The Great Banquet

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, The Great Banquet, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday May 13, 2018. The Reading was Luke 14:12-24.

It’s 6:30am, and the temperature is in the single digits. I’m sitting on a picnic blanket on the lawns of Parliament House. To the left of me are two sisters and a friend who have travelled there from Adelaide. Next to them, a native Hawaiian who now lives in Sydney. Someone from Canberra. A couple from Newcastle. Behind me is a man recently arrived from Syria. And on the other side of the group, another man who originates from the Congo but arrived only last week into Australia from a refugee camp in Burundi. Prior to today, I had only met these people the night before as we watched the budget and shared in prayer and worship. Yet today, these people, from varied backgrounds and faith traditions, today we are family. We meet together to learn from scripture, and to be a voice for the unheard.

Over to our right, the news crews stand in readiness, ready to interview a range of politicians as they discuss this latest budget. And in front of us, a banquet table, jam-packed full of goodies to illustrate how the blessings of our abundance means that we have plenty to share with all who need it.

This is why I was in Canberra this week. Flowing out of our recent focus on Self Denial to provide for mission and development overseas, I joined in with an event organised by Micah Australia. We met to be a voice for the voiceless, the world’s poor. Whenever a government needs to save money, world aid and development is always the first to go – because the people it benefits the most don’t have a vote. Similarly, foreign aid doesn’t always give a tangible benefit back to Australia.

We aren’t generous

As humans, we aren’t naturally generous people. One of the common objections to foreign aid is that we have the poor amongst us, we have people here in our own communities that are struggling to put food on the table. Why should we care about those in other countries?

And that is a very valid point. Yet, we didn’t see anything that would support our own poor in the budget. And even when a discussion is held around these issues, such as raising the Newstart allowance, you get terms such as “dole bludgers” thrown about, and questions as to why we should be giving them a handout.

Yes, we aren’t naturally generous. And we generally don’t want to do something unless we expect to get something in return.

And this is where Jesus starts from in our reading today. He is dealing with a people who are living in a society where you don’t do something unless you know they can return the favour. So when a family would throw a banquet, they would only invite those who they knew would invite them back.

Now, putting on a banquet isn’t exactly a cheap affair. You’re spending a lot of money for just one meal, and you don’t want to be seen scrimping and saving, and cutting corners on this highly social wouldn’t invite the poor, because you knew they wouldn’t be able to hold a banquet of their own, so you wouldn’t get repaid.

But Jesus says not to do this. Jesus says that when you give a banquet, give the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. These are the types of people who would generally have been ostracised in society. They were thought to have been in situations born out of sin in their lives, and therefore the sin needed to be removed from society in order for normal worship to continue. So these people would be pushed to the fringes, excluded from normal life and not treated well.

In choosing to invite these to the banquet, you break out of the system where you give in order to get. Where you invite someone in order to be invited yourself. Where you give a gift in order to be given a gift. Jesus says that we need to break out of this system that – either actively or passively – excludes people.

Jesus shows us how to be generous

However, Jesus shows us how to be generous. He tells us to invite the excluded. To set a place at the table for them, without expecting anything in return.

The reality for us is that we have been abundantly blessed. And we need to be generous to those that are in need, and those that have been excluded. That means giving generously for our self-denial appeal, and we thank you for your generosity through this year’s appeal. It means giving generously through our Red Shield Appeal and supporting those in our own communities. It means advocating to our elected representatives to encourage them to better care for those in need both overseas and in Australia. But it also means looking at our own lives and seeing how we can be generous to those that are around us.

We invite many to the table, and allow their lives to be changed

As I reflect on the morning, it’s interesting to note the progression that we had, in terms of the photo opportunities. When Bill Shorten came over, there were just the few chosen to sit at the table – a wonderful eclectic selection of people from wide and varied backgrounds. But as the day went on, we added more and more people into the photos, until eventually everyone who was there was involved in the photo.

And it may have been unconscious at the time. But it goes to show a general concept that we should always display – that it’s always better to set another place at the table, than to turn someone away. That it’s better to make a bigger table, than turn someone away. And this is what Christ is showing in this second parable.

There is someone giving a great banquet, and invites many. But they all come up with poor excuses. For example, who would buy some land without inspecting it first? Who would buy oxen without having tested them out first?

So the master, angry at having been insulted, tells his servants to go and bring in those people who were normally excluded – the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. And he brings them in and there’s still room. And more and more are brought in, because it is better to have people come, and for them to be transformed by the radical inclusivity that is found in God’s kingdom.

Because that is the setting of this parable. A dinner guest – having seen the healing of a man with dropsy, having heard the teaching of Jesus that it was better to care for the poor than to look after your own reputation – this guest says “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

The invitation to God’s kingdom is extended to everyone. It is an open invitation – we are always willing to set up a new table or a new setting because we want to see you here. We aren’t instructed to set up any conditions for their entry, only to invite them and let them in. Once they come, the radical inclusivity and generosity of Jesus will start to work in their lives and transform their lives.

Go out into the streets and lanes, and compel people to come in

So where are you today? Are you someone who has been feeling excluded – either from church, or from society. Are you someone who has made poor excuses, or has not yet accepted that invitation to come to the banquet? The invitation is open, come and be part of the banquet.

Or maybe, you are the servant. You have been serving the master, and you have been going out and inviting some people. Is God challenging you on who you invite? Is God telling you to “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in so that my house may be filled”

As you reflect on that, we’re going to sing this wonderful hymn that speaks of this call for us to go and proclaim God’s wonderous love on the highways and the byways. If you’ve never accepted this invitation to be part of God’s kingdom, then I invite you to come, take your place at the table and be transformed by God’s radical inclusive love. If you’re in need of prayer, then come and pray and see how God wants to use you. If you need strength and encouragement as you head out to the highways and byways and try to compel people to come in, then come forward for prayer.

For God’s mission, make us holy, for God’s glory, make us thine. Sanctify each moment fully, fill my life with love divine.

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