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Have you got your invitation?

Lent 5, Common Lectionary Year C
Luke 14:1, 15-24
©2019 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth Jones

“I cannot come.
I cannot come to the banquet,
don’t trouble me now,
I have married a wife, I have bought me a cow!
I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum,
please hold me excused, I cannot come.” [1]

I am not sure if this is just me,
but I’m not that good at receiving invitations.
“Why me? Are you sure?”
I found myself earlier this week walking past the door
to an event to which I was invited,
past the door, not once, but twice,
thinking of all sorts of excuses “ I cannot come”
before I got over myself, trusted the invitation,
and plucked up the gumption to get in there!

As I reflected on that incident and this text,
I realize that I’d much rather be the servant in this story
or even the host, than to be the guest.
But it seems, doesn’t it, that I may have a lot in common
with the “I cannot come” folk,
with their rather lame, comedic, excuses.
Excuses to miss out on a party,
I’ve got work to do,
I’ve got family I should be with,
I don’t have time to sit at your table of grace.”

As we, the good folk of Cedar Park,
a professional suburb of a Canadian metropolis
hear this text, and wonder how the Holy Spirit is writing it into the
context of our lives,
and we’re a little suspicious/ fearful
that we’re going to come out on the wrong side of the equation here:
we may rightly assume that we are the targets of the first part of parable.
We are, globally speaking the ones most likely to be invited first
to sit with the rich host and enjoy the fruits of earth.
So there’s no getting around it, Jesus is asking,
“Did you get your invitation?”
To which we need to nod and say “Yes.

But, how many of us second guess that invitation?
Or assume there’s a reciprocal expectation?
That if we get to sit at the banquet,
we’d better be hosting one sooner or later.
Or will we find our “bought me a cow” excuses,
defer gratification, put serious or ridiculous excuses
in front of our path to the door?

This parable is hard!
But turn it again, and see if we’re somehow
caught up in the host’s second or third batch of invitations?

The second set is sent out to “those in the city”
“those who are poor, crippled, blind, lame.”
People, neighbours, us,
somehow caught on the wrong side of wellbeing,
soldiering through depression,
watching a dwindling retirement pension,
masking misery caused by any number of
hidden or not so hidden troubles;
cancer, chronic illness, relationships gone awry,
the real angst of adolescence or age…..
Any number of ways in which we believe
we are no longer blessed,
no longer beautiful, no longer worthy.

“Did you get your invitation?” we hear Jesus saying.
“Maybe you got the first one, but you get this one too.
Come for my table is full and you shall eat.”

Still not sure you got one?
Well what about the third batch?
I love what happens in this part of the parable!
Having opened up the invitation to the banquet
to include the broken, all the broken, in whatever way…..
the servants of the host discover that there is still room for more!

Here again, the ridiculous arithmetic of the kingdom of God
is seen in all its scandalous superabundance.
Where we are trained by culture to think that life on earth is a zero-sum game,
the Dream of God’s kingdom or household of love and grace is one of exponential multiplication; one where five loaves feed five thousand – with leftovers,
and where one word of forgiveness heals a world.

To quote Jacqueline Bussie,
“Love is not like Wall Street where we commodify and quantify everything,
but love wildly refuses to adhere to our market economics of scarcity.
The more there is of it, the more it multiplies.” [2]

But for whom?
For whom, and to whom does this love of God extend?
This parabolic text sends the servants of the host
now into the back alleys,
where used needles litter the ground,
to the detention centres where Congolese and Ethiopians, and Mexicans and Hondurans
are searching for a place where they are welcome to simply be;
to the LGBTQ folk in hiding in Brunei, or Brossard;
to any and all who never ever imagined that anyone would give them
an invitation to a meal, to a seat at the table.

In other words, in this scandalously scattered invitation,
we servants of God are sent to invite people with whom we never imagined we would sit with and feast!
Now the implications of this for us, CPU,God’s guests, and God’s servants at the Great Banquet, are huge!

We know it has something to do with this: building a longer table…. (slide)
extending a wider and wider welcome, one that bubbles and balloons with expansive love and possibility; one that’s already happening:

Four years ago, the refugee situation was an ‘out there’ thing for which we prayed. And then this Gospel of inclusion wrote itself onto our hearts and wallets, and wrote five names onto the invitation to share life with us: Sa’ed, Najah, Hareth, Zafay, Islam – and their cousins and friends.
And there’s Emmanuel; Ishrah a young woman newly arrived from Syria via Lebanon, whom I met on Thursday, as well as Mohammad the physician from Eritrea, studying French as his eighth language, mind blown to be welcomed to Canada by “A Christian lady priest!”

And then there’s this:
Seven years ago, F4 began as an affordable movie night out for our own families, and about 20-30 people would come.
Somewhere along the line, the ridiculous arithmetic of God’s love has come into play, and we were sent out to invite more.
And as we have, we discover, there is still room!
F4 has transformed, and transformed us as a community of faith in the miracles of God’s abundant grace,
as regularly 100 people gather each month,
from every corner of the globe,
refugees sitting with Quebecois de souche
and long time Cedar Parkers,
invitees soon hosting newcomers, so that all
seront ravis de venir trouver un peu de chaleur humaine au F4! [3]

This parable writes itself into our lives,
guaranteed to upset any notion we may once have entertained that the grace of God is limited,
to Sunday, or to Christians.

Jesus told this parable, as he told most,
to answer a question of good God-fearing folk
“To whom does God’s redeeming grace extend,
who is invited to the feast?”

“Go out again and again to everyone,
in the last and lost and least places,
and urge anyone you see
to come, because my table is set,
and I want my house to be filled.”
Have you got your invitation?
Please, say “Yes!”

[1] The Wedding Banquet. Miriam Therese Winter. Joy is Like the Rain, 1966.

[2] Jacqueline Bussie, Love Without Limits: Jesus Radical Vision for Love without NO exceptions. (Fortress, 2018) Kindle e-book loc 569.

[3] From one recipient of our monthly invitation to F4.

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