University Congregational Church
Aug. 20, 2017
“Re-Imagine the World: Dinner Party Parable”
Imagine you are throwing a big party and you are so excited! You have:
• Catered the finest foods, including prawns and caviar, wine and champagne, and scrumptious desserts. This is no hot dog and chips meal.
• Found the best entertainment – perfect for the guest list – a renowned group that will be the perfect fit for the occasion. They were expensive, but you know your guests will thoroughly enjoy themselves.
• Cleaned the banquet hall until it shines – from the chandelier bobbles to the back corners – everything sparkles!
• Paid special attention to the guest list and included your closest friends and a few extra people you think will be honored to be included. Oh, and just a few dignitaries are on the list because this is such a special occasion.
• Paid attention to every fine detail, spent hours creating the perfect invitation complete with a little transparent paper inside and calligraphy printed names. You’ve made phone calls to let people know to “save the date”, and you are ready to party!
Who would be at this fantasy dinner party if you could suspend time and place? Oprah Winfrey? Steve Jobs? Robert Redford? St. Francis? George Washington or JFK? Buddha? Gandhi? Martin Luther King? Jesus?
On second thought, maybe not Jesus. While he might be handy to have around just in case you ran out of wine, there is the problem of what he might say.
“The last will be first and the first will be last” won’t sit well with your other guests. How would people respond if he instructed them “sell all you have and follow me”? That part about loving your enemies sounds good, but what if he brought them to the party? Nope. Inviting Jesus is too risky. He might even tell a story that brings the mood down. Remember this one from the gospel of Luke?
Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the slave returned and reported this to his master.
Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’”
None – not a one – of the VIPs on your list RSVP’d positively. You crossed them off one by one as they declined. No was the answer across the board. Your mom even had an excuse. Rude.
And their excuses began to sound ridiculous…. a nephew had a make-up badminton tournament… the fish tank had a bad odor…. It was the dog’s birthday… dandelions were on sale at the greenhouse. It cannot be a coincidence that all those elaborate invitations are being declined. You know you are being snubbed. This will not be the celebration you dreamt of – it is now your biggest nightmare. It is embarrassing.
Your response? You think about it ….
1. You could cancel the party and sulk. You’ve been snubbed. It hurts and brings back all kinds of memories of other times people have made fun of you or excluded you or just didn’t think about how you felt. But if you cancel and sulk, everyone would know.
2. You could talk negatively about all the people and their ridiculous excuses for not coming. God knows they deserve it. Selfish people who didn’t even try to hide behind reasonable stories. But who would you tell? It’s clear that they have talked to one another and colluded. And it would make you look bad to talk about them to each other. No one would ever come to another party you hosted.
3. You’re angry. This isn’t just any old party. This is like an invitation to the White House or the Academy Awards. You’re angry enough to do something really out of the box. You could show those ungrateful snobs by inviting some people at the last minute who didn’t have plans and would come!
And they do! It is a different party than you planned. The party you had planned included people you loved – or at least liked. They were people you considered worthy to participate in such an extravaganza.
Now, the party is being attended by the refuse of humanity. It isn’t because they are at the bottom of the heap that gets them a ticket inside. It is because you want to have a party – to be generous – to entertain – to offer some hospitality to someone. You have the desire to enjoy company. You have an itch to be with others and celebrate. And these are the people who were interested in sharing some time with you.
Sure, the street urchins damage your carpet and the hungry beggars don’t like the caviar. A few young women who may have come from South Broadway are there. You’re skeptical about the ages of some of the girls and whether they should be at home with their families. And then there are people who don’t speak English. Why would they want to join in on this evening? There were some older people there too, with canes and walking devices and a few who didn’t seem to hear very well. One lady appeared to be filling her purse with a few of the food items and you wondered if you should offer her a small cooler. During the evening, you realize someone put a rainbow flag on the front door. When the entertainers were a no-show, someone you didn’t know found a few spoons and a metal pot in the kitchen and started a stand-up rag-tag band. They were laughing and singing a bit off key.
In the end, you are pretty glad none of your friends showed up. They wouldn’t understand why you were laughing and singing with these strangers. They wouldn’t know that you wanted to offer something important to people. They thought it was about the shrimp and the wine… the entertainment and the company. They misunderstood about the guest list. It wasn’t all about them. It was about building a sacred bond of community. It was about your desire to offer hospitality and grace to others.
To your friends, that ornate invitation was a pleasant offer. But it didn’t stand out because they had been to a few fancy parties before. Their lives were about choosing between good options – this party, that event, a night at home, great food here or nice food somewhere else. Plus, they were used to spending Saturday evenings with you.
To these others, the invitation was a rare opportunity. If they were hungry, the invitation meant food. If they were lonely, the invitation meant company. If they were angry, the invitation meant laughter. If they were hopeless, the invitation gave them help. And in that time together, they experienced a sense of belonging like never before. This is the church community at its best. An odd collection of people from all different places and experiences; a combination of interesting individuals who get together to share life. In doing so, we hope that we will find something greater than ourselves… maybe even something divine.
Jesus compared this feast to the kingdom of God – a feast that is limited not by a guest list, but only by the size of our hearts.
Blosser, Joe. “Do You Want to Go to Dinner?” preaching.com
Faith Presbyterian Church “What Jesus Really Said: Party Parables”. July 24, 2016.
First Christian Church of Belton. “Dinner with Jesus”. Oct. 19, 2014. Fccbelton.org
Scott, Bernard Brandon. “Re-Imagine the World”. Polebridge Press. 2001.