:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."
::: Scripture and Music ::
Shout to the North (Martin Smith)
Let the River Flow (Darryl Evans)
Welcome Table (African-American spiritual)
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
The story continues today. Jesus is still around the table at the home of one of the leading Pharisees. Last week we looked at his words to the guests who were trying to maneuver to get a good seat at the table. Jesus taught that God honors humility, which involves a submission of the will, heart, and mind. We had the opportunity to put ourselves in the role of guests, invited into God’s presence.
This week, Jesus addresses the host of the dinner. In order to understand his teaching, we must identify ourselves not only as those who are invited to the banquet, but also in the role of the host. As the gathered Church, we are the earthly stewards of God’s Table and those who extend God’s invitation into the world. Jesus’ teaching today raises key questions for us as we try to understand what it means for us to be those receiving and bearing God’s invitation!
So, as Jesus says, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner…” (v. 12), understand that his words apply to us… when we give a concert, when we help someone in need, when we share our building space, when we gather to eat, when we gather to worship, when we study God’s Word, when we have VBS. Jesus is talking to us here. We are earthly hosts, bearing the invitation of the Lord.
Do Not Invite… (v. 12b)
In verse 12, Jesus goes on to tell the host:
…do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors…
If the exclusion of these seems strange, the reason may sound stranger:
…otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment.
This exclusion sets up the punch line of the parable because this is not expected, nor is what follows about whom to invite. The broader point Jesus is making here is so obvious and given that it makes taking exception to it seem shocking. When we invite a friend or brother or rich neighbor to dinner, there is something in it for us. That is not a bad thing; that’s just the way it is. That’s why most of us invite folks to dinner. We invite friends because we enjoy their company. That’s our “payment” – we enjoy them. We invite family (sometimes) for the same reason. We might take a wealthy business contact to lunch hoping to score some business out of the event. This exclusion sets up the punch line of the parable because this is not expected, nor is what follows about whom to invite.
Jesus’ point is not that we should never take these folks to lunch. Instead, he is continuing to use the dinner table as a metaphor for the Kingdom of Heaven. And in the Kingdom, we don’t buy our way in. People are invited out of God’s good and gracious pleasure. Remember, that was the point last week. God is an inviting God and has called out to all who would come to him through Jesus.
Do Invite… (v. 13)
Instead of inviting only those who can “pay” to come, Jesus paints a different picture of God’s Table. And this really is the punch line of the parable, the unexpected twist. This Table is set for all who would come, regardless of ability to ‘pay’ for a seat. In fact, these seats can’t be bought at all. This is made most clear when those whom we would not expect to come in fact show up and are given a seat: the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. Expanded into the spiritual realm, the guest list is even more mind-boggling. There are the broken, the despairing, the weak, the wounded, the sinful, and the dying. No one is there except those who have accepted the invitation to come.
Listen again to our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 55:
Ho! (Hey, listen!) Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you. (55:1-3a)Not only is that startling news about who all will be at God’s table, it also has pretty significant implications for us. Do you know that you are going to Heaven? How do you know? What gives you assurance?
Is it because you are “basically a good person?”
Is it because you are a member of a church?
Is it because you give regularly?
Is it because your mother or grandmother was a strong believer?
After hearing this parable, how do you think Jesus would answer those questions?
You may know that there are more than a few parables about rich people. The problem with riches (whether money, talents, education, or anything else we value) is not so much that wealth is evil, but that it blinds us to the gift of God’s invitation and salvation. It’s kind of like going to a child’s birthday party and the child opens up presents – a shiny bike, an electric guitar, a first smart phone, and a note from one child that says, “I’ll be your friend.” How hard it is to see what is really valuable!
Jesus’ testimony is this: the Lord of the Banquet invites you not because you can pay for, earn, or even deserve the invitation, but because He chooses to.
Blessed… and Repaid (v. 14)
This parable is important to understand from two perspectives. The first is that of those who are invited to God’s Table, not from deserving it, but out of God’s grace.
The second perspective is that of the Host. We are not God, but as believers gathered as the Church, we share in God’s mission to the world. We are in a position to extend the invitation of the Good News of Jesus Christ into our world. And here is where I believe this parable is critical for who we are as a church.
This summer we are talking about being an “open house church.” That kind of church is one with open doors, inviting people to come to where we are and share in the light of Christ. That is so very important, and at first blush, that seems to be what Jesus is talking about in v. 12. We are to invite people in to the banquet. But here’s the reality: being truly welcoming is just the first step. If that’s all we do (and we do have to do that!), then the folks who come will primarily be just who Jesus is talking about here: friends, relatives, and business or social contacts. In many cases, the folks who come will already be Christians who have moved nearby or who are just looking for a different church. And by all means, invite these folks – they are all welcome!
But Jesus’ point is this: if we really want to live out the Gospel – show the Good News of the love of God – then we need to be about reaching those with whom we have little or no connection. We need to get up and get out and invite those who are not being invited. That is our mission in the world! Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” We are to get up and get out and invite those who are not on anyone’s guest list.
I’m not saying to disregard your family member who is not a Christian. By all means, continue to pray for them and invite them to Christ. But as the Church – the gathered believers – we are earthly hosts for the Banquet of Heaven. We are the ones who speak God’s invitation out into the world. If we could really grasp that, it would revolutionize church. It would revolutionize our lives and our faith. It might even turn our religion upside down. And that is what Jesus was doing with his dinner companions.
Light has come into the world, and we are not to hide it under a bushel, whether that bushel is our building or the comfort and safety of our social circle. Get up, get out, and shine – that is the mission of an inviting God!
Perspective (v. 15)
Verse 15 is kind of a bridge verse to the third parable which follows. But it also has a place in this parable. It gives the perspective of one who understands what Jesus is talking about here.
When one of those who were reclining at the table with Him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
At least one person there understood. The blessed ones are not the ones here at this table. The blessed ones are not those of you here in this room, because you are in this room. The blessed ones are those who respond to the invitation of God and who will gather around the Banquet Table of God in Heaven. It is my hope that many here will be at that Table, but the point of the Gospel is that every time we leave this room, we search for the least and the lost, to speak God’s invitation to them that they might be found.
Again, the point of the Gospel is that every time we leave this room, we search for the least and the lost, to speak God’s invitation to them that they might be found.
Is there one of you who will hear this and understand? – Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!
If there is one, it will revolutionize our church. If there are three, it could change our neighborhood. There were 12 who followed Jesus whom God used to change the world. Amen.