Note: This sermon was delivered in a non-traditional format using interactive discussions. It was quite fun and Parkland UMC'ers were fabulously participatory.
Sermon: Matt 22:1-14
October 9, 2011
Invitation and Response
I have been stirring this scripture in my head all week long. For me, it seems that one of my processes is simply letting things percolate. It is surprising, sometimes, what comes out. The two things that kept flowing through my mind were the idea of invitation and the idea of responding to an invitation.
Just this last Friday, I was having an event at my home to help a friend out. Up where I live, in the Northshore School District, we are having elections of the school board. One of my friends and a fellow PTA mom is running for election. I love her, so told her we could have a gathering at my home for her to meet folks. The easiest way for me to issue invitations is on Facebook. There you can create an event and invite people and they can RSVP automatically online. And since I have a zillion Facebook friends, it was an easy way to reach a wide audience. I was pleased with the results of the invitation. I was heading towards having about 15 folks in my home and I thought that would be full enough to make it a worthwhile event, yet small enough that my friend could actually talk with everybody. Then the day of the event came. That’s where things go awry. It was rainy, it was timed to coincide with the local high school dismissing their students so traffic was bad, it was Friday….things like that. The turn-out was actually much lower than the amount of people who originally said ‘yes.’ And in reality, only one person showed up who didn’t know Dawn already. There were other folks there, but we were all friends. I kind of felt bad because my invitation process clearly did not inspire people to keep their commitment to come and meet my friend.
I keep bouncing this invitation and response process up against this scripture. Jesus says, “The Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” OK. Generally, what we know about kings and the hierarchy in that structure is if a king is having a wedding banquet, everybody comes. The earls and dukes and lords and ladies all come to be seen and photographed. What do you think could happen that would cause the people that owe their loyalty to the king to not respond to the invitation?
Now I’m going to ask you to do something you may not be comfortable with. I hope you will be gracious and grant me some leeway today. Turn to your neighbor or neighbors and talk about invitations you have received. Talk about why you respond with yes and why you respond with no. And even why you ignored the invitation. Then, see if you can come up with a reason that people would not respond to the king’s invitation. I’m going to give you just “this much time.”
OK. Do you mind sharing some of the reasons for not responding to the king’s invitation?
The invitation came at a time when there was work to do
The invitation was unclear
The invitation came at a difficult time for the family
The truth is, we could probably come up with a host of reasons why people ignore invitations. And I’m sure, that some of the people who were initially invited by the king thought they were doing the right thing at the time. At least one was returning to his farm. Feeding the hungry is important. But responding to the king has an even higher value.
Later in the story, we hear that the king’s servants went back out and invited everybody! Good and bad, saint and sinner. They came into the wedding hall. Traditionally, in Ancient Israelite customs, when someone comes to a wedding feast, the host of the event was to provide a robe for each person attending the feast. So the ‘good and bad’ folks are all sitting in the hall and the host, the king, arrives. He looks around and sees someone without a robe on. And when he approaches that person and asks him what he’s doing here, the guy was speechless. And the king throws him out. I keep wondering, what if he had not been speechless? What if he had given a response to the king outlining why he was there without a wedding robe on? Is the reason he was thrown out because he wasn’t dressed properly? Or is it because he could not respond to the king?
I suppose you can see my bias. If the kingdom of heaven is like this parable, then this story has to hinge on the response that people have to the king. In the beginning, people ignored the invitation and had no response. And here, later, there is another person who is speechless at the request.
I know in my life that the cost of discipleship, of responding to God, can seem extremely high. I pay my seminary bills! But there are the more subtle invitations to respond to God that we receive on a daily basis. And it is these invitations and our responses that allow the Kingdom of Heaven to break through to the here and now. But it isn’t so easy. If it was easy, we would see the Kingdom of God on every street corner and in every person’s heart. But we don’t see that yet. Not quite. Because not enough of us are responding day-in and day-out with a yes. Most of the time, the invitation is not like a dramatic, beautiful wedding invitation. It might be more like a generic Facebook invitation. Or, even more likely, it could be the small, still voice inside us.
Recently, I was in a parking lot in Seattle. I was going to my car to leave at the end of a long day. When I was just about ready to get into the car, a woman approached me. She was frantic. A story tumbled out of her…her car had been broken into, her law school books stolen, glass was everywhere, her kids had to take the bus and she needed to take a cab home to let her kids in. At first I was confused. I wondered if she needed a parking pass so nobody would tow her car on top of everything. Then it became clear…she needed money for a cab ride. I rarely carry cash, but that day I had made sure I had bus money for myself. So I emptied everything I had into her hands. It was about $4 in quarters. That was the easy response to the invitation. The harder one was when I felt the urge to reach out and hug her and provide a human touch. That is not the normal thing to do in our society. Strangers don’t hug. But I did. And she responded. Such a small invitation to treat each other as beloved children of God. And we both responded to the human touch with a sigh of relief.
Now, if you don’t mind participating in my experiment again, would you gather back together and discuss how you respond to invitations in general and how you respond to God’s invitation. You might even want to talk about times you ignored invitations and times you easily said yes.
What are some of God’s invitations you have responded to?
And here’s the tough one. What are some of God’s invitations you have ignored?
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Moses. He’s awesome for showing how a messed up human can respond to God’s invitation. Perhaps I have an over-active imagination, but I often wonder what would have happened if Moses had not murdered the Egyptian guard. Here was the perfect set-up for Moses, an Israelite, to be in a position of power in Pharaoh’s family. Talk about the ability to create change from within! But he blew it. I often wonder if that was a missed invitation. Could Moses have leaned into God and responded to the abuse in a different way that could have resulted in a safe and violence-free liberation of the Israelites? Maybe. But what we do know is that God continued to issue invitations to Moses and God continues to issue invitations to us, even when we have ignored God. What a gracious gift.
Our task is to recognize the gift, begin to receive the invitations that can come as a burning bush or as a small, still voice within, and to respond to God, over and over again, to create the inbreaking of the Kingdom of Heaven here and now.
Shalom and Amen.