All Are Welcome, but…

Homecoming sign

Matthew 22:1-14 NRSV

Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a King who hosted wedding banquet for his son. But today, let’s say that the Kingdom of God is like a church hosting their 160th Homecoming Celebration.

The church sent out invitations, publicized it in the newsletter, on their on their sign out front, on their website and all over social media. The invitation was generous: “A bountiful table has been set.” The invitation was inclusive: “All are invited.” And the hospitality promised to be extravagant: A fat cow grilled, a fat pig barbequed, and thirty fat chickens fried golden brown.

Now, most people who rode by the church and read the sign “made light of it” and never gave the invitation much thought at all. They simply continued down the road, some to their farms, others to their places of business, others to CVS or The Little Rocket. Most who came across it in their facebook newsfeeds continued to scroll down to look at funny pictures and videos that had been posted by their friends.

However, some people who read the invitation were rather offended by the inclusive welcome. “What do they mean, ‘all are invited.’? Do they really have the audacity to invite all? If I go, will I have to sit at the same table with the poor, the undeserving, the marginalized, tax collectors and sinners?”

Some became so offended by the invitation that they even had thoughts which proved that the preacher was right when he one day proclaimed: “When you truly love all people and try to convince others to love all people, there will always be some people, probably religious people, who will want to kill you.”

On the day of the feast, many were found to be unworthy as they refused the invitation because the very thought of attending any party with some people was too much to bear.

But many accepted the generous invitation. For they knew that the invitation to the table came not only from the church, but it came from the Lord Himself. So, they came. They came through doors that were opened wide and they came to a table made large by the Lord. They came, and they filled the sanctuary. They came, the good and the bad, saints and sinners. They came from all walks of life, with diverse backgrounds and different beliefs. But they came united by the same extravagant love, the love of their Lord who lived for all and died for all. They disagreed, but they were not divided. They came together in love, through love and by love.

The love which united their hearts was so amazing, so divine, so selfless and so sacrificial that it literally changed them. It changed them inwardly, and it changed them outwardly. Sorrow was turned into joy, stress was replaced by peace, and despair was changed into hope.

It was a radical transformation. Everyone in the sanctuary that morning was covered with grace. They were clothed by grace. It was as if they were all wearing it like a beautiful garment.

Hate was replaced by love. Pride was transformed into humility. Judgment was replaced by acceptance. And complacency was turned into passion. Simply accepting the invitation of the Lord was replaced by a commitment to follow the Lord. Simply admiring the Lord being a shallow observer of the Lord, being a casual fan of the Lord, was transformed into a deep and deliberate discipleship.

Someone sent me the following quote on facebook this week:

Most of us don’t mind Jesus making some minor change in our lives but Jesus wants to turn our lives upside down. Mere fans of Jesus don’t mind him doing a little touch-up work, but Jesus wants complete renovation. Fans of Jesus come to Jesus thinking tune-up, but Jesus is thinking overhaul.

I have heard United Methodist Bishop William Willimon say something like, “Jesus does not want to meet our needs; he wants to rearrange our needs. He does not want to merely fulfill our desires; he wants to transform those desires.”

One of my favorite quotes by Henri Nouwen is that Jesus wants to take us to places we would rather not go: dark, dangerous, dreadful places.

And on that day, that glorious Homecoming morning, the people came and were changed the the grace of it all. They were overhauled. They filled the sanctuary, united by love, ready and willing to follow their Christ wherever he leads.

Then comes the disturbing part of the parable.

But one of the guests at the Homecoming service that day was sitting there in his pew unchanged. He was just sitting there unmoved, unaffected by the extravagant grace of it all, the generous hospitality of it all.

And he was asked, “Friend, how did you come here and not be changed? How did you accept such a generous invitation, receive such an extravagant hospitality, receive such a divine love and an amazing grace, and not be transformed? How can you receive love and not love others? How can you receive grace and not extend grace to others?”

The man was speechless. And the congregation watched in horror as the deacons sprung into action. They went over to the man, picked him up, tied a rope around his feet and hands, and carried him out the front door.

And when the congregation turned back around to face the pulpit, the preacher matter-of-factly said: “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

That is harsh! It is why I don’t like this parable. But should it surprise us?

A couple of chapters later we read something remarkably similar.

A King will say, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Jesus seems to be saying, “All are welcome, but…”

The invitation is inclusive. The hospitality is extravagant. The grace is generous. The love is divine. The doors are wide and the table is large. All are welcome, and “all” means “all”, the good and the bad, the sinner and the saint, all are welcome, but…

All are welcome to this Homecoming Sunday this morning, but there is something more going on here on than a gathering of friends and family, an observance the Lord’s Supper, the singing of hymns, the preaching of a sermon and sharing an extravagant meal on the grounds.

All are welcome, but there is no real acceptance without the acceptance of others.

All are welcome, but there is no real love without loving those who hunger for it.

All are welcome, but there is no grace without extending grace to those who thirst for it.

All are welcome, but there is no forgiveness without forgiving those who have trespassed against us.

All are welcome, but there is no Holy Communion without the offering of our own bodies, the pouring out of our own lives as living sacrifices.

All are welcome to the table, but there is no true sharing, no true fellowship, no true nourishment, without feeding the hungry.

All are welcome to put on the white robes of baptism, but there is no meaning in those garments without clothing the poor.

All are welcome, but there is no life, abundant or eternal, without the dying of self.

All are welcome, but there is no salvation without the cross.

All are welcome, but if there is no discipleship; if there is no desire to follow Jesus; no commitment to stand against the bullies of this world, to share hope with the victims of bullies everywhere; if there is no commitment to stand for the poor, the marginalized, and the outcasts; no desire to eat with tax collectors and sinners; no dedication to love the least of these our brothers and sisters; well then, the deacons might as well pick you up, bind your legs and arms, and carry you out the front door.

That is harsh. It is why I don’t like this parable. It is why I use the entirety of the Bible to interpret this part of the parable.

Now here’s the good news. As far as I know, there is not a deacon in this room who is prepared to pick anyone up and throw them out the door this morning. Each person in this room is different. We come from different backgrounds, different walks of life, and we have different beliefs. We are at different places in our journeys of faith. But we came through these doors this morning united by the same love: the extravagant love of our Lord who lived for all and died for all.

And listen to the good news in the words of the Apostle Paul concerning this love:

Jesus’ love is patient. Jesus’ love is kind; the love of Christ is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. The love of our Lord love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. The love of Christ does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. The love of the Lord bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.[i]

So let us join God and keep loving one another with the patient love of our Lord and our Savior. And may this love always be with us as we continually seek to change to be the people and the church God is calling us to be. Amen.

[i] Gale Burritt Hagerty, a thoughtful Christian friend responded  with these words from 1 Cor 13 to the interpretation of Jesus as “belligerent” and “demanding” in the following quote: “Most of us don’t mind Jesus making some minor change in our lives but Jesus wants to turn our lives upside down. Fans don’t mind him doing a little touch-up work, but Jesus wants complete renovation. Fans come to Jesus thinking tune-up, but Jesus is thinking overhaul.”

 

 

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