The Whys and Wonders of Worship: The Feast

“The Why’s and Wonders of Worship: The Feast”
Matthew 22: 1 – 10
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
October 7, 2018
It has been a weekend of weddings. On Friday night, I had the honor of officiating at the wedding of member Deb Stanley to her groom Bill Bloom. The wedding took place at Cal Tech in Pasadena. Deb and Bill are both widowed. They both have experienced grief, heartache, and loneliness. Yet, in each other they have discovered love, new life, hope and possibility. They evidence that we worship a God of second chances.

Last night, my nephew Chris got married to his fiancé Stacy in Las Vegas. Chris had some rough years, off and on the streets. Not always making the healthiest decisions for his life. He says that a relationship with Jesus has turned his life around. A year ago he started dating Stacy. She is a good, healthy choice of Chris and we are happy for them. Chris’s life is evidence that we worship a God of second chances.

Today in our scripture passage, we meet the God of second chances once again.

In that place and time, there was a two-stage process of being invited to a banquet.  The invitation was actually sent out well in advance of the banquet and everyone sent back their RSVP.  Then, those who had said “yes” received a courtesy reminder on the day of the banquet itself.

The king sent out his servants to tell everyone to come join the party, but those who had been invited wouldn’t come.  So, he tried again sending his messengers to say, “Look, it’s going to be a great party – lots of food and fun!”  He’s a king of second chances, after all. But they said, “We’ve got other things to do.  Sorry can’t make it.  We’d love to, but we’re just too busy.  The Dodgers on; I’ve got an important golf match; I need to tidy up my garden.  You know how it is.”

And you know how the king felt, don’t you?  We’ve all had that happen to us at one time or another.  You work so hard getting ready for something.  You’re excited about what you planned.  The big day comes.  You planned for twenty and three show up.  You know how it feels.  You want to cry.  It makes you angry and frustrated and depressed.  You know how the king in the parable felt.  And so he tells his servants, “Round up the folks you can.  Go into the thoroughfare, go into the main street and bring in everybody you find. I want this place jumping.”  And they did, both the good and bad alike, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

Now I imagine that those servants had some questions about the universal invitation.  They probably thought to themselves, “The king is angry, he is furious that the original attendees are not attending the banquet, but when he cools off he’ll see it is not wise to bring in everybody.  There will be problems at the table, “But,” the servants said to one another, “The king is the king and the king said to bring everybody you find.”

We, the servants, are not called to do quality control at the door; we’re not called to be grace monitors.  We’re not to screen the good from the bad; we don’t know how.  Our job is simply this:  to bring in everybody we find, to throw open the doors of the banquet hall for all people, the good and bad alike.  The rest of the work is up to God.

It is a vital message for the Christian community who often tries to determine who is in and who is out, who is good and who is bad, who is worthy and who is not.

I am reminded of a story of a 30 year old man, playing in a band, working at Jack-in-the-Box and living with his girlfriend.  His parents wanted him to go to college and make something of his life.  His parents were very strict, fundamentalist Christians and did not want him to be living with someone out of wedlock. They believed that this was a fundamental sin. The parents were very disappointed in their son.

He and his girlfriend got pregnant and they decided they should go to the courthouse and get married.  The parents agreed that it would be best to get married quietly and inconspicuously. But the couple had some friends from church who wanted to give them the wedding of a lifetime.

For 3 months the friends planned the wedding, called 90 people in their conservative congregation who agreed to come to the wedding.  The planted tulip bulbs so that they would come up in time for the wedding day and they called the couple’s parents.  These friends were scared to death to talk with the parents, but they said, “We are going to give your son and daughter-in-law the wedding they never had and we want to know if you will come and support them.”  The parents hemmed and hawed and finally agreed to coming.

Three months later, the church friends invited the couple over for lunch.  Two vans pulled up.  A guy jumped out of one and took the groom.  A woman jumped out of the other and took the bride.  And the vans drive off in opposite directions and the groom and the bride get the bacheolor/bachelorette party they’ve never had.  At the end of the party, they sit the groom down and give him a picture of his wife and said, “We want you to take 30 minutes and write why you love your wife on the bottom of this picture.”  At the bachelorette party they were doing the same for the bride.  And then they said, “We want you to go around the circle and tell each of us what we can do to support you in your love, what can we do?”  After the bachelor and bachelorette party, they go back to the house.  The couple thinks it is the end of an excellent day and begins to thank everyone, but they walk into the backyard and 90 church people plus the pastor rush out of the house to greet them and the couple couldn’t stop crying.  It was the wedding of a lifetime.  (Story told by Michael Yaconelli.)

That is what we are called to do. The church is called to give people a taste of the wedding they never had.  The church is called to include rather than exclude, to accept rather than ostracize, to be more courageous than cautious, to practice freedom rather than fear.

Instead of building walls between us, we are to dance under the chandelier. Instead of creating a world of division, we are to claim this space, the banquet hall, for reconciliation. And what a perfect message for the church on World Communion Sunday.

Each year on the first Sunday in October we observe World Communion Sunday. It was first celebrated in a Presbyterian Church in 1933. The world was in the midst of the Great Depression. Nazism was on the rise in Europe. World Communion Sunday would be a day of hope and unity as all around the world would be invited to come to the table.

It’s no accident that the United Church of Christ added the Neighbors in Need offering to World Communion Sunday. Neighbors in Need honors Jesus’ commandment to “Love our Neighbor” and we do that in tangible ways through the transformation of lives. Neighbors in Need offering supports the ministries of justice and compassion. Giving to those tables that are bare. World Communion Sunday and Neighbors in Need go hand in hand.

In the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry invited us to “imagine a world where love is the way.” “There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There’s power, power in love…There’s power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will…Think and imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families where love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations (our government and nation) where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where love is the way. When love is the way, no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more. Imagine a world where love is the way.”

On World Communion Sunday, love is the only way and all are invited to the party! We worship a God of second chances. The feast is prepared — the kegs of kindness, the jugs of joy, the platters of peace, the fruit of forgiveness, and the layers of love await.  Oh…and let’s not forget the wedding cake! Amen.