Table Full of Fools
August 27, 2000
Luke 14:16-24 The Rev. Carol DiBiasio-Snyder
Introduction to the Scripture:
Just as summer is drawing to a close, so is our Summer Sermon Series on the parables of Jesus. Next Sunday will conclude this series. Today Jesus is at it again, telling stories that turn our values and expectations upside down and inside out. We find him sitting at a dinner table in the home of a Pharisee, eating, drinking and telling stories. In a moment you will hear one of them.
Besides having surprise twists, turns and endings, Jesus parables are always set in the midst of the common things of life. This parable tells about a rich man who hosted a great banquet. As was the custom, he sent out two invitations. The first to invite people and let them know the banquet was being planned. The second invitation is issued when everything was ready for the party.
Listen to this story and hear what happens when the invited guests, the
people of wealth and power like the host, refuse the invitation. Let us
listen for the word of God.
Jesus must have been an aggravating dinner guest! Here this Pharisee, this religious leader, this respected member of the community invites the controversial, popular and interesting new Rabbi in town to dinner and, as rabbis tend to do, he starts telling stories. Only these are uncomfortable stories. They dont end like you think they will. They end in a way that makes you uncomfortable and causes your guests to squirm in their seats and refuse to look you straight in the eye. When you invited Jesus into your home you had never expected the things to turn so awkward.
Jesus parables always pull a quick reverse on us. Really the whole story of Christ himself is one of reversals. Megan McKenna reminds us that, He walked on water and invited his friends along for the jaunt. He cried over the city and compared himself to a mother hen. He cured ten lepers and let them go without expecting a 'thank you.' He tried to love all the sick, poor and outcast and ended up like one of them, hung outside the city, dead in a garbage dump. And then he came back to laugh with his friends who doubted or wept or despaired." The whole story is outrageous, but it has changed the course of history and the lives of millions of people for 2,000 years.
St. Paul writes to the new Christians living in Corinth with these words: But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. And in the parable for today, the foolishness takes place around a banquet table, set for kings and queens and occupied by peasants and outcasts.
Banquets, feasting -- times of great joy and happiness and intimate sharing. In the scriptures we find wonderful images of eating. Hospitality is shown to strangers by offering them food. Great holy days were days of feasting and joy. Prophets used the image of a banquet to speak of the coming kingdom of God, a magnificent time when God will be the host of a great feast for all people, serving rich and juicy food and fine choice wine. It will be the ultimate feast, when death will be destroyed forever and God will wipe the tears away from every face. We will sit down in peace and joy with one another and with God and laugh and eat and sing!
So Jesus tells us a story about a banquet. And when the servants go to get the invited guests, they all have excuses for not coming. So then the host sends out the servants to gather in those from the streets --the poor, the crippled, the blind and lame. And so they do. Imagine the excitement these folks must have felt as they headed to the party! To be given anything would have been welcomed, but here they are limping, groping, brushing the dust from their ragged clothes, heading off to a bona vide banquet! Yet even with all the crippled, blind and lame there is still more room, and so the host sends his servants out again, this time beyond the city walls, beyond the locked gates to the country lanes, and more people are brought in for the feast.
Now Jesus told this parable to shake up the religious establishment of his day, and of all days. That makes me nervous! He points his finger at those who have heard the invitation to commune with God, but when it comes to the time to go to the banquet they are busy with what has become more important to them. Note the word of warning here for any who have become so distracted with work and money and commitments that they miss God's gracious invitation to celebrate at the Great Banquet table.
But the good news is that the seats will not remain empty, the food will not rot and the wine will not sour. God will share this banquet of love and grace with those whom the invited guests would least expect -- the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame and the homeless.
Where are we in this story? With whom do we identify? It may be that we need to identify with those who got the original invitations, and heed the warning Jesus gives. As I said, this parable makes me nervous! When God sends out the invitation, have I sent back word that I am too busy, or too distracted, with business deals, household tasks and even family commitments?
Do I make excuses when God invites me, even to something as wonderful as a banquet? Excuses. If Jessie Jackson were preaching here today he might come up this catchy phrase about excuses, they accuse as well as excuse. They accuse as well as excuse. They accuse because they reveal our true priorities. They accuse as well as excuse because they reveal the activities and commitments we think have greater importance. They may block our path to the party that God is hosting, offering a banquet table set with grace, forgiveness and a faith full of vitality and freedom.
Where are we in this story? With whom do we identify? It may be with the excuse makers. But it may also be that we identify with those who finally did gather around that enormous table -- the poor, the crippled and lame, and the blind.
Many of us are poor. Some of us are literally poor, wondering how we will stretch our already thin dollars to cover our expenses. Some of us are poor in our souls, psychologically battered, experiencing low self-esteem, wondering if anyone would ever even think of inviting us to their party. Some of us are poor in family or friends, feeling alone and forsaken.
Come to the banquet! A lavish table rich with love and acceptance has been set, the food is prepared, the host awaits and a seat has been saved for you!
Many of us are crippled and lame. Some of us are physically disabled, living with bodies that are attacked by disease. Some of us are finding that age is taking its toll. Some of us are crippled by fear or worry. Anxiety about ourselves or those we love paralyzes us and we cannot move ahead. Some of us are crippled by years of abuse. Some of us are crippled by a life that has a routine, grey sameness to it, as we move along in the same rut day after day.
Come to the banquet! A sumptuous table rich with courage and strength has been set, the food is prepared, the host awaits and a seat has been reserved for you!
Many of us are blind. Some of us are physically blind. Perhaps we have never seen, or perhaps our once sharp eyes are failing and with them the visual beauty of the world blurs and slips from our sight. Some of us are blinded by hopelessness for what the future might bring. We feel that we can never live up to expectations placed upon us, if we can see ahead at all, our vision is restricted and narrow. Some of us are blinded by the pace at which our life is whirling. Things are anything but predictable and life seems to leap and dart in a thousand different directions.
Come to the banquet! A table rich with hope and perspective has been set, the food is prepared, the host awaits and a seat has been kept for you!
Some of us are not blind or crippled or poor, but God invites us too. There is room for anyone who wants to come. God invites those who are ready to party, those who are just waiting to dance with joy. Life has been good to some of us, and a party is just what we need right now.
Come to the banquet! A table rich with rejoicing has been set, the food is prepared, the host awaits and a seat has been saved for you!
Yes, God has prepared a great banquet, a feast for fools to which we have all been invited. The crystal sparkles, the china gleams, the silverware shines and the meal is prepared to meet our deepest needs. God has invited us to come, to taste real life, to be filled, to laugh and to enjoy. We might be tempted to take only a little of what God offers, but we have been invited not to some sparse meal, but to a bountiful, overflowing banquet in which we are urged to indulge ourselves. Thomas Merton puts it this way:
There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end . . . I won't have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making [merry]; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain or Lazarus.
Or finding ourselves raised to new life as fools on account of Christ, gathered around his banquet table and feasting on all the very best God has to offer! Amen.