Texts: Isaiah 25:1-9 ; Psalm 23 ; Philippians 4:1-9 ; Matthew 22:1-14
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our creator and Christ Jesus our redeemer through the work of the Spirit which sustains us.
I come to you today with an invitation. There is a dinner going on, not far from here really, that you have to taste to believe. I’ve been to some fancy sit-down dinners in my time. I once sat down to a six course dinner that culminated in the presentation of a beautifully decorated Peking duck. But I’ve never seen anything like the banquet I’m here to tell you about today.
First of all, I know it’s a tight economy and we’re all watching our expenses on luxuries like eating out. But you can put away your wallets, because this meal is free. The host for the event is celebrating something big, and just wants to pack the hall – so don’t worry if you didn’t bring your checkbook and PLEASE don’t feel self-conscious about crashing the party. I’m serious, I heard it from straight from the host’s mouth. You’re invited. Really.
Any of you who’ve seen me at a potluck or a buffet know I love to eat, so let me get to the good stuff. I was talking with some of the waiters for the event earlier this week, and the menu for this shindig sounds amazing. They’re describing it as a “feast of rich food, and an assortment of well-aged wines” (Isa 25:6). I mean rich food – with all the drippings left on, and well-aged wines, strained clear. But my friend Isaiah, one of the waiters, said it’s even better than that. He says there are things on this menu that you just can’t get anywhere else in the city.
Things like refuge for the poor and home for the homeless. Yeah, you heard me right… have you ever heard of a banquet like this? He said that at this banquet I’m telling you about they’re offering solace to those who weep, amnesty to those who have been disgraced, and life like you have never lived before. Incredible stuff. The buffet to end all buffets.
It’s really an incredible thing this banquet. Rich food, healing and solace and forgiveness, and… great music! Oh yeah – no joke. They’ve booked a cool little world music combo. I heard the musicians practicing their set. They’ve got the craziest assortment of instruments – harps and lyres and timbrels, which I think is a tambourine, but I’m not entirely sure. Their music has a really great feel – it’s soulful and deep without being too heavy. It’s not pop, it’s joy. The lead singer put it just right. I asked her for her take on the banquet, and she said, “It revives my soul.” She said, “I just want to get right, for the host’s sake, so people can hear how good it is here. Because, here we are in a world that seems to have gone crazy with anxiety over the last few weeks – over the economy and the election – we’ve got people afraid they’ll retire with no pensions, students being attacked because of how they dress and how they worship God. It seems like we living in a low point in time, pointing fingers at everyone around us. Like we’re in a valley covered by the shadow of all that’s wrong with life. And in that very place, at this very moment our host has set out a table in the presence of the very people who trouble us. A table of comfort food. And the host does this cultural thing, anoints heads with oil, which I thought sounded gross, but when they do it here it feels like love – and my cup is never empty.” Now that’s service.
So that’s about it… I mean, that’s all I wanted to tell you. That there’s this banquet going on right now, even as we speak, and you’re invited. And that it’s free. And that I hope you’ll come, and even that you’ll bring other people.
Well, and there’s one more thing, something I should tell you, or warn you about. You see, we’ve been out in the streets inviting people to the banquet for a while now – some of you have probably even heard all this before – but for whatever reason, people don’t always choose to come. There’s always those who make light of it, who try and say the food’s not that good before they’ve even really tried it.
They say things like, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” or “you get what you pay for” and they write the whole thing off like that. Which I kind of understand since generally speaking in this world there is no such thing as a free lunch, except of course that we’ve been saying all along that the banquet we’re talking about is out of this world – so that kind of thinking doesn’t really apply. But it’s hard for people to trust that.
Then there are those who say that they’re too busy at home, or on the farm, or at work to come. There have even been occasions when we’ll be out here trying to explain just how good the banquet really is, and they’ll come after us with insults, or try and pick fights, or have us locked up – which is not only hard to understand, but tragic when you think about it. Folks get caught up in their lives though, and sometimes anything that looks like a change in plans feels like a threat. It’s just so sad. I mean crops fail and businesses go bankrupt – after the last few weeks we know that for sure. But there’s security in a banquet like this because no matter who you are or what you’ve done there’s always a place at the table for you.
And please don’t misunderstand me… it’s not just the people who haven’t come who are confused by the whole thing. Some of the people who show up don’t seem to get it either. A friend of mine, Paul, another server at the banquet was telling me about a table of Philippians he waited on a while back who were struggling with this sort of thing. Two of the women at the table, Euodia and Syntyche, had come to the feast nursing a long-time grudge – your typical power and control stuff – and right there at the banquet they started to argue. Can you imagine? I mean, they were there at the feast, they’d gotten the invitation and had gone to check it out for themselves – even tried the food and found it to be good. But they got into a row about something and the next thing you know it was like all they could focus on was their own preoccupation with each other, and they missed out on the banquet that was taking place around them. It was really embarrassing for the rest of the table, and for the servers.
It’s like this with people, isn’t it? I think this is why some people haven’t even made it to the banquet in the first place. It’s not so much that we don’t want to try the food, meet the host – it’s just that if we have to share a table with him, or her, or those people over there, well we’re not so sure we want to come. Or, we’re fine with it at first, but then we get to know those people and we don’t like their little habits, or the way they do things, or the way they talk or dress, or some other thing that in the big picture (and I mean the really big picture) just shouldn’t matter that much. And the next thing you know we’ve just turned in on ourselves and we’ve forgotten that we’re at the party, and other people can see us. In fact, some of those people who went home or back to work, or who think there’s no such thing as a free meal, look in and see folks fighting at their tables and think to themselves, “see…. told you it was too good to be true.”
Matthew, another waiter who’s honestly a little uptight, looked at his guests and threatened them saying, “you’d better not act like those Philippians or the host will have the bouncers escort you out of the party, and you’ll be sorry.” Actually I think he said something like, “there will much wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13). Like I said, he’s uptight. But Paul took a different tack with the Philippians. First he asked the others at the table to intervene on behalf of these women and to pray for them, hoping they might remember where they were and who had invited them. “Re
joice,” he said and, “let your gentleness be known to everyone” (Php 4:4). Which is really what these people needed to do given the fact that they were at a party and their every need was being provided for. Then Paul did something brilliant, and kind of gutsy for a waiter. He gave the group a lesson in table manners.
He said, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Php 4:8). You know, not those other things.
I’m not sure I would have had it in me to say that to the table if I’d been their waiter, you know – “the customer is always right” and all that, but I suppose Paul knew that the banquet’s host was looking after his best interests, and sometimes it’s just the principle of the thing and you have to say something.
OK, that’s really all I have to say. Come to the banquet. Because, actually, the host is waiting on you. Actually waiting on you. It won’t be complete without you. This is the feast of victory for our host – hallelujah – victory over isolation, victory over greed, and alienation and rejection and suffering and self-centeredness… and over death.
Which is why the food tastes so sweet.