for significance? Sometimes it’s about whatever strikes our fancy – whether it’s rational or not – buying the lie that this that or the other will satisfy the longing – so we go to check it out and ignore the invitation to the greatest opportunity of a lifetime. Or, we’re so engaged with the work we have to do, the tasks we have at hand, that we seem not to have the time to participate in the feast that is the source of our significance. Or we get so excited about satisfying our sensual pleasures (as the newlywed) that we exclude the possibility of something more substantive! Sounds to me like the American way! Self, self, and self – and if there’s any of self left over, well, God can have it! The moral of the parable is that God can’t have it (self) because it’s already consumed. Therefore, it can’t be included in the broader banquet. Excluded not by God’s exclusionary action, but by our lack of response that consequently excludes us! To feast, one has to come to the table!
What about those on the outside, as described in this scripture? How might that apply to us? Have any of you felt excluded from the “acceptable” place in other churches? Have any of us been labeled “sinners” for being who God created us to be? Jesus ate, associated with, and was entertained by the “sinner” of His day. If you haven’t identified with any of these scenarios, please have someone check your pulse. We can call 911 immediately!
What we need to remember about God’s banquet invitation:
- The most convenient time to feast is when the invitation arrives! God’s grace is always available, but we often trade second fiddle for first string. What’s the difference in a life with or without Christ? Many people look at us and say, “Exactly”! That’s not intended to be a club over your head, just a gentle buzz of the alarm clock to say “it’s time to wake up.” The true difference between a life with Christ or without Christ is the living hope that is eternal and the knowledge that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:38)
- You don’t have to dress up for the best meal. You can’t get a better meal wearing your metaphorical tux, tails, or gown. So many people make the assumption that they will only truly be welcomed at God’s table when they’ve cleaned up their act. That’s a major misconception! Cleaning up your act simply makes it easier for other folks to be around you, but God’s desire is that you come to Him as you are. He’s got a great bubble bath waiting just for you and a fancy new outfit that fits perfectly with His grace and mercy. He’s already tailor made your outfit and He’s even tried it on for you. The absolute perfect model was Jesus Himself! The best outfit you can wear to the banquet is nothing…that’s just how He made you.
- The fight for first place is won by surrendering the position. In our rule book the winner of the first place position has to beat out all the others to receive it. In God’s rule book, surrender is the key to getting first prize. That’s one of the reasons folks find it so hard to come to Christ; they can’t believe it’s as easy as just plain surrender. Perhaps that’s why surrender isn’t so easy! We build a lifetime into being competitive and we’re asked to drop it at the foot of the cross. The more competitive you are, the greater the challenge! Not to worry, however, the victory is winnable by the presence of a really big sidekick – His Holy Spirit! The competitor is not your neighbor, nor is it your enemy – the competitor is yourself. You win the prize by letting go all that you have grown to prize in yourself. That includes all your excuses, all your defenses, all your moments of glory, all your wounds of defeat, all your prized memories of pity parties past – all that you think constitutes the deepest and truest YOU! Lay it down and step into the banquet hall! Christ has the table set.
The banquet is prepared every day. The Word of God is here for us to feast upon. The table is set for us to fellowship with the Master (prayer). What will be your response today, tomorrow, the day after? Will you respond to the love that invited you in though not worthy, or are you too busy with “to do’s” of your own self significance that you choose to not feast at the only table that can ever give you significance?
Isn’t it time to feast at the table of Grace?