Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Banquet is Ready and the Table is Set; God is Waiting

I remember the first Church conference I coordinated in 1994. We were charged with organizing the annual YAL Snow Conference for the Diocese of Denver and we eagerly got to work on our tasks. We located a ski area, a hotel, transportation, guest speakers, and sponsors to underwrite some of the costs and we began to publicize the event throughout the United States. I think we distributed more than 3,000 postcards and brochures and “everyone was talking” about the conference in Vail, Colorado. We were sure that Vail would draw the largest attendance ever. And so we waited for registration forms to flood the registration committee…the flood never came. When all was said and done only 45 people attended that conference and that included members of the planning committee. We had worked for eight months planning and organizing but when it came to the attendance, it seemed, nobody came.

If you have ever had a similar experience then you know too well the pain and disappointment that comes when after hours of planning and inviting, your banquet or party or conference (it can be anything) isn’t well attended. And if you’re like me it can be a pretty depressing event. This is very similar to this morning’s Gospel. A man was throwing a great banquet and when the banquet was ready he sent his servant “to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ But they all with one accord began to make excuses.” (Luke 14.17-18) It wasn’t as if they didn’t know the banquet was about to happen because they each received an invitation. And quite frankly, the excuses they offered betrayed their original intentions.

If they had intended to attend the banquet would they have purchased land that required working or oxen that required training or even planned their own wedding? It is clear from their excuses that they never did intend to attend the banquet feast. Intentions matter. Our intentions matter. They are what God considers in our hearts as true and the lack of intention angers Him. “Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.” (Luke 14.21)

Just like this morning’s Gospel God has invited many people into His House, into His Church, for a great feast, The Eucharist, a greater feast than any other. The banquet is ready and the table is set. Today God has commanded us to go out and tell everyone who has been invited the banquet is ready. The Master is waiting. He wants us to drop everything and come and enjoy the feast. He is waiting for a response.

Next week is Christmas and the Church has scheduled Divine Liturgy for Christmas Eve. Tell everyone you know, the banquet is ready and the table is set. God is waiting. Look around this Church and see the empty pews and think of this morning’s Gospel. Now we are the servants of God, and He has commanded us to go out and fill His Church. Invitations have gone out. Preparations are complete and there is no registration form to fill out. Go out to the Greeks, the Lebanese, the Arabs, the Russians, the Romanians, the Indians, the Mexicans, the Chinese, the Filipinos, the Yankees, the rebels, rednecks, black, white, rich, “poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind. Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that God’s may be filled.” (Luke 14.22-23)

And people will make excuses, just like in this morning’s Gospel and that is ok. It’s not our problem if someone else chooses not to come when we have invited them, as long as we have invited them. Jesus doesn’t say that the servants are wicked because those who were invited chose to reject the invitation. Instead He says, “For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.” (Luke 14.24) If people make excuses they are the ones who will miss out, not those who come.

Listen again to what Jesus says to the servants after they had gone out and called all the other people to the banquet. “And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways.’” (Luke 14.22) Just because we have invited people once, we cannot rest until God’s house is filled. God sent His servants out again and again until every seat was filled, and we must continue to go out every week and invite people and let them know that God is here waiting to greet them when they arrive. And if they reject the invitation and offer an excuse, that is ok too. Our job never changes, go out and invite.

The final charge of God before He ascended into Heaven was, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28.19-20) This is called the Great Commission and it wasn’t only meant for the Apostles. God gave this commandment to each of us and He didn’t say go out only to the Greeks or only to our families. God has commanded that we go out to all the nations and that means everyone.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, God has charged us today. The banquet is ready and the table is set. All the preparations are complete. God is waiting. Go out and start inviting. There are 40,000 people in our city who are not in Church this morning but they want to be. They just don’t know which Church to attend. Let them know they have been invited here.

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