Your Attendance is Requested

by Rev. L. John Gable

Your Attendance is Requested by Rev. L. John Gable
September 10, 2017

Sarah Cummins and Logan Araujo announced their engagement and set their wedding date for July 15.  “Save the date” cards were sent.  Plans for the service were made, the venue for the reception was confirmed and the contract for the plated dinner for 170 guests was signed.  The $30,000 extravaganza had been two years in the planning and everything was set to go.

The master of the house did much the same.  He too wanted to throw an extravaganza for his friends and neighbors, so he sent his servants out with the invitations, the 1st century equivalent of a “save the date” card, and the responses all came in.  It is a special honor to be invited to the home of a wealthy landowner, so of course everyone replied, “Yes, I’ll be there!”  So preparations for the great banquet got underway.

But a week before the wedding, for reasons neither Sarah nor Logan wanted to discuss, which of course we understand, it is none of our business, the wedding was called off.  The issues of deep disappointment, broken hearts and broken dreams were difficult enough to have to deal with, not to mention the endless details of having to notify all 170 guests and returning all of the gifts they had so generously given.

For reasons given, and not necessarily good ones, the guests who had said they were coming to the great banquet also started to renege.  At first flush their excuses sound reasonable, but not when viewed in the context of the day.  “I’ve just bought a piece of land and I must go see it,” said the first.  No one in first century Palestine would ever consider buying a parcel of land without first doing extensive homework as to what kind of land it was, how much sun and rain it received, whether it was a worthy investment or worthless.  That excuse didn’t hold water and it was taken as an offense to the host.  The second excuse was equally lame. “I’ve just bought five yoke of oxen and I need to try them out.”  A significant purchase to be sure, again a purchase no one would make without first making sure those oxen pulled well together.  And the third, “I’ve just gotten married” was considered rude and insulting, an inappropriate comment for any man to make about his wife or any woman in that day and age.  Given the response he was getting, the host was understandably angry.

With the wedding cancelled Sarah was stuck with yet another dilemma, what to do with all the food?  A contract had been signed and that close to the date food had already been purchased and preparations were underway.  There was no getting out and a full course meal for 170 people makes for a lot of leftovers.

The host faced similar problems.  As the day of the great banquet neared he had ordered animals to be butchered and crops to be harvested in proportion to the number of guests who said they were going to attend.  In an age before refrigeration there weren’t a whole lot of options.

That’s when Sarah did something which caused her story to catch national media attention.  She turned her anger and disappointment into an act of grace.  There may not be a wedding, but there could still be a reception!  So she threw a party, an extravagant party.  But who to invite?  Not the original guests, that would have been awkward, so she invited, not the B list, or even the C or D list; she invited those who were on no one’s list, the poor and homeless and those who were living in shelters throughout the city.  She invited the kind of people who don’t normally get invited to the Ritz Charles in Carmel.  And they came, and others helped them get there, offering dresses and tuxes and limo rides.  My guess is you remember reading about that party in the Indy Star.

And the master of the house did the same.  He too turned his emotion of anger into a gift of grace as he instructed his servants to go out and invite those who otherwise would never be invited to the master’s house – “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame,” anyone and everyone in the city the servants could find, and they came too.  But when everyone was seated there was still more room at the table, so the master sent his servants out again, this time to the highways and byways to compel people to come in.  He was throwing a party and he wanted his house and his table to be full.

The word “compel” is a little awkward in this story.  It hints of arm twisting and collar grabbing, but that isn’t the intention at all.  Think rather of the need for these servants to be persistent and persuasive when they extended their master’s invitation.  I can almost hear the transient and the untouchable saying, “No, you’re joking!  He isn’t really inviting me.  I can’t attend, I’m not worthy!”  So the servants would have to do some convincing, some compelling, and some taking by the hand, saying, “Yes, the master really does want you to come to the banquet. He wants you to be his guest.  Please come!”

Friends, Jesus tells this parable while sitting at table in the home of a Pharisee one Sabbath day.  At this point in the journey He is under the microscope, He knows everyone is watching Him, so He tells this parable with great intention. In fact, in Luke 14 He tells three stories, all having to do with table fellowship, after healing a man of a dreaded disease; remember this is on the Sabbath day, in front of a group of Pharisees.  He tells this parable about a banquet because a banquet is a good way to describe the Kingdom of God He came to proclaim.  The prophet Isaiah, centuries before, spoke of the Kingdom of God as being a great Messianic banquet feast – the best food and finest wine- and curiously everyone was invited, not just the select few from the chosen people of Israel.  That would have ruffled the feathers of Isaiah’s hearers then, just as extending the invitation to “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” was unnerving to the Pharisees when Jesus told His story.  Culturally, such an invitation would break every social norm.  One is only supposed to invite those who can return the favor. Theologically, Jesus is breaking down the dividing wall between us and them, the insiders and the outsiders, saying ALL ARE WELCOME, no matter who you are, where you’ve been or what you’ve done.  There is room for you at My table.

Friends, the message is clear. There is going to be a banquet, a great Messianic feast in the Kingdom of Heaven and you and I, along with all people, have been invited.  Jesus, like the prophets before Him, has issued a gracious invitation, even to those of us who don’t know we are worthy – so get ready, “save the date.”

The parable, however, includes not only a gracious invitation, but also a warning. Some who initially say, “Yes, I’ll be there!”, will end up changing their minds and declining the offer once the final invitation is extended and the time is at hand.  Don’t be one of those!  Don’t let any worldly interest or pursuit distract you or dissuade you from attending the banquet feast of the King.  Nothing is more important than this!

You see, God is going to throw a party, but it is not just for the religious elite; it is for all people, in all nations, so don’t presume you are “in” any more than you might presume someone else is “out.”  Just as you may be surprised to see someone else entering the banquet hall, someone you didn’t expect to see there, so they may be just as surprised to see you!

When those who have said they are coming begin to back out because they have gotten caught up in other things, things that hold no eternal value, our host, God Himself, will be disappointed and angry, as well He has every right to be.  So don’t make God angry!  Don’t refuse His invitation!  But then this God of ours, who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” does a remarkably, unexpectedly gracious thing, He turns His anger into an act of grace.  Nothing that we do can ever thwart the gracious, saving purposes of our God.  Be assured of this, when the banquet feast begins His house will be full and every seat at the table will be taken.  Make sure you are in one of them.

You see, there is going to be a party, a great banquet, an extravaganza in the Kingdom of God, and the party won’t be complete unless you are there.  You have been invited.  Your attendance is requested.